The ‘After’ Series Continues a Troubling Trend in Steamy Romance Movies

After Ever Happy, the fourth installment in the After series, hit Netflix on December 25, quickly making its way into the Top 10 Movies in the U.S. In the tradition of its spiritual predecessors The Twilight Saga and the Fifty Shades of Gray series, After is a series of films adapted from a successful book series that romanticizes an unhealthy, abusive relationship without identifying or critiquing it as such.

Fan Fiction Turned Movie Series

The After films combine the monotony of Twilight and the frequent sex scenes of Fifty Shades of Gray into an even less compelling series without any of the cultural impact. After has no direct relationship to either of the above series, but it is important to consider the history of this niche genre of films in order to understand its failures.

The series follows Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) and her tumultuous relationship with boyfriend Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) as they go through college and post-grad life together. Where Fifty Shades began as Twilight fan fiction, After originated as One Direction fan fiction, with Hardin’s character loosely based on Harry Styles. Author Anna Todd wrote the first three books of the series chapter by chapter on the social storytelling website Wattpad, before they were published by Gallery Books. Each series has unique distinctions, Twilight a fantasy about vampires, Fifty Shades relationship focusing on a BDSM, and After a more watered down coming of age story, but they share several similarities. Each series centers the naive, goody two-shoes female protagonist and the aloof, bad-boy love interest who changes her life. Twilight’s Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), Fifty Shades’ Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), and After’s Tessa serve as the author’s self insert, with few distinguishing characteristics of her own, which by extension allows the viewer (presumably a teenage girl or young woman ) to insert themselves into the story.

Both previous series starred virtual unknowns at the time — Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Dakota Johnson, and Jamie Dornan — who have gone on to have successful careers in critically acclaimed films despite bland performances in their respective franchises. Langford and Fiennes Tiffin are both competent actors who, given the opportunity, have the potential to do the same, especially considering their familial connections in the industry (Fiennes Tiffin being the nephew of Ralph Fiennes and Langford the sister of 13 Reasons Why star KatherineLangford) .

Recasting Hurt the ‘After’ Series’ Continuity

So why were Twilight and Fifty Shades cultural phenomena but After falls by the wayside? A number of factors contributed to this, in particular the time in which they were released. Twilight premiered at a time when young adult fantasy was in vogue, in part due to the popularity of the Harry Potter series. A few years after the release of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2, the Fifty Shades franchise became a similarly huge success. Trading in vampires and werewolves for explicit sex scenes, Fifty Shades was marketed to an older demographic of women, and failed to inspire the rabid fandom among teenagers that Twilight did, but still managed to rake in impressive box office numbers. After hit theaters in 2019, over a decade since the first Twilight film and just one year after the release of the final Fifty Shades film, but achieved significantly less success. For comparison, Twilight’s five films grossed over $3 billion total, Fifty Shades’ three films grossed over $1 billion total, while the four After movies have so far only grossed approximately $150 million in box office and video sales.

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