The last thing the filmmakers behind Twilight want to hear is that their movie is the next Harry Potter. Sure, it occupies the release date once held by the boy wizard. But while the seven-book Potter series has sold 400 million copies and generated $4.5 billion in worldwide box office receipts, Twilight is working off a global fan base that has purchased only 17 million books. ''We're not even 5 percent of Potter sales. We're not even a toenail on that body,'' says director Catherine Hardwicke. ''Ours is a character film, a little more sophisticated teenage Romeo and Juliet.''
But Twilight is likely to be anything but a tragedy for Summit Entertainment, the fledgling studio behind the film. So far in the company's 18-month history, it has released five movies, with nothing grossing over $25 million; some, such as Sex Drive, have been outright failures. Twilight a possible four-film franchise could transform Summit into a real player. To hit it big, though, the vampire romance needs to lure moviegoers beyond the series' core fans. Teenage boys are an obvious target, and Hardwicke has peppered her film with gravity-defying fight scenes. ''There are action sequences in the book, and as a director, you want to make everything more cinematic,'' she says.
Early tracking of the movie suggests that tween boys like the Cullen vampires almost as much as girls do. That should help Twilight reach at least a $20 million opening weekend the number the studio probably needs to please in-house accountants. What it requires to greenlight the sequel, New Moon, is another story. Summit won't comment, but Hardwicke guesstimates Twilight must gross $150 million for the studio to approve a follow-up, which will require extensive special effects and location shooting. ''This has to be a crazy hit,'' she says. ''Nobody can say that it can do that well right now.''
Except, maybe, Stephenie Meyer. The author loves the movie, though she had her disagreements with Hardwicke. ''I mostly stepped in on the script level,'' she says. ''You know the line 'So the lion fell in love with the lamb'? It's a bit of a cheesy line, I have to say. They had changed the wording on that, to downplay it a little. And I said, 'I really like how you've changed this, but this line is tattooed on people's ankles. I think you're going to have a problem if you don't do it exactly right.' And they listened to me and saved themselves the outrage of the people who know these books.''
After seeing the first cut, the author's only real concern was that Edward and Bella's steamy kissing scene was too hot for the beginning of a relationship. ''You're not going to have anything to work with as the series continues,'' Meyer told Hardwicke, who cut the sexy wide shots in exchange for more chaste close-ups. ''In a weird way I think it's better,'' says Hardwicke. ''It's less like other movies.''
Even if they're nervous about admitting it publicly, Summit thinks they've got a hit on their hands. They've already got Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg at work on the sequel. Expect to see a New Moon rising.
Additional reporting by Karen Valby
Come back tomorrow for EW's candid interview with Twilight costar Kristen Stewart, and a look at the second of EW's three Twilight Collector's Covers.
EW's Twilight Central