He’s one of the most recognizable faces in the world today, but even people who know nothing about music recognize the name Robert Pattinson. The English actor was catapulted into fame after playing Edward Cullen in the $100 million-grossing phenomenon, Twilight. In 2012, USA Today called him “a sex symbol whose otherworldly good looks have landed him on the covers of countless magazines.” Now, after four movies and countless magazine covers, he’s moving on to other endeavors. But, why does he have such a visceral reaction to the Twilight franchise? We looked into the history of the actor and the movies, and the backlash they’ve received from fans and the media.

The Popularity Of Twilight

It’s no secret that Twilight became one of the most popular movie franchises of all time. The New York Times reported that it was the highest-grossing movie franchise of all time, earning over $10 billion worldwide. Part of the appeal was that it was an unprecedented commercial hit for Summit Entertainment, which distributed the Twilight films. What’s more is that it was the first time a female-driven movie had topped the box office, and the main character, Bella, was a strong, independent woman who refused to be defined by her romantic relationships.

Twilight wasn’t just a box office winner — it was also a critical darling, receiving critical acclaim for its unique story and incredible performances from its incredible cast. In a memorable review, Peter Travers of the Chicago Sun-Times called it “a sweet, sophisticated love letter to the movies” and compared Pattinson’s portrayal of Edward to Marlon Brando’s iconic performance in The Godfather. (He might not have been the only one — Variety writer Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote that Pattinson “quite possibly steals the show.”) Even now, when the series is widely considered a piece of junk, fans will often cite it as the reason they love Edward.

The Popularity Of Robert Pattinson

Pattinson’s performance in Twilight helped launch his acting career with roles in the popular TV series, London River, and in the upcoming Netflix series, Dune. But even before Twilight, the English actor had gained a passionate following, particularly among women. In 2009, he was named Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine and in the same year, FHM named him the fourth Most Beautiful Man in the World. In fact, one of the greatest compliments he ever received came from a young Robert Pattinson, who said of his father, “He’s the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen, but he’s also the most amazing man I know.”

He’s been a heartthrob for decades, appearing in movies like the upcoming Dune and Water for Elephants, as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. In 2014, he was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film, Water for Elephants. Pattinson is also known for his philanthropic work, supporting several charities and organizations, including the British Wildlife Preservation Trust, and Women for Women International, which helps provide female literacy in developing countries.

The Feminism Of Twilight

One of the most interesting aspects of Twilight is how it explores the theme of feminism. While the general press has mainly focused on the romantic relationships that form the crux of the narrative (and there is certainly plenty of that), there is more than one theme swirling around this vampire drama.

The first movie in the series, Twilight, explores the nature of obsession and the idea that love can turn even the most rational of people into irrational lunatics. The film also delves into the double standards that exist within society, particularly between men and women. Let’s examine each of these ideas in more detail.

The Obsession Of Edward

If you’ve seen one of the Twilight films, you’ve essentially seen them all. The first one is pretty much a straight-ahead romance, in which Edward slowly wins Bella’s heart and the pair eventually live happily ever after. The second one takes the story in a darker direction, portraying a more tormented Edward, who is driven by his obsession with Bella and determined to win her heart despite her best efforts to resist his charms. In the final film, Edward is no longer the good-natured soul that we met in the first film; instead, he’s a soulless vampire who thirsts for Bella’s blood.

Even in the first movie, Twilight explores the theme of obsession, particularly when it comes to Edward’s obsession with Bella. In fact, the very first scene of the film takes place inside Edward’s apartment, where he stares at a picture of Bella, who he met when she was a student in his class. The entire rest of the movie centers around his obsessive quest for Bella’s affection, which begins when he saves her life during a swim meets and ends with both of them living together as a couple.

One of the most interesting things about Edward’s character is how he’s a walking paradox. While he’s clearly driven by love, he’s also committed to a mental illness, obsessive compulsive disorder. O.C.D is a condition that causes the afflicted to have obsessive thoughts and engage in compulsive behaviors. In Edward’s case, this manifests itself in the form of an unhealthy relationship with Bella.

Not only does he have an unhealthy obsession with Bella, but he also forces her to play the role of his love slave, denying their relationship is anything other than what he wants it to be. When Bella attempts to end the relationship, he commits suicide, believing that he’ll be reincarnated and reunited with her. In the last film, his suicide attempt fails, and he becomes a vampire hunter, tracking down and killing other vampires. Although he manages to maintain a veneer of civility, in reality, he’s a merciless, bloodthirsty psychopath. We see this side of Edward in the last film, where we learn that he hasn’t killed off all of the vampires in town, but rather, holds them prisoner, forced to feed on animals.

The Incestuous Nature Of Jacob’s Love For Bella

One of the most interesting things about Twilight is how it explores the theme of incest. The storyline hinges on the fact that Bella is Edward’s offspring and, as such, he is her father. The question is whether or not Jacob, another character in the movie who is also played by Pattinson, is Edward’s brother or cousin, since he is also the father of a character, Esme, who appears in the movie.

In most retellings of the classic Romeo and Juliet story, the two young lovers are not related, but in Twilight, they are. We learn that Edward and Jacob are first cousins and that they are also competitive brothers, locked in a war for Bella’s affection, driven to the brink of madness by their obsession. Most viewers are probably aware that Edward is the son of Victoria, the former queen of England, and her consort, Albert. This makes Jacob the prince of the United Kingdom and, as the older brother, Edward’s superior. In the third film, Edward attempts to use this advantage to convince Bella to run away with him and escape their tumultuous relationship.

But, once again, Bella refuses to be controlled by her romantic feelings, and she storms off, leaving Edward and Jacob behind. Although they ultimately forgive her, their conflict with Bella is what drives the series’ plotline. The two men are locked in a battle for supremacy, with Jacob desperately trying to win the heart of his ultimate love, Bella.

The Incoherent Madness Of Victoria

If you’ve seen any of the Twilight films, you know that they aren’t for the faint of heart. Each one is a graphic, bloody depiction of a violent struggle for supremacy between two families of vampires. Although the majority of characters are vampires, they aren’t your average, common strigoi — these are some seriously messed up individuals. And, as the villainous queen mother in the story, Victoria, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is the glue that holds the entire narrative structure together.

What’s interesting about Victoria, beyond her obvious insanity, is that she is the product of a famous double act. Not only is she the daughter of the immensely wealthy, highly influential Carter family, but she is also the great-granddaughter of the famous novelist, George Bernard Shaw. This makes her a combination of both Shaw and Carter, two of the most respected and powerful men in British history. (Carter’s grandmother was reputed to be a witch, which is probably why she ended up playing a character with a dark side.)

As the series progresses, Victoria becomes more and more unstable, resorting to ever-more desperate measures to maintain her position as queen. She poisons her opponents, manipulates her allies, and, in the end, swallows a cyanide pill, dying in the process.