Sara Vilkomerson and Stephan Lee
February 08, 2013 AT 05:00 AM EST

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.

Warm Bodies

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.”

Beautiful Creatures

Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert, the romantic leads of Beautiful Creatures (out Feb. 14), seem downright allergic to the idea of starring in ”the next Twilight.” Both initially turned down their roles before reading the script. ”It was pitched to us as the next Twilight, a love story, a Romeo-and-Juliet thing,” says Ehrenreich, 23. ”It just sounded like a movie that didn’t have its own DNA.”

But director Richard LaGravenese took their lack of interest as ”a good sign” and kept after them. ”You don’t ever try to re-create a phenomenon,” he says. ”That’s ridiculous.” Englert, the indie-leaning daughter of The Piano director Jane Campion, took the most convincing. ”It wasn’t until the third time they asked me — which I thought was quite mad — that I read the script and thought, ‘Oh, goddamn it, I actually like this!”’ she says. ”Since then, I do read scripts before I say no to things.”

Despite all the hand-wringing about inviting Twilight-level expectations, there’s no denying the obvious similarities: Beautiful Creatures is adapted from a popular four-book young-adult series and centers on a romance between a regular teen and a teen with supernatural powers. In this version, though, the ordinary one is Ethan Wate, a bookish charmer who’s looking to get out of his backward South Carolina town, and the sexy weirdo is Lena Duchannes, a witch (or ”Caster”) who can manipulate the weather, among other hocus-pocusy powers.

Like Twilight, Beautiful Creatures hinges on the chemistry between the two leads. Luckily, there’s lightning between Ehrenreich and Englert — and not only in the scenes where Lena’s emotions are wreaking havoc on the weather. They initially clicked over their shared reluctance to be in the film, and they soon developed a playful offscreen rapport. ”We bonded over Columbo with Peter Falk,” says Englert, 18. ”It’s so funny, Alden got me hooked on it, and we would just watch Columbo all the time.” But it wasn’t until a key romantic scene — which plays out as snow drifts from the sky — that it was clear their chemistry carried over to the screen. ”Afterwards, the producers were walking by, going, ‘Oh, thank God! Yes!”’ Englert says.

While Twilight was infused with a chilly, brooding atmosphere, Beautiful Creatures goes for broad comedy. And in place of Robert Pattinson’s smoldering eyes and marble cheekbones, Ehrenreich possesses a Jack Nicholson grin and winning goofball energy. Can he become a new kind of teen obsession?

”I really don’t know what it’s like in Twilight,” says Ehrenreich, who hasn’t seen any of those films, ”but I know in the young-adult genre there are these cold, aloof guys. If you start thinking that’s the ideal guy when you’re 13, by the time you’re 25 you’re going to have had some seriously bad relationships.”

An emotionally available high school guy? Now, there’s a post-Twilight protagonist that teen girls — and their parents — can get behind.

More Books To The Big Screen

Warm Bodies and Beautiful Creatures are just the beginning. Here are three eagerly awaited YA adaptations in the pipeline.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Cassandra Clare’s legion of fans wait in breathless anticipation for Clary Fray (Lily Collins) and cocky demon hunter Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower, top right) to hit theaters this summer.

Divergent

Judging from fan devotion, this dystopian thriller by Veronica Roth could be the One. The Descendants‘ Shailene Woodley is set to star as steely heroine Tris; Kate Winslet is reportedly circling a role.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone

It’s forbidden romance on a celestial scale: An angel and a demon fall in love. Producer Joe Roth will reportedly oversee the adaptation of this lyrical Laini Taylor novel.

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