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Hollywood’s blood money

Allure of vampire-related project endures

With a $283 million worldwide opening weekend, “Twilight’s” vampires have once again reminded us that there’s plenty of life in the undead.

While Anne Rice’s books helped Hollywood focus on the sexual-romantic angle of vampires, film and TV plans for the coming year offer further proof there’s fresh blood on the way.

“The interest in vampires is cyclical,” says Alloy Entertainment CEO Leslie Morgenstein, exec producer on the CW’s hit series “Vampire Diaries.” “That being said, I’ve never seen a cycle have as much lasting power as the one we’re in now, which (started) with (2008’s) ‘Twilight.’?”

Up next is the Jan. 20 release “Underworld Awakening,” the fourth installment in the Screen Gems franchise, which has earned nearly $300 million worldwide since 2003. The Kate Beckinsale starrer will unspool in 3D.

Also set to spill blood: an epic vampire battle between Warner Bros. and Fox. First on the scene is the latest Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration, “Dark Shadows,” which Warners will release in the prime May 11 slot. Based on Dan Curtis’ daytime soap that ran from 1966-71 on ABC, the Graham King-produced pic cost an estimated $60 million.

The following month sees Fox’s own gory entrant, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel of the same name, the June 22 bow marks “Wanted” helmer Timur Bekmambetov’s return to the director’s chair. That book went out with a 200,000 first printing from publisher Grand Central and became an unlikely bestseller that was also embraced by Lincoln scholars.

The two share some creative juice: Burton produced the $70 million 3D “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” while Grahame-Smith penned “Dark Shadows.”

Following summer players “Shadows” and “Vampire Hunter,” Sony will take a stab at the Dracula legend with its the 3D animation “Hotel Transylvania” in September. Adam Sandler voices the iconic fanged protag. And two months later, “The Twilight Saga” concludes with “Breaking Dawn: Part 2.”

Meanwhile, “Interview With the Vampire” helmer Neil Jordan revisits the subgenre with the $13 million “Byzantium.” Based on the play “A Vampire Story,” the film’s plot revolves around a mother and daughter who claim to be 200-year-old vampires. Saoirse Ronan stars in the mystery-drama, which starts lensing next month.

Further out, a number of development projects are finding traction, including Universal’s “Dracula Year Zeo” with Sam Worthington attached and Michael De Luca producing.

Other necromancy projects in development include remakes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Hunger,” as well as the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced Dracula take “Harker,” and “A Discovery of Witches” about an interspecies war between witches and vampires, all at Warners; and the Bekmambetov-helmed “The Knights Templar,” which features a vampire army set on destroying the Holy Grail, at U.

On the TV side, the CW’s Thursday anchor “Vampire Diaries,” now in its third season, has become one of the most popular programs on all platforms for the youth-skewing network, as well as one of the most successful franchises in Alloy’s history. Its series premiere in September drew 3 million viewers.

“It’s basically a franchise that has taken three bites out of the apple,” says Alloy CEO Morgenstein. “It had a successful book run in the 1990s. It became a hit series. And then the series spawned a successful second life with the books. In fact, ‘Vampire Diaries’ has had a far more successful second life for us than a franchise like (our) ‘Gossip Girl.’?”

The books have sold approximately 5 million units domestically and have been licensed to more than 30 international territories.

According to “Twilight Saga” publisher Little, Brown, Stephenie Meyer’s four-book series — “Twilight,” “New Moon,” “Eclipse” and “Breaking Dawn” — has sold 116 million copies worldwide. Parent company Lagadere has had to wrestle with corporate earnings dips when Meyer began to work on other books, and series sales slowed. The first three films generated more than $1.8 billion at the box office for Summit.

While another book-based series, HBO’s “True Blood,” bowed to just 1.4 million total viewers during its debut run in 2008, the series quickly picked up steam, and now boasts the distinction of being the pay cabler’s highest-rated skein since “The Sopranos.” Having wrapped its fourth season in September, it has been picked up for a fifth.

Looking back at “Twilight’s” success in the publishing world, greenlighting films based on the books seems like a no-brainer.

But not so fast. Rice’s bestselling “Vampire” books didn’t lead to blockbuster B.O.: the Tom Cruise-Brad Pitt “Interview With the Vampire” grossed a good but not eye-popping $224 million worldwide, and no other films from Rice’s series were made. Francis Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” bowed in 1992 with $216 million worldwide, while another twist on the Dracula legend, “Van Helsing,” took in $300 million worldwide, but failed to establish itself as a tentpole.

The lower-budget Marvel-comicbook adaptation “Blade” franchise, which launched in 1998, kept vampires healthy at the B.O. — the three-pic franchise has taken in some $415 million globally.

By comparison, TV fangs have left a more lasting impression. The WB’s (and later UPN’s) “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” became a pop-culture phenomenon, spawning young-adult books, comicbooks and the long-running spin-off “Angel,” plus syndication and DVD sales, although hard numbers are not available. Still, in terms of economic impact, the hit series far outshone its bigscreen predecessor, the 1992 Fox movie, which earned less than $17 million domestically.

Still, some wonder if the vampire market is saturated.

“I wouldn’t launch a new vampire-themed book franchise right now,” Morgenstein says. “Even if I had the next ‘Twilight’ in my hands, I would definitely put it in a drawer for a couple of years.”

It couldn’t hurt; in Hollywood, the undead never seem to die.

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