The Best Actor-Director Duos in Hollywood, New and Old

From recent pairings like Jordan Peele and Daniel Kaluuya, to old-time collaborators like Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, we've rounded up the 11 best actor-director partnerships in the industry.

Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for National Board of Review

There’s a few cadre of directors in Hollywood who often return to the same actors for their movies. From Martin Scorsese regularly pinning Robert De Niro as his leading man, to Quentin Tarantino rallying up the same ensemble to play some of his many glorious bastards, these creative partnerships are often a match made in heaven and regularly conjure up some of the best films of our generation. 

As the age-old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And many of these directors recognize that they’ve hit the gold mine of talent with the actors they often entrust to bring their vision to life. Some of these partnerships have lasted decades. Some are fairly new. Most have banked a slew of Oscar nominations together for their work. And most are dynamic duos that audiences trust will deliver a great time at the movies. We’ve rounded up the 11 best actor-director partnerships in Hollywood in recent years. Reminisce. Enjoy. And go watch their films. 

1. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio 

Martin Scorsese’s 20-year partnership with Leonardo DiCaprio has amassed into a total of six feature films, five Oscar nominations (and one win), and a creative collaboration that has consistently delivered some of the greatest films of the past two decades. Together, Scorsese and DiCaprio have tread into a pool of genres, eras, and stories, seamlessly delivering anything from ‘80s-set crime thrillers to tragic epics on American history. You know you’re in for a great watch when these two pair up, and it’s no surprise that they’re already slated to team up again for Scorsese’s next film, The Wager. —Yasmeen Hamadeh   

2. Jordan Peele and Daniel Kaluuya

The dynamic partnership between Jordan Peele and Daniel Kaluuya is one of the brightest examples of a collaborative pairing in recent film history. Their relationship starts with the critically acclaimed 2017 horror film Get Out, a groundbreaking project that served as a springboard for their collaborative journey together. The movie was not only a box office success, but it entirely redefined the horror genre, paving the way for more diverse storytelling and representation in Hollywood. The two continued to work together on projects like Nope (2022), and it’s safe to assume they have more in store in the years to come. What makes their partnership truly unique is their shared commitment to addressing societal issues through storytelling. Peele’s sharp, powerful writing coupled with Kaluuya’s immersive acting have resulted in a cinematic synergy that’s captured audiences’ attention worldwide. —Jacob Kramer

3. Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan 

Out of Greta Gerwig’s four feature films, Saoirse Ronan stars in two of them—do the math. The pair’s creative collaboration first began in Gerwig’s 2017 film, Lady Bird, which amassed five Oscar nominations (including a Best Actress nod for Ronan) and cemented the pair as a force to be reckoned with. In 2019, the duo reunited yet again for Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, which garnered six Oscar nominations this time around and may as well have been Gerwig and Ronan’s soft launch as a mother-daughter duo. Ronan starring as Gerwig’s leading lady has become such a staple that many were surprised to hear that she wasn’t a part of Gerwig’s latest film, Barbie, which the director even addressed. With a consistent successful streak, Gerwig and Ronan have managed to foster a creative partnership that’s helmed some of the most emotionally resonant films of the past few years, and we can only hope that they reunite for another round soon. —Yasmeen Hamadeh 

4. Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro 

What makes Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s partnership particularly special is that the two have been friends since they were teenagers. Scorsese has often spoken about how De Niro is one of the only people in the industry that truly knows where he comes from, and their bond has lent into a 50-year creative partnership that’s arguably produced the most important films of our generation. From Taxi Driver to Raging Bull, to The Irishman and Killers of the Flower Moon decades later, Scorsese and De Niro have the longest partnership out of anyone on this list. And as the director succinctly penned in an Instagram post of the two of them: “50 years. 10 films.” —Yasmeen Hamadeh 

5. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks 

Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are clearly a special duo. Their work together represents a cinematic alliance of both immense talent and deep mutual respect, making it one of the most special actor-director combinations in recent film history. The two began working with each other on the acclaimed World War II drama Saving Private Ryan (1998), which ultimately set the stage for their prolific creative partnership in the years that followed. They later went on to collaborate on a number of projects including Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, and the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (to name a few). What ultimately makes their relationship truly unique is the genuine camaraderie between them, both on and offscreen. In an industry characterized by rapidly changing trends and tastes, the enduring collaboration between Spielberg and Hanks serves as a beacon of consistency and quality. With each of their projects, they’ve reminded us of the power of storytelling when two cinematic legends come together to create something truly special. —Jacob Kramer

6. Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson 

While Quentin Tarantino famously loves working with the same pool of actors, there’s no person he’s returned to more than Samuel L. Jackson. Out of Tarantino’s nine feature films, Jackson plays a role in six of them—and while some are supporting characters, he’s still involved in more than half of the director’s filmography. Along with major roles in Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight, Jackson has also starred in Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, and as the narrator in Inglorious Basterds. It’s no surprise that the two love working together, and in many ways they’re a match made in heaven. Tarantino loves packing his films with high-energy gravitas, and Jackson can seamlessly deliver it. Hilarious and witty, Jackson is the perfect actor for Tarantino’s twisted universe, and we’re hoping their partnership gets to have the perfect send-off in Tarantino’s supposed final film, The Movie Critic. —Yasmeen Hamadeh 

7. Spike Lee and Denzel Washington 

Two of the most ingenious creators of our generation, Spike Lee and Denzel Washington have collaborated on some of the most seminal films of the past few decades. While the duo are widely known for Malcolm X (1992), their creative partnership first fostered two years earlier in Mo’ Better Blues, an underrated classic, and continued to prevail throughout the ‘90s with He Got Game (1998). The last film the pair worked together on was Inside Man in 2006, and while it has been some time since, the duo are good friends, so there’s hope that we’ll get another classic from them soon. —Yasmeen Hamadeh 

8. Adam McKay and Will Ferrell 

When it comes to classic modern comedies, look no further than any project helmed by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. With a history together spanning several iconic films and television projects, their unique partnership has given way to some of the most beloved projects of the past decade. Their collaboration began in the mid-2000s, with McKay and Ferrell teaming up for the uproarious movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. This title ultimately set the stage for a slew of other successful comedies including Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys. Together, the two created a brand of humor that’s both absurd and incisive, using their films to satirize and comment on various aspects of American culture. Though the two had a falling out in 2019 and no longer work together, it would be a shame to ignore their contributions to the world of film. From countless quotable lines to unforgettable characters, their work together inspired a new brand of comedy. And their legacy will ultimately stand the test of time. —Jacob Kramer

9. Luca Guadagnino and Timothée Chalamet 

Timothée Chalamet and Luca Guadagnino are an artistic force that might even match up to Scorsese and DiCaprio should they continue to work together. The pair first collaborated in Call Me by Your Name in 2017, which arguably kickstarted Chalamet’s career and posited him as Hollywood’s new leading man. They returned for Bones and All in 2022, an allegorical love story that may have been polarizing for audiences, but that was still a masterful sight to behold from the two of them. The pair are unafraid to experiment and bring bold stories to life, they also have an adorable friendship outside their work, and we can expect more stunning collaborations between them. —Yasmeen Hamadeh 

10. Adam Sandler and Frank Coraci 

Adam Sandler is no stranger to working with the same cadre of directors from Peter Segal to the Safdie brothers, but it’s the actor’s consistent work with Frank Coraci that just might be his best. With a 30-year partnership under their belt, Sandler and Coraci have worked on four feature films together: The Waterboy (1998), The Wedding Singer (1998), Click (2006), and Blended (2014). Their collaboration in the ‘90s produced some of Sandler’s best films ever that have easily become iconic fixtures in pop culture. The duo have a perfect comedic chemistry that informs their hilarious work, and while they haven’t worked on a film together recently, we hope that changes soon. —Yasmeen Hamadeh 

11. Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst 

Like many dynamic duos on this list, Kirsten Dunst and Sofia Coppola have been working together for over 20 years, but unlike many people on this list—Dunst was only 16 years old when she became Coppola’s honorary muse. The pair had the unique experience of launching into Hollywood at the same time thanks to The Virgin Suicides (1999), Coppola’s feature directorial debut and Dunst’s first major role outside her child acting career. They then proceeded to collaborate on the daring Marie Antoinette in 2006, and reunited a little over a decade later for The Beguiled. The two have spoken fondly of each other over the years, with Coppola regularly admitting that her good friend often serves as a muse or inspiration for her films. It’s been six years since the pair last worked together (too long if you ask me), but with Coppola recently returning to the big screen with Priscilla, there’s hope for another collaboration between these two incredibly talented women. —Yasmeen Hamadeh

Latest in Pop Culture