The glittering world of Hollywood may be a long way away from the lives of the average citizen but in some way, we are all touched by the power of cinema. Whether casually catching a late night movie on TV or whether claiming the title of certified film buff, we’re all fascinated to some degree by the goings on in Tinseltown. It may seem odd to think of the minute detail and day-to-day work that goes into making every film, but the reality for everyone on set – from director to celebrity assistant, leading lady and everyone in between – is that it is a professional environment like many others. And, like in most work environments, there are some colleagues every boss gets on with better than others.
When it so happens that a film director and his lead form a solid partnership, the special relationship can very often form cinematic history. The unique chemistry between a director and a talented leading actor – that shared vision and complex understanding – is a significant contributing factor in a great movie. Across cinema there are numerous examples of successful actor director relations: from Hitchcock and his immaculate leading ladies, to John Wayne’s partnering with Henry Ford, some directors like to keep some familiar faces on set. In recent cinematic history that trend had continued, with many directors specifically requesting their favourite stars or even creating a role with their prodigy in mind.
We’ve taken a look at these actor-director partnerships to see who came out on top as the most successful dynamic duo. We looked at the combined global box office gross for movies which featured a recurring actor-director relationship and found out that some collaborations in particular yield extremely lucrative results, as well as consistent critical acclaim – it’s easy to understand why these dream teams keep coming back for more. This is a rundown of the five most profitable actor-director duos in cinema today. So sit back, relax, break out the popcorn, and prepare to be entertained…
5. Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott: $1.058 Billion
The first on our list, Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott may not be the most obvious actor-director duo, but it’s definitely a bankable combo in Hollywood terms. The duo is still best known for their first outing together, the 2000 film Gladiator. The film chronicled the life of Crowe’s character Maximus, enslaved gladiator to the despotic ruler Commodus played by Joaquin Phoenix. In its opening weekend in the United States alone, the film grossed over $34 million.
Since then Crowe and Scott have worked on a further four films, including American Gangster with Denzel Washington, and Body of Lies, co-starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Crowe and Scott have also, of course, done well for themselves independently: the Australian actor received particular praise for his role in Ron Howard’s film, A Beautiful Mind based on the life of the mathematician John Nash.
Scott has been responsible for a number of box office hits in recent years too, including Prometheus. His best remembered work, though, remains his earlier directorial features, the sci-fi hits Alien (1979) and Blade Runner, the film that became synonymous with his name. The last time Crowe and Scott worked together was in 2010 on the film Robin Hood, co-starring Cate Blanchett. The film grossed $321.67 million worldwide.
4. Leonardo Dicaprio and Martin Scorsese: $1.36 Billion
Our number four duo is also the most recent to hit the box-office, with the Oscar nominated Wolf of Wall Street. Sadly its star Leonardo DiCaprio missed out on yet another Oscar nod, but with the money he and veteran director Martin Scorsese make together, they have plenty to console themselves with.
Scorsese himself is known for his longstanding working relationships with actors like Robert de Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis. But it is DiCaprio, of late, who has found favour with the director: the duo first worked together on the 2002 film The Gangs of New York in which DiCaprio’s character Amsterdam Vallon seeks revenge on Day Lewis’ menacing character Bill “The Butcher” Cutting. The film was a critical and commercial success; so began the working bromance between the two men.
Their next outing was the biopic of Howard Hughes, the Aviator, in 2004 which netted DiCaprio his first Oscar nomination working with Scorsese (his first Academy nomination was in the Best Supporting Actor Category for his role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape). The films The Departed and Shutter Island cemented the relationship and carved out something of a niche for the two in the “tortured-hero, cruel world” category. Such a genre was firmly tossed out the window with the pair’s latest film, the biopic of the drug and money addicted stockbroker Jordan Belfort. The film has been a critical and commercial success, having grossed $374.6 million worldwide so far.
3. Tom Hanks and Ron Howard: $1.67 Billion
The pair have only worked on four films together, but with two of those being the adaptation of the phenomenally successful Dan Brown novels, it’s clear that these two know how to earn big at the box office. This one is a long-term bromance: Hanks and Howard first worked together on the 1984 comedy, Splash, co-starring Daryl Hannah. The film depicted Hanks’ character Allen being rescued from drowning by the mermaid played by Hannah. Out of the water Hannah’s character can sprout legs in place of her tail and tracks down the bemused Allen, omitting to tell him that she is in fact a sea-dwelling creature. The film was a light-hearted hit, but it was over ten years before Hanks and Howard worked together again.
Their next feature film was the commercial hit Apollo 13, which was based on the real-life Apollo-13 mission. More recently it has been Hanks’ portrayal of Dan Brown’s protagonist, Robert Langdon, uncovering the secrets of the Catholic Church, that has brought in the cash. The first film, The Da Vinci Code, took in $758 million worldwide while the follow up, Angels and Demons, grossed $485.9 million.
Outside of their partnership the pair have equally been successful: Hanks, while still best known for his role as Forrest Gump, is one of the most bankable and likeable stars in Hollywood, with an average annual earning of $26 million throughout the course of his career. Howard, who began his career as an actor in the happy-go-lucky TV series Happy Days, enjoys a healthy career behind the lens. As well as his directorial features starring Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe and Chris Hemsworth among others, Howard is also the narrator for the successful TV series, Arrested Development.
2. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton: $2.31 Billion
This is a long-standing- and highly profitable- actor-director partnership that almost everyone is aware of; that of Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton. But while stand out movies include Alice in Wonderland and Sleepy Hollow, it may surprise you to hear just how frequently the duo work together: Depp has appeared in no less than eight of Burton’s films (the most recent of which, Dark Shadows, received lacklustre reviews).
The pair’s first outing was in the iconic Edward Scissorhands, with Depp cementing his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most fearless and empathetic actors. Subsequent movies included the under-the-radar flick Ed Wood and the gothic Sleepy Hollow, but it is in the twenty-first century that the partnership really took hold. The pair’s most profitable collaboration, Alice in Wonderland, took in over $1 billion worldwide, while Burton’s inimitable take on classics such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and West End musical Sweeney Todd all benefitted from that distinctive Depp edge.
Off screen the pair are said to be firm friends; the director was responsible for introducing Depp to his former girlfriend and co-star Winona Ryder. With the most recent collaboration between the pair having been met with tepid reactions from critics, the pair has yet to announce any upcoming projects.
1. Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton: $2.5 Billion
Depp may have been the first to work with director Tim Burton, but it is with his partner, British actress Helena Bonham Carter, that he has created the longest – and most profitable – collaboration.
The pair’s combined penchant for a gothic twist on any story has resulted in some of the most iconic cinema of our time. From the couple’s initial outing in the bleak Planet of the Apes to the heart-warming fantasies like Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the pair have created an on-screen style that is entirely their own. Bonham Carter may not take the lead in many of Burton’s films but her on-screen charisma inevitably shines through in every film in which she appears. The pair’s most successful feature film was the 2010 feature film Alice in Wonderland, in which Bonham Carter played the Red Queen to Depp’s Mad Hatter.
Off-screen the couple have two children and live in two interconnected houses in Belize Park in London. While many may love the aesthetic of the couple on the big screen, Bonham Carter has raised doubts as to whether the duo will partner again. She is reported to have described the filming of Sweeney Todd as difficult, as well as joking that her long term boyfriend was “getting sick of working with her.” Even if the pair do not decide to collaborate again, viewers should not despair: Burton is currently in post-production for his next feature film, Big Eyes, starring Amy Adams and Jason Schwartzman, while Bonham Carter is set to appear in the 2015 adaptation of Cinderella as the Fairy Godmother. Interestingly enough, Cinderella is directed by Bonham Carter’s former flame, British actor and director Kenneth Branagh.