Unless the word "Marvel" is in front of the title, movie franchises don't get much bigger than The Twilight Saga. Based on the best-selling novels by Stephenie Meyer, the films -- Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2 -- grossed a whopping $3.3 billion at the worldwide box office. They were an undeniable phenomenon, with fans praising the largely faithful way the books were adapted for the big screen.
The truth is that, when the original was produced, no one knew whether the target audience would turn up, or in what number. For that reason, Twilight was made for relatively little money. Much of its $37 million budget was needed for costumes, special effects, and makeup, in addition to the standard costs associated with paying the crew. That meant the production couldn't afford to hire A-list stars. Budgets for the sequels were much higher, but by that point, the core cast was in place.
In some cases, the actors chosen for The Twilight Saga were excellent. A couple of them became big stars as a result of the series' success. Other casting choices weren't as successful, with key parts going to actors who couldn't find a way to make them work. We can only wonder what the franchise would have been like had different performers landed those roles.
For better or worse, we now break down the best and worst casting choices in The Twilight Saga.
Here are 10 Twilight Casting Decisions That Hurt The Franchise (and 10 That Saved It).
20 Hurt: Ashley Greene - Alice Cullen
Outside of Edward, Bella, and Jacob, it's arguable that the most important character is Alice Cullen. Aside from having the intriguing ability to see into the future, she becomes a trusted confidante to Bella over the course of the saga.
Cast in the part was actress Ashley Greene. It was her first film role of any substance. Her previous biggest movie credit was playing "McDonald's Customer" in the Michael Douglas flop King of California.
Critics were unimpressed with Greene's work, with many of them suggesting that she was bland onscreen, and that she didn't provide Alice with a whole lot in the charisma department.
Audiences accepted the actress a little more, yet it's hard not to concede that the critical consensus had merit. Greene pales next to the leads. Some of that may be the fault of the screenplay, which doesn't develop Alice as fully as it might have.
Perhaps backing up the claims of critics is the fact that Greene's acting career outside of The Twilight Saga has floundered. Her only major studio movie, The Apparition, was a colossal flop, grossing just over $4 million at the North American box office. Everything else she's done has been a little-seen inside. Nonetheless, Greene is likable and fans hope she eventually finds a role that she can ace.
19 Saved: Mackenzie Foy - Renesmee Cullen
Mackenzie Foy had the challenge of stepping into the shoes of one of the most anticipated characters in the entire Twilight film series. She plays Renesmee Cullen, the daughter of Edward and Bella.
Foy doesn't have the biggest part, nor is Renesmee the character with the most screen time, by a long shot. However, the most ardent fans of Stephenie Meyer's books were extremely excited to see the product of their beloved couple's romance make her on-screen debut.
Of course, Renesmee appears older than she actually is, and she finds herself a target of the Volturi. Breaking Dawn - Part 1 marked Foy's very first movie. That's not a bad way to begin a career. The actress, who was just ten at the time of filming, was previously a child model with only a few TV credits on her resume.
Despite her inexperience, she won the hearts of the fans, turning in an unexpectedly natural performance.
It was clear that she was a little star in the making, capable of holding her own opposite her more seasoned co-stars.
Since playing Renesmee, Foy has solidified her reputation, earning raves for her work as one of the terrified children in The Conjuring and as Matthew McConaughey's daughter in Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic Interstellar.
18 Hurt: Bryce Dallas Howard - Victoria
Bryce Dallas Howard is an extremely talented actress who found herself in a somewhat unfortunate situation with The Twilight Saga. She had to take over the role of Victoria from another actress right in the middle.
Rachelle Lefevre played the nomadic vampire who hunts Bella in the original film and the first sequel, New Moon. The company releasing the films, Summit Entertainment, replaced her with Howard for Eclipse and Breaking Dawn. The official reason was that Lefevre had a scheduling conflict with another film and would not be available. However, the actress claimed that Summit simply refused to adjust her Twilight shooting schedule so that she could work ten days on the other movie. It was clear that she didn't go voluntarily.
Whatever the cause, Howard stepped into the role. The problem here is not that she did a poor job. Like we said, she's a terrific actress.
The problem is that she and Lefevre are different performers who made different choices in the role, each of them crafted to their own particular strengths.
That has the effect of making Victoria seem like a wildly different character partway through the franchise. Had Howard snagged the role from the beginning, or had Lefevre been allowed to continue, the weird inconsistency wouldn't exist.
17 Hurt: Peter Facinelli - Carlisle Cullen
Peter Facinelli initially gained a measure of fame playing jerks and egomaniacs, such as when he portrayed Jennifer Love Hewitt's obnoxious jock ex-boyfriend in the '90s teen classic Can't Hardly Wait. From there, he had recurring roles on HBO's Six Feet Under and FX's Damages. Then came the role that would raise his profile to a whole new level, playing Carlisle, the patriarch of the Cullen clan in Twilight.
Carlisle is essentially the architect of the family. He oversees everything, sets the rules for how they will live, and acts as the person who ostensibly knows what to do in any situation. The character is supposed to be hugely influential -- the kind of rock solid man who acts as a pillar for all the other Cullens.
To make that work, an actor needs a strong presence. He needs to be the kind of figure who looms over every scene, even if only standing in the background. That quality is essential to selling the idea that Carlisle is the bedrock. Facinelli doesn't project anything close to that.
Part of the problem may be that he doesn't look much older than his co-stars, making him seem more a contemporary to the other Cullens, rather than their seasoned leader.
The actor also lacks the commanding authority that would have made Carlisle an on-screen force to be reckoned with.
16 Saved: Michael Sheen - Aro
Michael Sheen holds an unusual place within the Twilight franchise. He came into it not only as a well-established actor, but as someone with an acclaimed body of work to his credit. It seemed a bit odd for such a prestigious actor to appear in a teen fantasy/romance. Nevertheless, he is undoubtedly a highlight of the saga.
Sheen plays Aro, one of the leaders of the villainous Volturi. Aro has the incredible ability to read the mind of every person he's ever come in physical contact with. Sheen first appears as the character in New Moon, but becomes much more prominent in the two Breaking Dawn chapters.
Truth be told, his performance is a little out of step with everyone else's. The actor plays Aro broadly, with a wink and a nod to the audience, as if he knows the material is slightly ridiculous. All the other actors play everything completely straight. In some cases, that discrepancy could be terrible, yet Sheen wisely uses it as a choice to set Aro apart from all the other characters.
He chews the scenery because that's precisely what a villain like this should do. Consequently, the story comes alive in a whole new way whenever he appears onscreen.
15 Hurt: Kellen Lutz - Emmett Cullen
Kellen Lutz plays Emmett Cullen, one member of the vampire family that Bella befriends. Emmett is physically the strongest of the clan. His role in the series is generally to exhibit such strength and, on many occasions, to serve as comic relief.
By all accounts, Lutz is a very nice guy off-screen, and he has done some admirable work on behalf of multiple charities. Onscreen, however, he has a noticeable lack of charisma. It's not just in the Twilight movies, either. Look at anything he's done and you'll see a guy who is amiable, without ever being magnetic. Lutz comes across like the high school football star who earnestly decides to try out for the school play. He's not terrible, and you admire the pluckiness, but he simply doesn't stand out.
In another actor's hands, Emmett's physicality might have made a bigger impression. The character is supposed to be the primary protector of the Cullen clan; the one who will be right at the front line whenever there is a threat to the family. Even when he's being funny, we should feel intimidated by his bulk. In other words, he should be to Twilight what Dave Bautista as Drax is to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
14 Saved: Kristen Stewart - Bella Swan
Kristen Stewart was a rising “It girl” at the time she was hired to play Bella in Twilight. Roles in films such as Panic Room, Zathura, and Into the Wild established her as a skilled, engaging performer. She was young enough to be credible as a naïve high school student, yet she also radiated sufficient intelligence to prove that Bella was nobody's fool.
The entire Twilight saga is told from Bella's point of view, so Stewart's ability to pull those things off was vital.
What's most interesting about the actress's performance is the way she shows how the character grows over time.
On a purely surface level, the saga is pretty silly. A teen girl gets into a love triangle with a vampire and a werewolf, marries the vampire, gets pregnant with half-human/half-vampire baby, demands to be bitten, then fights a coven of other vampires.
Stewart brings an unexpected level of depth to all that over the course of the series. She takes Bella's emotions seriously, doing everything she can to bring them to the surface. Any sort of fantasy movie requires someone to ground it. Stewart doesn't look down on her character, which allows Bella's situation to feel sincere, despite the sheer unreality of the plot.
13 Hurt: Jackson Rathbone - Jasper Hale
Twilight marked a very early role for Jackson Rathbone. Before stepping into the shoes of Jasper Hale, the actor had done a few little-seen independent films, plus a couple episodes of the TV shows The O.C. and The War at Home. He had some experience, just not a whole lot of it. As it is for many young actors, that came across on screen.
In the earliest films in the saga, Rathbone seems somewhat uncomfortable.
He's got a tough role. Jasper can manipulate other people's emotions and, as the newest recruit into the Cullen clan, has a lot of trouble adhering to the rule that they can only drink animal blood rather than blood from humans.
As an example, take a look at the oft-ridiculed scene in which Bella gets a paper cut and Jasper, overcome by the smell of blood, rushes forward in an attempt to devour her bleeding finger. The moment is supposed to be intense, yet comes off as laughable in large part because Rathbone can't make it real for the audience. His facial expressions look more silly than obsessively hungry. Such issues mark his work in the first three movies.
To be completely fair to Rathbone, his comfort level grew considerably, and visibly, over the course of the series. By the time of the Breaking Dawn films, he had a much stronger grasp on his character, which allowed him to do deeper, more effective work in the role. Those first couple films were rough, though.
12 Saved: Anna Kendrick - Jessica Stanley
Anna Kendrick was a star before she was a star. The actress came to Twilight with only two feature films to her credit -- the independent productions Camp and Rocket Science. She had, however, received a Tony Award nomination for playing Dinah in High Society on Broadway, and she was the winner of the Drama League and Theatre World Award. Her stage work was fairly extensive.
Aside from being a star on the stage, Kendrick radiated that old-fashioned movie star quality, as well. In Twilight, she plays Jessica, one of the girls Bella befriends at her new high school. The part isn't big, there largely to help Bella -- and, in essence, the audience -- get information about Edward.
Kendrick feels natural on camera, like someone who would actually be your best friend in real life.
Over the course of the saga, her star shone brighter, thanks to an Oscar nomination for Up in the Air, along with hit movies like Pitch Perfect, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and 50/50. It would have been easy for her to bail on the series, yet she never did, continuing to portray Jessica throughout. The character was always in the periphery. Still, Kendrick went right on lighting up the screen, giving the whole thing a burst of energy in the process.
11 Hurt: Nikki Reed - Rosalie Hale
Nikki Reed first came into prominence when she co-wrote and co-starred in the drama Thirteen. Her co-writer and director was Catherine Hardwicke who, of course, was hired to direct the first Twilight movie. Hardwicke gave Reed the fairly juicy role of Rosalie Hale, Jasper's sister and the adopted daughter of Carlisle and Alice Cullen. On a friendship level, that was a nice thing to do. From a filmmaking perspective, it didn't really pan out.
Rosalie becomes increasingly important as the series goes on, so the part requires some heavy-duty acting. This is especially true in Eclipse, where a flashback sequence reveals the character's tragic backstory, which involves an abusive fiance and a tragic end to their relationship. That's a tough thing to act, as are the emotions that are visible as Rosalie relates this tale to Bella.
The scene emphasizes that, while very good in some roles, Reed doesn't really have the chops to pull off such intense material. Her performance borders on overwrought soap opera acting. Yes, it's true Twilight is a supernatural soap opera. Nonetheless, sequences of this nature still need to have emotional weight. Reed doesn't bring that here, or in many other "big" scenes with Rosalie.
10 Saved: Dakota Fanning - Jane
Dakota Fanning established herself as one of the most prodigiously talented child actors in cinema history with a series of stunning performances in I Am Sam, Man on Fire, and Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, among others. In each case, she transcended all the usual cliches about child actors, demonstrating range and genuine skill at conveying difficult emotions. She even dabbled in more sophisticated fare, such as taking the lead role in the extremely controversial indie drama Hounddog.
Despite a wide array of previous films, it was still shocking, in the best possible way, to see the adolescent Fanning play an unrepentantly evil character in The Twilight Saga. Starting with New Moon, she portrayed Jane, the Volturi member with the power to torture others through illusions of pain and suffering.
The adorable little girl that moviegoers loved watching suddenly took on the role of an evil young woman.
Since she's so preternaturally talented, Fanning is sensational in the role -- not just because of the shock value, but because she gives Jane an eerily icy quality. You don't expect to see such malice emanating from this particular actress. Fanning takes the concept of "mean girl" and transforms it into something legitimately creepy, establishing her character as a real threat to Bella and Edward.
9 Hurt: Cameron Bright - Alec
Cameron Bright earned raves at the tender young age of ten for his work in the drama Birth, in which Nicole Kidman comes to believe that his character might be the reincarnation of her late husband. The film was controversial due to a scene in which the two share a bathtub. Critics didn't exactly embrace it, but they singled out Bright for his haunting performance. From there, he continued to work in movies as diverse as Thank You For Smoking and X-Men: The Last Stand.
In The Twilight Saga, Bright plays Alec, the Volturi member who is also the twin brother to Dakota Fanning's character, Jane. He's supposed to be a menacing character. Bright was, however, in late adolescence when he made the movies. Conveying menace is hard during that period, unless you just naturally look the part, which he didn't. As a result, his performance never quite hits the right note.
Look for him during the climactic battle in Breaking Dawn - Part 2 and you'll particularly see him working overtime to appear fearsome, and never really getting there. Bright is talented, but he was simply miscast here, with his baby-face quality preventing him from achieving the desired effect.
8 Saved: Taylor Lautner - Jacob Black
Taylor Lautner got a fair amount of criticism when he was cast as Jacob Black, a werewolf rival to Edward for Bella's affections. Many of the book's most ardent fans pointed out that Jacob is supposed to be buff, yet Lautner was noticeably lean. For a time, there were even rumors that he would be replaced after the first entry in the series. The actor responded by bulking up, physically morphing his body into something closer to what the character was envisioned to be. Talk about dedication!
There's more to it, though. Over the course of the saga, Lautner makes the love that Jacob feels for Bella seem real. The fact is that, although Bella and Edward are clearly going to be together, part of the epic story's inherent drama comes from knowing that Jacob is every bit as worthy a love interest for her as his vampire counterpart. That works onscreen because Lautner captures the feeling of deep, abiding love that one person can have for another, as well as the heartache when it becomes clear that the person you love loves someone else a little more.
It's worth noting that Jacob is a Native American character. While Lautner has been criticized for taking a Native American role, he claims some "distant" ancestry on his mother's side.
7 Saved: Billy Burke - Charlie Swan
Billy Burke plays Charlie Swan, the Chief of Police in Forks and, more importantly, Bella's father. Before Twilight, he was one of those character actors who popped up in small roles in movies like Ladder 49, Along Came a Spider, and Untraceable. He also did guest spots on TV programs such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Gilmore Girls. Put another way, he was a guy who you recognized from somewhere but probably couldn't identify.
In some respects, this is one of the most central pieces of casting in the entire Twilight saga. Charlie is, to a significant extent, a surrogate for the audience. He's Bella's dad, and therefore very concerned with her safety, while also being generally outside of the story's supernatural events. We are like him, watching what happens to Bella and feeling the exact same worries as she finds herself getting deeper into a love triangle and a vampire war.
Burke is excellent in this capacity. He projects a credible sense of fatherly compassion, helping establish the extremely close bond between Charlie and Bella. Their relationship is a nice, more realistic counterbalance to the plot's fantasy elements. It works, thanks in large part to Burke's sincere work as the protective father.
6 Hurt: Booboo Stewart
Niles Allen Stewart, Jr. goes by the professional first name of "Booboo." Following a series of television appearances and a few independent films, the young actor was cast as Seth Clearwater in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and all future installments of the series.
Like his sister Leah, Seth is a wolf. He is also, at age 15, the youngest member of his pack. As an adolescent, he looks up to his elder werewolves, particularly Jacob Black, who serves as something of a role model for him. Seth also thinks being a wolf is pretty cool overall, as it comes with some useful powers. Over the course of the series, the character proves pivotal in a number of ways, becoming a right-hand man to Jacob and an unlikely friend to Edward.
After the Twilight series ended, Stewart found success with the Disney Channel's Descendants movies, where he played Jay. That's a nice fit for him. Seth wasn't quite as good a fit.
Stewart's performance is often rather stiff, but other times a little too exuberant.
There are moments where he oversells Seth's hero worship of Jacob. He's not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but the actor doesn't give Seth enough of a personality to match his eventual significance in the story.
5 Saved: Graham Greene
Graham Greene has had an extraordinary career. The Canadian First Nations actor has been performing in film and on television since the late 1970s, amassing more than 150 professional credits during that time. His notable projects include Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Green Mile, and, in 2017, the critically acclaimed movies Molly's Game and Wind River. In 1990, he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his work in Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves.
Clearly, Greene is an accomplished, enormously experienced actor. That makes his appearance as Harry Clearwater in The Twilight Saga: New Moon such a highlight of the series. Harry is an elder in the Quileute tribe, plus the father of werewolves Leah and Seth. The character has a critical function within the story, as he helps to protect Charlie Swan from the vampire Victoria.
Greene only appears in this one installment, because Harry perishes of a heart attack during the course of New Moon. Nonetheless, he is an actor who projects a great amount of authority onscreen, and the film benefits from that. Because the story is a fantasy, it's helpful to have someone like Greene come in and bring a touch of dignity.
4 Hurt: Edi Gathegi
Edi Gathegi was born in Nairobi, Kenya. He came to America and studied at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His dream was to play basketball, but after seriously injuring his knee, he decided to take up acting instead. That ended up being a smart choice. Small roles in the hits Gone Baby Gone and Crank preceded his breakthrough role as Laurent in The Twilight Saga.
Laurent is a member of James' coven, and in New Moon, he famously stalks and tries to eat Bella before having his plan foiled by the Quileute wolves. His job within the story is to convey danger, to put Bella in peril to such a degree that we think she might actually get hurt, even though subconsciously we know she won't.
Gathegi is fine in the role. He's got talent, and he seems committed to the part. We have no beef with his performance. That said, this is an occasion where a slightly more high-profile actor might have been a better choice. Someone like The Wire's Michael K. Williams, who we've seen play menacing characters before, would have radically upped the intimidation level of Laurent, particularly in the scene where he goes after Bella.
3 Saved: Cam Gigandet
Tacoma, Washington native Cam Gigandet was known for portraying bad boy surfer Kevin Volchok on Fox's hit drama The O.C. before receiving his breakout film role as James, the tracker vampire, in Twilight. It was only his third feature. His work earned him an MTV Movie Award for Best Fight, recognizing his clash with Robert Pattinson's Edward. Interestingly, Gigandet had already won that same award the year before, for a fight sequence with Sean Faris in Never Back Down.
It's no coincidence that the actor is good in fight scenes, since he has a black belt in Krav Maga, a form of self-defense that draws on elements from boxing, wrestling, Karate, and Judo.
His abilities in this capacity serve him well in Twilight's noted fight scene. The guy looks like he really knows how to fight because, well, he really knows how to fight. It's one of those little touches that the audience doesn't necessarily pick up on, yet makes a big difference.
Gigandet, unlike some of his co-stars, is also good at playing evil. In his hands, we understand why Bella is, and should be, afraid of James. At the same time, the actor hits just the right balance between taking the material seriously and recognizing that it's not exactly Shakespeare. There's an underlying layer of fun to his performance, even though he's playing a bloodthirsty vampire.
2 Hurt: Tinsel Korey
What would a blockbuster movie franchise be without a little controversy? Providing that touch of scandal for The Twilight Saga is actress Tinsel Korey.
The actress plays Emily Young in New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn - Part 1. Emily is a cousin to Leah and Seth Clearwater, recognizable for the massive scars running down her face. She and Bella become friends, and Emily often has the wolves congregate at their house, acting like a den mother to them.
Emily is not a wolf, but she is identified as Makah. By and large, the actors playing the wolves were cast with Native American actors because that was true to their characters. Korey is a little different, in that there have been accusations that she has fudged her Native American lineage. Adding to this alleged duplicity is the additional charge that "Tinsel Korey" is a stage name to help sell the ruse.
There are already too few good roles available for Native American actors. Casting someone who apparently is not really Native takes an opportunity away from one of the many authentic actresses looking for meaningful work. Regardless of Korey's ancestry, the Twilight filmmakers would have been smart to cast a performer who was verifiably Native American.
1 Saved: Robert Pattinson
Robert Pattinson had the advantage of not being famous when he was cast as Edward, the young James Dean-esque vampire in Twilight. He'd had a few smaller roles here and there, most notably as Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but nothing that really put him on the general public's map in any substantial way. Such relative anonymity proved very fortuitous.
Because Stephenie Meyer's novels had so many hardcore fans, it's safe to say that each of them came to the initial movie with their own individual perspective on what Edward should be like. Whether by Pattinson's choice or director Catherine Hardwicke's, Edward is a bit of a blank slate that first time around. He gives a lot of smoldering glares, and he doesn't have a ton of dialogue. It was, in retrospect, a masterstroke.
Because Pattinson didn't play Edward with an excess of specificity, fans could project onto the character whatever they wanted, rather than having an actor's bold choices define him for them.
Once those same fans accepted -- and embraced -- the actor in the role, he was free to add more of his own little quirks and ideas. It would have been easier to cast a more recognizable name in the role, but a bigger star would have brought baggage. Pattinson was able to sneak in the back door, giving him the chance to create a character that, over time, transcended the “bad boy” cliches Edward initially seemed to embody.
Who's your favorite actor in the Twilight movies? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.