Last November, after four books, five movies, and a mind-boggling $2 billion-plus at the box office, Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga came to an end. Its unofficial successor to the young-adult throne, the Hunger Games series, won’t have its next installment — Catching Fire — in theaters until Nov. 22. This leaves a Bella-and-Edward-size hole for supernatural love stories aimed at the PG-13 set — a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Hollywood. This month brings two contenders, both based on best-selling YA books: Warm Bodies (zombie boy falls in love with human girl) and Beautiful Creatures (human boy falls in love with magically gifted girl). Here, a look at the ways in which they’re similar to — and, thankfully, different from — the venerable vampire franchise.
Based on the 2011 Isaac Marion novel of the same name, Warm Bodies takes place after an unnamed catastrophe has obliterated much of the planet, leaving behind a population of zombies who lurch about, munching on human brains and getting a contact high off their victims’ memories. But in the hands of writer-director Jonathan Levine (50/50), it also takes place in a self-aware and irreverent universe where a hoodie-wearing zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult) must mutely woo his object of desire, Julie (Teresa Palmer), by playing Guns N’ Roses’ ”Patience,” and fellow zombie Rob Corddry’s first real line of dialogue is a sympathetic ”Bitches, man.” It opened Feb. 1 to $20.4 million — admittedly, that’s a far cry from Twilight bucks, but it’s still impressive, and it was enough to take the top spot at the box office. For the Warm Bodies crew, the Twilight parallels are inevitable — especially since both movies come from the same studio, Summit Entertainment. But they don’t necessarily buy into the similarities. ”It’s definitely different tonally,” says Hoult, 23. ”Besides, it’s clearly very different in that zombies just aren’t as attractive as vampires. Vampires are so worldly — they’ve been alive for hundreds of years and they can move so quickly,” he says, before a thoughtful pause. ”I suppose zombies make better listeners.” His costar also sees key contrasts. ”I do think a lot of films are trying to capture the leftover Twilight audience, but Warm Bodies stands apart. We poke fun at the genre,” says Palmer, a 26-year-old Australian actress. ”Now even zombie enthusiasts love it.”
Warm Bodies’ writer-director is quick to add that while he respects the Twilight fan base (and would welcome Twihards into theaters with open arms), he does have one complaint about the comparison. ”I suppose what I don’t like about it is that it makes it seem like we were rubbing our hands together in an office somewhere going, ‘Aha! They don’t have Twilight anymore, let’s give them this,”’ he says. ”This wasn’t engineered in a corporate lab to appeal to teenagers.”
Of course, it’s easy to understand why residents of Teenagerland — who are dealing with amorphous anxieties and jacked-up hormones — would be drawn to a supernatural world where romance can come with life-and-death stakes. After all, what’s more devastating in high school than getting tongue-tied around a crush? In Warm Bodies, a smitten zombie is physically unable to communicate. ”I guess in many ways it’s quite similar to most guys,” says Hoult (next up in Jack the Giant Slayer, out March 1).
It was this central metaphor that appealed to Levine. ”I’m definitely attracted to protagonists who are isolated and having a hard time connecting,” he says. ”When you’re young, it’s operatic. You have to go big to even scratch the surface of how it feels inside someone’s youthful heart.”