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The Freshest Actor-Director Collaborations Working Today, Ranked by Tomatometer

by | March 6, 2018 | Comments

(Photo by Rob Kim, Jamie McCarthy, Jeff Spicer, Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times -- Getty Images)

Together we’re better: The same weekend Michael B. Jordan enthralled America as Black Panther villain Killmonger, propelling the movie to a third consecutive #1 at the box office, The Shape of Water‘s Guillermo del Toro took home the Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. What’s the connection? Jordan and del Toro are famously good collaborators. Jordan has worked with Panther director Ryan Coogler on all three of his films now (including Fruitvale Station and Creed), while del Toro and actor Doug Jones have been giving life to movie monsters for decades, from Pan’s Labyrinth through Hellboy and in The Shape of Water.

Long-running actor-director relationships have been a thing ever since the movies started, and were particularly common when the studio system shuffled and bound people together by contract. As the old system fell away, though, many of these professional collaborations continued and new ones formed, this time because – gasp – pairs actually liked working together. And because they brought out the best in each other. Think Humphrey Bogart and John Huston. Akira Kurosawa with Toshiro Mifune. Billy Wilder making history with Jack Lemmon. Liv Ullmann as muse to Ingmar Bergman.

But which pair is top of the class in 2018? Is it Scorsese and DiCaprio? Scorsese and De Niro? Spielberg and Hanks? Burton and Depp? We decided to crunch the numbers. We took 18 of the most compelling actor-director collaborations producing work today, each who’ve made at least three movies together, and ranked their partnership by Tomatometer. And if you have a great pairing you love that wasn’t included, let us know in the comments.


1. Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler (95% average)

(Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images)

Fruitvale Station: 94%
Creed: 95%
Black Panther: 97%

Coogler was primed to make his feature debut just as Jordan was exiting the shadow of The Wire (where he played doomed Wallace in Season 1), Friday Night Lights, and Chronicle. Result: the socially urgent Fruitvale Station, detailing the final hours of Oscar Grant, killed by a transit officer in 2009. The two followed up with Creed, underdog spinoff to ultimate underdog franchise, Rocky. And now we come to Black Panther, a global phenomenon even by Marvel movie standards. With each new film producing a higher Tomatometer than the last, by our calculation their next movie will be 100%. And the one after a world-shattering 104%. You know, if that were possible.


2. Michelle Williams and Kelly Reichardt (88% average)

(Photo by Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Wendy and Lucy: 85%
Meek’s Cutoff: 86%
Certain Women: 92%

It took Reichardt 12 years to make her second feature after 1994’s River of Grass, and another two years after that before she really hit her stride with 2008’s Wendy and Lucy. Reichardt’s hard-nosed drama starred Williams as an unlucky traveler with a lovely dog. Reichardt and Williams have been forging a trail in American independent cinema ever since: quite literally in Western Meek’s Cutoff, and then two years ago with Certain Women. Like Coogler and Jordan, each movie’s Tomatometer is higher than the last.


3. Frances McDormand and the Coen Bros. (87% average)

(Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Blood Simple: 94%
Raising Arizona: 91%
Fargo: 93%
The Man Who Wasn’t There: 81%
Burn After Reading: 79%
Hail, Caesar!: 85%

Joel and Ethan and Frances made their debut together with Blood Simple, a nasty neo-noir packed with all of the Coens’ soon-to-be trademarks: murder schemes, double crosses, and utterly incompetent people carrying them out. Demonstrating good taste while making films about bad deeds, McDormand later married Joel and would go on to win the Best Actress Oscar for Fargo. The Coens are no strangers to rough patches (Ladykillers, anyone?), but every collaboration with McDormand has produced something Certified Fresh.


4. Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese (87% average)

(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Mean Streets: 98%
Taxi Driver: 98%
New York, New York: 65%
Raging Bull: 95%
The King of Comedy: 90%
Goodfellas: 95%
Cape Fear: 75%
Casino: 80%

Taxi Driver. Raging Bull. Goodfellas. Arguably the greatest movies of their respective decades, and each just happened to star the same guy, directed by the same auteur. Curious! Dive deeper into the works of this legendary duo, and you’ll drag up some more classics: lean Mean Streets, mordant King of Comedy, and epic Casino. The lowest-rated is the little-seen New York, New York, but even that stands out for being a 3-hour musical. The ’70s were known for its excesses, after all. Meanwhile, their next project, The Irishman, just wrapped shooting and has cost distributor Netflix $140 million and counting.


5. Doug Jones and Guillermo del Toro (86% average)

(Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)

Hellboy: 81%
Pan’s Labyrinth: 95%
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army: 86%
Crimson Peak: 71%
The Shape of Water: 92%

It takes a deeply passionate filmmaker to keep the creature feature alive these days, and it takes one handsome, lithe actor to bring all of those creatures to life. Enter del Toro and Jones, who together have memorably made monsters funny (Abe Sapien in the Hellboy series), frightening (the Pale Man with eyeball hands in Pan’s Labyrinth), and rather fetching (the Amphibian Man in Shape of Water).


6. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg (86% average)

(Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Saving Private Ryan: 92%
Catch Me If You Can: 96%
The Terminal: 61%
Bridge of Spies: 91%
The Post: 88%

Let’s give thanks to Hanks and Spielberg! Their first movie together, infamous Best Picture-loser Saving Private Ryan, was a harrowing drop into war combat. Their follow-up, the breezy crime caper Catch Me If You Can, was about as big an about-face as you could get. The two didn’t work again for a while (The Terminal‘s 35 percentage-points drop from Catch Me If You Can is the largest on this list), but have recently settled into a groove of compelling prestige pics like Bridge of Spies and The Post.


7. Catherine Keener and Nicole Holofcener (86% average)

(Photo by L. Cohen / Getty Images)

Walking and Talking: 87%
Lovely and Amazing: 86%
Friends With Money: 72%
Please Give: 86%
Enough Said: 95%

Holofcener weaves miniature tapestries about modern romance, starting with Walking and Talking, and Lovely and Amazing, coming at the tail end of the American independent scene of the ’90s. This was enough to attract more stars to Holofcener’s projects: see Jennifer Aniston in Friends With Money, or Enough Said‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini, who passed between the film’s post-production and release. But it’s Keener who has always been there, present as a lead or taking at supporting role in every one of the director’s films. Holofcener’s next film, Netflix’s The Land of Steady Habits, looks to be her first without Keener.


8. Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino (86% average)

(Photo by Gregorio T. Binuya/Everett Collection)

Pulp Fiction: 94%
Jackie Brown: 87%
Django Unchained: 87%
The Hateful Eight: 75%

Who can deny the propulsive influence and power of these two? Tarantino virtually kickstarted the American indie new wave of the ’90s with Pulp Fiction. And Jackson was there as patron saint, first as the Bible-quoting hitman Jules in Fiction, and then as Ordell in Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s tribute to his old stomping grounds in South Bay L.A. As Tarantino grows less interested in contemporary stories, Jackson has still managed to kick his way in. He’s snake-in-the-grass Stephen in Django Unchained, then the hilariously unreliable narrator (in a movie full of ’em) Marquis Warren as part of The Hateful Eight. No word on whether Jackson will reteam in Tarantino’s next project, which is set in 1970s L.A. and stars Brad Pitt and Leonardo Dicaprio.


9. Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater (83% average)

(Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW)

Before Sunrise: 100%
The Newton Boys: 63%
Waking Life: 80%
Tape: 78%
Before Sunset: 95%
Fast Food Nation: 50%
Before Midnight: 98%
Boyhood: 97%

With a perfect 100%, Before Sunrise is the highest-rated movie featured on this entire list. (We also listed it as the greatest romantic film ever made on our 100 Best Fresh Romance Movies.) Hawke and Linklater (and Julie Delpy) have since returned to that world every nine years in Sunset and Midnight, with amazing Tomatometer consistency. Which, by the way, isn’t even the most impressive feat on their list. It’s Boyhood, shot across 12 years, chronicling one child’s journey through adolescence. Along with something like Waking Life, Linklater and Hawke use the film medium to articulate intimate questions on time and existence.


10. Michael Caine and Christopher Nolan (83% average)

(Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

Batman Begins: 84%
The Prestige: 75%
The Dark Knight: 94%
Inception: 86%
The Dark Knight Rises: 87%
Interstellar: 71%

The wind beneath Nolan’s wings, Caine has been in more than half of Nolan’s films. Even with his famed cockney accent, he elevated the Alfred butler role across the Dark Knight series, and has been a grounding presence in The Prestige and Inception. Nolan seems like the kind of guy who loves order amidst chaos, so it’s no surprise he’s latched onto a capable veteran like Caine for wherever his ambitious movies go, from Gotham to space and beyond.


11. Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell (82% average)

(Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

Silver Linings Playbook: 92%
American Hustle: 93%
Joy: 59%

Lawrence’s ridiculously good 2012 included the launch of The Hunger Games series and starring in Russell’s romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook, which ultimately would give her the Oscar for Best Actress. Knowing a good thing when it dances competitively in your face, Russell and Lawrence collaborated again for the Scorsese-lite drama American Hustle, another huge commercial and critical success. The same can’t be said for their third and (so far) final collaboration Joy, about the self-made millionaire who invented the Miracle Mop.


12. Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig (81% average)

(Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Bridesmaids: 90%
The Heat: 65%
Spy: 94%
Ghostbusters: 74%

Feig helped blow the doors open for female-centric Hollywood entertainment with Bridesmaids, and McCarthy stole the movie as the profane Megan. (Though anyone who’s been watching McCarthy since Gilmore Girls shouldn’t have been surprised at what she’s capable of.) The Heat was a middling action/comedy, though with major star wattage from the addition of Sandra Bullock. Spy was a runaway success for everyone involved; even Jason Statham came out on top showing off his lighter side. And at last comes Ghostbusters, mired in controversy though ultimately able to eke out a Certified Fresh rating.


13. Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese (80% average)

(Photo by YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

Gangs of New York: 75%
The Aviator: 87%
The Departed: 91%
Shutter Island: 68%
The Wolf of Wall Street: 78%

Because an older director needs young blood (and because De Niro needs to run a film festival in Tribeca), Scorsese turned to DiCaprio in the 2000s just around the time DiCaprio was looking to shed that pesky image of world’s biggest teen heartthrob. The combo went knives out for the brutal Gangs of New York, and then gave the world bio-epic, The Aviator. Scorsese finally got his Best Director Oscar with The Departed and then DiCaprio followed his captain all the way to Shutter Island; only Scorsese can make something as good as that movie and have it considered merely a lark. The two have no plans to work together again right now, but who wouldn’t be exhausted after all that partying in Wolf of Wall Street?


14. Bill Murray and Wes Anderson (80% average)

(Photo by Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Rushmore: 89%
The Royal Tenenbaums: 80%
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: 56%
The Darjeeling Limited: 69%
Fantastic Mr. Fox: 93%
Moonrise Kingdom: 93%

The building blocks for Anderson’s style were present in his first feature, Bottle Rocket, but it took a crackerjack comedic actor like Murray to really open up Pandora’s idiosyncratic box for the director. Rushmore ushered in the ‘sad Bill’ era of Murray’s career, and Anderson’s directorial brand was cemented in no uncertain terms with the divine Royal Tenenbaums. But the best was yet to come: stop-motion Fantastic Mr. Fox and romantic Moonrise Kingdom tie each other for highest Tomatometer on this pair’s list. Will Isle of Dogs with its current 97% rating bury the competition when it’s released to the public later this month?


15. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton (74% average)

(Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)

Edward Scissorhands: 89%
Ed Wood: 92%
Sleepy Hollow: 68%
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: 82%
Corpse Bride: 84%
Sweeney Todd: 86%
Alice in Wonderland: 52%
Dark Shadows: 37%

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Dark Shadows is the worst-rated movie on this list, and though Alice in Wonderland made a billion dollars (!), we doubt it’s remembered with too much fondness. For vintage Burton and Depp, go deep into the decades and find the wild modern fairy tale Edward Scissorhands. After that, the two rehabilitated Ed Wood‘s reputation with the titular biopic, representing Tomatometer bests for Depp as star and Burton at the helm.


16. Kirsten Dunst and Sofia Coppola (69% average)

(Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

The Virgin Suicides: 76%
Marie Antoinette: 54%
The Beguiled: 78%

Coppola was able to get out from underneath her infamously derided Godfather III appearance with her darkly shimmering adaptation of The Virgin Suicides, starring Dunst as the forbidden fruit to the neighborhood boys. The royally excessive Marie Antoinette didn’t appeal too much to critics and audiences, but the two sprang back with their third movie. The Beguiled is the highest-rated film for this combo, and if you’ve been really paying attention to this list (like, an unhealthy amount), you’ll notice third movies tend to do the best. In fact, for six combos, movie #3 nets their highest Tomatometer.


17. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (69% average)

(Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)

Anchorman: 66%
Talladega Nights: 71%
Step Brothers: 54%
The Other Guys: 78%
Anchorman 2: 75%

With Superstar and The Ladies Man, Ferrell was in danger of being trapped in mediocre SNL movie hell. That was all put to rest, though, when he entered into an official creative partnership with McKay, an SNL writer who left the show around the same time as Ferrell. Together, they have made four of the most quoted comedies of the modern era. Also, they made Anchorman 2.


18. Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua (65% average)

(Photo by Gennadiy Avramenko/Epsilon/Getty Images)

Training Day: 72%
The Equalizer: 60%
The Magnificent Seven: 63%

Playing against type, Washington put on a dazzling show as a corrupt cop, and director Fuqua guided us through the merciless streets of South Central L.A in Training Day. Washington got the Oscar, and Fuqua got his niche in tough-guy cinema for the next decade. The pair reunited for The Equalizer, an update of the ’80s vigilante TV show. We’re getting a sequel later this year, and the two already released their in-between project: The Magnificent Seven remake.


Note: This list was updated with a change to McDormand and Coen’s score, removing a film which they co-wrote but did not star in.

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