Skip to content

Top 10 Actor-Director Partnerships

Just like in sports – think Brady to Moss, Stockton to Malone or Gretzky to Messier – the right movie combination can be absolute dynamite.

Sometimes (Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, Rock Hudson and Doris Day) it’s a combination of actor-actress – but oftentimes, the more powerful and fruitful combination is between actor and director. When those two creative forces meet in perfect simpatico, we’re often  treated to a string of classic features. So, here’s our list of the top ten director-actor duos working today.

John Goodman + The Coen Brothers

Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where art Thou, Inside Llewyn Davis

John Goodman + The Coen Brothers

No one actor has ever personified the Coens’ brilliantly inspired and unforgettably unique characters better than the oversized Goodman, providing the delicious toppings to their sundaes of wonder. He was buffoonish in Raising Arizona, scary in Barton Fink, ogreish in O Brother, tragic in Davis, and foul-mouthed (yet well-meaning) in The Big Lebowski. The Coens usually crank out a movie a year, so there’s a good bet for another reunion in the future.

Tom Hanks + Steven Spielberg

Saving Private Ryan, The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can

Tom Hanks + Steven Spielberg

The classic American everyman actor blends perfectly with the most popular and accomplished American filmmaker. Hanks should have won an Oscar for Ryan, and The Terminal stands out as one of the more overlooked films in his long career. They’ll team up again for Bridge of Spies, which is penned by a couple other people on this list – the Coen brothers. How’s that for a combination?

Up next: Bridge of Spies (Christmas)

Matt Damon + Paul Greengrass

Bourne Supremacy, Bourne Ultimatum, Green Zone

Matt Damon + Paul Greengrass

Damon’s been a fine match for Greengrass’ shaky-cam action films, propelling the second and third Bourne adventures to fine peaks. Thankfully, they’re set for another go-around in the series coming up next year. They also teamed on one of the more underrated movies of the last decade – the excellent and overlooked Iraq war pic Green Zone, one of the few great dramas from the conflict.

Up next: Bourne 5 (2016)

Jennifer Lawrence + David O. Russell

Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle

Jennifer Lawrence + David O'Russell

Russell’s movies collect Oscars and nominations like kids on Halloween collect candy, and Lawrence already has one of each for Playbook and Hustle. Her third collaboration – the Miracle Mop-inventor biopic Joy – with Russell will probably get her a nomination and could get her another award. This is a duo that’s showered with gold.

Up next: Joy (Christmas)

Tom Cruise + Christopher McQuarrie

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Jack Reacher

Tom Cruise + Christopher McQuarrie

McQuarrie – who won an Oscar for penning The Usual Suspects – has turned out to be a naturally slick action director, and he’s found a willing compatriot in the ever-youthful Tom Cruise, making a dramatic second-act return to the A-list. Jack Reacher deserved the cult-hit status it now has, and Rogue Nation was the best Mission: Impossible sequel in the franchise. McQuarrie, we hope, will return to helm the sixth one next year.

Melissa McCarthy + Paul Feig

The Heat, Spy

Melissa McCarthy + Paul Feig

The funniest woman in Hollywood with one of its most deft comedy directors? Perfect alchemy. The duo has produced two hits already, and next year the coffers will be open for the surefire reboot of Ghostbusters, along with Kristen Wiig and a host of other comedy superstars. They’re one of the most lucrative pairs in the business.

Up next: Ghostbusters (2016)

Anne Hathaway + Christopher Nolan

Interstellar, The Dark Knight Rises

Anne Hathaway + Christopher Nolan

Nolan’s an auteur of Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson-level status – just with pulpier project material – and he’s found a valuable piece in the always-valuable Hathaway. She was one of the best parts about the scattershot Dark Knight Rises and provided a much-needed emotional core in the vastness of Interstellar. Nolan has his new, still untitled project out in 2017, and there’s probably a better-than-average chance Hathaway will join him.

Emma Stone + Woody Allen

Irrational Man, Magic in the Moonlight


Allen has specialized in taking young up-and-coming female stars and catching some of their best performances on their way to the top; he did it with Scarlett Johansson and now he’s doing it with Emma Stone, who dazzled in Magic in the Moonlight (one of his better later-period romantic romps) and in the dark Irrational Man from 2015.

Leonardo DiCaprio + Martin Scorsese

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

Leonardo Dicaprio + Martin Scorsese

What DeNiro was to Scorsese’s movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s, DiCaprio has become to his 2000’s collection. DiCaprio is the perfect match for Scorsese’s vivid creations spanning all the different genres, running the gamut between period epics like Gangs of New York and crime dramas like The Departed to Shutter Island‘s horror noir and Wolf of Wall Street‘s drug-fueled modern cautionary tale.

Johnny Depp + Tim Burton

Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows

Johnny Depp + Richard Burton

One of the more established and long-standing collaborations in this collection – their first movie was 1990’s Edward Scissorhands – theirs is also one of the more uneven, producing a few misses (Dark Shadows, the massive-but-empty Alice in Wonderland). However, when they hit the results are often spellbinding, with Depp providing the watchable charisma to Burton’s offbeat creations. Their best work, strangely enough, might be the most straightforward; the wonderful and beautifully-shot bio-pic Ed Wood, named for the legendary B-movie director, is a delight.

Make yourself heard!