Entertainment biz fangful for vampires

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Hollywood has repeatedly peddled the apocalyptic threat from aliens, machines, comets, viruses and zombies, but who was watching the vampires?

Cast member Kristen Stewart poses at the premiere of "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" during the Los Angeles Film Festival at Nokia theatre at L.A. Live in Los Angeles June 24, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Never exactly absent from the entertainment scene, those eternal bloodsuckers lately have infiltrated everything from big screens and little screens to bookstore shelves, clothing racks, download services, video games and video, record and jewelry stores.

The low-budget Fox/New Regency “Twilight” parody “Vampires Suck” has grossed $20 million in its first six days, and 5 million regular viewers are rabidly following HBO’s newest hit, “True Blood,” as it swoops toward its season 3 finale September 12. Meanwhile, Justin Cronin’s “The Passage,” Stephenie Meyer’s “Breaking Dawn” and Charlaine Harris’ “Dead and Gone” hover on best-seller lists.

These charming, deadly immortals are everywhere. And as a result, they’re spilling as much green as red -- about $7 billion since the “Twilight” film franchise bowed less than two years ago, according to Hollywood Reporter estimates.

What started with some ancient, hysterical myths and a pair of spooky 19th century tales -- John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (1819) and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (1897) -- has bloomed into an entire inexhaustible industry.

“By starting with one simple mythological creature that’s been part of our literary universe for centuries, you can create a story that has it all: romance, horror, action, special effects, sex, epic love, wish fulfillment, romantic leading men, delicious bad-boy villains, female badasses, damsels in distress, death, monsters and, ultimately, the perfectly flawed hero who would give it all up if it meant they wouldn’t have to spend eternity alone,” says Julie Plec, writer and exec producer of the CW series “The Vampire Diaries.” It doesn’t get more universal than that.”

That gets to the bloody heart of it. Because they’re not specific to genre, vampires have the freedom to roam not just across mediums but from romance to horror to political commentary to humor. Their versatility is endless, swinging from chaste innocence to sexy violence, so the potential audience is everyone.

No other subject has sunk its teeth into pop culture quite so pervasively.

Let’s start with the current king. Globally, the three “Twilight” films, released in 2008, 2009 and 2010, have a $1.76 billion haul at the global box office. The first two each grossed $160 million or so in home video sales (the third hits Blu-ray/DVD in September). That’s more than $2 billion right there.

If the coming two installments of “Breaking Dawn” -- which Summit will release in November 2011 and November 2012 -- do similar business in theaters and the home-entertainment market, that would add another $1.7 billion to the coffers.

And that’s just from the movie versions of Meyer’s colossally successful book series.

With “Twilight” riding herd, vampire movies have accounted for an average of 3% of total box office the past three years. So, for example, with “New Moon,” “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” and “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” totaling $356.7 million domestic in 2009, that amounted to 3.4% of the industry’s $10.6 billion U.S. haul that year.

The other major flank of the current undead siege consists of “Vampire Diaries” and “True Blood,” HBO’s most successful property since “The Sopranos.” Pinpointing the value of a monster television property is harder than driving a stake through the heart of a nasty beastie, but the longer a show is on the air (at least up to seven seasons), the more money it is going to throw off in ancillaries.

Few TV shows make money upfront; almost all are in deficit until the aftermarket kicks in. Both shows have lots of life left in them and huge fan bases, so sources see buckets of cash eventually pouring into the coffers of the “Diaries” producers, Warner Bros. and CBS, which also happen to co-own the CW.

“True Blood” is harder to quantify because some of its value is in brand-building and bringing more subscribers to the premium cable service. Even so, estimates from two outside sources suggest that if the shows last five years on their respective outlets, domestic and foreign licensing arrangements could generate $100 million-$125 million from “Vampire Diaries” and $50 million-$75 million from “Blood.”

As for DVDs, nearly 1.3 million units of “True Blood: The Complete First Season” have been sold, and Season 2, which was released in May, has nearly reached a million. The first season of “Vampire Diaries” should do similar numbers after it hits stores next week. At an average of $40, that puts the estimated total for both series, plus catalog titles in the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” vein, at $200 million for the home video market.

Vampires have super hearing, and their tastes might run to the baroque, but the music tie-ins bring in serious vampbucks, too. Sales of the first “Twilight” soundtrack total 2.6 million, with all scores and soundtracks related to the Meyer films nearing 5 million. Assuming $10 per unit, that adds another $50 million or so to the tab.

The book world, swarmed as it has been with vampires since Stoker popularized the myth, has gone bonkers with bloodsuckers since Meyer published “Twilight” in 2005. Her four “Twilight” novels, plus the “Eclipse” offshoot “The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner,” have sold in the neighborhood of 100 million copies.

This puts her in a league with Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl. It’s difficult to quantify precisely, but at this point, Meyer likely has passed sales of previous bloodsucker queen Anne Rice, whose 12 vampire titles began with “Interview With the Vampire” in 1976.

(Credit where credit is due: Book industry estimates indicate that before Rice created her first tale of Lestat, about 1,000 vampire titles had been published. Since 1976, some 41,000 have hit the shelves. Call her Author Zero of this particular pop culture movement.)

Harris, who writes the Sookie Stackhouse/”Southern Vampire” series of novels on which “True Blood” is based, has sold something like 8 million copies since she launched the series in 2001. Book 10 was published in May, and all of them have spent time on the best-seller list since the HBO series became its most popular young show.

Among the millions-selling vampire-themed series flying out of bookstores today are L.J. Smith’s “The Vampire Diaries” (she also has the “Night World” series); the “House of Night” series from P.C. and Kristin Cast; “The Immortals” series from Alyson Noel; and the “Vampire Academy” series from Richelle Mead. Hollywood heavyweight Guillermo del Toro and author Chuck Hogan are part way through publishing their book trilogy “The Strain” from HarperCollins.

This is just the tip of the fang; there are scores of vampire titles on the shelves at the moment, and more are coming.

“(Vampire books) are just growing,” said one agent who sold a vampire book this year. “There is no one area in which it’s stagnating. It goes from fiction to (young adult) fiction to genre fiction -- they are king.”

Selling, say, 120 million copies at an average of $13 a copy -- splitting the difference between paperback and hardcover -- puts the vampire-book total in the $1.6 billion range.

The merchandising spun off from the most popular of these properties is equally pervasive -- and lucrative. The retail juggernaut tied to vampires easily clears a half-billion dollars.

Steven Ekstract at License! Global magazine estimates that “Twilight” alone has generated nearly $500 million in merchandise. HBO has its run of “True Blood” merch rolling out as well, with the Tru Blood drink in particular selling well. Naturally, Halloween also benefits from the vampire craze (just as sales of round-rimmed glasses skyrocketed off “Harry Potter”), with some estimates for the sale of vampire drag and paraphernalia ranging as high as $100 million.

(No, the porn industry has not let this little phenomenon go by without its stamp. “True Blood” is parodied by New Sensations’ “Tru: A XXX Parody”; Devil’s Film has its series of “This Isn’t Twilight: The XXX Parody” for all three films; and Sex Line Sinema has its take on the CW show, “The Vampire Sex Diaries” -- “They don’t crave blood. They crave you.” Precise numbers are hard to come by.)

Vampire-related video games such as “Castlevania” and “Legacy of Kain” have sold millions of units. There are dozens on the market, and at $40 a pop, that’s another $200 million or so.

The vampire deluge shows no sign of slowing -- at this point, the phenomenon seems as deathless as its main characters. Matt Reeves’ “Let Me In” and Screen Gems’ 3D graphic-novel adaptation “Priest” will hit theaters in the coming year to join the first of the two-part “Breaking Dawn” finale.

Among the high-profile film projects in development are the adaptation of Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian” at Sony, the adaptation of Cronin’s “The Passage” at Fox 2000, “Dracula Year Zero” at Universal and the adaptation of “Castlevania” at Rogue Pictures. Amy Heckerling is putting together “Vamps”; the “Underworld” franchise plans a fourth installment (in 3D); and a horror film called “The Last Voyage of Demeter,” inspired by Stoker’s original telling, is in the works.

And everyone’s looking for the next “Twilight.” For example, U.K.-based Dan Films (“Severence”) has put out an ad seeking “completed feature-length vampire scripts for teen/young adult audiences. In other words, a film for the ‘Twilight’ age group.”

Apparently, the only thing more ravenous than a hungry vampire is his audience.