"Twilight" From Summit Takes A Bite Out of Major Studios

A vampire is about to take the box office by storm and seriously boost the profile of independent studio Summit Entertainment. "Twilight," opening this weekend, is on track to bring in as much as $60 million at the box office this weekend.

Thursday night teens packed sold-out midnight screenings; Fandango reports it sold out more than 1,000 midnight screenings, as of Friday morning it was selling five tickets for the movie each second, making the film number three on its list of advance ticket sellers. Its competitor MovieTickets.com has sold out more than 1,100 screenings this weekend, putting the film in its top ten of ticket presales of all time.

"Twilight" is based on the first of Stephenie Meyer's four teenage vampire novels. They've sold about 8.5 million copies in the U.S. and about 17 million worldwide, great for booksellers like Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble , which sell books ahead of time. The natural comparison is to Harry Potter, and "Twilight" will probably be the biggest movie based on a book since the Potter franchise. And in fact Potter will help out "Twilight" at the box office. Warner Bros. moved its next "Harry Potter" film from this weekend to next year, leaving a whole in the box office schedule that "Twilight" wisely filled, moving its release date up from December.

It's rare to see such a potentially huge franchise come from an independent studio. In fact, Paramount Pictures owned the rights to twilight until 2006, when the studio let the rights go. At the time the book series had a dedicated fan base, but it was nothing close to the phenomenon it is now. Still, Summit saw huge potential and bought the rights to Meyer's first four books.

Now it looks like "Twilight" will be Summit'sfirst blockbuster since it became a stand-alone studio in 2006, doing distribution and marketing, in addition to financing and production. Summit says the movie cost $37 million—less than it might have at a major studio—and has been praised for efficient web marketing and viral campaigns. Previously, Summit was a major player in foreign pre-sales and produced and co-financed (but didn't distribute) hits like "Mr. and Mrs. Smith". If this movie is a hit it will put Summit on the map and give them real leverage when it comes to getting stars to work on their films.

Now we'll see if the box office lives up to the buzz.

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