Sometimes, a film is made by its leading roles. Over the years, there have been a number of pairings that have stood out as the defining the quality of their films. With news that two of America’s finest current actors, in Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, are both set to re-team with famed director Quentin Tarantino for his next picture Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, it’s worth revisiting some famous film duos across a slew of genres.
One of the most obvious is of course the recurring duo of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Two of the all-time great Hollywood actors, they did some of their best work together in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and later in The Sting. The real-life friendship of these two actors shines through in both pictures; Butch Cassidy is a blast throughout, and one of the defining features of its success is the chemistry and comedic timing of the two iconic leads. Its iconic status is itself mostly due to the two leads.
The scene allows two of the biggest leading men in cinema history to feed off each other brilliantly
Al Pacino and Robert De Niro have appeared in three films together. Famously, they each starred in The Godfather Part II, but due to De Niro playing the younger version of Michael’s father, they do not share any screen time. However, in Michael Mann’s 1995 thriller Heat, they are given several scenes together, one of which is the now-notorious standoff between cop and conman in a café. The scene allows two of the biggest leading men in cinema history to feed off each other brilliantly; it is perhaps surprising the only other opportunity they’ve received together is 2008’s Righteous Kill. However, they are both slated to appear in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, due for release in 2019, nearly 25 years after Heat’s release.
John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction are a superb pairing, the two different acting-styles vitalising each other with an infectious energy that drives the scenes of the film they are in together. While they have scenes apart, when they come together you can see magic at play; part of the reason the pairing work is that Samuel L Jackson’s character is more serious than Travolta’s, and so they bounce off each other incredibly well. It’s a shame none of Tarantino’s other films have given us these two together. Despite this, there are some amazing pairings in his films, such as Django Unchained’s Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz.
the odd-ball chemistry between them shines… and is at the heart at much of what makes the films work
One of the driving factors behind the success of the Lethal Weapon franchise is the combination of Danny Glover and Mel Gibson. Gibson, post-Mad Max, plays the anxious and reckless Martin Riggs, whilst Glover plays the more uptight Murtaugh; the odd-ball chemistry between them shines throughout all four films and is at the heart at much of what makes the films work. The television series adaptation, while admirable, fails to capture the essence of these characters brought to life so clearly by Gibson and Glover.
Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro have collaborated on a handful of Martin Scorsese projects, most notably Goodfellas and Casino, with Pesci winning an Oscar for his role in the former. De Niro’s more grounded nature clashes brilliantly Pesci’s characters’ impatience and childishness, and is helped by the fact they have some amazing chemistry. Along with De Niro, Pesci is set to make an appearance in 2019’s The Irishman, which will hopefully provide more memorable moments between the two.