After his role in the first two Twilight movies, teen heartthrob Taylor Lautner has been in demand with studios and filmmakers in every direction. With the ever increasing number of projects the now 18 year old actor (female Twilighters rejoice!) is attached to, it was almost inevitable that he couldn’t appear in every single one of them. And today we get news of that very thing happening with one of his fairly major potential projects.

Lautner has been attached to two toy-based projects for a while now, the first being Max Steel, which is based on the doll by toy-maker Mattel, and the second being the recently announced Stretch Armstrong, based on the toy by Mattel’s rival Hasbro. Max Steel was set to be up first for Lautner but now we learn he has dropped out of that project in favor of something with a little more… stretch to it.

The battle of Mattel versus Hasbro for one of the most sought-after young actors in the business has seen the latter company come out on top. But how and why? Well, Vulture has all the in-depth details on what went down – but let us break it down as simply as possible right here:

Early last December a report was written over at Deadline which hailed Lautner as “Paramount’s Next Big Action Star” shortly after the actor locked down the Max Steel deal. Former chairman of Revolution Studios, Joe Roth, was set to produce the film which is about “an orphan exposed to nano-technology [who] becomes imbued with superhero powers.”

However, just over a week later Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner was extremely impressed by Lautner’s performance hosting Saturday Night Live (and Goldner just happens to be a corporate client at Lautner’s agency, WME Entertainment). Goldner then contacted WME’s top agents about casting Lautner in Stretch Armstrong and as we all know Lautner was cast at the start of this month as the live-action version of the popular stretchy action figure.

How it came about that Lautner has dropped out of Steel for Stretch is interesting: Shortly after signing on to play Max Steel Lautner apparently noticed Hasbro was getting its act together a lot quicker than Mattel was. Hasbro-based projects at various different studios were, and still are, moving ahead really quickly – including Candy Land (with a script written by Tropic Thunder‘s Etan Cohen and Enchanted director, Kevin Lima, already in place for release in 2011); Peter Berg’s Battleship is already well on the way and due for release in 2012; a Risk movie is in development at Columbia Pictures with Will Smith and James Lassiter producing; and Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer fast-tracking Stretch Armstrong for a 2012 release.

And that doesn’t even cover the obvious success of both Transformers and G.I. Joe

But Hasbro’s rival Mattel hasn’t been anywhere near as pro-active with its projects – not due to production problems but seemingly by choice. Before announcing Max Steel, Universal said it was making a movie based on another of Mattel’s toys, the astronaut action-figure from the sixties called Major Matt Mason, with Tom Hanks in line to star. But ever since that was talked about last March nothing has really happened with it.

Vulture points us to earlier news over at LA Times that Monsters vs. Aliens director, Rob Letterman, is in talks to helm Stretch Armstrong. And apparently by the time those talks started a few weeks ago, Lautner had already decided to opt out of Max Steel.

Was it smart for Lautner to choose the more well known toy-based product in Stretch Armstrong than the lesser known (at least in the major market of the US) Max Steel? I’d say so, even though Stretch isn’t a toy I think can work on the big screen without it being overly silly in a way that only appeals to kids (which is a real possibility considering it’s based on a kids toy). It goes without saying Lautner is popular right now, both with Twilighters worldwide and studios and filmmakers in Hollywood. He can basically pick and choose which roles he takes and you can’t blame him for going with the tried and tested Hasbro-based project, now can you?

Amusing bonus info: Lautner was at the American International Toy Fair industry convention in New York last Tuesday and he was seen and photographed extensively playing around with Hasbro’s new Nerf Raid Blaster in the company’s hospitality suite while at the same event Mattel was debuting its Taylor Lautner doll based on his Twilight character, Jacob Black. Ouch!

What do you think of Lautner dropping out of Max Steel for Stretch Armstrong? Smart move on his part?

Stretch Armstrong is set to be released (in 3D) sometime in 2012, with Max Steel set to hit sometime in 2011. We’ll let you know when they find a replacement for Lautner for the latter.

Sources: Vulture, LA Times and RamaScreen (for Lautner/Max Steel image)