An agent contacts Stewart's parents after seeing the 8-year-old perform at her elementary school's Christmas play. After a slew of auditions, Stewart makes her film debut in the indie flick The Safety of Objects with Glenn Close and Joshua Jackson.
At 12, Stewart lands her big break opposite Jodie Foster (right) as a diabetic teen trapped at home during a heist in Panic Room. The thriller nabs the top spot at the box office, grossing more than $30 million in its opening weekend. Stewart's performance impresses critics and earns her a nomination for best lead actress at the Young Artist Awards. "Her approach is very different from most actors," Foster tells Elle. "She's stoic. She keeps it all wrapped up."
After starring in the caper film Catch That Kid with Corbin Bleu in 2004, Stewart returns to the family film genre in Zathura, based on a book by the author of Jumanji. The space adventure underperforms at the box office, taking in a mere $13 million its opening weekend.
A lead role in the supernatural horror movie The Messengers puts Stewart on the cover of Teen Vogue, despite the film's mild success at the box office. Of her newfound fame, Stewart tells the magazine, "Sometimes people come up to me and ask, 'Are you that girl from that movie?' and I say no. I guess that's probably going to get a lot harder to get away with." That year, she also stars in Into the Wild with Emile Hirsch (right) and In the Land of Women with Adam Brody and Meg Ryan.
Stewart's indie cred earns her the lead in the highly anticipated teen romance drama Twilight–and the cover of EW. Based on the best-selling book series by Stephenie Meyer, Stewart plays Bella Swan, the love interest of swoon-worthy vampire Edward Cullen (played by Robert Pattinson), and the envy of every teen-lit fan. Stewart's "mixture of innocence and longing just knocked me out," director Catherine Hardwicke tells the magazine.
Vanity Fair names Stewart among "Hollywood's New Wave." The actress shares the cover with rising starlets Blake Lively, Amanda Seyfried and Emma Roberts. Stewart, however, is in no rush to join the A-list. "The 'it' girl does all the little fun-loving movies. They're not the kind of movies that I'm into," she tells the Hartford Courant.
Just three months after her cover debut, Stewart makes her second EW appearance. In response to the film's hype and the pressure to please fans of the Twilight saga, Stewart says, "I'm sort of the vessel. The book is what it is because of these girls' obsession with [Edward] through me. If I wasn't right, I'd be persecuted, and put on a cross."
"Twilighters" come out in droves for the film's release, making it the weekend's No. 1 movie with $69.6 million. The movie's monumental success leads Summit Entertainment to green light the onscreen adaptation of Meyer's second Twilight novel, New Moon. "Props to Stewart and Robert Pattinson for playing this uncool-girl-meets-undead-boy story with genuine romantic ardor," raves Rolling Stone. "Stewart brings just the right blend of ferocity and feeling to the role of Bella Swan."
Stewart lands her third EW cover – this time with her New Moon leading man Taylor Lautner. The sequel, which pulls in a record $258 million worldwide to become the third-largest debut on record, proves to be a challenge for Stewart. "Before the [pivotal breakup scene], I was sitting in my car, like f---ing crying," she says. "Crying so hard you can't breath." Off-screen, reports swirl that Stewart and Pattinson are involved in a real-life romance.
Although they've been coy about their relationship, Stewart and Pattinson privately step out to welcome 2010 together on an island off the south coast of England. "I'm just trying to keep something," Stewart says of staying mum on her romance. But Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke spills the beans to Time: "I think it took a long time for Kristen to realize, 'OK, I've got to give this a go and really try to be with this person.'"
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Everett Collection; Everett Collection; Everett Collection; Everett Collection; Courtesy of EW; Courtesy of EW; Deana Newcomb/Summit Entertainment; Courtesy of EW; Fame