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The Twilight Reclamation Project

By Ryan O’Toole

Photo: Teen Vogue - Source

In 1997, Titanic was released to become the highest grossing film of all time. It was an instant success that rocketed its star, Leonardo DiCaprio to worldwide recognition. However, it seems that massive popularity has its downside. Even though DiCaprio had already garnered critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, he quickly got pegged as a pretty boy teen heartthrob for a large number of people and had to continually, over the next decade, prove himself in tougher roles to gain back the respect he deserved.

A decade later, another teen romance was released. The Twilight saga is one of the most successful franchises in film history, grossing over 3 billion dollars worldwide. Along with Harry Potter, Twilight defined the young adult movies of its generation, creating a huge fan culture that led to sold out midnight screenings and record breaking opening weekends. It’s hard to deny Twilight’s popularity and place in popular culture.

But while Twilight is a huge cultural phenomenon and box office success, the critical reception has always been mixed, with its large number of detractors. One of the things that was always criticized was its performances. The popularity of the films and the perceived bad performances led many to think that its stars, particularly Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, were bad actors. And while this is not the place to fully dissect the problems of Twilight, the responsibility does not lie fully with the actors. Stephanie Meyer’s flawed writing as well as the studio’s wish to faithfully adapt the source material led to flat performances. But the perception at the time was that Stewart and Pattinson could not act.

Because of this, Stewart and Pattinson were basically black listed from Hollywood for a couple of years, not allowed to be in any big projects. General audiences still didn’t like them. They had to shift down to smaller projects, independent and foreign films to prove their acting chops and work their way back to the limelight. And for the next decade that’s exactly what they did.

Robert Pattinson

Photo: Indiewire - Source

Robert Pattinson quickly exited his hugely popular era after the end of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2. He had been in Harry Potter and Remember Me at this point as well, but quickly turned to more serious parts after his final film as Edward Cullen. He starred in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis and David Michôd’s The Rover, the first films that got serious looks from critics with the reviews having the vibe of “Hey, that guy from Twilight might actually be a good actor.” He continued to work with great directors in smaller projects like James Gray in The Lost City of Z, the Safdie brothers in Good Time, Claire Denis in High Life and Robert Eggers in The Lighthouse.

With this, Pattinson transformed himself into an arthouse star, completely reinventing his image from the previous decade. And now, audiences are able to accept him as a leading man again in more populist affairs. His charming turn in Tenet and his upcoming The Batman prove that audiences are ready for Pattinson to grace their screens once again. Whatever image they had of him from Twilight is gone and he’s proven himself to be a good actor.

Kristen Stewart

Photo: Indiewire - Source

While Pattinson’s biggest role before Twilight was in a similarly young adult sensation, Harry Potter, Stewart entered the franchise with more serious street cred. She had already proven to be a rising star, working with David Fincher in Panic Room and was a part of the acclaimed ensemble of Into the Wild. But after Twilight, it seemed her momentum had screeched to a halt, with many unable to get over her affectations and mannerisms. Similarly, she retreated to smaller movies, finding great roles in Still Alice and Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women. However, her most fruitful roles came with French filmmaker Oliver Assayas in Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria, the latter of which won her a National Society of Film Critics award, New York Film Critics Circle award, and the César award (the French version of the Oscars) for Best Supporting Actress.

Her work with auteur directors has shown off her acting skills and it seems the world is ready to accept her as a serious actor again. This year, she stars as Princess Diana in Pablo Larraín’s Spencer. Although it is still early in the Oscar season, Stewart is currently the frontrunner for winning Best Actress at the Oscars. Even if she doesn’t win, she will still most likely get nominated and finally get the recognition she deserves after years of great performances.

Photo: Today - Source

Like Leo before them, it seems it is a right of passage for people who starred in hugely popular but critically divisive films to have to earn their respect. They all are burdened with their success and have to go through their own redemption arc to be considered “good” again, even if they were good to begin with.

We can also see this taking place with Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, who were in a similar situation after Fifty Shades of Darkness, and the inklings of their “Hey, they might actually be good” reclamation project is starting. Dakota Johnson, arguably one of the most fascinating talk show guests, has been great in arthouse movies like A Bigger Splash and Suspiria and charming in more populist movies like her romcom The High Note. And Jamie Dornan is getting great looks in Belfast, which premiered at Toronto International Film Festival this year, and could very well get a nomination of his own for his performance.

This is the cost of massive success. Saddled with an early project too popular for their own good, these actors had to spend a decade of their career proving to the world that they are good and deserve to be in movies in a way that no one ever does. They were always good, but they needed to prove it. Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart have more than shown off their talents and can finally get the respect they deserve.


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