A scene from “La La Land.” Image from official trailer

By Megan Bianco

Star quality has always meant a lot, especially during the old Hollywood studio system. Producers and executives wanted to make sure their movie stars could fully sell their films, if the stories couldn’t on their own. But in many cases movies were not only cast and marketed on the sole superstar’s appeal, like Clark Gable or Joan Crawford, but also paired them with other famous actors as a double wammy. The most famous and successful example would have to be William Powell & Myrna Loy who were paired together in a grand total of 14 films, including all six of the Thin Man flicks, The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and Love Crazy (1941).

Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers and all 10 of their iconic musicals together including Top Hat (1935) and Swing Time (1936), or Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland with their famous backyard musicals like Babes in Arms (1939) and Strike Up the Band (1940). Fred MacMurray & Carole Lombard and Cary Grant & Katharine Hepburn for numerous classic screwball comedies such as The Princess Comes Across (1936), True Confession (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938) and The Philadelphia Story (1940), among others. Audiences found themselves not only drawn to their favorite actors, but also rooting for their favorite pairings to be together, even if the chemistry was only on screen.

When the traditional studio system was dying down, romantic movie pairings still were a big appeal and aspect of film casting. Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra (1963), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)), James Garner & Julie Andrews (The Americanization of Emily (1964), Victor/Victoria (1982)), and Woody Allen & Diane Keaton (Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979)) were some of the classic pairings for the 1960s and 70s. Two of the most popular movie pairings in pop culture would come in the 1990s from Richard Gere & Julia Roberts with Pretty Woman (1990) and Runaway Bride (1999), both directed by Garry Marshall; and Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan in Joe vs. the Volcano (1990), Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998), when the romantic comedy genre was having a big boom. But as the era of big movie stars has calmed down over the past decade, do duos like these still have an effect on box-office numbers or film followings?

The most recently successful film duos are probably Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence and Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone. Cooper & Lawrence have led three Oscar-friendly darlings directed by David O. Russell—Silver Linings Playbook (2012), American Hustle (2013) and Joy (2015)—and one dud without him—Serena (2014). Gosling & Stone have two hits—Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and La La Land (2016)—and one flop—Gangster Squad (2013). Jesse Eisenberg & Kristen Stewart have fared about the same with critical success in Adventureland (2009) and Café Society (2016), while American Ultra (2015) was a huge bomb. Another indie pairing, Miles Teller & Shailene Woodley got great feedback for the teen flick The Spectacular Now (2013), while also starring in the Hunger Games rip-off Divergent. Will Smith & Margot Robbie have been getting familiar with each other on screen lately in Focus (2015) and Suicide Squad (2016). So while movie star pairings aren’t sweeping box offices with general audiences as much anymore, they still make an impact with critics and fan bases.

Two of my personal movie pairings are Jimmy Stewart & Jean Arthur in the Frank Capra dramedies You Can’t Take It with You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Sam Rockwell & Drew Barrymore in Charlie’s Angels (2000) and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002).

Who are your favorites?

Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.

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