Top 10 Greatest Actor/Director Partnerships

The partnership between an actor and a director is one of the key elements to making a good movie. Sure, a good script and various other elements must come into fruition as well but if the partnership between the actor and director doesn’t work, a film can often feel disjointed. Over the years, there have been many partnerships that have made great movies and have greatly influenced cinema as well, some have even redefined cinema. Here’s my pick of the 10 Greatest Actor/ Director Partnerships.

Honorable Mention: Paul Thomas Anderson and Phillip Seymour Hoffman

10. Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Duvall

robert duvall and francis ford coppola 10 greatest actor-director partnerships the blazing reel

Major Collaborations – The Godfather, Apocalypse Now

Total Collaborations – 5

Robert Duvall once said: ”Coppola made my career”, and the statement could not be more true. Coppola discovered Duvall when he was still making it as an actor and cast him in one of his first films, The Rain People. He made a star out of him when he cast him as Tom Hagen in The Godfather, getting him an Oscar nomination in the process. Duvall soon rose up as one of the most talented actors of his generation, but in my opinion, the highlight of this partnership has got to be Apocalypse Now. Not only was the film the most daring achievement of Coppola’s career, but it also features Robert Duvall in an unhinged and exciting performance as Col. Kilgore.

9. Wes Anderson and Bill Murray

bill murray and wes anderson 10 greatest actor-director partnerships the blazing reel

Major Collaborations – Rushmore, Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tennenbaums

Collaborations – 7

Rumor has it that when Bill Murray read the script for Rushmore, he wanted to do it for free. Murray even wrote a check of $ 25,000 when the film was short of funds and his own final paycheck was a mere $ 9,000. Over the years the two have become frequent collaborators and Murray has become an essential part of Anderson’s films, starring in all of them with the exception of Bottle Rocket. Let’s hope this fruitful collaboration continues.

8. Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke

Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke - 10 greatest actor director partnerships

Major Collaborations – Boyhood, Before Trilogy, Waking LifeTotal Collaborations – 8

The two long-time friends have worked together on several projects since 1995. The ‘Before Trilogy’ is one of their most celebrated collaborations, but the most important one is undoubtedly Boyhood. The fact that Hawke committed to working on a 12 year project shows the amount of trust he has in Linklater, and if Linklater was to die while filming, Hawke was to take over as director. This in turn shows the trust Linklater has in Hawke. Boyhood remains one of the most important achievements of both their careers and brought them both Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Best Director respectively.

7. Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon

billy wilder and jack lemmon 10 greatest actor-director partnerships the blazing reel

Major Collaborations – Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, The Front PageCollaborations – 7

Billy Wilder pretty much discovered Jack Lemmon and gradually promoted him from a supporting player to a lead. Jack Lemmon was the perfect guy who could bring the humor and wit of Wilder’s writing to the screen, and The Apartment is easily their most memorable collaboration. Jack Lemmon has the neebish charm going in one of the best performances of his career and Wilder’s brilliant dialogue brings the best out of him.

6. Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson

samuel l. jackson and quntin tarantino 10 greatest actor-director partnerships the blazing reel

Major Collaborations – Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained

Total Collaborations – 5

Quentin Tarantino may know how to write his dialogue, but it’s Samuel L. Jackson who knows how to deliver it. Even since working together on Pulp Fiction, Jackson and Tarantino have been frequent collaborators and Jackson has even made a cameo appearance in Kill Bill and was the narrator in Inglourious Basterds. Pulp Fiction, however, is easily the best thing they have done together. Not only is the film Tarantino’s magnum opus, but it also features Samuel L. Jackson in arguably the best performance of his career as hit-man Jules Winnfield. Who can forget Ezekiel 25:17?

5. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio

martin scorsese and leonardo dicaprio 10 greatest actor-director partnerships the blazing reel

Major Collaborations – The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed, The Aviator

Total Collaborations – 5

Very rarely is an actor/ director partnership as successful as Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s. The duo have worked on five films since 2002’s Gangs of New York and all five of them can be considered as some of the best films of this millennium. While he broke-out with 1997’s Titanic, DiCaprio has Scorsese to thank for cementing him as one of the top A-listers in the business, and this partnership has seen DiCaprio receive two Best Actor Oscar nominations and Scorsese finally winning Best Director.

4. John Huston and Humphrey Bogart

bogart and huston 10 greatest actor-director partnerships the blazing reel

Major Collaborations – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon

Collaborations – 6

A partnership that defined the 1940s was that of Humphrey Bogart and John Huston. Their first collaboration was The Maltese Falcon, a film which is considered to this day to be one of the greatest noirs ever hit the screen. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, however, is in my opinion the best film the two made together. Apart from being an impressively directed and well-written morality tale it also has Bogart in an absolutely unforgettable performance as Fred Dobbs. One of the final films the two worked together on was 1951’s The African Queen, a film that finally got Bogart his first Academy Award.

3. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp

tim burton and johnny depp 10 greatest actor-director partnerships the blazing reel

Major Collaborations – Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd

Total Collaborations – 8

Call them kindred spirits, but both Johnny Depp and Tim Burton share a like-mindedness to bring unusual and peculiar characters to life. The two have practically been inseparable ever since working on 1990’s Edward Scissorhands – a film that catapulted Johnny Depp into the Hollywood limelight – up untill 2012’s Dark Shadows. While Depp provided an excellent, revelatory turn in Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood is the embodiment of both their talents. Burton’s homage to cult-director Ed Wood is both funny and charming and as the titular character, Depp is a sight to behold.

2. Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune 

akira kurosawa and toshiro mifune 10 greatest actor-director partnerships the blazing reel

Major Collaborations – Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo

Total Collaborations – 16

A partnership that changed Japanese and world cinema forever, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune collaborated for a whopping sixteen films, and Kurosawa’s meticulous approach to filmmaking and Mifune’s crackerjack energy made them the perfect pairing. It’s hard to name one film as their most memorable collaboration, but if there is one it has to be Yojimbo. Not only has this film been the inspiration for countless western remakes from A Fistful of Dollars to Last Man Standing, but it also features Mifune at his absolute best as a badass yet noble samurai warrior.

 1. Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro

Robert de niro and martin scorsese 10 greatest actor-director partnerships the blazing reel

Major Collaborations – Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas

Total Collaborations – 9

It’s hard to think of a better, more perfect actor/director pairing than Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. The two practically redefined American cinema with some of the greatest films ever to grace the silver screen, and while the two worked independently as well, there’s no doubting the fact that they brought out the best in each other when they were working together. Their most prominent collaborations came in three films, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, and to be honest each film is great in it’s own way. Taxi Driver is a brooding character piece, Raging Bull features De Niro in the best performance of his career as boxer Jake LaMotta while Goodfellas is basically the personification of the gangster genre.

Khalid Rafi /

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  1. Khalid, great list. I love how you recognize classic film partnerships like Wilder. And imlove it even more that you highlighted Kirosawa.

    I agree with most of this list. Scorsese and DeNiro might go down in the history books.

    My 2 cent addition: James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I know they only have like 3 films together, so it makes sense.

  2. Another combination for your consideration: Christopher Nolan and Michael Caine. To my recollection, Caine’s been in every Nolan film except “Momento”. Yes, Caine often plays a father figure – but character pieces and actors are important too. Besides, Batman needs his Alfred – if that relationship doesn’t work on-screen, often a Batman piece will fall apart.

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