There are times when directors and actors click so well that moviegoers feel confident seeing their names appear side by side on a movie poster. This is what happens when great actors and directors make films together. Sometimes directors find this dynamic with multiple actors while others seem to stick to the same leading man (or woman) with unwavering faith in their talent. I’ve noticed a few trends between popular directors and their selection of actors and actresses. Let’s look at 10 popular actors and directors that make great films together.
10. Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter
Number of collaborations: 7
Biggest Box Office Hit: Alice In Wonderland Tim Burton and his Corpse Bride have worked together several times. The first was Helena’s role of Ari in 2001’s Planet Of The Apes, which Burton supposedly thought would be perfect for her. What makes these two so great is how they match each other’s vibe and energy, with Burton reportedly referring to Carter as his “weirdo muse.” Helena’s passion for losing herself in strange and unusual roles is perfect for Tim Burton, who always writes complex, unconventional characters.
Helena Bonham Carter has brought some of Tim Burton’s zaniest characters to life, including the evil Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland and the twisted Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; earning both Burton and Carter Golden Globe nominations.
Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter are a popular actor/director match made in cinematic heaven. Although they’re no longer a couple, I hope this isn’t the end of their working relationship. I’d love to see the magic between the queen of eccentricity and the master gothic visionary reprised on the silver screen. Speaking of Tim Burton…
9. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp
Number of collaborations: 8
Biggest Box Office Hit: Alice In Wonderland Do you ever get the feeling that a role was made for someone? That’s exactly how I feel about every Tim Burton character Johnny Depp has ever played. Like our predecessor, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, and Tim Burton often work together. Depp’s skillful character acting has brought some of the strangest, most peculiar characters to life under the Tim Burton lens; the most popular was Edward Scissorhands, their first collaboration.
Tim Burton has said in the past that he likes to cast Johnny Depp because he always had faith in Depp’s potential and would often fight to have Depp cast in his films; at one point, Johnny was Tim’s go-to leading man. Johnny Depp’s emotional depth and commitment to his roles is exactly the type of sauce Tim Burton loves.
Throughout their eight film catalog, the two have developed a close friendship and a level of trust that allows Depp to stoop to great lengths under Tim Burton’s direction.
8. Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino
Number of collaborations: 5
Biggest Box Office Hit: Django Unchained If the success of popular films like Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight is a reflection of anything, it’s that when Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino linkup, the result is a timeless work of art. Samuel L. Jackson has starred in a plethora of films, but there seems to be something about Quentin that keeps him coming back. According to Master Class, out of Jackson’s 100+ roles, he has worked with Quentin Tarantino more than any other director.
When asked about the bond between him and Tarantino, the actor confessed that the two have a lot in common and found each other relatable, from growing up as an only child to being fans of Asian cinema. “There’s just something very natural in our connection in terms of his art and my talent that mesh in a beautiful and wonderful and creative, joyous, ecstatic, orgasmic kinda way.” Quentin once told Robert Rodriguez that he has a lot of respect for Jackson’s theater background and strong work ethic. The Pulp Fiction director stated that nobody can read his dialogue the way Samuel L. Jackson can because he “turns it into the poetry that it was always supposed to be.” I guess Samuel L. Jackson just has the juice.
7. Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino
Number of collaborations: 3
Biggest Box Office Hit: Pulp Fiction Uma Thurman has delivered some of her best performances under the direction of Quentin Tarantino. The Kill Bill actress found mass-market success thanks to her role in a Tarantino classic. Like Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman was acknowledged by the Academy for the first time thanks to her first role in a Tarantino film (also like Jackson, Pulp Fiction was Uma Thurman’s first collaboration with Quentin Tarantino).
And even though Thurman’s portrayal of the reckless, smooth-talking Mia Wallace got more praise, it doesn’t compare to her immaculate portrayal of the vengeful assassin Beatrix Kiddo aka The Bride from Tarantino’s classics Kill Bill Vol.1 & 2.
6. Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan
Number of collaborations: 3
Biggest Box Office Hit: Black Panther The pairing of Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan is a force to be reckoned with. Entertainment blog Kulturehub compares their dynamic to an early Scorsese and De Niro. Coogler has cast Jordan in every film he’s directed to date, except Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (the two are currently working on another film together, an Atlanta-based drama titled Wrong Answer). They first worked together on Fruitvale Station, the dramatized retelling of the tragic murder of Oscar Grant.
Since then, the duo has achieved box office greatness and cinematic brilliance and have even checked off a few boxes together:
- Fruitvale Station was Coogler’s first film.
- Fruitvale Station was Michael B Jordan’s first starring role in a movie.
- With Black Panther, Coogler became the youngest director to make an MCU film.
- In Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan plays a villain for the first time.
This popular actor/director duo work well together, combining Coogler’s genius, heartfelt storytelling, and Michael’s confident, authentic approach to acting. Under Ryan Coogler, Michael has fulfilled various roles, allowing him to reach character depths he wasn’t used to. Coogler has also given Michael B. Jordan the chance to shine as a leading man, which undoubtedly helped elevate his career as an action star.
5. Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen
Number of collaborations: 5
Biggest Box Office Hit: Knocked Up Judd Apatow believed in Seth Rogen’s comedic skills from a young age. When Rogen was only 16 years old, he was cast in Apatow’s cult classic Freaks and Geeks, alongside fellow future stars Jason Segel and James Franco.
With Judd Apatow’s love of improv, it’s obvious why he continuously casts Seth Rogen: he’s an improvisational mastermind.
Judd Apatow is known for setting up the scene and just letting the good times roll, capturing genuinely funny moments that audiences appreciate in films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which is predominantly improvised (Seth Rogen told MTV that most of the footage on the film was just the actors playing around and trying to make each other laugh). When Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow work together, you know a few things will be true:
- It’s going to be funny.
- It’s going to be popular.
- It’s going to be improvised.
4. Judd Apatow and Jason Segel
Number of collaborations: 4
Biggest Box Office Hit: Knocked Up Judd Apatow gave Jason Segel the jump start he needed to make a name for himself in Hollywood. Like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel also met Judd Apatow through Freaks and Geeks, a show Judd Apatow still holds very dearly to his heart.
It’s clear that Apatow has confidence in Jason Segel’s comedy; at one point, it seemed like you couldn’t see a coming attraction for a Judd Apatow movie without seeing Jason Segel in the credits. Jason Segel was another champion for the underdogs that Apatow loves to highlight in his work; his awkward, nerdy style of humor landed him several appearances in Apatow’s portfolio.
Although he’s never had a leading role in an Apatow film, Jason still managed to impress viewers with his supporting roles in films like Knocked Up (the bit where he tells Katherine Heigl that her body is responding well to the pregnancy!? Hilarious!)
3. Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy
Number Of Collaborations: 5
Biggest Box Office Hit: The Dark Knight Before Cillian Murphy managed to star in ⅓ of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster films; the actor admits he was a fan of the evolutionary director, just like the rest of us. This popular actor-director duo first worked together on Batman Begins. Murphy’s failed audition for Batman landed him a role as Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow. This was a blessing in disguise because, according to IMDB, Scarecrow is the only villain to appear in all 3 of Nolan’s Batman films (and the first character the actor admitted to playing multiple times).
After playing a supportive role in five of his projects, Cillian’s ability to consistently step up to Nolan’s high filmmaking standards finally earned him the leading role in a Nolan film, the highly anticipated biopic Oppenheimer. Although Nolan’s vision may seem larger than life to audiences, Murphy describes working with Nolan as “intimate” and “comforting.” And even with the director frequently casting Murphy in his blockbuster films, the Dark Knight actor says anytime he gets to work with Christopher Nolan, it’s a privilege.
2. Ben Affleck and Kevin Smith
Number of collaborations: 7
Biggest Box Office Hit: Jersey Girl Ben Affleck and Kevin Smith are another example of a popular actor-director duo that frequently work together. At one point, the two were not on speaking terms and hadn’t worked together for over a decade, but that all changed when, to Kevin Smith’s surprise, Affleck showed up on set for the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot which allegedly made the funny filmmaker cry.
Under the direction of Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck made a name for himself in the independent film world. The two first collaborated on Mallrats, where Affleck played big bad bully Shannon. Their next collab saw Affleck in one of his first leading roles in the Kevin Smith classic that earned a standing ovation at its 1997 premiere at the Sundance Film Festival: Chasing Amy. Years before we knew Ben as Batman, he was Holden McNeal, a character Affleck has portrayed more than any other role in his 40+ year career.
1. Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith
Number Of Collaborations: 12
Biggest Box Office Hit: Zack and Miri Make a Porno C’mon, what’s a Kevin Smith movie without Jason Mewes? In addition to making us laugh in films like Dogma, Chasing Amy, and, my personal favorite, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the two are lifelong friends, which undoubtedly influences their on-screen dynamic. When they don their comedy personas of Jay and Silent Bob, there’s natural chemistry and playfulness that can only be achieved through years of a close friendship (it also helps that Mewes is a lot like Jay in real life).
It is because of Kevin Smith that the world knows Jason Mewes, his most famous role to date is his loud-mouthed, vulgar alter ego Jay, a part Jason has portrayed 18 times throughout his career both inside and outside the View Askewniverse (the character of Jay appears in Scream 3, Degrassi, and in a few hip-hop music videos.) If you’re a fan of the explicit humor and pop-culture references of the Bluntman and Chronic actors, fear not: Smith’s upcoming films will see Jason Mewes put on his skully to once again become the fast-talking, unfiltered Jay in Clerks III and Twilight Of The Mallrats. Snoogans.
This list proves that if an actor can capture lightning in a bottle with one project, directors will take a chance on more collaborations. I guess it also doesn’t hurt to be best friends. Who are some other famous actors and directors that make great films together? Let us know on Twitter: @thenerdstash.