The question of whether stars are born or made is one of those chicken-or-egg questions. Seems that every time there's a demographic shift in America, Hollywood throws young stars at the screen like so many strands of spaghetti to see which ones will stick and suit the taste of the younger generation.
The Andy Hardy movies of the late '30s introduced Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Lana Turner, who all rose to box-office fame in the 1940s. A Date With Judy (1948) launched starlets Jane Powell and Elizabeth Taylor and starling Robert Stack to great success in the 1950s and beyond. Rebel Without a Cause (1955) showcased James Dean (who would die before its release), Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood. American Graffitti (1973) brought Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford and Paul Le Mat -- not to mention TV stars Ronny Howard and Cindy Williams -- wider attention. The mother of this periodic shift might be The Outsiders (1983) which starred the relatively-unknown Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio and Patrick Swayze (not to mention future director Sofia Coppola).
Other youthquake films in this vein are The Breakfast Club (1985, with Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall), Boyz N the Hood (1991, with Morris Chestnut, Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding and Nia Long) and Reality Bites (1994, with Janeane Garafolo, Ethan Hawke, Winona Ryder and Ben Stiller in the definitive Gen X film).
The incubator of Generation Y stars would seem to be the Twilight franchise. The first installment made superstars out of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. New Moon, the second chapter, pushed Taylor Lautner over the top. Eclipse, which opens next week, promises to bring attention to Jackson Rathbone as Jasper, a member of the Cullen clan. As Rathbone is also in The Last Airbender, there's a real possibility that he will dominate movie screens this summer, imprinting on the younger demographic that Hollywood so craves.
This packaging of young talent in a youth-friendly franchise is a departure from the Old Hollywood manner of developing stars of tomorrow. Used to be that studios had a stable of starlets and starlings that got small roles in big films (like Humphrey Bogart in Dark Victory and The Roaring Twenties) and who got promoted to starring roles when the stacks of fan mail grew to redwood heights.Marilyn Monroe and Clint Eastwood are products of this system that assumes stars are made and not born. But for every star groomed in this way, there are the star-is-born surprises -- like Harrison Ford, who eclipsed co-stars Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in Star Wars. Or Will Smith, who twinkled brighter than co-star Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys.