Does ‘Water For Elephants’ Prove Robert Pattinson’s Box-Office Draw?

Experts discuss what film's $17.5 million debut means for the 'Twilight' star.

After the “Twilight” franchise made him a household name (at least among families’ more junior members), Robert Pattinson’s first cinematic outing outside the vampire franchise didn’t go so well. “Remember Me” received largely negative reviews last year and stumbled at the box office, ultimately grossing less than $20 million domestically.

“Water for Elephants,” by contrast, largely performed up to expectations this week, reeling in $17.5 million. The sweeping romantic drama was a big test for Pattinson — a major studio flick aimed not at his teen base, but an adult audience. Would this be the project that launched the 24-year-old Brit from Twi-hunk to broadly accepted Hollywood leading man? Perhaps not yet, owing to the respectable but not astounding debut, though industry insiders are calling “Water for Elephants” a much-needed step toward that goal.

“Pattinson has yet to prove he is an evergreen box-office draw, outside of vamping it up in the ‘Twilight’ series,” said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. ” ‘WFE’ was the right choice as it wasn’t too much of a stretch and is in the general wheelhouse of his core fanbase: women. A lot of times, up-and-coming actors turn 180 degrees and play a drug dealer or pathological killer just to shed their public persona, and oftentimes that backfires, as they turn their back on their true fans.”

“WFE” certainly succeeded at targeting older female moviegoers. According to Fox, the film’s audience was 70 percent female and 70 percent over the age of 25. That age demographic gives us a good clue why “WFE” didn’t cross the $20 million mark. Channing Tatum’s “Dear John,” for example, targeted a teen audience and debuted with $30.5 million domestically on its way to an $80 million total. The takeaway is not that Tatum is a bigger box-office draw than Pattinson, but that teens come out early for films that interest them. As Phil Contrino, editor of BoxOffice.com explained, “The key thing to understand is that this type of film has a large appeal among moviegoers aged 35 and up, and that group doesn’t feel the need to rush out opening weekend. It will hold up quite well in the weeks to come.”

But the question remains whether Pattinson will be able to capitalize on his “Twilight” celebrity and become one of those ever-more-rare actors who can drive ticket sales. Some experts aren’t convinced he ever will. “There is no reason to believe that Robert Pattinson or anyone from the ‘Twilight’ franchise can open a movie,” said Movie City News’ David Poland. “Some of those actors are very talented. Some not. But Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, etc., are the natural template. But what of Harrison Ford? I don’t see any of that swashbuckler in the gentle actor in Pattinson.”

Perhaps, though action blockbusters like “Indiana Jones” aren’t the projects that Pattinson will be pursuing in the future. Many insiders suggest his best bet is to follow the path of other young heartthrobs before him.

“Take a page from Tom Cruise’s book and only work with great directors,” Contrino suggested. “After skyrocketing to fame, Cruise wisely worked with the likes of Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese and Barry Levinson.”

At least with his next project, Pattinson is making those kinds of decisions, signing up for David Cronenberg’s adaptation of “Cosmopolis.” Where he goes from there, however — and whether he’s able to bridge the divide between teen idol and Hollywood icon — is anybody’s guess.

“If Pattinson’s films can consistently make money at the box office, major studios will continue to take a chance on him,” Bock said. “In the near future, expect him to be attached to high-profile directors in smaller, meaty roles. That way he can diversify and not lose the core audience that follows his every move. And, if that doesn’t work out, there are about a zillion Harlequin novels ripe for adaptation that he and Fabio can star in.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Water for Elephants.”

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