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Top 10 Director-Actor Partnerships

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Max Lett. Whenever these colleagues pair up, they make cinematic magic. In this video, counts down our picks for the top 10 director/actor partnerships. For this list, we’ve chosen some of the most iconic, long-running and fruitful pairings of directors and actors in cinema history, which have produced some of our favorite films. Special thanks to our users Hilda van der Heide, Andrew A. Dennison, Ruston BlackBatman Henry, Chance Ellison, Harold Vega, Luke McGowan, JAH011, Deathmatch1959, Jordan Rowe, FourMinerz, Zach Foster, Thomas Tang, WatchDogsFan47, Mohammed Al-hooti, jbachner, nightshade_princess, Dimple2rite, Honwe Koh, Terence Tha Don Watson, longjohnsilver, aldqbigsquare, tom dray and arimazzie for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Max Lett.

Top 10 Director-Actor Partnerships

Whenever these colleagues pair up, they make cinematic magic. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 director/actor partnerships.

For this list, we’ve chosen some of the most iconic, long-running and fruitful pairings of directors and actors in cinema history, which have produced some of our favorite films.

#10: Wes Anderson / Bill Murray

All kinds of wacky awkwardness ensues when these two get together. As seen in flicks like “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Anderson’s films are often familial pieces that aren’t too sure whether they’re comedies, dramas or some quirky genre in between. Throw Bill Murray into the mix and you’ve got a self-sustained, genre-bending piece of cinema about family, failure and success that speaks to the uncomfortable uncertainty of our generation.

#9: John Ford / John Wayne

This pair is the stuff that westerns are made of. Together, they pumped out many a classic cowboy flick and effectively spawned an entire genre, while also inspiring and informing a subsequent generation of Spaghetti westerns with classics like “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers.” Wayne has become infamous for his distinctly affected drawl, and together with Ford he cemented what we now know as the heroic cowboy trope.

#8: Elia Kazan / Marlon Brando

Kazan was known for introducing a lot of young talent in his time, and one of these notable fresh faces was Marlon Brando. Brando was notoriously difficult at the best of times; but that’s what makes this pairing so legendary: Kazan was one of the few directors who could adjust to the actor’s moods in order to extract some of the best performances of his life in films like “On the Waterfront” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

#7: Werner Herzog / Klaus Kinski

Even more difficult to work with than Brando was Klaus Kinski. In fact, he was such a hothead; he allegedly pulled a gun on Herzog while filming “Aguirre.” But thankfully, it didn’t go further than that. Intense, obsessive and – at times – bordering on the psychotic, Kinski was the perfect block of clay from which Herzog could sculpt performances of perfectly calculated passion in movies like “Fitzcarraldo.”

#6: Mel Brooks / Gene Wilder

While both of these comedic legends are rumored to be difficult working partners, they struck gold together with their hilarious comedy classics like “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein.” Infamously, the pair engaged in screaming matches, only to reconcile minutes later and come to a mutual understanding. What makes this matchup so legendary is their ability to come together to create truly funny movies that everyone can understand and enjoy.

#5: Akira Kurosawa / Toshiro Mifune

Renowned as the fathers of samurai cinema, this partnership endures thanks to classics like “Yojimbo” and “Seven Samurai.” Though both worked independently, Kurosawa and Mifune were at their best as a pair. Kurosawa’s meticulously created films are known for their complex Shakespearean storylines, with some samurai swashbuckling thrown in for good measure. Throw Toshiro Mifune’s exaggerated facial and vocal performances to the mix and you have yourself three-hours’-worth of period epicness.

#4: Alfred Hitchcock / Jimmy Stewart

When the British master of suspense meets a mainstay of American cinema, the result is highly-strung and emotionally involving character pieces that revived both men’s careers. Hitchcock films are always grounds for some tenseness or a good scare. But, when you add Stewart to the equation, you get a movie about a man at the mercy of events; unsure what will come next but eager to take charge.

#3: Quentin Tarantino / Samuel L. Jackson

Tarantino has many fruitful partnerships, with Uma Thurman acting as one of his most frequent muses. But you’d be hard-pressed to find an endeavor in which Tarantino hasn’t cast the baddest mofo in Hollywood. Whether it’s a tiny cameo or uncredited narration, Sam Jackson is often lurking in the background. The actor’s obvious onscreen charisma, coupled with Tarantino’s skill at creating complex characters, makes for ultra-violent, ultra-entertaining films like “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained.”

#2: Tim Burton / Johnny Depp

Tim Burton is very much a genre-based director, unwilling to stray too far from his creepy gothic subject matter. But that reticence to bend has translated to success, with the director using recurring themes and elements in his films. One of these elements is the omnipresent Johnny Depp, with whom Burton has produced and directed many zany movies, from “Edward Scissorhands” onward.

Before we find out which partnership topped our list, here are a few honorable mentions:
- David Fincher / Brad Pitt
- Woody Allen / Diane Keaton
- David Lean / Alec Guinness
- Sergio Leone / Clint Eastwood

#1: Martin Scorsese / Robert De Niro

Though Scorsese may have found himself another muse in Leo DiCaprio, he and De Niro were once the hottest couple in Hollywood – so to speak. Through their shared love of ad-libbing and the psychoanalysis of dark characters, Scorsese and De Niro used their more contemporary stories not only to redefine the gangster genre, but also cinema itself. While both had successful careers independently, they were never as good as when they were together.

Do you agree with our list? Which director/actor partnerships do you think have yielded the best movies? For more of your favorite top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to

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