11 Actress-Director Duos That Gave Us Great Films

It’s not only the talents of Jennifer Lawrence that brewed excitement for her dramatic comedy film Joy . At this point, there’s a hike in excitement whenever the actress takes on a new cinematic venture directed by David O. Russell. The mentor relationship between Lawrence and Russell have thus far turned out Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle: Two films that earned both parties a slew of awards and nominations, and which have been heralded by fans and critics alike as the constitution of a great creative partnership. As such, Joy prompts similar awards predictions, because Lawrence and Russell make just one of the many pairs of actress and director duos that exude the essence of collaboration.

You never get the feeling watching a Russell-directed picture that he’s pigeonholing his star, nor that she’s holding back her director’s material. Instead, it seems that each half of this united front only makes the other better — something that can be said for any of the great creative partnerships in Hollywood. If you’re eager to find a few more actress-director duos just as symbiotic as Lawrence and Russell, here’s a few from past and present worth calling out for how both sides of the partnership elevated the work of the other.

1. Cybill Shepherd & Peter Bogdanovich

Movies made together: The Last Picture Show, Daisy Miller, At Long Last Love, Texasville, and the newly released She’s Funny That Way.

Awards they earned together: Bogdanovich landed Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Directors Guild nods for helming The Last Picture Show. Shepherd was nominated for a Globe for performance therein.

Highlights of the union: Not to say that the Shepherd-Bogdanovich partnership peaked at the forefront, but there lives a special place in my heart for the masterfully acted Jacy Farrow from The Last Picture Show.

2. Frances McDormand & The Coen Brothers

Movies made together: Blood Simple., Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Burn After Reading, and the upcoming Hail, Caesar.

Awards they earned together: The Coens landed Oscar, Golden Globe, Directors Guild, and Saturn Award nominations for directing Fargo, and won a BAFTA Award for their efforts on the picture. McDormand won an Oscar and an Independent Spirit Award, plus Globe, BAFTA, and Saturn Award nominations for her role as the same film's own Marge Gunderson. She also earned an Oscar nomination for Mississippi Burning, a Globe nomination for Burn After Reading, and a Saturn Award nomination for The Man Who Wasn't There.

Highlights of the union: We’re all on the same page about the splendor that is McDormand’s work in Fargo, often cited as among the best of the Coen Brothers’ pictures yet to release. That said, I’d like to single out Burn After Reading for McDormand’s exemplary black comic performance. She gives the movie its most humane, most interesting, and most bleakly funny character all at once.

3. Catherine Keener & Nicole Holofcener

Movies made together: Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money, Please Give, and Enough Said.

Awards they earned together: Holofcener landed Independent Spirit Award nominations for directing Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money, Please Give, and Enough Said. Keener got her own Independent Spirit Award nominations for Walking and Talking and Lovely & Amazing, and one along with the Please Give ensemble.

Highlights of the union: I can think of two adjectives that properly describe Keener's turn in Holofcener's Lovely & Amazing.

4. Charlotte Gainsbourg & Lars von Trier

Movies made together: Antichrist, Melancholia, and the Nymphomaniac films.

Awards they earned together: Von Trier landed Independent Spirit Award and César Award nominations for directing Melancholia, for which Gainsbourg earned a Saturn Award nomination.

Highlights of the union: Even though Gainsbourg shares her character with the younger Stacy Martin in Nymphomaniac (which, incidentally, has been identified as the final collaborative effort that Gainsbourg and von Trier plan to brave), the film is truly her show. Her terrifically sad, patient screen presence as her narrative poise during the Martin-led scenes cement a film that could have easily felt scattered and episodic in a through-line of painful sincerity.

5. Melissa McCarthy & Paul Feig

Movies made together: Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy.

Awards they earned together: While Feig hasn't earned any industrial honors for his work with McCarthy, she has landed an Oscar nomination, a BAFTA Award nomination, and two Screen Actors Guild Award nominations (one recognizing her independently, the other as a member of the film's ensemble) all for her work in Bridesmaids.

Highlights of the union: Although fans of Gilmore Girls had long been tuned into the comic acumen of McCarthy, it was the wedding-themed comedy that brought her to the public eye in earnest. In Bridesmaids, McCarthy shows off the full spectrum of her talents in humor. At times, she veers way broad (your mind should immediately turn to that bathroom scene), while paring down to a more subtle, humanistic comedy in other scenes.

6. Katharine Hepburn & George Cukor

Movies made together: A Bill of Divorcement, Little Women, Sylvia Scarlett, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, and (almost 30 years later) the TV movie The Corn Is Green.

Awards they earned together: Cukor earned Oscar nominations for directing Little Women and The Philadelphia Story, as well as a BAFTA Award nomination for directing Pat and Mike. Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar for her work in The Philadelphia Story, for a Golden Globe for Pat and Mike, and for an Emmy for The Corn Is Green.

Highlights of the union: Though it’s damn near impossible to single out any one Katharine Hepburn turn as standout among the lot, her whiz-bang comic dynamism in The Philadelphia Story is the stuff of miracle. It’s the sort of performance that inspired new avenues in cinematic comedy, yet which itself has yet to meet proper parallel.

7. Laura Dern & David Lynch

Movies made together: Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, and Inland Empire — not to mention the stage play Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted.

Awards they earned together: Lynch was nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and an Independent Spirit Award for directing Blue Velvet. On top of this — perhaps the greatest tribute that any director-actress team could hope to achieve — the pair was recognized together for their collaborative efforts on the whole by the Independent Spirit Special Distinction Award.

Highlights of the union: When most people think of a younger Laura Dern, they picture her bravely fending off hungry raptors and Goldblums. Years before Dern immortalized Ellie Sattler, she sat in a car with Kyle McLaughlin in Blue Velvet, eerily recounting her ominous dream about a world of darkness illuminated by the robins of love. Three decades after the film's release, and that scene can still induce hefty shudders.

8. Shelley Duvall & Robert Altman

Movies made together: Brewster McCloud, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Thieves Like Us, Nashville, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson, 3 Women, and Popeye.

Awards they earned together: Altman earned two nominations for Nashville courtesy of the Oscars (one for Best Picture, one for Best Director), as well as a directing nod from the Golden Globes, a Best Foreign Film nomination from the César Awards, and a nod from the Directors Guild for the picture. Duvall was nominated by the BAFTA Awards for her work in 3 Women.

Highlights of the union: I might be alone here, but Olive Oyl’s lilting serenade, “He Needs Me” from Popeye ranks among my favorite scenes in movie musicals. Anyone? No one? OK, OK, I’ll go with 3 Women.

9. Helena Bonham Carter & Tim Burton

Movies made together: Planet of the Apes, Big Fish, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, and the upcoming Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Awards they earned together: In addition to Burton's nominations for a Best Animated Feature Oscar for Corpse Bride and a Best Feature Film BAFTA Award for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he landed nods for directing Sweeney Todd via the BAFTAs and the Saturn Awards. Bonham Carter snagged two nominations for the same picture — one from the Globes, one from the Saturn Awards — and an additional Saturn nomination for Planet of the Apes.

Highlights of the union: Although Carter has waded through the muck of some of Burton’s less impressive work, I carry great fondness for her turn as meat pie-wielding Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd.

10. Ricki Lake & John Waters

Movies made together: Hairspray, Cry-Baby, Serial Mom, Cecil B. DeMented, and A Dirty Shame.

Awards they earned together: Waters and Lake were both nominated for Independent Spirit Awards for their work on Hairspray.

Highlights of the union: Although you might rank Divine as John Waters’ true muse, Ricki Lake fueled some of the director’s latter era favorites — notably Hairspray and Cecil B. DeMented — with a more grounded, delightfully corny charm and cheekiness.

11. Molly Ringwald & John Hughes

Movies made together: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty Pink.

Awards they earned together: As much as the world may love them, Hughes and Ringwald never earned any top tier trophies or nods for their work together. The best either one has gleaned was an MTV Award that Ringwald, along with her fellow cast members, won for The Breakfast Club... albeit in 2005, a full 20 years after the release of the movie.

Highlights of the union:

So, next time we think about the great big screen teams of Marty and Leo, Ford and Wayne, or Kubrick and Sellers, let's also throw attention to Bogdonavich and Shepherd, Lynch and Dern, or Feig and McCarthy into the mix. (Mullins stepping out of a moving car in The Heat beats just about anything in Shutter Island anyhow.)

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