Top Ten Actor and Director Pairings

It’s not uncommon for a director to find an actor they truly adore and then look for every which way to get them into their next film. An actor/actress will pair with a filmmaker in such a way that it makes everything from their time on set easier to the chemistry on film unmistakable. Today, we’ll be looking at the Top Ten Actor and Director Pairings.

Our criteria is pretty simple, but does nix a few great choices. The actor has to be in a minimum of three films directed by the filmmaker, excluding sequels; the performer would have had to have played at least three separate roles in three separate films. We based the list off of significance of role, number of movies together, quality of performance, and excellence of film. Cameos are allowed (ala Bill Murray in Wes Anderson films), but appear mostly in our Honorable Mentions, which we urge you to read, located after the Top Ten. Any you agree with undeniably or can’t believe we left off? Let us know in the comments!

10. Michael Shannon – Jeff Nichols

Films Together: Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud, Midnight Special, Loving

All five of Jeff Nichols feature films have Michael Shannon in them at one point or another, with him holding the leading role in three. Take Shelter rose Nichols to fame and gave Shannon the chance to prove himself as more than just a character actor. The film was nominated for Best Feature at the Spirit awards in 2011 and even garnered Shannon a Best Actor and Nichols a Best Director nod. They’ve worked together for just over a decade and continue to make magic every try. Unfortunately, Nichols has nothing down the road, as of now.

9. Michael B. Jordan – Ryan Coogler

Films Together: Fruitvale Station, Creed, Black Panther

Ryan Coogler has three films to his name; the first an indie sensation, the second one of the greatest modern sports films, and the third is nearly the most successful Marvel film of all time. His style is impossible to miss, and so is his collaborator, Michael B. Jordan. Jordan and Coogler have done three films together, with Black Panther the only not to have him as the lead (though has him as one of the greatest Marvel villains of all time). Jordan has tried other outings, but none seem as good as when he’s with Coogler. Coogler’s next film, Wrong Answer, was just announced and reportedly stars Jordan, but till then Jordan will be seen with our #10 pick, Michael Shannon, in Fahrenheit 451 (watch our trailer announcement).

8. Kurt Russel – John Carpenter

Films Together: Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Escape from LA

Sci-Fi/Action, Horror/Sci-Fi, and Action/Comedy. Kurt Russel and John Carpenter had a pretty successful relationship between 1982-1986 (and then a forgettable stint in 1996) where they made three masterpieces, highlighted by The Thing, which holds up as one of the greatest sci-fi/horror classics of all time. Russel seems to be having a bit of a rugged old-timer resurgence but nothing can top his bad-boy, handsome, perfect flowing locks shtick that propelled him into America’s heart back in the eighties.

7. Michael Fassbender – Steve McQueen

Films Together: Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave

Michael Fassbender may arguably be one of the greatest workings actors. He’s who’s worked with directors to the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Zack Snyder, Danny Boyle, Ridley Scott, Bryan Singer, Matthew Vaughn, and Steven Soderbergh. But his best performances (save maybe Steve Jobs) come from his three collaborations with the English director, Steve McQueen. Hunger is brilliant, small, and compelling; Shame is devastating, intense, and gives Fassbender the performance of his life (the film is also in my Top Ten of All Time), and 12 Years a Slave is the Best Picture Winner that beat out Gravity and showed Fassbender’s unforgiving side as a ruthless slave owner. McQueen’s next film, Widows, will be the filmmakers first without his trusted friend.

6. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Paul Thomas Anderson

Films Together: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, The Master

Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s passing in 2014 was tragic, and only lets us imagine the incredible work the thespian could have continued to give had his addiction not gotten the best of him. Never having top bill in any of PTA’s film, the actor was always the best part of each one he was attached too. Hoffman’s last film with the director, The Master, earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Vanity Fair reported on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast, the director said of the late actor, “When I saw him for the first time in Scent of a Woman, I just knew what true love was…I knew what love at first sight was. It was the strangest feeling sitting in a movie theater and thinking, ‘He’s for me and I’m for him.’ And that was it.”

5. Michael Caine – Christopher Nolan

Films Together: The Dark Knight (Trilogy), The Prestige, Inception, Interstellar, 

Michael Caine may not be winning awards for his roles in Christopher Nolan films, but to say he’s an integral part of the filmmaker’s career would be an understatement. Caine was 72 in his first Nolan film, and 81 in his last. The decorated British actor has 167 acting credits on IMDb, six of wish were under the Batman Begins filmmaker. Earlier when I talked about how Fassbender was in Shame, which is one of my favourite films; well Caine is in The Dark Knight, my actual favourite film. For those who want to argue that he rarely has meaty roles in those films, I ask you to watch him crying at Bruce Wayne’s funeral telling Bruce how he failed him, and try to keep arguing your point.

4. Johnny Depp – Tim Burton

Films Together: Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Alive in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, 

Not only do they have one of the most fruitful professional relationships in the history of cinema, but Johnny Depp is actually Godfather to the child of the director and his wife, Helena Bonham Carter. Depp’s peculiar charisma and Tim Burton’s larger than life aesthetic couple together sensationally, allowing both to highlight the others charm. Maybe not always the most prestigious in terms of awards and critical reception, but it’s hard to name a more loyal friendship that even audiences love to see.

3. Tom Hanks – Steven Spielberg

Films Together: Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me if You Can, The Terminal, Bridge of Spies, The Post

Many don’t think of these two as too big of a team when looking at the behemoth that is both of their filmography, but since ’98 three of their five collaborations have resulted in a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. They started out strong with Saving Private Ryan showing the darker side of Steven Spielberg that those who know him from his family friendly flicks don’t love to remember. Tom Hanks performance of WWII Captain Miller earned him respect as a more mature actor, moving away from films like Big, Sleepless in Seattle, and Forrest Gump. Fun fact: Hanks starring films only made up 20% of my Top Ten Steven Spielberg Directed Films list; more a testament to the filmmakers incredible scope than a knock at the two’s relationship.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio – Martin Scorsese

Films Together: Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street

When the Los Angeles Lakers retired Kobe Bryant’s #8 and #24, they said it was because the player who played in each number deserved their’s retired. I’m here to say that if we even just looked at the Leonardo DiCaprio starring Martin Scorsese films, he’d still be one of the greatest directors of all time.  Four of their five films have gotten a Best Picture nomination, with The Departed winning the prize in 2006. Foul-mouthed, violent, and all around bad-ass in every role, the relationship between the veterans has become a legacy, something directors from Danny Boyle, Christopher Nolan, and Quentin Tarantino have tried to replicate.

1. Robert De Niro – Martin Scorsese

Films Together: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, New York, New York, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Casino

Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Richard Dreyfus, and Robert De Niro may have run the 70’s, but none had a relationship with a director quite like Bobby D and Marty Scorsese. Taxi Driver solidified both their careers, with De Niro coming off of his Oscar win with The Godfather: Part II and Martin Scorsese just having finished his directorial debut, Mean Streets. Whether Bobby’s executing pimps or crying with his brother after a loss at a boxing match, his performances are never dull. The two went on to have an incredible career between the two of them, and not ending anytime soon. The Irishman is set to premiere on Netflix in 2019 and will have the two re-team for the first time since Casino in 1995.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Molly Ringwald – John Hughes
  • Bill Paxton – James Cameron
  • Brad Pitt – David Fincher
  • Denzel Washington- Spike Lee 
  • Russel Crowe – Ridley Scott 
  • Matt Damon  – Steven Soderbergh
  • James Stewart – Alfred Hitchcock
  • Simon Pegg/Nick Frost – Edgar Wright
  • Bill Murray – Wes Anderson
  • Frances McDormand – The Coen Brothers
  • Quentin Tarantino – Samuel L. Jackson
  • Mark Wahlberg – Pete Berg

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