Fan fueled

Devoted followers have strong, influential voice

Published: Thursday, June 14 2012 4:52 p.m. MDT

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1."

Andrew Cooper, Andrew Cooper

"The Avengers" has kicked off the summer season with a bang equal to its superheroes' explosive antics. The movie is the culmination of a years-long franchise, featuring four heroes with their own films, action scenes of epic proportions and a director, Joss Whedon, with his own devoted cult following.

The combination is setting all kinds of box office records: biggest opening weekend total, biggest seven-day total and best second weekend, according to the website Box Office Mojo. More than a month after its debut, it is still the fifth most popular film domestically.

The figures are impressive across the board. But "The Avengers" is not most popular by every measurement. It ranks eighth (with $18.7 million) among the top 10 movie openings at midnight. The highest honor in that category goes to "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," the final installment in everyone's favorite boy wizard saga, which made more than twice as much as "The Avengers" that first night.

In fact, the first seven spots of the top ten midnight records are held by movies based on young adult novels: Harry, followed by three episodes of the "Twilight" series, then two more Harry adventures, and finally "The Hunger Games," just released in March.

Those numbers speak to the rise of an increasingly prominent moviegoing demographic: young female fans, who will stay up and pay up to see their heroines and heartthrobs come to life on the big screen — even at midnight, even on a school night. Their devotion takes a number of forms, from costumes to conventions to their own creative twists on the stories they so cherish.

As these fans storm box offices nationwide to watch a beloved character shoot an arrow, cast a spell or a kiss a vampire, they are simultaneously making discoveries: finding, through their fandom, a supportive community, controversial issues to contend with and a way to understand their own identity.

A century of fans

Fans are nothing new. Trekkie conventions, shrieking hordes caught in Beatlemania, and tense and sorrowful men in Red Sox baseball caps are long-established symbols of twentieth century fandom.

But according to Dr. Nancy Reagin, historian at Pace University, literary fandom — the same powerful force that has elevated Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games to such crashing fame — has been around since the end of the nineteenth century.

"It dates back to the development of the first mass market commercial fiction," said Reagin. Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series, for example, quickly developed an ardent fan following, which communicated through letters and made pilgrimages to the London locations of Holmes' adventures. Readers were drawn to Holmes and his almost superhuman reasoning abilities, as well as the mysteries he so miraculously solved, she said.

According to Reagin, like many fans today, Holmes devotees wrote fan fiction, making Doyle's style and stories their own. "Those were called pastiches," she said, and were even published commercially.

The traditions of fandom, Reagin said, are still resonant today, showing remarkable continuity from their origins to 2012. But the advent of the internet — and its instant and global accessibility — marked a "watershed moment" for fans, permanently changing the game.

Commercial impact

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