There was a time when vampires weren’t cool. Sure, they’d been around since the 1700s, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that they started entering the mainstream. Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, is credited with making vampires into popular culture, and the following year Dracula premiered in theaters.

A century later, the genre has evolved. Today, with the rise of comic books, video games, and the greater availability of information via the internet, vampires have become a permanent fixture in pop culture.

And it all started with Twilight. The $7.8 billion dollar-grossing franchise helped to pioneer the modern vampire era. After breaking records with the first installment in 2008, the Twilight series returned for a record-breaking third installment this year.

While there’s no denying that vampires remain a popular theme, it’s not always easy to determine just how much of a role they play in our culture. To that end, here are some of the defining moments and most memorable performances of Carlie Pattinson, who played the lead role of Bella in Twilight and its four sequels.

The Female Lead

The first thing you might notice about Carlie Pattinson is her voice. The Australian actress has an effortless charm that immediately draws you in and makes you want to spend more time with her. Her voice has the raspiness of a seasoned actress and the softness of a young child’s voice. It’s a unique combination that imbues her performances with a sense of credibility.

As Bella’s friend and neighbor, Victoria (also known as ‘Vikki’ in the film), Pattinson plays a crucial role in the story’s first act. In addition to introducing us to Bella’s universe, the actress crafts a layered performance that explores the complexities of female friendship. She establishes herself as a strong lead while also showing how much she cares for Bella. The dynamic between the two women is a highlight of the first act.

The Accidental Vampire

Bella’s idyllic life outside of her house comes to a sudden end when she witnesses the transformation of her friend into a vampire. Though the idea of vampires seems terrifying at first, the film quickly establishes that they’re not all that sinister. Edward, Bella’s hunky vampire ex-boyfriend, might try to convince you otherwise. But he’s not the only one with sinister intentions. The Cullens, a family of vampires led by Emile (Michael Sheen), are out to get rid of Bella because she’s the ‘wrong’ kind of vampire. Their treatment of Bella is more than just monstrous: it’s also symbolic of patriarchal oppression.

What makes Pattinson’s portrayal of Bella so interesting is that she’s not a typical fantasy vision of a vampire. She’s much more human than you’d expect, and that makes her all the more interesting. When she transforms into a bloodthirsty predator, you’re not entirely sure what’s going to happen. That uncertainty, coupled with Pattinson’s realistic acting, makes for a captivating experience. It’s almost as if you’re there with Bella, watching her go through this harrowing experience. You know she’s in danger, and you’re not sure whether she’ll emerge triumphant or vanquished – which would leave a pretty big impact on the franchise’s future. You won’t see Bella sitting around idly waiting for her friends to rescue her from her fate. She’s going to confront it head-on, and you’re going to help her if you can.

A Moment Of Truth

The story of Twilight could easily be summed up in three words: friendship, love, and family. The central conflict surrounds Bella’s quest to choose which of her lifelong friends she wants to be with: Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), a gentle intellectual who believes that humans and vampires can live in harmony; or Edward (Alexander Skarsgard), a rugged and handsome vampire who loves to hurt others and believes humans and vampires cannot coexist. As in all great stories, there’s also a moment of truth: in this case, it comes in the form of a battle of wits between the two men. In the end, it’s not about who you are, but about who you want to be.

A Friend For Life

Although she ultimately chooses to be with Edward, Bella’s friendship with Eric continues to grow throughout the series. Though it’s always been more of an uneasy peace, the two friends realize that they need each other — and that they want each other to be there for the rest of their lives. In the end, their platonic passion for one another blossoms into something more, even if it’s never easy. Eric comes to accept and even desire what he couldn’t before. He understands that though vampires and humans can’t coexist, there’s still something to be said for hanging out with your best friend, especially when you’re both vampires.

A Bloody Buffet

While Bella’s friends come in all shapes and sizes, she has a special bond with her pet snake, Jacob. Played with sensitivity and affection by Taylor Lautner, Jacob forms an important part of Bella’s life. In addition to being uniquely attuned to her whims, Lautner’s character provides her with an outlet for her artistic talent. It’s no wonder that she finds inspiration in Jacob’s magical cobra eyes: they’re the focal point of his brilliant design.

When the opportunity to work with Casterly Rock springboards into view, you can bet that Bella is going to take it. Having overcome her initial fear of the rich and famous, she wants to be part of their world. And to be part of their world, she has to become a symbol of their power — something that only a pure white dress and a series of biting scenes will allow her to do. The white dress is a defining element of Bella’s transformation into a vampire, and it’s a look she’ll sport time and time again. It’s fitting that something as simple as an evening dress should work as a symbol of female empowerment – because, let’s face facts: historically speaking, women were not meant to be in charge.

The Vampire As A Figure Of Speech

Bella isn’t the only character in the Twilight series to undergo a metamorphosis. In addition to the vampires, the series charts the evolution of several characters, including Alice (Keisha Bayi), who at first seems like your typical shy and unassuming teenage girl. But it’s not long before we learn that she’s actually a skilled fighter – and someone to reckon with. In the end, not only does she emerge the hero, but she also earns the respect of her male peers.

Though Alice’s character arc is one of the most compelling in the series, there’s no denying that it’s a bit of a downer at the end. Her transformation is meant to be a metaphor for the onset of adulthood. It marks a fundamental shift in her character and a new sense of empowerment. By the end of Twilight, Alice is confident and even a little bit cocky, prepared to stand up for what she believes in and to fight for what’s hers — including a first kiss with the man of her dreams, Jackson (Tobias Menzies). Though she may not find love in Twilight, she certainly finds her purpose. And that’s something we can all be thankful for.

An Important Platform

In the beginning, Twilight was marketed as a funny and quirky rom-com. But it was actually much more. Not only does it tackle some pretty weighty issues (like gender equality and the portrayal of women in literature), it also provides an important platform for female actors. In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Charlize Theron said: “When I looked at the demographics of those who went to see Twilight and the demographics of those who didn’t, I was shocked. The people who didn’t go see Twilight were more likely to be white and male. So, for whatever reason, it didn’t resonate with them. But it resonated with millions of women.”

While not all of Twilight’s success can be attributed to Theron’s statement (the film also stars Kristen Stewart and Nikki Reed), the actress hit the nail on the head. For years, Hollywood has struggled with portraying women accurately and with featuring enough leading ladies. But Theron’s recent work, as well as that of other big-name actresses, provides hope for the future.