How does Twilight stack up?

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Summit Entertainment

To call the Twilight film franchise wildly popular would be an understatement. More than 1,000 Twi-hards began camping out Monday in Los Angeles, more than five days ahead of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I's premiere, hoping to catch a glimpse of the film's stars. Without adjusting for inflation, the first three Twilight offerings grossed an average of $263,308,413 at the domestic box office. The most recent film, Eclipse, crossed the $300 million mark in the U.S. and made nearly $700 million worldwide. Reviews of the series haven't been quite so glorious, though, with the films largely derided as trite and cheesy by critics.

It's our theory that to be considered "great," a franchise can't just sell tickets or please critics—it needs to do both. So, in September 2010 (for the seventh Harry Potter film) we compiled a list of the 50 greatest film franchises films of all time, weighing financial and critical success equally. Here's how we did it:

  1. To determine the film's financial success, we adjusted the grosses for each film in every series for inflation using a ratio of today's average movie ticket price to the average cost the year the movie was released. We then averaged those results.
  2. To determine a film's critical success, we used Rotten Tomatoes' critics' scores.
  3. We then found the average between those two numbers for each franchise's films.

So taking into account recent critical and commercial success for film franchises, how does Twilight stack up?

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Considering the Twilight films' relatively narrow appeal—its audience is largely "tween" girls and a sampling of adults caving into a "guilty pleasure"—the franchise's blockbuster financial haul is particularly impressive. Its box-office average, when adjusted for inflation, puts it ahead of more serious-minded fare like the X-Men, Jason Bourne, and the Matrix series. But the Edward and Bella love saga doesn't hold a candle to those franchises' critical reception. "Long on camp but short on emotional insight," bemoaned the The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt at the first installment's release. The most recent film, Eclipse, earned the series' best reviews, though even those were tepid at best: "I can't pretend that the third episode instilled a fever in my blood, but it didn't leave me cold," said Joe Morgenstern at The Wall Street Journal.

As has been much-discussed, Summit Entertainment decided to split Breaking Dawn, based on the final book in the Twilight series, into two films, the second of which will be released in November 2012. Based on how wildly successful franchises based on popular book series have been, it certainly seems like a wise decision. Harry Potter ranks No. 7 on our list, while Lord of the Rings ranks No. 5. But as we've already learned this year, releasing another sequel in a franchise is still a risk, one that can dramatically affect its ranking on the list of Greatest Movie Franchises.

When Spy Kids released a fourth film this summer after an eight-year hiatus, it was the most successful kids' franchise of all time, ranking No. 29—ahead of even Twilight. A fourth installment of the Scream franchise, released this spring, was the worst-performing film in that series, bringing its ranking down from 30 to 36. When Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides kicked off the summer movie season in May, Pirates was one of the most successful franchises, ranking No. 13. Now, thanks to poor reviews, it's No. 17. As a testament to the power of bad press, look at Transformers: Despite being the seventh-highest-selling franchise, it's dragged down by a pitiful 53rd place in critical score and thus ranks at No. 30 on our list. It's a problem that is likely to plague the Twilight series as it continues on.

But that's not to say that a well-done, well-marketed series revival can't be lucrative. A surprisingly rapturous critical reception and breakout box-office performance by Rise of the Planet of the Apes earlier this year helped raise the Planet of the Apes ranking from 46 to 42 on the list. The surprise box office and critical success of Fast Five—by far the best-reviewed film in the Fast and the Furious series—launched its ranking from a barely-on-the-list No. 50 to No. 46.

So how will Breaking Dawn Part I affect Twilight? The fourth installment in the angsty vampire franchise is expected to go gangbusters at the box office. Current estimates predict a massive $125 million opening weekend for the flick, which has already sold out more than 3,000 screenings nationwide. Early reviews, however, haven't been particularly kind. "The vampire drama of Twilight is all about the romantic agony of eternity, and this franchise feels like it's going on for ever," writes Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian in an early review. If critical reactions like that keep trickling in, Twilight will have a hard time climbing the list of greatest movie franchises.

Read a fuller analysis, posted when the seventh Harry Potter film hit theaters: "The Greatest Movie Franchises of All Time." The gallery in this post has been updated to reflect current rankings.

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