The 25 Best Director-Actor Collaborations of All Time

8. Kenji Mizoguchi & Kinuyo Tanaka (15 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu & Sansho the Bailiff

Over a period of ten years, Kenji Mizoguchi & Kinuyo Tanaka made a total of fifteen films together, starting with 1944’s Danjuro Sandai and ending in 1954’s The Woman in the Rumor. Kenji Mizoguchi was known for being specialized in female roles in his films, revealing their subordinated position in Japanese society,and in Kinuyo Tanaka he found his perfect muse. The director has been called the first major feminst director.

Most of his films with Tanaka are held in high regard but there is no doubt that the two reached their apex at the end of their collaboration period with the films they made in the final years of their partnership, as all of these (The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff) can be considered undeniable classics of Japanese cinema.

Their collaboration suddenly came to an end when Mizoguchi countered a recommendation from the Director’s Guild of Japan to hire Tanaka as a director for the Nikkatsu studio, which would be her second film in this capacity. The reasons for this remain unknown but Tanaka never forgave him and they never made another movie again. It is also noteworthy that Tanaka was a regular actress in the works of Yasujirô Ozu as well and made many films with this Japanese master director as well.


7. John Ford & John Wayne (21 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: Stagecoach, The Quiet Man & The Searchers

Stepping up the amount of collaborations on this list, John Ford and John Wayne made a whopping 21 films together, creating some of the most iconic Hollywood westerns in the process.

Wayne’s first appearance in a Ford movie was in 1928’s Mother Machree, albeit as an uncredited extra only. The men would work together on various movies throughout the twenties but it was Stagecoach, which provided Wayne with his breakthrough performance and both men with a giant hit whilst basically setting the blueprint for westerns for decades to come and revitalising the genre as a whole.

They went on to make various movies in the next decade and struck gold again in 1952 with The Quiet Man, for which Ford won his fourth and final Oscar for Best Director. A few years later they created yet another defining western of its era in The Searchers, the only western Ford made in the fifties and although it wasn’t received as a western of the highest importance in its time, it has grown tremendously in stature ever since.

One last western by the two Johns worth mentioning is 1962’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Both John Ford and John Wayne have become synonymous with American westerns and for the most part, they got there together.


6. Alfred Hitchcock & James Stewart (4 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: Rope, Rear Window & Vertigo

Out of a long career of masterful films, it is quite easy to argue that the pairing of Alfred Hitchcock with James Stuart provided the director with his most fruitful collaboration with an actor.

They first worked together on 1948’s Rope, a remarkable movie as it was the first picture ever shot in colour by Hitchcock and as the entire film was constructed out of long takes, edited together to create the illusion of one continuous shot. The film wasn’t a major success but in time it has grown in stature and is seen as an interesting and unique film in Hitchcock’s filmography.

It wasn’t until six years later that the two men collaborated again but this time the results were spectacular. Another movie set in one location, Rear Window was a resounding success at the time and to this day is considered one of Hitchcock’s best films as well as one of the best Hollywood movies ever made. Two years later they made Hitchcock’s own American remake of his English classic, The Man Who Knew Too Much, improving on the original version.

And then in 1958 they managed to have lightning strike again with Vertigo, another absolute Hitchcock and Hollywood classic. Another film which was not widely praised upon its initial release, Vertigo now often tops “Best Films Ever” lists. Hitchcock and Stewart only made four films together but it was a partnership made in heaven.


5. John Huston & Humphrey Bogart (6 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre & The African Queen

Humphrey Bogart had made plenty of films in the previous decade and worked with some great Hollywood directors already but it was 1941’s The Maltese Falcon, the directorial debut of the great John Huston, that exploded him into the popular consciousness and set the tone for the cultural icon he would become. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for John Huston.

Out of the six films they would make in twelve years, four became genuine golden age Hollywood classics. Two of them, The Maltese Falcon and Key Largo, amongst the greatest examples of Film Noir whilst two others, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (for which Huston won the Best Director Academy Award) and The African Queen (which won both Best Actor for Bogart and Best Director for Huston again), were amongst the greatest adventure films of their era.

Both individuals would make plenty of excellent films by themselves but there is no doubt that these two men kick-started each other’s careers and never looked back. The stuff that dreams are made of.


4. Ingmar Bergman & Max Von Sydow (13 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring & Through a Glass Darkly

Ingmar Bergman is the second director to appear on this list twice, this time with Max von Sydow. Although it would be hard to argue that the collaborations between these two resulted in better films than the collaborations between Bergman and Ullman, I ranked this partnership higher as they simply made more films together, 13 versus 9.

It can also not be denied that ultimately, three of the films that Bergman and von Sydow made together, The Seventh Seal , Wild Strawberries and The Virgin Spring, are amongst the director’s best known films and were significant breakthroughs for both men.

The men would work together for nearly a quarter of a century until they had a falling out after 1971’s The Touch, which would result in them never working together again. Both men have made great films independently of each other, especially Bergman, but there is no doubt that their most renowned work was a result of this magnificent partnership and resulted in some of the most influential films of all time.


3. Martin Scorsese & Robert De Niro (8 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull & Goodfellas

Martin Scorsese’s second entry on this list, and without a doubt the better of the two and one of the truly legendary pairings between directors and actors, is of course with Robert De Niro.

Scorsese and De Niro hit it off right from the start with the excellent Mean Streets in 1973, clearly putting both men on the map and starting a partnership which would last for over twenty years. But it was their next film, Taxi Driver, which propelled them into the stratosphere as it was nominated for four Academy Awards and won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 1976, making stars out of both of them.

They next made a detour into the musical New York New York, which was a box office failure and drove Scorsese into deep depression and a heavy cocaine addiction but they returned with a vengeance in 1980 with the biopic of middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMotta, Raging Bull, which was unanimously praised and received eight Academy Award nominations, ultimately winning two of them, including Best Actor for De Niro.

Immediately after they did the under seen black comedy The King of Comedy before taking a break from each other for eight years. But in 1990 they once again returned in a big fashion when Goodfellas hit the screens, winning multiple international awards and becoming one of the truly great gangster films ever made. After Goodfellas the two men made two more films in the nineties, Cape Fear and Casino in 1995, which marked their last film together so far, although there have been various rumours about future collaborations ever since.


2. Yasujirô Ozu & Chishû Ryû (52 collaborations)

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

Based on the number of collaborations and the fact that Yasujirô Ozu is truly one of the greatest directors to have ever done it, his partnership with Chishû Ryû should hold the top spot. I placed them second however as the number one spot is reserved for another master of Japanese cinema who is simply a personal favourite of mine.

But the fact that Ryû was part of 52 of the 54 movies directed by Ozu remains nothing less than awe inspiring, especially when some of the films they made together can be considered amongst the best ever made. Ryû’s career spanned an incredible 64 years as an actor and in 34 of those he collaborated with Ozu, from the actor’s first film in 1928 until the director’s last one in 1962.

It is no wonder that these two men have virtually become synonymous with each other as there basically was no Ozu without Ryû. The actor on the other hand did continue making films for another 30 years after Ozu’s passing but there is no doubt whatsoever that his greatest work occurred in the first half of his career. Late Spring, Early Summer, Tokyo Story and many other collaborations the two did are all masterpieces of cinema. A truly incredible partnership between a director and an actor if ever there was one, the collaborations of Yasujirô Ozu and Chishû Ryû is the stuff of legend.


1. Akira Kurosawa & Toshirô Mifune (16 collaborations)

Most noteworthy films: Rashomon, Seven Samurai & Yojimbo

Akira Kurosawa and Toshirô Mifune had a legendary partnership that lasted over 17 years and resulted in 16 movies, which is just over half of Kurosawa’s entire output.

Their collaboration started with 1948’s Drunken Angel, which is often cited as Kurosawa’s first major film and also the one which he himself felt he was able to express himself freely in. Although Mifune was not cast as the lead role, he impressed Kurosawa so much that he shifted focus towards his character during filming. The film was a major success in Japan and the men continued working together, crafting yet another hit with 1949’s Stray Dog, a detective story with Mifune in the lead.

Then, two years later, the men saw their international breakthrough with Rashomon as it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. This film turned out to be the pair’s first genuine masterpiece and had a massive influence on the world of cinema. Additionally, it also marked the first samurai period piece for both men, the type of film they ultimately would be associated with.

The next movie which cemented that association came four years later with The Seven Samurai, perhaps the duo’s best known and most renowned film ever. This film was followed by a further string of samurai period pieces like Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro and ultimately Red Beard, the last film the pair made together. The popularity and influence of these films in the West can not be understated and is crystal clear as Rashomon, The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo were remade as The Outrage, The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars.

Critics have all agreed that the best period in Kurosawa’s career were the fifteen years between Rashomon and Red Beard, in which all of his films but one starred Mifune. And even though Mifune made about 170 films in his entire career, his period with Kurosawa was without the doubt his most fruitful and they remain the movies the actor is known for. A perfect symbiosis between two artists, this is the best partnership between a director and an actor in the history of cinema.

Emilio has been a movie buff for as long as he can remember and holds a Masters Degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Amsterdam. Critical and eclectic in taste, he has been described to “love film but hate all movies”. For daily suggestions on what to watch, check out his Just Good Movies Facebook page: