13 Directors Who Work With the Same Stars Again and Again

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Maybe it’s a good working relationship that keeps these directors and actors coming back for more. Maybe it’s romance. Or perhaps it’s because when the two collaborate, the box office explodes. The list of frequent collaborators is a long one; here are just a few.

1. Woody Allen

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When Woody Allen and Mia Farrow met in 1979, Allen was a commercial success: He had just received Oscar nominations for best director, best actor, and best original screenplay for Annie Hall—the first person to accomplish that feat since Orson Welles in 1941 for Citizen Kane.

Farrow was working on Broadway when she agreed to attend a dinner with actor Michael Caine. Allen was there, and 12 years later, they had collaborated on 13 films.

Of course, they don’t make movies together anymore—or even talk to each other—after Allen married Farrow’s adopted daughter in 1997.

Farrow wasn't the only woman Allen frequently worked with: The director and Diane Keaton, who also had a romantic relationship with each other throughout the ‘70s, made seven films together during that decade. After Manhattan in ’79, they didn’t collaborate again until 1987’s Radio Days. To date, Keaton has appeared in nine Woody Allen pictures.

2. Joel and Ethan Coen

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The Coen Brothers have a lengthy list of actors and actresses they frequently work with: George Clooney, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, John Turturro, Jon Polito, and Frances McDormand, who has made six films with the directing duo (not including uncredited voice work on Barton Fink).

McDormand—who is married to Joel Coen—met the brothers through actress Holly Hunter. She and Hunter had lived together in the dorms at Yale and shared an apartment in New York after graduating. After McDormand met the brothers, they cast her in their debut, low-budget thriller, Blood Simple.

3. Quentin Tarantino

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Tarantino’s working relationship with Samuel L. Jackson spans 20 years and five films, including the recently released Django Unchained. But if first impressions meant anything in Hollywood, the two would have never worked together.

Jackson met Tarantino when he auditioned for the director’s first major film, Reservoir Dogs—but Jackson didn’t get the part. After the film premiered at Sundance, Jackson told Tarantino how much he enjoyed it. Tarantino responded with, “Don’t worry, I’m writing something for you.” That something turned out to be Pulp Fiction, the movie for which Jackson is perhaps best known.

4. Tim Burton

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Burton and his most prolific collaborator, Johnny Depp, have made eight quirky and dark films together. Though their work has often been box-office gold, apparently the duo receives plenty of flack for constantly relying on each other. “With Johnny, people complain if I work with him, people complain if I don’t work with him,” Burton told the Huffington Post.

Long-time collaborator and producer Scott Rudin has a theory that in all of Burton’s films, Depp is playing the character of Tim Burton. Burton doesn’t agree, but Depp does. Edward Scissorhands was about Burton’s inability to communicate as a teenager, Depp has said.

Their working-in-tandem relationship sparked from their first meeting in a coffee shop in 1989. “There was a connection … of having felt outside growing up, and freakish, and a little bit weird,” Depp says.

Helena Bonham-Carter, Burton’s longtime partner, is another frequent collaborator; the couple has made seven films together.

5. Alfred Hitchcock

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Hitchcock is known to have had many turbulent relationships with actresses, but when it came to actors, he had two favorites: James Stewart and Cary Grant, who each starred in four of his films.

Stewart, who Hitchcock worked with on Rope, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo, was said to be the actor Hitchcock could most identify with.

Hitchcock, however, called Grant “the only actor I ever loved in my whole life.”

Regardless of his two leading favorites, the man to appear in the most Hitchcock films (six) was Leo G. Carroll, who never got a starring role.

6. James Cameron

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After completing Titanic, Kate Winslet said she’d need to be paid “a lot of money” to work with Cameron again. Even though she and co-star Leonard DiCaprio haven’t been part of a Cameron project since, the director must be doing something right (aside from having an estimated $700 million net worth)—after all, there is one actor who keeps coming back.

Cameron and Bill Paxton's working relationship spans almost 20 years. The actor has appeared in five Cameron films, including The Terminator (1984), Titanic (1997) and, most recently, Ghosts of the Abyss (2003).

Paxton's not the only actor Cameron has used more than once: Michael Biehn starred in both The Abyss and The Terminator, and replaced James Remar in Aliens (1986) when Cameron and Remar couldn't see eye to eye.

Cameron has also worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger on four films, including True Lies and two movies in the Terminator franchise. Schwarzenegger and Cameron cemented their long-lasting friendship over lunch when it was decided that Schwarzenegger would play the cyborg villain instead of a human hero.

7. Joss Whedon

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Whedon is a big fan of Nathan Fillion, a man who has appeared in four of Whedon’s projects, with a fifth (Much Ado About Nothing) on the way. The writer/director has called Fillion this generation’s equivalent to Harrison Ford because of his ability to do comedy, action, drama, and romance. With last year’s Comic-Con Firefly reunion and the new film out in June, there may still be hope for a Dr. Horrible 2.

Amy Acker is also a long-time Whedon cohort; she appeared in Angel, Dollhouse, and The Cabin in the Woods, and stars alongside Fillion in Much Ado. Acker says she’s trying to bribe her old friend into letting her be on his new Marvel pilot for ABC, S.H.I.E.L.D.

8. Christopher Guest

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Actor/director Christopher Guest has an expansive ensemble cast he often uses in his “mockumentary” films, including Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy and John Michael Higgins. And it's not just because he likes working with them; it has a lot to do with the fact that the films Guest stars in and directs—which include Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Windrely more on improvision than dialogue from a script. "You’re not in the same position as people who are doing a conventional movie, because with that situation there are many, many actors that could play those parts," Guest told the AV Club. "In the kind of films that I do, there is an extremely limited number of people that can improvise. The reason the ensemble continues in the movies is because those are the people that can do that kind of work."

9. Ron Howard

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Ron Howard and Tom Hanks first met when Hanks played a doctor on Howard's television show, Happy Days. Howard told Hanks that he was planning to launch a career as a director and asked him to audition for a minor role in Splash; the actor has since appeared in three of the director's other films, including the adaptations of Dan Brown’s conspiracy theory novels, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, brought to the big screen in ’06 and ’09.

Howard has another frequent collaborator he's known for much longer: his younger brother, Clint. Clint has appeared in 17 of Ron's projects, beginning with Old Paint when Clint was just 10 years old. Through almost five decades of working together, the brothers have had at least one disagreement: During the 2008 election, Ron supported Obama, but Clint didn't.

10. Martin Scorsese

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Director Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro have made eight films together since being introduced by writer/director Brian De Palma in the '70s. During their three collaborations in that decade, the duo was interested in experimenting with improvisation and delving into the dark side of the male psyche. It’s been said that those characteristics fueled their passion for the craft and kept them together. They’re expected to reunite for The Irishman and a sequel to Taxi Driver.

Scorsese has been building a similar working relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio; De Niro was the one who introduced the two. “You should work with him some day,” De Niro told Scorsese. And they did. Beginning with Gangs of New York in ’02, the new pairing has worked on five films, including this year’s The Wolf of Wall Street.

“We’re a different generation, but he goes in the same places that I want to go,” Scorsese said of DiCaprio. “He’s not afraid to go there.”

11. Edgar Wright

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Director Edgar Wright has worked with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Martin Freeman on what the group calls the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. The name refers to the real-life Cornetto ice cream brand that is also featured in the films. Each movie has a scene where one of the main characters purchases a flavor that is indicative of the movie: Shaun of the Dead uses strawberry to represent blood and gore, while characters in Hot Fuzz eat the original blue flavor as an homage to the popular police uniform color. The last film in the trilogy—The World's End, which will be released October 25, 2013—will use mint chocolate chip. Maybe the reason this foursome keeps coming back for more is because of the ice cream?

12. Wes Anderson

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So far in his career, Wes Anderson has directed nine films—and Owen Wilson and Bill Murray have appeared in six of them. Both will appear in Anderson’s 2014 release, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and have starred in five of Anderson's films together (Wilson appeared in and co-wrote Bottle Rocket, but didn’t appear with Murray in Moonrise Kingdom.)

Anderson and Wilson met as students at the University of Texas in Austin. They took a playwriting class together, but sat in opposite corners of the room and never spoke, Anderson told AMC in 1996. It was later, when they bumped into each other in a hallway, that they struck up a friendship.

During press for Fantastic Mr. Fox, Murray described what it’s like working with Anderson: “It's an adventure. I like the way the showman has rounded out. I knew him when he was just nobody practically, just a child out of Texas. Just a kid with a saddle and a set of spurs. And now he's just rolling …”

13. Akira Kurosawa

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In a career that spanned 57 years, the Japanese filmmaker directed 30 films and, in 1990, accepted an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. No one utilized actors quite the way Kurosawa did; the director spent large amounts of time in elaborate rehearsal to get them in the correct frame of mind for their scenes.

Kurosawa met actor Toshiro Mifune when the largest film production company in Japan launched a massive talent search. The director walked in to see Mifune performing a piece in a violent frenzy. He lost the competition, but became Kurosawa’s muse. The very detailed director worked with Mifune on 16 of his films, until a fight between the two on the set of 1965’s Red Beard split the pair up; Mifune never appeared in a Kurosawa film again.

February 4, 2013 - 11:00am
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