Let’s start with the similarities: Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence are both 23 years old; they are respected, well-paid actresses; they are both stars of majorly popular YA franchise films. They are both ranked in the top 50 on Vulture’s Most Valuable Stars list — but Jennifer Lawrence is at No. 3, mostly unbeatable, and Kristen Stewart is down at No. 36 (a two-spot improvement from 2012, actually). Some of this discrepancy can be chalked up to basic career timing: Kristen Stewart’s star-making Twilight films ended last November, and Jennifer Lawrence’s Hunger Games is just getting started. But a close analysis reveals that the difference between the two is more than just scheduling. Below, a year-by-year breakdown of the choices that led to Kirsten Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence’s respective MVS rankings.
2002–2004: 11-year-old Kristen Stewart — who has one indie credit (The Safety of Objects) and a couple of non-speaking roles to her name — replaces Hayden Panettiere as Jodie Foster’s daughter in Panic Room. David Fincher’s thriller is well-received, and it nets Stewart a Young Artist Award nomination for her performance. It also gets her a handful of indie roles (and also one cheesy children’s film, if you can believe it). None of these really catch on; the closest is Cold Creek Manor, which is panned by critics but at least puts Stewart in a movie with Sharon Stone, Dennis Quaid, and Christopher Plummer. (Prestige by association.) Still, by the end of 2004, Stewart is an established teen actor with a specialty in looking scared, but in a believable way.
2005: Stewart continues her indie thriller (sort of, anyway) streak with Fierce People, with Diane Lane, but its scheduled release keeps getting bumped until it eventually limps through a tiny release two years later. She also makes a bid for the mainstream with Jon Favreau’s Jumanji wannabe Zathura: A Space Adventure. Neither film is particularly memorable, but as always, Stewart is more comfortable in the quiet indie role; it is becoming her brand. Meanwhile, 14-year-old Jennifer Lawrence gets her first job — in a My Super Sweet 16 commercial. Behold:
2007: Kristen Stewart can be seen in four movies, but the most important of these is Sean Penn’s Into the Wild; her easy and unexpectedly alluring performance as the love interest puts her on casting lists all across town. At the same time, Jennifer Lawrence lands a series regular role on the TBS sitcom The Bill Engvall Show. (She has also made tiny guest appearances on Monk, Cold Case, and Medium. Teen Jennifer Lawrence loved television.)
2008: And now, finally, our heroines shall cross paths. Jennifer Lawrence is one of many young actresses auditioning for the role of Bella Swan, but as everyone below the age of 40 knows, the Twilight lead is won by Kristen Stewart. (She “danced on the bed and chased pigeons in the park” for the audition, according to director Catherine Hardwicke.) Stewart goes from serious indie actress to mall-riot-inducing teen star overnight, and she seems understandably terrified about the arrangement. Her early talk show appearances — especially the infamous Letterman interview, below — are cringe-worthy. She looks annoyed all the time (even when she is not). She smokes pot on a stoop.
After losing out on Bella, Jennifer Lawrence lands her first film roles, including one in Guillermo Arriaga’s The Burning Plain, which wins her a Best Young Actor award at the Venice Film Festival.
2009: Stewart hands in an understated, lovely performance in Adventureland (filmed before she was cast in Twilight) and you can almost hear her muttering, “See, this is where I’m comfortable!” But Twilight overshadows the performance, and most everything else in her life; with the second movie in theaters, and the third already filming, her life is all vampires, all the time. The press tours are improving, at least — she is trying so hard to be excited! like a teen! — but the lack of natural enthusiasm is still a problem. Kristen Stewart is not a bubbly person, nor does she want to be. (Jennifer Lawrence Watch: She is still on the Engvall show, but otherwise unknown.)
2010: Early in the year, Winter’s Bone wins the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and the whispers begin: Have you heard of this Jennifer Lawrence? The Debra Granik film will earn Jennifer Lawrence her first Oscar nomination and legitimize her indie work in a way that Kristen Stewart, despite her many small films, never manages to achieve. Speaking of Stewart: She is firmly in her rebellion phase, doing everything she can to make you forget Twilight with The Runaways (and the accompanying Joan Jett mullet) and Welcome to the Rileys, in which she plays … a teen stripper. They do not have much of an effect: Stewart’s side projects make a combined $4 million domestically, while the year’s Twilight: Eclipse brings in $300 million (and another $400 million internationally). She still has two more Twilight movies to go.
2011: Fresh off her Oscar nomination, Jennifer Lawrence demonstrates her range with a supporting — but still memorable, if only for the blue bodysuit — role in X-Men: First Class and a (sexy) Girl-Next-Door appearance in Like Crazy. Then comes the big moment: J-Law lands the role of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. It’s funny now to remember how furious the Hunger Games fans were about this casting, mostly because Jennifer Lawrence does not usually have brown hair. In 2011, her goofy, crowd-pleasing charm was still a secret. As for Kristen Stewart, her only role this year is Breaking Dawn Part 1, which makes $280 million domestically, and she finally kind of admits that she is dating co-star Robert Pattinson. Again, Stewart is trying to play the game here; talking about her relationship mortifies her, but she does it to meet the press cycle’s demands. This is the “Just Waiting for Twilight to Be Over” portion of her biography.
2012: Here we go. Jennifer Lawrence is coasting on every kind of goodwill: Hunger Games is the next big thing ($408 million in the U.S.) and at the end of the year, Silver Linings Playbook proves that she can really and truly act. It would be hard to design a more successful breakout year; not only is Silver Linings Playbook a wide-appeal studio choice, but it’s a good one. Meanwhile, Stewart, who much prefers to make tiny movies, does her best to win the studio game with Snow White and the Huntsman. You know what happened there: She made out with her married director and got caught. Let us not judge her for these actions. She was 22 and trapped in a never-ending publicity jail, and honestly, who knows what those pictures even showed. But again, she was cursed by Twilight — her relationship with Pattinson was so intertwined with fans’ investment in their characters’ love affair that the perceived betrayal was personal. It cost her a significant portion of her fan base and eroded whatever likability she had worked so hard for in recent years; even when she and Pattinson reconciled, the focus was on their tense body language. Whatever opportunity she might have had to discuss her Kerouac biopic On the Road or other future projects — to rebrand herself, basically, as Twilight finally ended its five-year-run — was totally spoiled. (They even discussed dropping her from the Huntsman sequel, because press was so tough.) And then comes her image’s polar opposite, the Jennifer Lawrence Charm Offensive: the actually successful Letterman appearances, the “my brothers beat me up” stories, and this perfect moment (technically from 2013, but you’ll roll with it):
2013: Jennifer Lawrence wins the Best Actress Oscar, trips on the stairs, and becomes America’s undisputed Best Friend Forever. It is hard to overstate how important her personality is to this equation; people see her interviews and then want to see her movies. But her non-franchise movies are also more accessible (and successful!) than Stewart’s, and she is comfortable in situations that made Stewart want to disappear, be they press junkets or major studio films. (Stewart could never convince anyone to see her tiny passion projects, and her press identity hewed too close to her Twilight character: fidgety, wan, dating Robert Pattinson.) Freed of her Twilight obligation, Stewart quietly breaks up with Robert Pattinson and barely appears in public. While Stewart returns to her indie film cave (Sils Maria and Camp X-Ray are both scheduled for 2014), Jennifer Lawrence is sweeping up every available role, like the bombshell in David O. Russell’s American Hustle and Cathy Ames in Gary Ross’s East of Eden. The three remaining Hunger Games films will guarantee that more than 34 percent of Americans know her name. It is all good news for Jennifer Lawrence. Shailene Woodley, take note.