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Taylor Lautner’s Action Career Stumbles With ‘Abduction’

Opening to just $11.2M, film fails to position the Twilight star for bigger paydays

So much for Taylor Lautner being a big action star — at least for now.

The Twilight hunk's turn as a Jason Bourne-like mover and shaker in Lionsgate's "Abduction" opened to just $11.2 million — enough probably for the studio to make its money back, but not enough to launch Lautner into action-hero stardom.

“If ‘Abduction’ works, he’s a movie star,” an individual with ties to the Lautner camp told TheWrap Friday, before the movie’s box-office numbers came in.

And if it didn't have a big opening? "Studios are certainly not going to greenlight a $50 million movie with him in the lead."

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With Lautner's name leading the development of several studio tentpole projects — notably Universal's "Stretch Armstrong" — that sentiment could become an issue.

Certainly, with Lionsgate winning a bidding war for the "Abduction" script, and producing the film itself on a budget of around $35 million, the movie was a gamble for Lautner, too. Although he was a proven commodity in the Twilight movies, he had never carried a film on his own.

Lautner’s gamble illustrates how tricky it is to manage the career of a young actor who wants to be a movie star — like now.

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"If you're 20 years old, there's no rush to be the only guy in the movie, because you're the only guy it gets pinned on when it fails," said an agent who handles young actors. "And I don't think at 20, whether you're an actor or a student, anyone is ready for that pressure."

Contrast Lautner’s career choices to those of his Twilight co-star, Robert Pattinson.

Sure, Pattinson has made some questionable decisions, including last year's critically distained low-budget romantic drama "Remember Me" for Summit.

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But Pattinson also starred in the acclaimed drama “Water for Elephants,” surrounding himself with Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz, and nominees Hal Holbrook and writer Richard LaGravenese.

“Pattinson seems to be making choices that are based on artistic merit,” a high-profile film producer told TheWrap. “Taylor is making choices on commercial merit.”

Artistic merit aside, the presence of all those others insulated Pattinson. If the movie failed — and with a worldwide gross of $117 million on a $38 million budget, it certainly didn’t — Pattinson wouldn’t be blamed. (Likewise, in a $16 million romantic drama like "Remember Me" that was lightly promoted and targeted to teen girls, the stakes weren't as high.)

As for Lautner, the weekend wasn't a total bust. Among teen girls — his core audience — "Abduction" drew an "A-minus" grade from Cinemascore, a company that takes surveys from moviegoers after they've seen a film. (Critics are another matter — they collectively gave "Abduction" a 3 percent grade on Rotten Tomatoes.)

For now, Lautner's two upcoming “Twilight” movies should keep him busy; and in addition to Universal's "Stretch Armstrong," some pretty serious producers were still looking at him for some major roles as of Friday afternoon.

Lautner is still attached to "Incarceron," Fox 2000's adaptaion of Catherine Fisher's young adult novel.

“He clearly has a built-in audience and is a very charismatic leading man,” one producer told TheWrap.

Lautner had been a child star, with roles in “Shadow Fury” when he was 9 and “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D” and “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” when he was 13.

Then the character of Twilight werewolf Jacob Black came along, and that transformed his career. Lautner was only 16 when the first Twilight film came out. (His role was almost re-cast because he was perceived as too small — something he clearly worked on for films two and three of the series.)

Team Lautner made hay while the sun was shining.

Paramount offered him the title role in “Max Steel,” based on the Mattel action figure (he ended up dropping out of that). Three months later, in February 2010, Universal offered him $7.5 million to make “Stretch Armstrong,” based on the Hasbro toy.

“Stretch” remains in development.

And so does Lautner.

The individual with Lautner-camp ties put "Abduction's" opening in perspective: "If it doesn’t work and it bombs, he’s 19 years old.”