When Stephanie Meyer published her first book, Twilight, in 2005, nobody could have imagined the size and scope of the popularity it would later amass. What followed was a multimedia empire surrounding the intellectual property, including five additional books (with two rumored to be in the works) and five movies. The series was beloved by pre-teens, and infamously more so by their swooning parents; with video clips depicting swarms of mothers descending upon movie theaters regularly circulating local news channels. The films also served as early career boosts for then-budding stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner.
While each film proved to be a financial success for the studios, critics and pop culture gatekeepers were far less kind to the little story of a high school girl who becomes enchanted by a vampire in the Pacific Northwest. For every kid poring over Meyers’ books, there were dozens of cynical netizens copy-pasting “still a better love story than Twilight” into the comment section of any mention of the series. Even within cinephile circles, there are countless video essays viscerally breaking down and ridiculing every frame of the movie.
With well over a decade since the first film’s release, it truly begs the question: Were the Twilight movies really as bad as many made them out to be? It’s our belief that, like most things, the flames of pop culture witch hunts are fanned by superfluous disdain, and that despite many legitimate issues, there is a ton of fun to be had with these cheesy yet earnest young adult romance films. Below is our ranking of the five Twilight films, from worst to best. Spoilers abound.
5. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
This is bottom-of-the-barrel Twilight material, folks. What boggles the mind is how incredibly interesting the film is when boiled down to its most basic story beats. Enraged by the murder of her spectral soulmate, James (Cam Gigandet), red-headed vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) creates an army of juiced-up, superpowered young vampires to exact her revenge on the Cullen family. That is, all hyperbole aside, one of the coolest movie pitches of all time. What’s disappointing then, is how uninteresting and bland The Twilight Saga: Eclipse ends up being as a viewing experience.
In what should have been a large-scale vampiro-a-vampiro, action-heavy spectacle, the writers never commit to the premise, pushing action to the background and instead focusing on the love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob. Maybe it’s asking too much of our young adult romance movies to convincingly break course and commit to their B-plots. What’s infuriating then is the fact that the romance elements are among the franchise’s least interesting. Sure, “I’m hotter than you” is a wonderfully meme-able Jacob quote, but as anyone who watches a movie looking out for the memes they’ve seen online knows, the experience always falls flat.
4. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Conventional wisdom typically places The Twilight Saga: New Moon at the bottom of any list, but there’s a strong argument to be made for its superiority over Eclipse. The second film in the series, New Moon removes Edward from the story, as he takes refuge with the mysterious Volturi clan in Italy in an effort to protect Bella. What ensues is Bella’s descent into the pits of teenage heartbreak, becoming increasingly more reckless in her behavior. It also provides a more thorough introduction to Jacob’s character and the greater world of werewolves.
While it’s admittedly weaker than later entries in the series, New Moon successfully expands the world’s lore, introducing the existence of the tribe of werewolves, their hierarchical society, and feud with vampires. While portrayals of the Quileute tribe aren’t particularly faithful or accurate, it’s notable that a series of Twilight’s status explores the indigenous tribes whose presence in the Pacific Northwest is often glossed over. Additionally, a sequence showing the passing of seasons from the perspective of Bella’s bedroom to “Possibility” by Lykke Li is genuinely inventive and showcases a level of filmmaking quality higher than one would expect from this franchise.
3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
Following in the footsteps of Harry Potter, the final book in the Twilight series was split into two movies, dubbed The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 & Part 2. The first film focuses on our protagonists shortly after graduating high school, and the repercussions of Bella and Edwards’ marriage. After a beautiful ceremony at the Cullen household, the newlyweds’ honeymoon on a remote South American vista, consummating their marriage. At this point, Bella is still a human, and the fetus growing inside of her grows at an accelerated rate, diminishing her own health. The film culminates in a dramatic sequence where Bellas body breaks, and she dies during childbirth.
Talk about a packed synopsis. Breaking Dawn – Part 1 firmly transitions the Twilight series out of its high school setting, raising the stakes and exploring the implications of a human-vampire relationship. The film’s first half shines as a character piece, showing audiences the first glimpses of the couple truly enjoying each other’s company without the threat of otherworldly antagonists. It’s sweet and showcases some great chemistry between Stewart and Pattinson. It also pushes the limits of their relationship and how Bella’s humanity complicates their future together.
2. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2
If this list were ranking the movies based on pure spectacle, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 would undoubtedly come in first. Picking up seconds after the events of the prior movie, we’re treated to Bella’s first moments as a vampire as she hunts for her first meal. The film then shifts to Renesmee, Bella and Edward’s early 2010’s quality CGI offspring. As their daughter grows at an unprecedented rate, the family scrambles to understand her place in the vampiric world, all while staving off the impending attack from the Volturi.
Breaking Dawn – Part 2 treats audiences to the crowd-pleasing conclusion to events four films in the making. There’s a vampire civil war (complete with pop-punk superpower training montages), further expansion of the world of vampires, and a twist ending so shocking, it could give M. Night Shyamalan a run for his money. Bella and Jacob’s romance even finds a natural conclusion, albeit unconventional and downright creepy.
The film that started it all. 2008’s Twilight has a distinctly different feel from its successors, coming across almost like a mid-budget indie production. Wacky camera angles, inexplicable blue color grading, and a cast of actors that were relatively early in their careers make for a movie that lacks the technical sheen of later entries.
What sets the first film apart is the beauty in its “less is more” approach to storytelling and world-building. The information on tap is limited and leaves a certain level of mystery that is unsatisfyingly explored in its sequels. To Bella and the audience, small-town Pacific Northwest feels foreign and almost mystical, from long shots of misty mountain ranges to abandoned boat docks. Its greatest strength is creating a believable world that the audience wants to know more about, showing us just enough of its world to entice viewers. It also introduced incredibly fun scenes that have since been inducted into the pop culture zeitgeist; from Edward catching a falling apple, to the infamous baseball game in a thunderstorm. Iconic and campy in all the right ways, Twilight is a joy to revisit and is unironically one of the best young adult novel adaptations of its time.