As you’ve hopefully been notified by a letter from the government, the interruption of news broadcasts, or a series of terrifying premonitions, this Friday sees the release of “Pixels,” in which aliens attack the Earth pretending to be ’80s video game characters, for reasons surely scribbled on the back of a napkin by a screenwriter. It’s notable partly for being one of the more unpromising movies of the summer of 2015, but also because it is the seventh film in which Adam Sandler and Kevin James have paired up.
Both are talented comic actors (Sandler is great in “Punch Drunk Love” and “Funny People,” and James is legitimately charming in “Hitch”) who’ve become to a certain audience a modern-day Hope and Crosby, thanks to movies like “Grown Ups,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” and now this film, in which James plays the President (!) who enlists an old friend (Sandler) to help battle the alien invasion. But to us, they’ve become a sign that a film is going to be no fun at all.
Nevertheless, the film’s release this coming weekend got us thinking about some of the other frequently-paired actors and actresses from cinema history: two stars with their own independent careers but who became doubly famous as a duo. Here are ten of our favorites, from pre-code detective to modern-day comics —we have avoided pairs who only appeared in sequels together (i.e Danny Glover and Mel Gibson). Take a look below and let us know your own personal faves in the comments.
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Myrna Loy/William Powell
Shared Filmography: “Manhattan Melodrama” (1934), “The Thin Man” (1934), “Evelyn Prentice” (1934), “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936), “Libeled Lady” (1936), “After The Thin Man” (1936), “Double Wedding” (1937), “Another Thin Man” (1939), “I Love You Again” (1940), “Love Crazy” (1941), “Shadow Of The Thin Man” (1941), “The Thin Man Goes Home” (1945), “Song Of The Thin Man” (1947), “The Senator Was Indiscreet” (1947)
The old studio system made it easier for stars to be paired up together in the long term: if you were contracted to the same bosses and proved to be a profitable duo, you were bound to have a bunch more projects lined up. But few partnerships, especially platonic ones, had the longevity of Myrna Loy and William Powell. From the Clark Gable co-starring “Manhattan Melodrama” (the movie that John Dilllinger saw just before he was shot to death) through to “The Senator Was Indiscreet” thirteen years later, the pair starred in fourteen films together, including six in the “Thin Man” series of detective movies based on Dashiel Hammett’s book. Though the two made other good movies (‘Melodrama’ and musical classic “The Great Ziegfeld” perhaps the best among them), they’re probably still best known as Nick and Nora Charles, the booze-soaked, fast-talking married sleuths of “The Thin Man” movies. They look heavenly together, each beautiful in a vaguely goofy way and sharing a sort of Platonic ideal of screen chemistry —you believe that the Charleses are perfectly matched, both the best of friends and the greatest of lovers. Even in the weaker movies in the series, their fizzling pairing is enough to justify a watch.
Best Film Together: “The Thin Man” just edges out “The Great Ziegfeld” for us.
Nick (Powell): “Oh, it’s all right, Joe, it’s all right. It’s my dog. And, uh, my wife.”
Nora (Loy): “Well, you might have mentioned me first on the billing.”
Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder
Shared Filmography: “Silver Streak” (1976), “Stir Crazy” (1980), “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” (1989), “Another You” (1991)
Pryor and Wilder were actually first due to work together in 1974, on Mel Brooks‘ “Blazing Saddles,” for which Pryor gets a co-writing credit. But apparently due to Pryor’s unbackability after a string of notoriously caustic and controversial stand-up shows, Cleavon Little was cast in that role instead. So it was a couple of years later that this onscreen partnership was established, via the train-based comedy thriller “Silver Streak.” Apparently in their very first scene together, Pryor improvised and Wilder responded. He was “not trying to be clever,” he said later, “which is the death trap of improvisation” but it worked and they continued. “He’d say a line, and I’d say a line and he’d go back to the script and come away again, and everything we did together was like that,” said Wilder. But their partnership was not untroubled: Pryor’s addictions impeded the production of “Stir Crazy” —he’d be late, unreliable and truculent, and by their final disappointing team-up, “Another You,” Pryor’s physical deterioration due to MS was noticeable. Still, probably because of the improvisatory vibe as well as the inherently comical clash of their personas, there’s an alchemy to their best moments that transcends the sometimes subpar material.
Best Film Together: “Stir Crazy”
Skip (Wilder): This filthy, roach-ridden reality is inspiring… what did that second policeman say to you when he grabbed you by the throat?
Harry (Pryor): Man, I don’t fucking believe you!
Skip: “Man, I don’t fucking believe you!” Fabulous!
Al Pacino/John Cazale
Shared Filmography: “The Godfather” (1972), “The Godfather Part II” (1974), “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975)
We’re bending our own non-sequel rules a little here because a) it’s the greatest sequel of all time and b) Cazale only made five features (all Best Picture nominees, three won), three of which co-starred Pacino. The two had been friends for a while, working at Standard Oil and living together when both were struggling actors, and when their break came in the roles of brothers Michael and Fredo Corleone in “The Godfather” movies, it was an onscreen partnership that would typify their complementary styles: Cazale, perhaps one of the greatest reactors ever in cinema playing the weaker, resentful older brother to Pacino’s brooding, volatile, cunning Michael. But there’s an inherent humanity to Cazale’s Fredo that helps us feel for him —it was a soulfulness he brought to every role, and was enhanced by contrast to Pacino’s quicker, more mercurial presence. Pacino would later say “I learned more about acting from John than from anybody” and the legacy he built prior to his death from cancer at 42 suggests he’d now be in a simlar pantheon to his friend had he lived. And we also must wonder what Pacino’s career would have been in that case, with the actor saying “All I wanted to do was work with John for the rest of my life. He was my acting partner.”
Best Film Together: All three are obviously stone-cold classics, but the one that showcases their chemistry most prominently is probably “Dog Day Afternoon”
Typical Quote: [apparently this exchange was improvised]
Sonny (Pacino): There’s no coming back, so if there’s anybody special you want to say goodbye to, do it now. Is there any special country you want to go to?
Sal (Cazale): … Wyoming?
Paul Newman/Robert Redford
Shared Filmography: “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid” (1969), “The Sting” (1973)
Paul Newman and Robert Redford have a much smaller number of films together than most actors on this list, but that they were the first who came to mind speaks to the iconic nature of their team-up. It’s partly because the two are probably the best-looking men to ever grace the silver screen, so putting them together was always going to be a pleasure. And it’s partly that their two films together are both classics to one degree or another. “Butch Cassidy” is the best of the two: a gloriously entertaining, whip-smart Western about the legendary outlaws benefitting enormously from the warmth and humor brought by the pair, with their real-life friendship being positively palpable. “The Sting,” which reunited them with ‘Butch’ director George Roy Hill, is a little thinner (though unlike the earlier film, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture), but is still enormously enjoyable, and perhaps plays better into their age difference, the older/younger brother feel they had in real life. The pair stayed lifelong friends, and did nearly make a third film, “A Walk In The Woods,” which Redford finally made this year. Nick Nolte takes the role once intended for Newman, and while we love Nolte as much as Newman, it’s hard to think about what could have been.
Best Film Together: “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid”
Butch (Newman): “Listen I don’t mean to be a sore loser, but when it’s done, if I’m dead, kill him.”
Sundance (Redford): “Love to.”
Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson
Shared Filmography: “The Cable Guy” (1996), “Permanent Midnight” (1998), “Meet The Parents” (2000), “Zoolander” (2001), “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001), “Starsky & Hutch” (2004), “Meet The Fockers” (2004), “Night At The Museum” (2006), “Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian” (2009), “Little Fockers” (2010), “Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb” (2010) “Zoolander 2” (2016)
Given the incestuous nature of the modern comedy scene, with everybody cropping up for cameos in each other’s movies, it’s easy to overlook that Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson have appeared in eleven movies together (with a twelfth on the way). Admittedly, they haven’t always shared screen time, and six of those movies come from two not-so-great comedy trilogies, “Meet The Parents” and “Night At The Museum,” but their co-starring roles have been memorable enough to make them one of the bigger present-day comedy teams. Soon after his breakout in “Bottle Rocket,” Wilson had a small role in Stiller’s second movie as director, the dark Jim Carrey comedy “The Cable Guy,” then paired with him on addiction drama “Permanent Midnight,” but the film that really launched them as co-stars was Stiller’s absurdist comedy “Zoolander,” with the actors playing moronic male models. They’re a classic odd couple: Stiller the neurotic, uptight Jewish guy, Wilson the impossibly laidback WASP, but as “Zoolander” and cop parody “Starsky & Hutch” demonstrated, their personas could stretch to far more than just that, even while they always prove perfectly complementary. Recent collaborations have been limited to Wilson’s cameos (mostly as a tiny cowboy) in Stiller’s franchise movies, but with “Zoolander 2” on the way, it’ll be good to see them sharing screen space again.
Best Film Together: It’s not exactly a Stiller/Wilson vehicle, but “The Royal Tenenbaums” is certainly the best movie to feature both actors (Wilson also wrote it).
Starsky (Stiller): “It’s 10 o’clock, you’re late; I’ve been here since 8.”
Hutch (Wilson): “8’o clock? I didn’t even know this place opened at 8.”
Starsky: Well, don’t sweat it, ‘cause ya know what? Crime called in sick, it’s gonna get a late start too.”
Kirk Douglas/Burt Lancaster
Shared Filmography: “I Walk Alone” (1948), “Gunfight At The O.K. Corral” (1957), “The Devil’s Disciple” (1959), “The List Of Adrian Messenger” (1963), “Seven Days In May” (1964), “Victory At Entebbe” (1976), “Tough Guys” (1986)
Most big-screen cinematic pairings have an established brand that goes with them, and mostly on the comedy side: you expect fast-talking fireworks with Loy and Powell, or lowbrow slapstick with James and Sandler. Not so Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. Two of Hollywood’s great leading men starred in seven (well, mostly six, but we’ll come to that…) films across nearly forty years, from film noir to period drama to Western to conspiracy thriller to ’80s actioner, a list all the more atypical because they were never particularly close friends, unlike many of the actors in this list. Film noir “I Walk Alone” was their first project, with Lancaster top-billed and Douglas as his former Prohibition frenemy, a hierarchy that continued across almost all their appearances together. They played Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday at “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” riffed on George Bernard Shaw in “The Devil’s Disciple,” and battled over the fate of the country in “Seven Days In May” before reteaming for old-timers-bank-robbers action-comedy “Tough Guys,” co-starring Dana Carvey, of all people. It’s hard to pin down their chemistry, given their roles were so different, but their fierce, burning screen presences were certainly complementary and are a pleasure to watch whether they played fierce adversaries or old pals. And that seventh film? John Huston’s murder-mystery “The List Of Adrian Messenger,” an odd movie sold on the premise that a number of big stars were ‘disguised’ in the movie, revealing their identities in the credits: actually, their roles were played by someone else, and Lancaster only filmed his single credits shot.
Best Film Together: ‘O.K. Corral’ is very good, but their best work together was John Frankenheimer’s “Seven Days In May,” a crackling conspiracy thriller with Douglas out to foil an attempted coup by Lancaster’s General.
Wyatt Earp: “We’d like you to come to the wedding, Doc – if it doesn’t interfere with your poker.”
Doc Holliday: “I’m not good at weddings – only funerals. Deal me out.”
Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy
Shared Filmography: “Woman of the Year” (1942), “Keeper of the Flame” (1942), “Without Love” (1945), “The Sea of Grass” (1947), “State of the Union” (1948), “Adam’s Rib” (1949), “Pat and Mike” (1952), “Desk Set” (1957), “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” (1967)
The mythologized subjects of a 25-year-long off-screen love affair (Tracy never divorced his wife and even though Hepburn nursed him through his final illness, she did not attend his funeral out of respect for his family), it’s an opposites-attracting narrative that colors every one of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn’s nine onscreen collaborations. With most of the films enjoying a kind of battle-of-the-sexes vibe (“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is maybe the only one where that dynamic takes a backseat to another issue; even Elia Kazan‘s unsatisfying “The Sea of Grass” is an attempt at a dramatic, rather than comedic, take on that territory), many can now feel dated. By their conclusions, usually the outspoken Hepburn has to be somewhat tamed into domesticity by Tracy’s plain-spoken masculinity. But the sizzle that endures is not in final morals, but in the crackle of the back-and-forth interactions in which they seem to be eternally playing out variations on the same theme: can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. While so many other classic Hollywood pairings issued from a kind of synergy (Astaire/Rogers; Flynn/De Havilland), the ongoing onscreen friction between Tracy, ever the underplaying naturalist, and Hepburn, all clipped vowels and haughty angularity, gives these films a charge they retain even in more enlightened times.
Best Film Together: “Adam’s Rib”
Typical Quote: from “Adam’s Rib”
Amanda: There’s no difference between the sexes. Men, women, the same.
Adam: They are?
Amanda: Well, maybe there is a difference, but it’s a little difference.
Adam: Well, you know as the French say…
Amanda: What do they say?
Adam: Vive la difference!
Simon Pegg/Nick Frost
Shared Filmography: “Shaun Of The Dead” (2004), “Grindhouse” (“Don’t” segment) (2007), “Hot Fuzz” (2007), “Paul” (2011), “The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn” (2011), “The World’s End” (2013), “Cuban Fury” (2014), “The Boxtrolls” (2014)
Appropriately for a pair who have a certain Laurel & Hardy-ish quality to their silhouettes, British duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have become one of the most acclaimed comedy pairings of recent times. Friends since Pegg was a struggling actor and Frost worked as a waiter in a Mexican restaurant, they came up together after Pegg wrote a part specially for his pal in TV show “Spaced,” the series that launched their careers, along with those of Edgar Wright and Jessica Hynes (nee Stephenson). And when they moved into movies, with the brilliant zom-rom-com “Shaun Of The Dead,” their pairing remained at the centre, via the friendship between slacker Shaun and his weed-dealing, vaguely parasitic, totally lovable mate Ed at the heart of the film. “Hot Fuzz,” the second film in Wright’s Cornetto trilogy (Frost and Pegg being the main constants) was even more of a bromance, while they wrote and starred in “Paul” together, played Thompson & Thompson for Steven Spielberg in mo-cap form, and closed off their trilogy with the stranger, sadder “The World’s End” (which perhaps suffered a little for making Frost the straight man). Their very real love for each other is always palpable on screen, their comic skills are always entirely in sync, and even in lesser projects, it’s a pleasure to see them together.
Best Film Together: Picking a favorite Cornetto movie often comes down to your mood: we’d perhaps pick “Hot Fuzz” today, if only because it’s the one that gives Pegg and Frost their best buddy-buddy showcase, and also because it’s essentially perfect.
Nicholas Angel (Pegg): “It’s Frank! He’s appointed himself Judge, Jury and Executioner.”
Danny Butterman (Frost): “He is not Judge Judy and Executioner.”
Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Cooper
Shared Filmography: “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012), “American Hustle” (2013), “Serena” (2014), “Joy” (upcoming 2015)
With the December release (and a possible festival berth prior to that) of David O. Russell’s “Joy,” Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence come back for their third film with the director, and their fourth overall. While they have worked together under another director, Susanne Bier‘s “Serena” was hardly their finest hour, so it seems like the lightly acid comedy vibe of Russell’s recent work is best suited to the pair. Indeed, it’s hard to tell if it’s Russell who has defined the couple’s onscreen appeal, or if it is J-Law and B-Coops who have given his last few outings their success: ‘Silver Linings’ especially feels like it would have been very ordinary with any other actors in those lead roles. Separately, they are both very strong, likeable actors, with each pursuing smaller independent films even while Lawrence participates in two major franchises (Cooper is an unusual leading man in that, aside from his excellent voice work in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he remains relatively unencumbered with comic book and/or young adult series). And so there’s a kind of parity to their onscreen personalities, a synchronicity that works well and comes across as a kind of understanding between them —the only major difference in their profiles is that while each has three Oscar nominations to their name (two each from Russell films), Lawrence is the only one to have so far managed a win.
Best Film Together: ‘Silver Linings’ obviously won Lawrence her Best Actress statue and is much more focused on those two characters, but performance-wise, the pair were so much fun in “American Hustle” that it may be our favorite of their collaborations so far.
Typical Quote (from “Silver Linings Playbook”):
Tiffany (Lawrence): You let me lie to you for a week?
Pat (Cooper): I was trying to be romantic.
Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau
Shared Filmography: “The Fortune Cookie” (1966), “The Odd Couple” (1968), “The Front Page” (1974), “Buddy Buddy” (1981) “JFK” (1991), “Grumpy Old Men” (1993), “The Grass Harp” (1995), “Grumpier Old Men” (1995), “Out to Sea” (1997), “The Odd Couple II” (1998)
“All my life I’ve been miserable, because I’ve wanted women to jump on me the way they jump on pretty men like Jack Lemmon” quipped Walter Matthau in an interview, complaining about how Billy Wilder would only ever cast him as the “lovable rogue… who should never under any circumstances play the love interest.” But while that hints at the kind of dynamic established between Lemmon and Matthau in their ten onscreen collaborations, it doesn’t quite get to the bottom of it. Because Lemmon was much more than just the “straight man,” and the crackle between the two was so much more compelling than any of the romances they enjoyed in their movies. “The Odd Couple” is the prototype: while their films would get more obvious and less endearing, their relationship always felt like a marriage, one dating back to happier times before the word “bromance” existed. Indeed, it’s the resolute bitterness and misanthropy at the core of their mutually reliant partnership that makes the sparring between the two so deeply funny. Other buddy dynamics can easily fall prey to sentimentality, but even in their sappier late films, there’s a riskiness to their interactions: it is never clear that they actually like one another, so their eternal dance takes on this element of timeless, very human absurdity.
Best Film Together: We could watch these two eternally, and “The Fortune Cookie” is much underrated, but we’re going to have to go with “The Odd Couple.” Of course.
Oscar (Matthau): Now kindly remove that spaghetti from my poker table…The hell’s so funny?
Felix (Lemmon): It’s not spaghetti, it’s linguini.
Oscar: [Throws linguini] Now it’s garbage.
Honorable Mentions: We couldn’t include every single memorable partnership and tried to keep a varied list, but there are definitely a few recurring team-ups that deserve a brief nod. Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland made eight films together, including the stone-cold classic “The Adventures Of Robin Hood,” while Bob Hope and Bing Crosby starred in the successful “Road To…” series, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had a profitable comic partnership as well. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were obviously a legendary pair, backwards-and-in-heels.
More recently, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi would have done more great work were it not for the latter’s untimely passing, while Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and Julia Roberts and Richard Gere each have a couple of iconic rom-coms under their belts. We’d love to see a third outing for Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson at some point, while more recently, James Franco and Seth Rogen have had some memorable outings. And though they’ve mostly been confined to the “Ocean’s” movies, Brad Pitt and George Clooney are always good value on screen. Any favorite screen pairings of yours we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments.