Did you see “Twilight” star Taylor Lautner in “Abduction” last weekend? According to the box office numbers, odds are probably not. Box Office Mojo reports the film grossed below industry projections, earning just $10.9 million at over 3100 screens. That barely covers what it costs to hire Lautner these days. His fee ballooned to $7.5 million last year, making him the highest paid teenage actor in Hollywood at the time. So we have to wonder: is he worth it? Audiences — or at least one particular and very devoted audience — will come see him in “Twilight.” Are they going to come see him in anything else?
They didn’t come out in force for “Abduction,” though there are certainly some mitigating circumstances that could account for the film’s low grosses. It opened opposite another action movie, “Killer Elite,” which didn’t perform well at the box office either. It’s feasible that the two films split their collective audience and stole admissions from one another. Box Office Mojo says “the audience breakdown was 68 percent female and 56 percent under the age of 25,” a good indicator of Lautner’s audience: young women. Typically, that’s not the core action movie crowd.
Is that Lautner’s fault? Maybe; maybe it’s the fault of the people who cast the female-leaning Lautner in a male-leaning genre. Either way, “Abduction” is not an isolated incident. Ever since Lautner and co-stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson launched “Twilight” in 2008, the franchise has earned $789.8 million in the United States. In that same stretch of time, that trio has appeared in 9 other movies. Their total gross? $219.3 million. If we take out “Valentine’s Day”‘s $110.4 million, in which Lautner was just one of many stars, that’s $108.9 over 8 movies, a paltry average of $13.6 million per movie.
Again, we can find extenuation if we want to. A lot of these movies were little indies with littler marketing budgets. Others had adult subjects and themes that might not appeal to the “Twilight” crowd. A few had both, like “Little Ashes,” a gay romance in which Pattinson played famed surrealist Salvador Dalí. That one grossed just $480,000, but that’s not the biggest flop from the “Twilight” cast. Stewart has two flicks that failed to reach seven figure grosses: “The Yellow Handkerchief” ($318,000) and “Welcome to the Rileys” ($158,898).
There are reasonable excuses why Stewart, Pattinson, and Lautner haven’t had success outside “Twilight.” But there are also arguments to be made that say those excuses shouldn’t matter. The whole point of casting a movie star is to help bring people to the theater without spending money on marketing. Brad Pitt is his own marketing as the star of “Moneyball” — no coincidence then that the film’s poster just a simple, beautiful close-up of Pitt flashing that million dollar smile. The poster for “Abduction” was a picture of Lautner surfing down the side of a skyscraper (or something). That was all his die-hard female fans needed to know, but it was also all other folks needed to know to convince them to stay away.
That’s one of the curious aspects of the “Twilight” phenomenon: it’s one of the most widely disliked massively successful movie franchises in history. Each movie’s made more than the one before it, and each has drawn more derision from film writers than the one before it. The series is popular but divisive, and that could be a major problem for its stars as they move forward with their careers.
They could have larger problems that have nothing to do with “Twilight” too; this could be the twilight of movie stardom in general. We live in an age in which the films that get produced are dictated more by properties than movie stars. It’s a phenomenon we first identified and discussed on the old IFC News podcast about two years ago. Audiences are drawn to material and not necessarily to the actors appearing in that material. When the actors get too expensive, they’re just replaced; see Andrew Garfield subbing for Tobey Maguire in the upcoming “The Amazing Spider-Man.” There are still a few franchises rooted in star power — it’s impossible to imagine a “Pirates of the Caribbean” without Johnny Depp — but not many. Would “Transformers” crater without Shia LaBeouf? It certainly didn’t crater without Megan Fox; she was replaced for this summer’s “Dark of the Moon,” which went on to gross $351.9 domestically without her. That’s the second best total of 2011 behind only “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.”
Speaking of “Harry Potter,” we could be having this same conversation about that cast really soon.