Top 10 Collaborations In Film Over The Last 40 Years

What actors, directors or writers have formed the best partnerships over the years? Top 10 Films takes a look as Dan Grant discusses the ten that have made an impact on him…

For years, actors and directors/producers/writers have developed a rapport with one another and have decided to work together on numerous occasions. You can go back to the beginning of film and find longevity with pairs like John Wayne and John Ford, Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers, David Lean and Alec Guinness just to name a few. But since I was born in the seventies my film knowledge starts there and that’s where this list will start.

Now before we begin, keep in mind, this is a top ten list based on my opinions. There are literally hundreds of collaborations that could make this list and I’m very interested in what you think. But here are the collaborations that have made an impact on me.

10. Kurt Russell and John Carpenter

Kurt Russell, Jack Burton, Big Trouble In Little China, John Carpenter,They worked together five times, starting with Carpenter casting Russell to be Elvis Presley in a TV movie. They also created one of the most unnerving horror films of the 80s with The Thing. This pair just clicks together. Many of Carpenter’s biggest hits came with Russell as the lead. Big Trouble in Little China is one of the all time great cult classics.

9. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell

Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead, Top 10 Films, These two were high school friends. They are probably best known for their low budget horror classic, Evil Dead. But outside of that, Raimi has tried to find a place for Campbell in many of the films he directs. Besides the six Evil Dead and Spider-man movies (combined), Campbell has also had small roles in The Quick and the Dead and Darkman. These are two high school buddies who haven’t forgotten where they came from.

8. Tony Scott and Denzel Washington

Man on Fire, Film, Denzel Washington, Tony Scott, Starting with the tense and taut Crimson Tide, Scott and Washington worked together six times over a period of 15 years. Tony never got the critical acclaim his brother did but with Denzel in his films, he had a lot of success at the box office. Man on Fire was one of the best films of 2004 and in my opinion it should have gotten a lot more recognition. Tony died of an apparent suicide and the last film he directed was Unstoppable with Denzel. He will certainly be missed.

7. Nora Ephron and Meg Ryan

When Harry Met Sally, Orgasm Scene, Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal,These two ladies only combined for three films, but they are three of the funnier films I’ve seen. Starting with one of 1989’s best films, When Harry Met Sally, Ephron and Ryan formed a very funny duo. She directed the next two films with Ryan (and Tom Hanks). Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail are high on humour but Ephron’s always been known for having very strong female characters in her films, these are two prime examples. Meg Ryan was once known as America’s Sweetheart and it was mostly because of Ephron’s writing.

6. John Candy and John Hughes

Del Griffith, John Candy, Planes Trains and Automobiles, 1980s Comedy Film Characters,You could have probably had Molly Ringwald here instead of John Candy, but she only did three films with Hughes. Candy did seven. Starting with Vacation, where Candy played the lone attendant at Wally World and then culminating with Only the Lonely, their relationship was so strong that Hughes would find small roles for Candy in films like Home Alone and Career Opportunities. Uncle Buck was largely successful because of the rapport Candy had with a very young Macauley Culkin. On a personal note, John Candy’s death is the only celebrity death that made me cry. Hughes’ death was premature as well. Two giant talents who found that their creativity galvanized one another.

5. Bill Murray and Harold Ramis

Bill Murray, Groundhog Day, This is a pairing that had everything in it. Directing, starring, writing and producing. If you take all of these art forms, these two had seven films together. Ramis and Murray were the driving force (along with Ivan Reitman) of monster hits like Stripes, Meatballs and Ghostbusters. Murray and Ramis had a falling out after Groundhog Day when it was alleged that Murray wanted Groundhog Day to be much more serious and almost existential in some ways. Ramis wrote it to be a straight comedy. This ended their 30-year friendship. It wasn’t until a week before Ramis’ death that they reconciled. It’s unfortunate that they had this falling out as we might have been treated to more films from this brilliant duo over the years.

4. Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro

Goodfellas, Film, Robert De Niro, Martin ScorseseWith Scorsese, you could have had Leonardo DiCaprio here as well. But before he found Leo, Bobby was his go-to guy. Scorsese may have won his first Oscar with Leo at the helm but we all know he should have won one years before with Robert De Niro. They have classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and of course Goodfellas. They have made eight films together and more than half of them are considered classic American cinema. It’s no secret that after Casino, De Niro’s career seemed to nosedive. He made a few more really good films after his collaboration with Scorsese ended but for the most part he never took the same quality roles after his departure from Marty.

3. Bill Paxton and James Cameron

Bill Paxton, Film actor and director, Top 10 FilmsCameron is one of the most successful directors ever. He is also known to be temperamental and incredibly difficult to work with. Yet there are those who have worked with him on numerous films. They include Sigourney Weaver, Arnold, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein and of course Bill Paxton. They have worked together five times, including the Titanic documentary Ghosts of the Abyss. Paxton first worked with Cameron on Terminator when he got the hell beat out of him by the cyborg. He was the comic relief in True Lies and the slimy treasure hunter in Titanic. It’s a little disappointing that Paxton didn’t get the call for Avatar, but they’ve done plenty of terrific work together over the years.

2. Al Leong and Joel Silver

Die Hard, Al Leong, Top 10 Films, Yes, this is an odd one but here’s why these two are here, at number two. When I was a teenager, me and my friend loved movies. We would see anything and because we saw so much, we began to notice little bit players in different films all by the same director. John Hughes used the grandparents from Weird Science in several films, same with the dad from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Then we started noticing the same actors show up in a lot of action films. We soon realized that the name Joel Silver was the producer of a lot of the action films we loved. There were even guys we would see over and over again, like Sonny Landham (48 Hours, Predator, Warriors). And then we saw Lethal Weapon and laughed when Endo tortured Martin Riggs. For some reason, Endo just stood out to us. Soon, he began to pop up in many other action films, always in small roles. He was the candy bar eating Special Forces guy in Die Hard and he was also in Action Jackson. He and Silver did four films together. He was never a main actor and he was never going to be a star. But his funny and brilliant work in so many films, four of them being Joel Silver productions, left an indelible mark on me and my best friend.

1. Harrison Ford and George Lucas

Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark,Perhaps the greatest collaboration in film history, these two made two of the most iconic characters in Indiana Jones and Han Solo. Ford also appeared in Lucas’ 1973 coming of age film American Graffiti and he had a cameo in the Lucas produced Apocalypse Now (this is an uncredited producing credit but he helped Coppola develop the film), playing a General named Lucas. Ford almost didn’t get the role of Han Solo because Lucas didn’t want anyone in the film that he had worked with before in THX-1138 or American Graffiti. But when Ford was helping Lucas cast for Star Wars, he would always read the part of Han Solo with the actors auditioning for the other roles. After months of reading the Solo part, Lucas finally realized the best man for the role would be Ford. Lucas and Ford did nine films together. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Who are some others you would have on this list?

Written and compiled by Dan Grant.

Check out more Top 10s from Dan Grant:
Top 10 Horror Films from Canada part of
Top 10 Films’ World Tour of Horror which includes the
Top 10 Best British Horror Films of All Time
About the Author
Dan Grant is an author and horror film fan from Canada. His first novel Terrified and Defenseless is now available for e-download from Amazon. Follow Dan on Twitter @baumer72.

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    Andrew Reply

    I can’t say that I agree with all of these, but I love the thought put into this. Great post! I love when a director makes a muse out of a certain actor and uses them to their full. De Niro and Scorsese, Wright and Knightley, Scott and Crowe…even if every effort isn’t great, the quality as a whole is just so wonderful.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    Hey Andrew. I know there are many, many other collaborations that could be here. But as I mentioned, this is a very personal list. I’d love to see who would make your list. And thanks for chiming in.

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    ruth Reply

    I definitely agree w/ #7, 5 and 1. Meg Ryan truly shines in Nora Ephron’s films, and Ford definitely owes his career to Lucas. Hard to find characters more iconic than Indiana Jones and Han Solo!

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    Dez Reply

    Nice list Dan. Scorsese and DeNiro did some great work but it’s great to see him rekindle that sort of relationship with DiCaprio.

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    Alex Reply

    Id have to include Zemeckis and Hanks… Pure Hollywood gold!

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    Anderson Reply

    Actors – Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon if we go further back in time.

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    Callum Reply

    Great list Dan. Lots of my faves here. I suppose Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes have struck up a good partnership though I’m not sure it’s top 10 worthy.

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    CineGirl Reply

    Love your reasoning behind choosing Al Leong, Dan. He’s a very recognisable actor whose name I didn’t know until now.

    Some of my other favourites would include director Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks, Scorsese and DiCaprio, and Anthony Michael Hall and John Hughes.

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    John Mitchell Reply

    Micheal Douglas and Kathleen Turner.

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    Carter Reply

    Spielberg with… Kaminski, Williams, Hanks.

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    Wendell Reply

    Fun list. Definitely some personal choices here which is fun. I like Scott & Denzel, but I’d probably go with Den el & Spike Lee. Love Scorsese & DeNiro, but I might also include Scorsese & DiCaprio. Even though they’ve lately reduced themselves to self-parody, Tim Burton & Johnny Depp and/or Helena Bonham Carter. With 3 great movies in the books and potentially a 4th to arrive in theaterss this year, I would probably include Quentin Tarantino & Samuel L. Jackson.

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    Rodney Reply

    Spielberg and Kaminski (DP). The latter has made the former’s films in the last decade or two something marvelous.

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    Lendell Reply

    Agree on the Spielberg/Kaminski choice but I think Spirlberg’s partnership with John Williams is even more important to the success of both men’s careers.

    I think Quebtin Tarantino and Uma Thurman is worth noting. He’s got the best performances out of her and given her the best roles of her career.

    Kevin Smith and Ben Affleck is another parternership I like.

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    Dan Reply

    Terrific article Dan. It begins with one of my personal favourites – Carpenter and Russell, a great team and one that has produced some real diversity – horror, action, and comedy.

    De Niro and Scorsese is a great partnership while Harrison Ford probably wouldn’t be the star he is today without George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

    Bill Paxton has done some great work with Cameron as has Michael Biehn.

    There have been some other good suggestions – I like Rodney’s Spielberg/Kaminski partnership while Spielberg has worked extensively with John Williams to great effect. Zemeckis has had some good partnerships too, not least with writing partner Bob Gale but Christopher Lloyd too. But it’s undeniable that Tom Hanks has done some great work with the director.

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    .Dan Grant Reply

    So many great comments. Ill respond to them all later today.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    Zemekis and Hanks is a great tandem. And I certainly considered having them on this list. But as I said in the first part of the piece, there could be a lot of pairs here. This is just a personal list.

    Matthau and Lemon absolutely are one of the all time great but to be honest, I tried to stay away from just acting tandems. I like the dynamic of the actor and the behind the scenes guy.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    And yes, Quentin and SLJ is a great one. Pulp Fiction is just perfection. You might even add Tarantino and Harvey Keitel. Hell, Keitel could be included with Scorsese as he made a lot of films with him as well..

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    Evan Crean Reply

    Wow! What a list Dan! Some of my all-time favorite collaborations here. With the exception of Ephron/Ryan, which I’m not as familiar with, all of these combinations have contributed to many of my most beloved films. Ford/Lucas, Russell/Carpenter, Murray/Ramis, and Candy/Hughes rate the highest on my own list though.

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    Jacob Brunt Reply

    Kurt Russell and John Carpenter – can’t beat it!

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    Dan Grant Reply

    @Evan: Glad to see you like some of the same stuff I do. You should really try to find Ephron’s work. When Harry Met Sally is the best Woody Allen movie that Woody Allen didn’t make.

    @Jacob: Yep, I agree….great tandem.

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