As throngs of "Twilight" fans queue outside theaters for the last film in the teen vampire series, Hollywood studios are lining up too, with more pictures based on young-adult books depicting a dark future.
Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., the studio behind "The Twilight Saga" and "The Hunger Games," has an early lead. Along with three more "Hunger Games" films, the Vancouver- based company is working on the sci-fi tale "Ender's Game." Warner Bros. releases Alcon Entertainment LLC's "Beautiful Creatures" in February, while Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks Studios and "Harry Potter" producer David Heyman develop "Shadow and Bone," about a girl with magical powers.
Lions Gate, long a smaller player, finds itself setting the agenda in the hit-and-miss business with its young adult pictures. The right series can provide years of profit from theaters, home video, TV and merchandise. The five "Twilight" films should reach about $3.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales, based on estimates for the latest movie.
"It gives you much more predictable cash flow in a business that's notoriously unpredictable," said Broderick Johnson, co-chief executive officer of Alcon. The Santa Monica, California-based production company plans at least three movies from the "Beautiful Creatures" book series.
Lions Gate, also run from Santa Monica, is positioning itself as the studio for young-adult movies. The company spent $412.5 million in January to buy Summit Entertainment, owner of "Twilight" and the "Ender's Game" rights. Lions Gate CEO Jon Feltheimer, on a Nov. 9 conference call, singled out Summit's "Divergent," based on a book series set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, as one of his major projects.
Book Sales • "'Divergent' is a new brand designed to continue building on our leadership," Feltheimer said. "The books have already sold more than 2 million copies and are tracking ahead of both the 'Twilight' and 'Hunger Games' books at a comparable stage in their growth trajectory."
"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" will generate $145 million this weekend and $292 million in total from U.S. and Canadian cinemas, estimates researcher Boxoffice.com. If the film matches its four predecessors, foreign sales will exceed the domestic take.
Lions Gate could earn $511 million from the "Twilight" series, including the last film and residual rights from the earlier ones, David Bank, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, estimated in a Nov. 11 report. The four "Hunger Games" pictures will yield $1.71 billion in profit over 10 years, he estimates. The latest "Twilight" picture cost about $130 million, according to the Internet Movie Database.
International Sales • "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" took in $281.3 million in the U.S. and Canada and $423.8 million overseas. The ratio of foreign sales to domestic increased as the "Twilight" series gained fans outside the U.S. "The Hunger Games" took in 41 percent of its $686.5 million in global sales outside the U.S.
"We're hopeful you'll see the same trajectory," starting with "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" next November, Michael Burns, Lions Gate's vice chairman, said in an interview.
The first four "Twilight" films collected $2.51 billion in worldwide ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. If the latest picture matches or exceeds "Breaking Dawn - Part 1," the series will push toward $3.2 billion.
Lions Gate rose 1.4 percent to $15.54 yesterday in New York. The stock has gained 87 percent this year, outpacing all of the movie-making competitors in the S&P 500 Media Index.
Darker Tales • Hollywood's focus on young-adult fiction follows a similar shift in publishing, from the kid-friendly fantasy world of the early "Harry Potter" books to stories with a harsher tone, said Thomas Morrissey, an English professor at State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
"The Hunger Games" and "Divergent" are set in grim, dystopian worlds that magnify the uncertainties confronting teens in real life, including the recession and long-running wars in the Middle East, Morrissey said. That, along with ambiguous outcomes, appeal to teens and adults alike, he said.
"'The Hunger Games' goes about as far as you can towards nihilism, but it isn't totally nihilistic," Morrissey said. "For the young-adult market, you can't end up with hopelessness."
One worry for Hollywood executives is that they may wear out fans by making too many films with dark plots and settings.
"You always have to guard against saturation," Andrew Kosove, Alcon's co-CEO, said in an interview. "They have to stand on their own as movies in their own right. When the product is there, the audience will show up."
In addition to "Beautiful Creatures," Alcon is developing films based on the second and third books, "Beautiful Darkness" and "Beautiful Chaos," Kosove said.
Saturation Risk • The company is spending $65 million on the first film starring Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson in the supernatural fantasy shot in New Orleans.
So far, saturation hasn't been a problem in the literary world, Morrissey said. Like movie studios, authors have noticed demand that so far remains vigorous.
"The young-adult marketplace is brisk," Morrissey said. "If they get the right directors and don't lose what's individual about the books, I think they'll have a good market."