When two actors with a potent dose of dude chemistry find each other on film, it’s the perfect recipe for guy movie magic.
Forty years ago today, love was in the air for Robert Redford at the 1974 Academy Awards, but not in the most obvious sort of way. His romantic pairing with Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were was up for six Oscars. But it won only two. Instead, it appeared The Academy was more enamored by the power of “dude chemistry,” having its eyes set on Redford’s other box office smash, The Sting, co-starring Paul Newman. With 10 nominations and seven wins, including Best Picture, The Sting cemented Redford and Newman as an on-screen dream team, which had followed the equally successful Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969.
Of their relationship on set, Redford commented, “We’d try to surprise each other, and it was so damn much fun that it became like a scenario unto itself.” Let in on the act, audiences made The Sting the top-grossing film of 1973.
Redford and Newman’s dynamic coupledom is just one example of a bromance tradition that stretches back to the silents and continues today, right up to HBO’s acclaimed pairing of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective. In light of the 40th anniversary of Redford and Newman’s Oscar win of The Sting, we thought it’d be fun to list our favorite testosterone twosomes.
Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy
Cinematic comedy has had many classic double acts, including Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. The original odd couple was Stan Laurel, the slender simpleton, and Oliver Hardy, the big oaf. Neither got much traction in Hollywood until producer Hal Roach brought them together in 1927, and they proved, as Stan says in the classic Sons of the Desert (1933), as compatible as “two peas in a pot.” The pot simmered for 107 shorts and feature-length films that have lost none of their ability to delight.
Burt Lancaster & Kirk Douglas
In the Redford-Newman vein were these two Golden Age icons, who made seven films together. Often cast as wary, if respectful, adversaries, the two allied in their biggest hit, 1957’s Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, with Burt Lancaster as lawman Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as gunslinger Doc Holliday. That led to a smash engagement at the 1958 Academy Awards, where they dueted a tongue-in-cheek song, “It’s Great Not to Be Nominated,” which was such a hit they performed it again the next year. (Lancaster would win Best Actor for 1960’s Elmer Gantry, with Douglas receiving an honorary Oscar in 1996.) In 1986 the two, who had a prickly relationship offscreen, gently parodied their onscreen personas in the comedy Tough Guys.
Gene Wilder & Richard Pryor
In 1958 Sidney Poitier was chained under duress to Tony Curtis in the dramatic hit The Defiant Ones. By 1980 the shackles of racial antagonism had fallen away and Poitier directed comedians Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in Stir Crazy, a smash hit that played incarceration for laughs. It wasn’t their first pairing: Pryor co-wrote Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974), which starred Wilder, and the two actors boarded the train-set action comedy Silver Streak (1976), a success due in no small part to a hilarious scene where Pryor teaches Wilder to “be black.” The two of them “got bad” in Stir Crazy’s most memorable sequence, when they’re locked up on false charges. Wilder and Pryor, who nearly died in an infamous fire caused by his freebasing cocaine a few months before the film’s release, would re-team for two lesser comedies, See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and Another You (1991). Of their onscreen partnership, Wilder said of Pryor, who died in 2005, “He made up things and I made up things, and it went well.”
Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker
Detective Sidney Poitier’s cautious partnership with police chief Rod Steiger in the Oscar-winning In the Heat of the Night (1967) is at the root of the less serious “cop buddy” genre, which yielded 48 Hrs. (1982) a 1990 sequel, starring Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, and four Lethal Weapon movies pairing Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. In Rush Hour, a trio of breezy escapades thus far, Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan and motormouthed comedian Chris Tucker put a multicultural spin on the formula and took audience infatuation with dynamic duos into the 21st century.
Matt Damon & Ben Affleck (& George Clooney)
“How about them apples?” Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, childhood friends in Boston, rocketed to all-media darlings after 1997’s Good Will Hunting, for which they won Best Screenplay Oscars. (Their BFF-dom was so undeniable that Mindy Kaling co-wrote an Off Broadway comedy about them, called…Matt & Ben.) As Ben took up with Jen (Lopez and then Garner), into Matt’s life came George (Clooney), who among other joint credits introduced him to a life of crime in the three Ocean’s Eleven capers, then cast him in his own recent hit The Monuments Men. The two have their own cool onscreen back and forth. Not content with merely Matt, though, George made it a ménage, producing Ben’s Oscar-winning smash Argo, for which they both won Academy Awards. All’s fair in love and bromance.