Best actor-director duos of all time

Katerina Vasilaki takes a look at some of the best actor-director partnerships in cinema history.

Katerina Vasilaki
11th November 2019
Just like football, film is a team effort. In order for the team to win, the most important factors are compelling chemistry and good communication between the actor and the director.

Nowadays, people credit mainly the director for the success of a film or a play when in reality, editing, sound, performance and a myriad of unthinkable details are just as important ingredients for a good recipe and a profitable release. However, a factor not often examined is the relationship between the director and the actor. A ‘filmmaker’, while reading or writing his script has a vision in his mind about the way he wants to transform this 2D paper that describes the story, to a 3D visual piece of art. The actor could in that sense be figuratively the ‘means’ a director must utilize in order to draw the Picasso in his/her mind as accurately as possible. In this list, I will be breaking down some of the duets that left history and have proved that the main distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ films simply hides under the relationship between all the artists involved.

Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman on the set of Black Panther (2018)

Starting this list with a relatively new duet, Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan are widely known for their movie Black Panther, however, they have also worked together in films such as Creed and Fruitvale Station. Although compared to my other picks for this list, this one is not as well established, they show a lot of promise through the memorable way in which they use visuals and deliver stories.

My second pick is a heavenly-made match for film. Having collaborated in more than ten films, including the Mission Impossible franchise, it is safe to say that Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie have found the secret to success. In a 2018 interview with EMPIRE, they said that a five-hour script session for them is "like a walk in the park" and that they both want the movie to reach its full potential every time.

George Clooney is an iconic actor and has been working with the great directors. However, his best work has undeniably been with Steven Soderbergh, with their collaboration on movies like Ocean’s franchise, as well as Out of Sight, Solaris and The Good German. Soderbergh is notorious for experimenting with the visuals of a film and the fact that they stuck together creating one blockbuster after the other is not a matter of luck. Clooney seems to be able to understand Soderbergh’s artistic vision and brings it to life successfully.

Leonardo DiCaprio has given some of his best performances when he collaborates with Martin Scorsese, and the industry knows it.

The next duo has brought approximately 1.3 billion earnings from their films. Leonardo DiCaprio has given some of his best performances when he collaborates with Martin Scorsese, and the industry knows it. The Wolf of Wall Street among others has been iconic in every sense for DiCaprio. The dyad has been experimenting with different genres such as crime and comedy, nailing all of them. To vividly illustrate my point, I must mention the fact that the duo’s movies have been nominated for 31 Academy Awards, winning 9 of them.

Now it’s the time for the pick you have all been waiting for and definitely expecting. It goes without saying that the best actor-director collaboration the film industry has seen is that of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. They have been working together since 1973 and many of their films are featured among the list of the greatest movies ever made. Brian De Palma was the one who introduced De Niro to Scorsese at the start of his career and since then, the creative connection and incredible chemistry has led to films like 1976’s Taxi Driver and 1990’s Goodfellas, leaving their mark on the industry and forever changing the notion of film belonging only to the director.

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