Will audiences ever want to see the 'Twilight' stars do anything else?
So why couldn't she do it?
"The Runaways," Floria Sigismondi's biopic that, of course, stars Stewart as femme-punk icon Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as her bandmate-rival-lover Cherie Currie, earned an extremely modest $800,000 in its opening weekend. For most limited releases, that number wouldn't be horrible. But the film opened on 244 screens, meaning it averaged a paltry $3,300 per screen. Given the die-hards (or Twi-hards) you'd expect would turn out for a Kristen Stewart debut, those numbers aren't impressive; in fact, they're a lot more punk than glam.
Pundits on Monday had plenty of reasons for the disappointing performance. Certainly the movie's R-rating hurt; younger Stewart fans might have bought tickets had they not been restricted from doing so by the MPAA. (Bob Berney, the head of distributor Apparition, noted that the rating "possibly ke[pt] some of the younger audience away.")
But there may be a deeper lesson here about Stewart: For all her acting versatility, when she strays from her "Twilight" wheelhouse, the fans don't roll with her. That was, after all, also the message some experts gleaned from her first post-"Twilight" movie, "Adventureland," which grossed just $16 million domestically despite getting some marketing play as a Stewart vehicle (and not three months after "Twilight" blew off the box-office doors). It's a lesson that's especially pointed with "Runaways" because Stewart, in inhabiting the role of Joan Jett, is in many ways picking up where Bella Swan left off. She's playing the moody rebel in both, yet fans apparently only want to see her playing a certain kind of moody rebel.
A similar point could be inferred from Stewart's "Twilight' co-star Robert Pattinson, who just last week released his first mainstream movie in which he doesn't play a vampire. With the romantic drama "Remember Me," Pattinson was taking on a genre even more difficult than period music-themed biopics, but, like Stewart, was also echoing parts of his "Twilight" performance (the tortured-lover part).
That should have locked up a chunk of his fan base. But the movie wound up grossing $14 million in its first two weeks -- a (slightly) more impressive number than "Runaways" until you realize it opened on more than 2,000 screens. Its per-screen opening of $3,600, it turns out, mirrors Stewart's own lackluster weekend.
Stewart's and Pattinson's careers are evolving, and both will probably take on a lot more roles by the time all is said and done. It's also worth pointing out that neither saw their recent releases get the full marketing press -- Apparition is an indie label, and Summit, despite some TV and outdoor spending, chose its spots carefully on the lower-budget drama.
Still, the conventional wisdom is that "Twilight" marks the kind of all-consuming phenomenon that can mint stars who, with their reputations solidified, then stalk off to other movies and take their audiences with them. But the last two weeks prove otherwise.
Which brings us to the third leg in the "Twilight" tripod: Taylor Lautner, arguably as hot now as Pattinson was after the first film (if not hotter), has over the past few months booked more movies than a groupie takes cellphone pictures; he's signed on for action-adventures such as Paramount's "Stretch Armstrong" and Lionsgate's "Bourne"-like "Abduction."
Those movies sit in a far more commercial realm, but if Lautner is equally ill-equipped to bring his "Twilight" fan base within him, the career damage could run deeper. It's one thing to take on a small romantic drama with Emilie de Ravin and go out meekly -- it's another to take on a big-budget franchise based on a Hasbro action figure. Suddenly splitting that last "Twilight" movie into two doesn't seem like such a bad career move.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in "The Twilight Saga: New Moon.'"Credit: Kimberley French / Summit Entertainment