A love story set in an enigmatic Southern town, warring magical sects, and a powerful legacy that will determine a teen’s destiny: could it be the recipe for the next YA series-turned-movie blockbuster? The Warner Brothers/Alcon Entertainment film, based on the first book in the Caster Chronicles by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is headed to the big screen on February 14.

Beautiful Creatures centers on 16-year-old Ethan Wate (played in the film by Alden Ehrenreich), who can’t wait to leave confining, small-town life in Gatlin, S.C. But when an intriguing outsider enrolls at his high school, his life is forever altered. As romance blooms between Lena (played by newcomer Alice Englert) and Ethan, Lena reveals that she descends from a line of Casters, beings who can yield powerful magic, and that she will face a critical transformation on the occasion of her 16th birthday. Directed by Richard LaGravenese, the cast includes Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, and Emma Thompson.

Vampires vs. Casters: A Showdown?

Of late, film studios have made no secret of the fact that they’re on the prowl for new YA properties that achieve Twilight-level success. As such, comparisons between Beautiful Creatures and its paranormal predecessor seem inevitable – and there are a few similarities. Both series are published by Little, Brown. Both center on love stories between teens who are irresistibly drawn toward each other. One of the teens in each book has a secret, supernatural identity. Both take place in small towns, and both female protagonists happen to drive big clunker cars. Come to think of it, both books build romantic tension via scenes involving vehicular accident close shaves. Despite certain parallels, LaGravenese insisted to Movieline that Beautiful Creatures is not Twilight: “I’m sorry, it’s just not. I mean, yes, it’s a love story and one of them has powers, but that’s it.”

Late last year, an article on Moviefone took his assertions a step further, arguing that the Beautiful Creatures films may prove to be better than the Twilight franchise.

While Twilight is appropriately set in the perennially overcast Forks, Washington (which, arguably, holds its own drizzly charm), Moviefone suggests that the fictionalized town of Gatlin plays an especially compelling role in the Southern gothic atmosphere of Beautiful Creatures. Then there’s the Edward vs. Ethan hotness scale to consider, with Moviefone positing that the soulful Southern boy is right on par with the brooding Edward. In contrast to the more telescopic focus on Bella and Edward’s romance in Twilight, a cast of seasoned actors and topical issues of racial prejudice may further broaden the appeal of Beautiful Creatures: “The book is written from the point of view of Ethan, and it’s just as much about Ethan and Lena discovering the centuries-old secrets of both their town and their powers as it is about their blossoming relationship,” Moviefone says. Finally, the sometimes uncomfortable reminder that Edward is a great deal older than Bella is not an issue in the Beautiful Creatures love story: the teenage characters are actually adolescents instead of immortals who are teenaged in appearance (and sometimes vocal inflection) only.

Crossover appeal between the Twilight films and Beautiful Creatures is likely. And might the central male protagonist in Beautiful Creatures result in a greater pull for a male audience? Hallie Patterson, senior publicist at Little, Brown, addressed the question by saying, “The majority of the series’ rabid fan base is teen girls. We’re excited for a new group of diverse fans to discover the books after they see the movie.”

‘Beautiful’ Tie-Ins

To date, the Caster Chronicles have sold more than 1.3 million copies across all editions, boosted in part by Little, Brown’s robust movie tie-in program launched in November. Patterson reports that Little, Brown saw “an enormous increase in sales post-holiday” for the entire series. Tie-in titles include a mass-market edition of Beautiful Creatures featuring cover art from the film (500,000 copies) and a trade paperback edition of the book containing a foldout poster (250,000 copies). Also from Little, Brown: Beautiful Creatures: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion (100,000 copies), which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, including cast interviews, photos, and personal stories. Finally, Beautiful Creatures: The Manga (50,000 copies) from Yen Press, adapted by Cassandra Jean, releases on February 5.

And a little help from friends – even if they are “pretty little liars” – doesn’t hurt marketing efforts, either. Warner Brothers/Alcon Entertainment offered an exclusive peek at Beautiful Creatures during the ABC show’s January 9 winter premier.