The 25 Best Director-Actor Collaborations of All Time

17. Federico Fellini & Giulietta Masina (7 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: La Strada, Nights of Cabiria & Ginger and Fred

The first husband/wife-director/actor partnership on this list comes in the form of Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina. The couple was married for 50 years and collaborated seven times together, starting with Fellini’s directorial debut Variety Lights and two years later in his second film with 1952’s The White Sheik, in which Masina had a part as a prostitute named Cabiria.

Two years later however, they would strike gold with La Strada, which became Fellini’s first international success, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and a string of other international awards. They followed up this movie the next year with Il Bidone, which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and then did The Nights of Cabiria in 1957, starring Masina in the title role as the same prostitute she had played earlier on in a bit part in The White Sheik. If there is one movie in Fellini’s oeuvre which is overshadowed by La Strada, La Dolce Vita and 8 ½, it is this one.

The pair would not work together again or 11 years till Juliet of the Spirits came out in 1968 and took another 18 year break before returning with Ginger and Fred, the only film to star both of Fellini’s great collaborators, Giulietta Masina and Marcello Mastroianni as a Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire imitation dance act. It was to be their last film together. Both Fellini and Masina died within a period of five months of each other 1993.


16. Billy Wilder & Jack Lemmon (7 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: Some Like It Hot, The Apartment & The Fortune Cookie

Another pair of comedy greats, Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon started their collaboration with a bang. 1959’s Some Like It Hot still often shows up on best comedy lists ever and its final line “Well, nobody’s perfect” has worked its way into popular culture whilst Lemmon received various awards for his work in the film. In a way Wilder discovered Lemmon or at least promoted him to leading man as he had been more of a supporting actor before this film.

The next year they followed up their massive hit with The Apartment, a film that was even better received and ended up winning the Oscars for Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Whilst Lemmon did not win the Oscar, he once again received various other awards for this role and was the clear male lead (whereas he was still sharing this role with Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot).

After that the pair made Irma La Douce, a great success at the time but a film which has aged far less gracefully than their previous collaborations. Then, in 1966, came The Fortune Cookie, the first film in which Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who would go on to become a legendary comedy team, appeared together. The three of them made two more comedies together, The Front Page and Wilder’s last film in 1981, Buddy Buddy, but none as great as their first one.


15. John Cassavetes & Gena Rowlands (7 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: Faces, A Woman Under the Influence & Opening Night

The second husband/wife-director/actor partnership on this list, John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands married in 1954 when they were both struggling actors. Their first collaboration was 1963’s A Child is Waiting, Cassavetes’ most mainstream and flawed film, in which Rowlands played a supporting role to Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland in the leads.

Their breakthrough came five years later with the independently produced Faces, which took three years to make and was largely shot in the Cassavetes’ home. The film received three Academy Award nominations and no less than fives awards at the Venice Film Festival.

After that they did the comedy Minnie and Moskovitz but it was their next feature from 1974 which is their magnum opus, A Woman Under The Influence, for which they both received an Academy Award Nomination. Rowlands gave a truly awe-inspiring performances as a psychologically unhinged woman, which is probably one of the best performances by an actress ever. After this movie they would do three further collaborations, including the wonderful Opening night, until John Cassavetes’ death in 1989.


14. Paul Thomas Anderson & Philip Seymour Hoffman (5 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: Boogie Nights, Magnolia & The Master

There’s no doubt that Paul Thomas Anderson and Philip Seymour Hoffman were talented individuals, who would also deliver great work when they we were not collaborating (although there is only one Anderson film so far which does not have Hoffman in it), but it was their team-up that allowed Hoffman for the first time to really show his chops, as he had been slugging away in bit parts in average movies for a long time before he was cast in Anderson’s Hard Eight.

But it was their next feature which really put both men on the map as Boogie Nights became an astounding success. Hoffman started getting much better parts and Anderson became one of the greatest new talents to come out of Hollywood. In their following film, Punch-Drunk Love, Hoffman had minor, albeit it fantastic and crucial part and he shined again in the ensemble piece Magnolia, this time in a much more sympathetic role.

Anderson then went on to direct There Will Be Blood, which was hailed as a modern masterpiece, without Hoffman but did cast him again as one of the two leads in The Master, which sadly became their last film together as Hoffman passed away since. It might also be their best film together and certainly the finest performance by Hoffman in a Anderson movie.


13. Ingmar Bergman & Liv Ullmann (9 collaborations)Most noteworthy films: Persona , Cries and Whispers & Autumn Sonata

Another director who often worked with a regular set of actors (and who will also appear twice on this list as a result), Ingmar Bergman made some of his best work when he teamed up with Liv Ullman. They made nine films together (or eight films and one television series), the highest amount of collaborations so far on this list. Working together from 1966 to 1977, virtually all their films together are considered great and classic cinema.

Just like Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman seemed to have the perfect reserved acting style for Bergman’s bleak films. Ullman received various awards and nominations for some of her work for Bergman although primarily for their later collaborations Scenes From a Marriage ( TV series) and Face to Face. Nonetheless Persona, their first film together in which Ullman plays a well-known actress who has ceased to speak, probably remains their most beloved work.


12. Federico Fellini & Marcello Mastroianni (5 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: La Dolce Vita, 8 ½ & Ginger and Fred

Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni seemed destined to work together. There was a light air of absurdity in Mastroianni’s acting style, which perfectly complimented Fellini’s surreal touches. Fellini had already established himself internationally, first with his screenplays for Rossellini’s neo-realist masterpieces and later with his own movies like La Strada and The Nights of Cabiria, whilst Mastroianni had seen his success mostly limited to his native Italy.

But it wasn’t until they teamed up in La Dolce Vita in 1960 that both their careers really blew up. A critical darling and worldwide success, it propelled both men in the international spotlight. They would hit the jackpot again with 8 ½ in 1963, a meta-film about writer’s block and the process of film making. These films turned Fellini into the auteur he is known to be today and provided Mastroianni the opportuniy to work with numerous great European directors in the following decades.

After 8 ½ they wouldn’t work together again till 17 years later and never reach the same heights they had reached before. That being said, their 1986 effort Ginger and Fred was a prime example of both men’s strengths although it never received the international praise it deserved.


11. Yasujirô Ozu & Setsuko Hara (6 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: Late Spring, Early Summer & Tokyo Story

Yasujirô Ozu and Setsuko Hara made six movies together over a period of twelve years and all of them are highly acclaimed pieces of cinema, if not simply put masterpieces. Without a doubt these films represent the finest performances by Hara of her career and all of them are amongst the films held in the highest regard within Ozu’s oeuvre, although the master had a few more of those under his belt, which did not star Setsuko Hara. Although all their collaborations have gone on to be classics, it is without a doubt Tokyo Story, which is their best known work and is often cited as one of the best films ever made.

Hara retired from acting in 1963, the same year Ozu passed away, at the age of 43, and completely disappeared from public view. Though the reasons have never been fully understood there has always been heavy speculation that she retired after Ozu’s death as they might have been romantically involved. She never married and was known as the “Eternal Virgin” in Japan and moved to Kamakura, the place where most of her films for Ozu were shot, where she still lives up to this day.


10. Wong Kar-Wai & Tony Chiu Wai Leung (7 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: Chungking Express, Happy Together & In The Mood For Love

Wong Kar-Wai, another director who works regularly with the same set of actors, and Tony Leung, who starred in most of the director’s films out of any of them, started collaborating in 1990 and are still going strong today. Out of the nine feature films which Wong directed in Hong Kong, seven star Tony Leung.

Their first movie together was Days of Being Wild but it was their next feature, Chungking Express, which struck gold and went on to win Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards and really put them on the map internationally. The same year they released another film together, Ashes of Time, but they didn’t work together for Wong’s next film, Fallen Angels.

Since then, Leung has starred in every Hong Kong produced film by Wong Kar-Wai, including his other unanimous masterpiece, In The Mood for Love, which won a plethora of awards both in Hong Kong as well as internationally. Their last film so far was last year’s biopic The Grandmaster in which Leung played Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s Mentor.


9. David Lean & Alec Guinness (6 collaborations)Most noteworthy films: Great Expectations, Bridge on the River Kwai & Lawrence of Arabia

During a period of 38 years, David Lean and Alec Guinness ended up working together on 6 films. Most of them are considered masterpieces and David Lean has referred to Alec Guinness as his “good luck charm”. They started off with two consecutive films and Charles Dickens’ adaptations, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist in 1946 and 1948 respectively, which were both celebrated as wonderful interpretations of British famed author’s work.

After that the men did not work together for a period of 19 years but in 1957 they returned with the magnificent epic, Bridge on the River Kwai, which was a giant hit and won Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor at the Academy Awards, the BAFTA Awards as well as the Golden Globes. As if Kwai wasn’t grand enough, they next collaborated on Lawrence of Arabia, released in 1962, and arguably the most epic film of all epic films, which also went on to win about every award available under the sun.

Their string of majestic successes continued with 1965’s Doctor Zhivago and it would take another 19 years for these two men to make their last film together, A Passage to India, which turned out to be David Lean’s last.