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It Takes Two: Hollywood's 15 Greatest Film Duos

Updated on December 6, 2019
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Heather has a Bachelor's Degree in English from Moravian College and has been freelance writing for more than 14 years.

According to the dictionary, the general definition of partner entails two people working together in a joint endeavor for a short or long period of time. Sometimes the partnership results in success and leads to a more long term relationship, while other times it's best to sweep it under the rug and forget about it. The same applies with the film industry.

Certain film pairings appear to be a good idea at the time but lead to only regret once the film has been seen by the general viewing public. A prime example would be the Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman clunker Ishtar. Enough said. The title alone echoes the sentiment of everything bad: chemistry, story and pairing. Just forget that cinematic disaster as well as other ones. Focus on the ones that were the best in the past and the more recent present.

Realize that not all film duos are headed to the same doom as Ishtar. As long as those three elements are working, the odds are the film does well. Look at The Odd Couple. The two leads had gotten along wonderfully. The story was hysterical, and the pairing lasted in numerous films ever since. There have been cases where two heads were better than one because more mayhem usually occurred, which audiences often preferred to the calm.

Here's a list of fifteen films with relatively successful partnerships divided into three categories based on themes such as law enforcement, friends and certain types of relationships. Read the list of films to understand further why each fit in that category. If necessary see each film to get a better idea before any final judgments.

Cop and Criminal

Midnight Run (1988)- Well, Run was not exactly a cop film, but it was pretty close. There were two sides with one being a criminal and the other sided with the greater common good for himself. Robert De Niro portrayed a tough talking bounty hunter saddled with the seemingly easy task of bringing an embezzling bail jumper (Charles Grodin) back to Los Angeles. Seemed easy enough for De Niro until Grodin's character turned the tables on him and had gotten them thrown off the plane needed to go to Los Angeles. The film spent two hours with Grodin and De Niro locked in a battled of wits. Who was going to win? The bounty hunter, or the embezzler? Of course, they also have to watch out for everyone who's after Grodin by any means necessary. The plot sounded chaotic at the time, but De Niro's gruffness and Grodin's smart aleck made it worthwhile. A memorable moment was when Grodin outsmarted De Niro by pretending he didn't know how to fly a plane and doing just that in a later scene. Surprise, surprise.

Heat (1995)- Al Pacino and Robert De Niro as a cop and a robber. A battle started to rumble from the word "go." In the film, Pacino was the ultimate super cop onto De Niro's character after a number of successful heists happened in Los Angeles. The film intended to be battle royale between the two actors, but they only share one truly memorable scene together in a restaurant. The cop and the thief accurately outlined the how the course of their mutual relationship would turn ugly the next time they met. The rest of the film pretty much offered entertaining suspense with the moment in the restaurant being the stand alone scene due to the two actors chomping at the bit in the movie battle. Did one of them win, or both of them end up losing to some extent? Watch and decide.

The Fugitive (1993)- The story was infamous due to the classic television show and made even more so by this film. Harrison Ford as the wrongfully convicted Dr. Richard Kimble and Tommy Lee Jones as the surly fugitive chasing U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard. Both men don't share a lot of screen time because the tension was primarily based on the chase itself. Will Kimble get the one armed man before Gerard caught him? Well, the answer was a given but Ford and Jones allowed the audience to temporarily ignore it. If only that could be said for the sequel U.S. Marshals. Not the same without Harrison Ford.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)- Two words: Hannibal Lecter. Anthony Hopkins played one of the greatest movie villains of recent years. He terrified Jodie Foster's naïve Agent Starling by playing on her fears. Lecter allowed Starling into the mind of a serial killer in order to catch another. Even though Hopkins had very little screen time, his scenes with Foster were impressive as he bent Starling's will to his favor. One of the most memorable scenes was when Lecter mentioned his fascination with fava beans and Chianti. The other, of course, was the very end of the film when Starling got a chilling phone call from Lecter that unnerved her, and entertained the audience. A smashing good effort that Hollywood tried to repeat unsuccessfully in follow-up Lecter films. Success from the same film caldron never struck gold twice with this being living proof.

Diehard (1988)- Bruce Willis as John McClane playing cowboy cop to terrorist Alan Rickman. Willis was a lone wolf cop in another state and out of his element. An office building Christmas party was under siege by terrorists looking for a payday and ignoring possible casualties. It's up to McClane to outfox lead terrorist Rickman from getting away with everything. All he needed was a little luck and help from the outside law enforcement. Unfortunately, he had little of both to work with. Yippee-ki-yay. That said it all. The guns, the action and the bad guy always getting what's coming to them. What a way to make a movie. Fun, loud and just plain entertaining watching good and evil duke it out.


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)- Paul Newman and Robert Redford teamed up as the infamous outlaws robbing banks and getting run out of town by the longest arm of the law. The friendship between the characters, and the actors in real life, made the movie all the more believable. Butch and Sundance were likable characters that the audience could root for despite their criminal ways. The most memorable scene was the cliff jumping scene because their backs were against the wall and found the time to have a laugh just before the risky cliff jump escape. Despite the risky jump, the audience knew the twosome would live to rob another bank.

The Sting (1973)- Redford and Newman struck again with this con artist revenge comedy. Their character played off their age difference by making references to Redford's youth through naivety and Newman was the sage to ultimate revenge. The men had to work together to take down a mobster who killed one of their mutual friends. The story built everything up to the big finale and the film didn't disappoint. The most memorable scene was the big reveal at the end of who all the players were and the two leads as they left the scene to fleece another day.

Grumpy Old Men (1993)- Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon counteracted each other beautifully in this entertaining comedy, as well as in Grumpier Old Men. The actors portrayed two next door neighbors that battled each other in every way imaginable from women, family and friends. What they didn't realize was the battle was something much more than blind hatred. It was a secret friendship that would last a lifetime. The most memorable moment in the film was when Matthau thought he almost lost his friend. His attitude and expression changed towards him. Matthau illustrated enough concern to sacrifice any remaining animosity to help his friend.

Sleuth (2007)- Jude Law and Michael Caine starred in an uneven remake of Caine's original film. What made the film worth watching was the fact that the actors fought each other tooth and nail. Law dished out as much venom as Caine threw back at him. The most unforgettable moment was when Law finally turned the tables on Caine's character and really showed him what he was made of. Very chilling. Hopefully, these actors will get the chance to work together again in a stronger film.

Lethal Weapon (1987)- Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as two cops on the hunt for a psychotic Gary Busey and company. Both men were different in every way: appearance, age and personality. The one thing was for certain that this was the beginning of a beautiful partnership that they would never be too old for, unless Hollywood decided to resurrect the franchise again for a fifth time. Now that would be an unpleasant end to a once good pairing.

Love and Family

The Lion in Winter (1968)- Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole as members of a scheme heavy royal family. Both of them portrayed characters with an equal amount of venom as they tried to used their loved ones as chess pawns. Unfortunately, the winner was never truly revealed because the battle never ended. A stalemate was simply called due to the story's festivities being over. Once another holiday arrived, the battle would ensue yet again. Winter's most enjoyable moment was early on when Hepburn and O'Toole had to walk into a banquet all smiles while they insulted each other under their collective breaths. It was entertaining because it reflected the basic deception of their marriage through pretending to be happy when they loved and loathed each other in equal measure.

To Have and Have Not (1944)- Bogie and Bacall. The pairing that would've been expected was Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, but it was his work with Bacall that sustained through multiple films. This film showed Bacall could easily give Bogie a run for his money. She was tough talking and stunned everyone with her looks as she entered a room. She matched Bogie pound for pound and made no apologies about it. An enjoyable moment would be when Bogie and Bacall's characters first met. She casually asked him for a light and it was soon apparent that a different kind of spark was set.

Rocky (1976)- Sylvester Stallone portrayed a struggling boxer with a long shot chance at glory against Carl Weathers' champion Apollo Creed. That wasn't the real partnership of the film. It was Rocky's relationship with Burgess Meredith's Mickey. The characters had a father and son type of bond that transcended anything else. Rocky soaked up everything Mickey had to offer like a spong. Both men worked hard for Rocky to be able to fight Creed with his full potential. The odds were slim to none, but these two made it believable even when it wasn't.

The Godfather (1973)- Marlon Brando and Al Pacino as a father and son amongst a mob war. Brando was a powerful mob don named Vito Corleone that struggled with keeping his organization and his rivals in check. Pacino played his book smart son Michael who evolved into a street smart thug by the end of the film. Out of necessity, both men relegated themselves to the role of old man and ruthless criminal. This shift in personality changed the dynamic of their relationship and the other two films that came after. Change in this case was a great thing, until the third film where everything ran out of steam.

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)- Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson as Anne and Mary Boleyn. Sisters waged in a battle of family supremacy and power over the King of England. As history dictated, the victor was of course Anne, but the ultimate winner was Mary. She got to keep her head squarely planted on her shoulders while Anne risked too much and lost. Portman and Johansson believed illustrated a genuine connection as sisters onscreen who loved and hated each other within the same breath. That's rarely done with any type of conviction. Bravo, girls.

Lastly, a good film duo had allowed time for their chemistry to generate any type of interest. It should never be forced like Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte in the forgettable I Love Trouble. Timing can also never be unmatched. If the timing was off, kiss the partnership goodbye. Success will never come. Choose your co-star in life and on film carefully because the experience will be stuck with you for the rest of your life. Make the decision wisely. Julia Roberts will think twice before getting into Trouble again.


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