Kristen Stewart’s Hollywood Legacy: More Than Just ‘The Twilight Girl’

Kristen Stewart in Underwater

We all recognize her from her starring role as Bella Swan in the cultural phenomenon Twilight, but Kristen Stewart has much more to offer. From leading roles to stellar work behind-the-scenes, here's a compilation of 12 reasons why she shouldn't be relegated to “that girl from Twilight.”

Beyond Twilight

Actress Kristen Stewart
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Kristen Stewart may have become an international superstar when The Twilight Saga films were released between 2008 and 2012. But she had been delivering fantastic and critically lauded performances for years before Stephenie Meyer even published the first Twilight book. 

She continued to deliver brilliant performances while working on the franchise and has since leveraged her star power to work with world-famous directors on several unique, if not downright strange movies. But she hasn't entirely left behind the world of big-budget or mainstream movies. In fact, since the end of The Twilight Saga, Stewart has shown a natural talent for comedy and action in various films.

A Capable Actress

Actress Kristen Stewart
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Far from being typecast in roles like the awkward and overly self-conscious Bella, Stewart has shown that she's capable of a vast range of performances in wildly different films. The great joy of following her career is that you never know what she will do next, whether it's a biopic, a horror movie, an indie drama, or an action-comedy.

After celebrating ten roles from Robert Pattinson that highlight his talent and range, I want to look at Stewart's filmography to spotlight some of her most outstanding work. The movies are in chronological order, and some are from before Twilight, just in case anyone needed convincing that she's always been great.

1. Panic Room (2002)

Image from the movie Panic Room
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

The fact that David Fincher cast a then twelve-year-old Stewart in a movie where she is the co-lead with Jodie Foster says a lot about her. But, what's even more impressive is that she fully delivers in the film.

She portrays genuine fear when she and Foster's characters lock themselves in the titular panic room to escape home invaders. And she can also hold her own in some more emotionally complicated scenes, like when her diabetic character Sarah tells Foster's Meg that she doesn't need her medication because she wants to keep her mother safe.

Panic Room is a thrilling movie about a small-scale home invasion that offers a surprising amount of emotional punch thanks entirely to the performances from Foster and Stewart.

2. Speak (2004)

Image from the movie Speak
Image Credit: Showtime Independent Films.

The 2004 Showtime TV movie Speak remains underseen, which is disappointing for two reasons. First, the movie features one of Stewart's most impressive performances (as a child or adult actor). Second, Speak tells a difficult but vital story about a girl's response to being sexually assaulted by one of her classmates.

Based on the book of the same name by Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak tells the story of fourteen-year-old Melinda. Melinda called the police to a party because she was assaulted but could not bring herself to speak once the authorities arrived. As a result, when the new school year starts, Melinda doesn't talk much, and most of her classmates tease and avoid her.

The movie follows Melinda's journey to finding her voice and speaking the truth about her assault. It's a hard movie to watch, especially as the film's form and Stewart's performance place the audience in Melinda's headspace, but it's very rewarding.

Stewart's performance isn't just the lead in the film here. Her performance is what the entirety of the movie is built on because Speak is so focused on bringing viewers into Melinda's experience. The fact that Stewart could carry the film is a marvel for the fourteen-year-old. Mainly because it's a role where she doesn't speak often and has to convey her thoughts and interior life purely through body language.

3. The Runaways (2010)

Image from the movie The Runaways
Image Credit: River Road Entertainment/Linson Entertainment.

The Runaways is the first movie on this list that arrived after the first Twilight film. However, it shows that Stewart was already using her position as a star to get exciting roles. In The Runaways, Stewart plays iconic singer/guitarist Joan Jett early in Jett's career when she was a part of the all-girl band The Runaways.

The movie tells a chaotic rise and fall story that centers on Jett and lead singer Cherie Curie, whose autobiography Neon Angel serves as the basis for much of the film. The Runaways is distinct among music biopics because it's not exactly a biography movie so much as it is the story of a band and the relationships of the band members and their manager.

Stewart is fantastic as Jett. She brings the iconic energy and the sexuality of one of rock's true gods to the screen in a way that Joan Jett herself has praised and called “authentic.”

4. Still Alice (2014)

Image from the movie Still Alice
Image Credit: Sony Pictures.

2014 was an excellent year for Stewart. She starred as a guard struggling with the morality of her job in the Guantanamo Bay set Camp X-Ray, co-led Clouds of Sils Maria, and supported Julianne Moore in Still Alice. She's excellent in each of these roles, which speaks to the old saying that “there are no small roles, only small actors.”

In Still Alice, Stewart plays Lydia, the youngest daughter of linguistics professor Alice (Julianne Moore). She and the rest of her family must come to terms with her mother's severe Alzheimer's diagnosis. The movie belongs to Moore as the central character who receives and must make peace with her prognosis. But the supporting cast, including Alec Baldwin and Kate Bosworth alongside Stewart, lends the movie the genuine sense of family needed to make it a success.

As the film goes on, Lydia becomes the only member of the family who is willing and able to be around Alice as she struggles to remember things and recognize her family. Stewart's performance, which certainly gets a boost from her chemistry with Moore, is devastatingly bittersweet in the film's final moments. It's easy to see why the film ends with a scene between her and Moore.

5. Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Image from the movie The Clouds of Sil Maria
Image Credit: CG Cinéma.

In the same year Stewart displayed familial chemistry with Julianne Moore, she played opposite another screen legend in Clouds of Sils Maria. The film, by French auteur Olivier Assayas, centers on the relationship between Juliette Binoche's aging movie star Maria and her beautiful young personal assistant Valentine (Stewart).

The two women retreat from the hectic world of cities to a small home in the mountains of Sils Maria, where they prepare Maria for an upcoming role. The role is in the play that initially made her a star, but this time, instead of playing the young woman who seduces an older woman in the play, she plays the older woman.

While preparing, Maria and Valentine struggle to maintain the lines between their professional relationship and the relationship they portray through their play's read-throughs. These blurred lines are further complicated by their conversations about the play and art's relationship to life, leading to some incredibly intimate discussions.

The film is excellent for its themes, but they are brought to life by Binoche and Stewart's magnetic performances that seem to work on at least two levels in every scene. Oh, and Stewart's performance in the movie won her the César Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first American actress ever to win the award.

6. American Ultra (2015)

Image from the movie American Ultra
Image Credit: Lionsgate.

American Ultra isn't the first comedy that Stewart ever starred or co-starred in. Still, it is the first comedy in which she shows off her comedic and action chops. Few people expected any talent for comedy or action from the young actress primarily known for playing the demure Bella Swan. Especially given that she was developing her career by taking on serious roles in dramas. But in American Ultra, she's funny, tough, and often stoned.

The movie follows stoner couple Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) and Phoebe (Stewart). They must fight to stay alive when the CIA sends a team of assassins after Mike. It turns out that Mike was a dormant operative who didn't even know he was an operative. The movie largely succeeds because of Stewart and Eisenberg's great chemistry (which they also show off in Adventureland and Cafe Society) and their equal commitment to the action and comedy scenes.

As the movie continues, Stewart has to play some more complicated emotional notes. In these scenes, she injects this undeniably silly movie with real emotion through her performance that perfectly straddles broad comedy and genuine feelings.

7. Personal Shopper (2016)

Image from the movie Personal Shopper
Image Credit: IFC Films.

After co-starring in Clouds of Sils Maria, which Olivier Assayas wrote specifically for Juliette Binoche, Stewart starred in her own Assayas movie written specifically for her. In Personal Shopper, Stewart stars as Maureen, a personal shopper who recently lost her twin brother and is attempting to reach him on the other side.

Personal Shopper is remarkably grounded for a movie with such a supernatural premise. Even when Maureen begins to receive texts from a mysterious, possibly supernatural source, the film feels placed firmly in the real world because of Stewart's understated but magnetic performance.

We can't look away from the movie because we become so invested in Maureen's search for answers about death and ghosts in a world that may not offer any answers. But beyond her metaphysical search, Stewart also transforms before our eyes in the few scenes where she tries on the clothes and shoes she is buying. These scenes are a true masterclass in body language as acting.

8. Come Swim (2017)

Kristen Stewart behind the camera directing Come Swim
Image Credit: Refinery 29.

The thing about Kristen Stewart is that, long after her Twilight years, she has proven her versatility in Hollywood. Not only is she a fantastic actress with a great range, but she’s also a wizz behind the camera. In 2017, she directed her first short film as part of the ShatterBox Anthology series.

After it premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, the film was praised and earned positive reviews from The Telegraph and Little White Lies magazine. Of course, those positive remarks really belonged to Stewart, who brought the short film to life using only one actor, Jacob Secher Schulsinger, and the cinematography of John Guleserian.

Since Come Swim, Stewart has also directed two additional short films and a music video and is slated to direct her first feature film, The Chronology of Water.

9. Charlie's Angels (2019)

Image from the movie Charlie's Angels
Image Credit: Sony Pictures.

Whether or not we needed another iteration of Charlie's Angels is beside the point here. Instead, the point is that Charlie's Angels (2019) offers Stewart's funniest work to date. Throughout the movie, Stewart is consistently hilarious (and adorable) as superspy Sabina who is somehow simultaneously incredibly capable and a bit of a ditz.

In Charlie's Angels, Stewart shows off her superb comic timing while again showing that she can convincingly play an absolute badass in the action scenes. Charlie's Angels is fun but mediocre, yet Stewart's performance makes it a joy to watch every time she's on-screen.

10. Underwater (2020)

Kristen Stewart in a diving suit
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Stewart long ago ingrained herself in horror history with her role in The Messengers. Her leading role in Underwater further solidifies that she should spend more time in the horror and dark thriller space

As Norah Price, the mechanical engineer of a research and drilling facility, Stewart is the strong lead of this 2020 sci-fi horror film from William Eubank. When an alleged earthquake disrupts the Kepler 822 facility, unleashing unimaginable horrors and underwater dangers upon the crew, Stewart’s Price remains calm, cool, and collected. Even when faced with the gravest of dangers, she doesn’t waiver. She is, dare we say, closer to Terminator 2’s Linda Hamilton than Twilight’s Bella Swan.

Underwater isn’t without its faults, but Stewart does a fantastic job being the voice of reason and a character viewers can believe would take charge.

11. Spencer (2021)

Image from the movie Spencer
Image Credit: Neon/Topic Studios.

Hopefully, Stewart's Oscar nomination, and the slew of other nominations and awards she received, mean that most people don't need much convincing to watch Spencer. It's a snapshot biopic that centers on Princess Diana (Stewart) around Christmas at the royal estate in Sandringham and the often cruel way the royal family and their servants treat her.

Focusing on a short period allows the film to delve into Diana's headspace instead of rushing through events. As a result, it becomes more like a psychological thriller or horror movie than a standard biopic. And it's all held together by Stewart's central performance, in which she disappears as an actress.

Stewart has some tics that arise in some of her roles, but in Spencer, all of those are gone. She isn't delivering a “Kristen Stewart performance,” she's fully transformed into Diana in the simplest movements of her body, and it's incredible.

12. Crimes of the Future (2022)

Image from the movie Crimes of the Future
Image Credit: Argonauts Productions.

After entirely disappearing into her role as Diana in Spencer, Stewart's tics return with a vengeance in her performance as the bureaucrat Timlin in David Cronenberg's Crimes of the Future. She moves and speaks in short bursts; she often seems as though she's so overwhelmed by emotion or attraction that her body can't quite decide what to do.

It's a show-stealing performance that's one of the best and most memorable aspects of a movie, full of fascinating ideas and striking images. So it's a blessing to the rest of the movie but a disappointment to the audience that Stewart's screen time in the film is so limited. Almost nothing else would get any attention if she were more significantly featured.

Author: Kyle Logan

Title: Contributing Writer

Expertise: Film, TV, Horror, Animation, Queer Cinema

Bio:

Film and TV Critic, Pop Culture Writer

  • Expertise: Horror, Animation, Queer Film
  • Education: Master's Degree in Philosophy from Boston College, Dual Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy and Political Science from Boston College
  • Organizer of Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd
  • Over 200 reviews, essays, articles, and lists across various sites

Experience: Kyle Logan has been writing about film since studying film and philosophy as an undergraduate at Boston College. Kyle began writing about film professionally in 2020 and has written for many sites including Screen Anarchy, Film Stories, and Fangoria. Kyle has also organized the Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd since 2020, highlighting the queer history of film and bringing attention to rising queer filmmakers. Kyle now works full time with Wealth of Geeks, contributing lists, reviews, and podcast appearances on topics as varied as film, travel, and Halloween candy.