10 Former Teen Idols Scrambling For Credibility

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As Robert Pattinson seeks credibility in Cosmopolis, we assess those who came before him.

Pity the teen idol. Sure, for a few years, their careers burn hot and bright; they cause stampedes at shopping malls, squander money on cars they only just learned how to drive, and date Disney princesses. (The real kind.) But once adulthood comes a-knocking, they face a difficult challenge: leave the kid stuff behind and become a "serious" actor, or end up on late-night TV arguing that bananas prove the existence of God.

This Friday, Robert Pattinson, of Twilight mega-fame, is trying to establish himself as a serious talent with a starring role in David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis. In honor of his attempt, we're examining ten actors who found themselves in the same predicament, and grading their efforts. We warn you: the results are often not as pretty as their unthreatening little faces used to be.

Taylor Lautner

While Pattinson generally tries to come off as too cool for Twilight, his lupine co-star has mostly accepted his low-brow appeal. His one swing at adult work was the action movie Abduction, which took the plot of The Face on the Milk Carton, switched the genders, and added in about ten thousand more kicks to the face. This is probably a good thing: Lautner has charm, and a giant fan base, but his acting skills remain less impressive than his abs. Abduction didn't do very well, though, so Lautner's path to respectability remains unclear. It's certainly hard to picture him in a David Cronenberg movie.

Grade: D+

James Van Der Beek

While Michelle Williams skillfully jumped from youth-oriented melodrama to prestige films, her Dawson's Creek costar had a rougher time. Maybe Varsity Blues could've been a serious drama about the damage parents can inflict on children when they dictate their dreams, but, you know… this. The Rules of Attraction, meanwhile, was bungled by the cast of bright young things trying so, so hard to be edgy, and Van Der Beek's Sean Bateman is one of the weaker links. On the other hand, Van Der Beek is currently killing it in the world of web comedy and knowing self-parody, so maybe someone will end up wanting his life after all.

Grade: C-

Taylor Kitsch

2012 was supposed to be Taylor Kitsch's year. Having established his dreaminess on Friday Night Lights, he jumped to starring roles in two potential blockbusters, John Carter and Battleship… both of which flopped massively. Luckily, Kitsch was smart enough to pair them with something a bit more high-brow — Oliver Stone's pot-infused romance/crime thriller Savages — which finally earned him some critical praise. (Mostly, Kitsch and his co-stars just had to look really, really good on screen, but, well, they killed it.) So we at least learned that the man has the good sense to diversify his roles and work with big-name directors when he gets the chance. If he stays away from CGI, he may be all right.

Grade: C

Zac Efron

Zac Efron started the public-maturation process from a tough spot; those High School Musical films just gleamed off his skin like Clearasil. But while he was mostly overshadowed in Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles, we give him credit for doing a film that so clearly wasn't aimed at his legion of adoring fans. (Unless Tiger Beat readers are really into The Magnificent Ambersons these days.) And while it would be unfair to judge him on material that hasn't come out yet, we don't think we can get away without at least mentioning The Paper Boy, an upcoming film in which Nicole Kidman pees on him. As far as ways to throw off your teen-star image… whatever works.

Grade: B-

Rob Lowe

Rob Lowe is not and will probably never be Marlon Brando. First of all, the man's been in a lot of made-for-TV movies. One of these movies is probably being shown on Lifetime right now. But somehow, decades after St. Elmo's Fire and that sex tape incident, Lowe's emerged as the kind of reliable actor whose name can at least make you check out a TV series, if not stick with it forever. (We're looking at you, Brothers and Sisters.) The West Wing, of course, has a lot to do with this: Aaron Sorkin's most successful series gave Lowe a chance to work against the "good-looking asshole" archetype he seemed destined for. He's still good-looking, but he seems like much less of an asshole than he used to.

Grade: B

Justin Timberlake

Sure, he's not even the highest-graded former Mouseketeer on this list, but Justin Timberlake has escaped not one but two entertainment industry traps. Not many people expected 1/5th of 'NSYNC to become a respected solo artist, but even fewer expected him to move effortlessly into acting. As far as comedy, Timberlake and Jon Hamm are basically Saturday Night Live supporting cast members at this point, but he's also done well in dramas — even dramas that aren't very good. Southland Tales, Alpha Dogs, and Black Snake Moan all had serious problems, but Timberlake was never one of them. Luckily, The Social Network was universally appreciated, and Sean Parker was the perfect role for him. Canny, Timberlake. Very canny.

Grade: B+

Mark Wahlberg

We may be risking a punch to the face for even bringing this up, but it needs to be said: respected actor Mark Wahlberg was once known professionally as Marky Mark, and was backed up by a crew called the Funky Bunch. You may not expect Zac Efron to succeed as a serious actor, but it's not like you're surprised to see him try; that's what teen stars do. But this guy? No one expected him to show up in Boogie Nights sporting a prosthetic penis and holding his own against Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. While Wahlberg can come off as self-serious and grumpy, there's no denying his talent. (He can even be funny, when he wants to be.) The only thing that's keeping him from a higher grade is shaky judgment in choosing projects. How does a guy who gets nominated for an Academy Award in The Departed also end up in The Happening?

Grade: B+

Heath Ledger

The only Academy Award winner on this list, Heath Ledger was moving towards greatness from humble beginnings. Yes, he was charming in 10 Things I Hate About You, but no one looked at that teen comedy and thought, "I smell Oscar!" It's sad that he never really saw just how far he'd come with Brokeback Mountain, I'm Not There, and The Dark Knight. After years of putting in the time with roles that didn't match his talent level, he finally got the recognition he deserved, but most of it was posthumous. We'll never know just how much he was capable of, but his idiosyncratic performances in those final films are nothing short of fully realized.

Grade: A-

Ryan Gosling

Having stolen tiny hearts on The Mickey Mouse Club, Ryan Gosling seemed to secure his teen-idol status with 2004's The Notebook. How could teen girls (and gay boys) resist the sensitive soul behind those dreamy blue eyes? But Gosling, who had already made a few films about murderers and neo-Nazis, was looking for a career more ambitious than Trapper Keeper cover model. Decidedly teen-unfriendly work like Half Nelson and Blue Valentine practically obliterated whatever softness audiences may have ascribed to him. Everyone still thinks he's dreamy, of course, but the attraction is based on great performances, smart choices, and a general air of artistic integrity.

Grade: A

Leonardo DiCaprio

Even if you've never seen Titanic, you can probably quote at least three lines of dialogue. In 1997, Titanic made Leonardo DiCaprio as internationally famous as, oh, Coca-Cola — and simultaneously yoked him, seemingly forever, to a lightweight image. Luckily, the Official Teen-Idol Playbook has a fix for this: "Convince Martin Scorsese that you are the second coming of a young Robert De Niro." And to everyone's surprise, DiCaprio was up to the task. There's no point in listing the roles — you know them, and the strange intensity he brought to each. DiCaprio's never taken home an Oscar, but we think everyone can agree that it's only a matter of time.

Grade: A

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