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Power Duos: The Most 'Super' Star-Pairings in Movies

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Oct 04, 2011 | 1:20pm EDT

ALTThe Ides of March are upon us, and the impressive teaming of the classic George Clooney and the vibrant Ryan Gosling is inspiring. In fact, it’s such a potent power duo that it makes us think of other great pairings of the past.

What films have provided us with such superhuman stardom? Whose forces have joined to relinquish unmitigated glory? Let’s take a look…

Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in Philadelphia

ALTThe Power of Hanks: Tireless relatability. Putting the everymanest everyman ever in the taboo position of being a gay man afflicted with AIDS makes the situation seem more real, less alien, and far more sympathetic to those who had discounted it prior.

The Power of Washington: Extreme intimidation. Maybe you can brush off a message that someone else might deliver to you…but if Denzel tells you that you should feel something in a movie, you’re terrified not to feel it. He might hear about it. Then you’ll be in trouble.

When They Join Forces: We get one of the most powerful movies of the 1990s—sympathetic, hard-hitting, not without humor, even in the darkest parts (that’s life, after all), and definitely something that’ll get through to you.

Edward Norton and Brad Pitt in Fight Club

ALTThe Power of Norton: Brooding psychological fragmentation that couldn’t possibly have been more appealing to the aging Gen-Xers to whom this movie was dedicated.

The Power of Pitt: The ability to make you—no matter how happy you were with your life at the time of stepping into the movie—wish you were Tyler Durden. You begin to question the merit of your cookie-cutter life, your “surface value” job and relationships, and even your own morals. All because Brad Pitt is just so damn cool.

When They Join Forces: We get the iconic story of every single over privileged young adult in the 1990s coming to terms with himself, his world, his mind, his choices, and his taste in music. The Pixies record sales must have shot up like a thousand times that year.

Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs

ALTThe Power of Foster: The perfect balance of courage and fear. Foster as an FBI agent braving both the waters of a male dominated industry, and taking on an incredibly dangerous case with the help of an incredibly dangerous individual to boot—but none of it ever seems hokey, thrill-driven or making-a-statement-esque on the part of the actress. She plays a very human character very humanly.

The Power of Hopkins: Horror. Not just because he eats people—although that’s not exactly one of his more affectionate qualities—

When They Join Forces: We get one of the strangest, most unforgettable partnerships (and, if you would be so bold as to call it this, friendships) in cinematic history, and one of the most haunting and intriguing movies of the past few decades.

Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in Heat, The Godfather Part 2, Righteous Kill

ALT

The Power of DeNiro: Reservation. DeNiro has his tipping point, but he keeps it bottled well until absolutely necessary. That’s what’s great about classic Bobby D performances: you know what’s coming, you just don’t know when.

The Power of Pacino: The exact opposite of reservation. Al Pacino comes flying onto the screen like a bat out of hell. His idea of a subdued performance is only one heart attack on set. But it’s never overdone.

When They Join Forces: We get a big heap of cement (that’s DeNiro), speckled with chunks of gravel (that’s Pacino) to form arguably the mightiest duo in Hollywood.

Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive

ALTThe Power of Ford: That grimace. That clench-jawed, grumbling grimace that says, “Get off my plane,” “Give me back my family,” “Why did it have to be snakes?” and “Greedo never shoulda shot first.”

The Power of Jones: What powers does Jones NOT have? He can play the ultimate badass. He can play a craven coward. He is a true warrior of cinema, and is nearly unrivaled in superhuman acting abilities.

When They Join Forces: We get an unstoppable powerhouse cataclysm dynamite volcano explosion of wonder. Or, you know…something in that neighborhood.

Christian Bale and Johnny Depp in Public Enemies

ALTThe Power of Bale: Heightened strength and agility, superb detective/analytical skills, advanced technology including the Batmobile…oh, wait. Wrong movie…um, chiseled jaw?

The Power of Depp: The Baritone Salamander. That’s his superhero name. When not overdoing it in Burtonian hyper-roles, Depp is actually a prized performer

When They Join Forces: We get a clash of the swift-winged titans—and probably the handsomest face-off in recent history.

Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County

ALTThe Power of Streep: Authenticity. It has been said of Meryl Streep, “She’s so authentic. [You] really believe everything is actually happening to her. There's no acting there” (Elaine Benes). Well, who are we to disagree?

The Power of Eastwood: Grrr…

When They Join Forces: We get a pleasant surprise. As music soothes the savage beast does the whimsical Streep to the gruffled and grisly Eastwood. Sure, when we think Clint, we think shoot outs and war stories. But is this not a timeless romance, appreciated by all—except that one woman in In & Out? It is.

Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in Rain Man

ALTThe Power of Hoffman: Complete and utter dedication. Dustin Hoffman gets so incredibly immersed into character that he was famously mocked by Sir Laurence Olivier for being far too over-prepared for his roles. But it pays off in spades—

The Power of Cruise: Narcissism. That’s not a dig at the actor, it’s one at his characters. Cruise manages to channel perfectly the ideas of entitlement and self-absorption, injecting them quite well into stories like Rain Man, which was more about his struggle to open his heart to something than about his brother’s trials with autism.

When They Join Forces: We get truly moving film about, more than anything else, family. Sure, Cruise’s character had no idea that Hoffman’s was his brother for the first three decades of his life…but the connection was organically formed between the two least likely of hosts. It’ll get ya.

Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption

ALTThe Power of Robbins:

Stoicism. Andy Dufresne was in control from the get-go…or at least after the whole cheating wife debacle. Something clicked in him right around the presumed time he “quit drinking,” and he managed to chauffer us all through a journey about understanding yourself and your world.

The Power of Freeman: Fatherliness. Even in the dark pit of a jail cell full of deranged psychopaths, if you’ve got Morgan Freeman on your side, you can never feel too unsettled.

When They Join Forces: We get friendship. An incredibly meaningful friendship. Shawshank is a story about freedom—more internal freedom than literal—and part of Red’s freedom came from his acquirement of a true friend from whom he could learn things about life.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic and Revolutionary Road

ALTThe Power of DiCaprio: Humanity. In so many DiCaprio roles, these included, he is gruffled, yet clean-cut. Good guy, yet dirtbag. Whether a middle class sell-out or an impoverished young artist who lies his way into the company of an aristocratic beauty, Leo is always firing on all cylinders.

The Power of Winslet: Her powers are innumerable. She’s never delivered a role that was anything below spectacular.

When They Join Forces: We get heartbreak. Either both of them die, or their marriage sours to the point of irrevocability. Either way, it’s a somber tale of the experience of love. But hey—that’s Hollywood!

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