When Lionsgate released Twilight 15 years ago, it brought with it a wave of teenage angst, vampiric lust, and fan fervor. Grossing about 10 times its budget at the box office, it was a certified hit, unleashing four subsequent sequels, countless breathless news pieces about stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s on-again, off-again romance, and a backlash so toxic that it made genuine fans of the series—and of author Stephenie Meyer’s original books—retreat inward and toward each other. Amongst themselves, the Twihards found security, a de facto family that just got what was so special (and so hilarious) about the series.
All good things come to an end, though, and after The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2 hit theaters in 2012, the fandom’s heat began to die down. Pattinson and Stewart had broken up, the world had moved on, and there wasn’t really anything to talk about anymore, save the occasional fan event.
But in 2020, thanks to a Netflix streaming deal, a new Twilight book from Meyer, and a global pandemic that had everyone inside and looking for light, dumb, feel-good entertainment, Twilight came roaring back. Dubbed “the Twilight Renaissance” by fans, the resurgence brought an IYKYK acronym (TITSOAK, a reference to for Edward’s famous line “This is the skin of a killer”), a shitposting Facebook account with almost 600,000 members, and gleeful reclamation of a fandom that was once popularly considered to be pretty much pathetic.
Now, in addition to the forty- and fiftysomething women who have long made up much of the Twilight core fandom, the group is also drawing in more men, twentysomethings, and even queer teens, all of whom are finding something to love—and something to criticize—about the series.
“I don’t think there’s anyone more critical of Twilight than die-hard Twilight fans,” says Sydney Dawson, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of British Columbia. Though she first read the books in 2012, when she was 11, it wasn’t until she started noticing her fellow college students really falling back in love with the series that she started to think about it from an academic standpoint. Now, she says, she wants to conduct an ethnographic study of the series’ fandom during the annual Forever Twilight in Forks Festival in Washington, and she’s looking at the series’ content with a new, more critical lens.
“I’m seeing elements in the books that maybe went over my head as a kid, like the ‘life begins at conception’ idea and the way Indigenous people are handled in the books,” Dawson says. “Having colonial figures calling Indigenous people ‘dogs’ and ‘mutts’ throughout the whole movie is not appropriate. It’s not even that it aged poorly. That would never have been appropriate.”
Many fans of Dawson’s age are revisiting the series out of nostalgia, connecting to the aesthetics of the movies and the soundtrack, but they’re also doing it at a turbulent and charged time. “It feels very comfortable to go back and watch Twilight, but at the same time, it exists in this weird space where you can only still enjoy it if you’re being critical of it,” she says.
That attitude is spilling over into original fans of the series, as well, like Amy Taylor, a contributor to His Golden Eyes, one of the first Twilight news sites. “In the years since the books and movies came out, we’ve kind of become more aware about, say, why people are not as receptive to the fact that Jasper was a Confederate soldier,” she says. “It’s things that were always there, but it took a while for some of the younger generation to catch up and say, ‘That’s not great; Edward is kind of possessive,’ or ‘Jacob is kind of a jerk.’”
For Natalie Wilson, a professor at Cal State San Marcos and author of Seduced by Twilight: The Allure and Contradictory Messages of the Popular Saga, critiquing the series while also being a fan is part of the point. “We can read the books and enjoy the films and still question some of their messages,” Wilson says.
Many longtime Twilight fans say they’ve always noticed at least some flaws in the source material, whether it’s plot holes or purple prose or dubious relationship modeling. Nikki Pearce and Rebekah Sine, who ran one of the original “this is ridiculous, but we love it”-style fan blogs, Letters to Twilight, say that they’re glad people are appreciating the franchise now, flaws and all.
“It’s cool now,” Pearce says. “There’s new fan merch that’s funny and cute, and we probably wouldn’t have seen that stuff 10 years ago. It’s such a part of the streaming phenomenon, too, that you see people posting all the time about where they can watch it, or how they need to watch it because they’re in their depression era or whatever and it’s time to watch again.”
After surviving a semi-truck crash, the death of her grandmother, and the loss of her house in an F3 tornado in Jefferson City, Missouri, Deborah Tragacz says her once dormant Twilight fandom came roaring back. “It hit me in the face like a wrecking ball or a grenade,” she says. “It was an escape, and a new fun surprise in my adult life. After living through both the pandemic and what I’ve been through, I just realized that life is too short not to love what you love.”
For some fans, it’s also too short not to shout that love out loud, whether on a T-shirt or on a tattoo. Corinne Phillips says that while she watched the movies when they first came out, it wasn’t until recently that she really started making Twilight-inspired gear to sell in her Etsy store. “I was running a race, and so I made a shirt that said [Edward’s line] ‘As if you could outrun me,’ because I’m very slow and I thought it would be funny, and then it just grew from there,” she says. “A few people ordered it, and so I made stickers of the same design. Somebody posted it on TikTok over Labor Day weekend, and out of nowhere it just blew up. Last month I sold like $4,000 worth of fan-inspired merch on Etsy and now my kids’ Christmas is paid for by Twilight.”
Quebec-based tattoo artist Marie Baillargeon had a similar experience when she posted a flash sheet of Twilight-inspired designs to her Instagram. A frequent re-viewer who sometimes plays Twilight drinking games with friends, Baillargeon made the sheet after those same friends mentioned wanting tattoos inspired by the film.
“It took me a while to actually create it, because I didn’t know how many people would actually be down to get them,” she says. “I thought it would be more of a funny thing to put on social media, but it’s had a lot of success, and now it’s probably one of my most viewed posts ever.”
A number of customers have even booked sessions with Baillargeon to get tattoos from the sheet and joked that they’d love it if she could add a “Team Charlie” option to her “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” designs in tribute to Bella’s dad in the series.
Things are also picking up in Forks, Washington, where the Twilight series is set. (The movies, notably, were filmed elsewhere, mostly in Oregon and British Columbia.) Lissy Andros, the executive director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce, says that her town has been wild with Twihards since 2020, thanks in part to TikTok and the Twilight Renaissance.
“In 2022 we had the biggest year, tourism-wise, that we’ve had since 2010, and we’ve already beat out those numbers as of this September,” she says. “Probably 65 percent of visitors to Forks come because of Twilight. It’s the essence and feel of the series that makes them love this area, and they feel like it’s kind of the hometown they never had.”
The town draws about 2,000 visitors every year just for Forever Twilight in Forks, which takes place over four days in September, and Andros says that, since 2017, more than 77,000 people have gone through the town’s collection of props and costumes from the series, even though it’s “only open four hours a day in the summer and eight hours a week in the winter.”
Shandra Mutchie, a cosplayer who portrays Michael Sheen’s Aro character from the series at the Forever Twilight in Forks event, estimates that a good portion of the attendees at this year’s festival were new, younger people who had never attended before, many of whom she says credit Twilight for playing an “integral part in their development into an adult.”
“Twilight is special, and it wasn’t just lightning in a bottle,” Mutchie says. “It persists.”