Everyone loves a good buddy film; two protagonists, often with different personalities, play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses to create a dynamic pairing that captivates audiences.
The buddy film is prevalent in American cinema, stretching back to the comedy films of the ’30s all the way into the modern era. Buddy films can come in many shapes and sizes, and encompass nearly all genres.
Whether you prefer Woody and Buzz trying to get back home, Jake and Elwood trying to get the band back together, or watching Murtaugh complaining to Riggs about how he’s too old, buddy films have cemented their place in cinematic history.
While most buddy films center on a pair of do-gooders overcoming their initial misunderstandings to defeat an antagonist, some buddy films choose to focus the attention on characters who find themselves sitting squarely on the wrong side of the law. War Dogs, the new film from Todd Phillips, the man behind The Hangover and Old School, is the latest buddy film that hopes to cash in on a lead duo who are so bad, they’re good. But can they measure up to the great partners-in-crime who’ve come before?
Here are The 15 Best Partners-In-Crime In Movie History.
15. Seth and Richie Gecko – From Dusk Till Dawn
Seth and Richie Gecko are some seriously bad dudes. The Gecko brothers are career criminals who are fleeing from the FBI and the Texas state police when From Dusk Till Dawn begins.
Shown to be ruthless yet oddly charismatic, it is quickly established that Seth (played by George Clooney) is the more levelheaded of the two, while Richie (played by Quentin Tarantino) is a loose cannon whose mental illness is heavily implied throughout the film.
Attempting to cross the border into Mexico in order to elude their pursuers, the Gecko brothers kidnap a preacher and his two children in order to sneak across the border in the family’s RV.
The Geckos and their hapless hostages take refuge in a remote strip club on the other side of the border, where they soon discover the proprietors of the establishment subsist on the blood of their patrons.
From Dusk Till Dawn is a pulpy B-movie that is as ridiculous as it is enjoyable. George Clooney delivers an iconic performance as the calm, cool and collected Seth, and Tarantino really hams it up in his portrayal of loony brother Richie. The banter between the two is priceless, and the second half of the film will satiate any action junkie.
14. Jordan Belfort and Donnie Azoff – The Wolf of Wall Street
Living by the creed that a stockbroker only makes money for himself, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) recruits his neighbor Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and starts his own company, Stratton Oakmont, which is essentially a “pump and dump” scam, inflating the value of worthless penny stocks to unsuspecting investors.
Making an ungodly amount of money in a short time, Belfort, Azoff, and their employees live a rock star lifestyle fueled by cocaine, booze, and of course, cash. After increasingly shady dealings, Belfort and his firm come under the scrutiny of the FBI and other government agencies.
Belfort becomes increasingly paranoid as he tries desperately to hide his cash and, as his life quickly crumbles around him, viewers are treated to a series of follies that are hysterical, including a gut-busting scene involving Quaaludes, a tapped phone, and quite possibly the longest landline telephone cord in history.
DiCaprio and Hill are fantastic in their portrayals, making for a modern classic, which is impressive considering the fact that the real life perpetrators were terrible, greedy people.
13. The Narrator and Tyler Durden – Fight Club
Suffering from insomnia and severely depressed, the unnamed narrator of David Fincher’s Fight Club meets a charismatic soapmaker by the name of Tyler Durden while on a business trip. The two develop a tentative friendship stemming from Durden’s views on consumerism and the meaning of masculinity in today’s modern society.
The two soon start living together and begin a fight club, where men meet to beat the ever-loving crap out of each other. Attracting the presence of men similar to himself, the Narrator learns that there are fight clubs all over the country, and that his partner is using them to train an army to take part in an anarchist movement he has dubbed “Project Mayhem”.
The relationship between the Narrator and Durden is the crux of the film, as Durden’s devil-may-care attitude toward life and society grates against virtually everything that society has taught the Narrator to expect from life.
Of course the twist of the film is that (spoiler alert for a film that is 17 years old) the Narrator and Durden are one and the same, simply two versions of the same man who suffers from dissociative identity disorder.
12. Django and Dr. King Schultz – Django Unchained
Django is a slave who was separated from his wife during the Plantation era of the American South. While being transported, Django is Unchained — sorry — freed from captivity by a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz. Schultz is pursuing a group of outlaws who Django has intimate knowledge of and needs Django’s help in finding them.
After Django’s helped Schultz track down the outlaws, Schultz explains to Django that he is the first person he has ever freed, and feels compelled to help him reunite with his wife. Django becomes Schultz’s apprentice and partner, racking up a number of bounties and becoming an adept gunslinger.
The rest of the film follows these two unlikely friends — one a white German dentist, the other a black slave — as they cut a bloody swath through the antebellum South.
While Django and Schultz are clearly the heroes of the film, justified in their actions when viewed in hindsight, the fact remains that they would have been considered dangerous outlaws by the law at the time.
11. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot – Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
Clint Eastwood is the notorious bank robber known as Thunderbolt, as his preferred method of safe-cracking involves shooting them with a 20mm anti-tank cannon. Hiding out and posing as a preacher after his latest heist, one of Thunderbolt’s old gang members tries to kill him, as he believes that Thunderbolt betrayed the gang and made off with the loot.
Luckily for Thunderbolt, a young car thief named Lightfoot (played by Jeff Bridges) foils the attempted murder, and the titular Thunderbolt and Lightfoot set off with the intention of collecting the hidden loot.
Along the way, the remaining members of Thunderbolt’s old crew kidnap Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. While Thunderbolt argues with his old partners, Lightfoot proposes that they stage a new robbery.
A buddy road movie that deftly mixed action and comedy, the film was praised for the likability of its two leads, and even earned an Academy Award nod for Bridges in the Best Supporting Actor category.
10. Roy and Angela – Matchstick Men
Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men was widely praised upon its release, with many critics stating that it was the best con film since The Sting. In this film, Nicholas Cage plays a con man named Roy who suffers from a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. After Roy loses it, his partner (Sam Rockwell) suggests that he see a psychiatrist to help him manage his neurosis.
Talking with the psychiatrist convinces Roy that he should meet his estranged child, a 14-year-old girl named Angela (played by Alison Lohman). Roy discovers that Angela’s presence helps him maintain his grip on reality. As Roy’s relationship with his daughter improves, he is compelled to divulge the nature of his work to her, reluctantly agreeing to teach her in the art of the con.
Reinvigorated, Roy agrees to pull a long-term con with his partner, one that will test his abilities and potentially threaten his newfound bond with his daughter.
Nicholas Cage is believable as a man teetering on the edge of mental collapse, and his chemistry with Alison Lohman is both poignant and natural, making for a compelling story.
9. Dom and Brian – The Fast and Furious Series
A thinly veiled rip-off of Point Break that swapped surfboards for exotic foreign cars, The Fast and the Furious focused on FBI agent Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) infiltrating the illegal street racing circuit in order to gain information regarding a group of highly skilled drivers who are hijacking moving trucks to steal expensive electronic equipment like DVD players (the movie came out in 2001).
O’Connor falls for the sister of his prime suspect, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), an elite street racer and ex-con. With the stakes rising, O’Connor finds his loyalties put into question.
The likability of the film series’ two leads has resulted in six sequels, the latest of which is one of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time. The success and believability of the two leads’ relationship was due, in part, to the real life friendship of Diesel and Walker. Sadly, Walker passed away before completion of the seventh film in the series, leading Diesel and the filmmakers to dedicate the film to him.
8. Saddam and Satan – South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
In what has to be one of the most overly complicated plots in the history of animated cinema, the boys of South Park elementary kick off the end of the world by seeing a movie called Asses of Fire, starring their favorite gross-out comedians, the Canadians known as Terrence and Phillip.
The boys’ parents begin pushing for censorship due to the vulgar phrases the boys learned after viewing the movie, which eventually turns into a proverbial witch hunt, one that pits the United States against its neighbor to the north, Canada.
Kenny dies and finds himself in Hell, where he discovers that Satan and Saddam Hussein, who are lovers, are planning to take over the Earth, as the execution of Terrence and Phillip would bring about the Apocalypse. With this new information, Kenny sets out to warn his friends of Satan and Saddam’s plans.
Saddam and Satan have a rocky relationship, one that is revisited in later episodes of South Park. One thing is certain though, despite their nefarious plans, Satan and Saddam truly deserve each other.
7. Gondorff/Shaw and Hooker/Kelly – The Sting
During the Great Depression, a grifter named Hooker seeks out the tutelage of famed con man Henry Gondorff in order to get himself out of a sticky situation with a powerful crime boss named Lonnegan. Gondorff, in hiding from the FBI, is initially reluctant to help Hooker, however he eventually relents, and the stage is set for one big con that will get Lonnegan out of Hooker’s hair forever, and make them rich in the process.
With rave reviews upon its release, The Sting was a huge success at the box office and won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The Sting saw the starring roles of grifters Gondorff and Hooker being played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, respectively, who had also played the titular characters in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, one of the best and most memorable duos in cinematic history. The Oscar winning director of The Sting also directed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, proving that studios aren’t totally blind to on-set chemistry.
6. Cullen and Joker – The Defiant Ones
The tagline of this 1958 film stated: “They couldn’t like each other less. They couldn’t need each other more.” A prototypical buddy action film, The Defiant Ones centers on two convicts — one black and one white — who are shackled together by a 29 inch chain. During an accident, the bus transporting the prisoners crashes, allowing the two men to escape.
A massive manhunt ensues as the two men gradually begin to realize that if they are to survive their ordeal and maintain their freedom, they have to work together.
While the pair runs from the law, with hostile townspeople and a lynch mob nipping at their heels, they begin to learn more about each other and, throughout the course of the film, develop a bond based on mutual respect.
The Defiant Ones went on to secure nine Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actor nod for both Tony Curtis and Sidney Portier, the first one for a black male actor. The film is remembered for its message of racial tolerance and equality and, according to Pixar’s John Lasseter, the characters of Woody and Buzz from the 1995 film Toy Story were inspired by the relationship between Cullen and Joker.
5. Johnny Utah and Bodhi – Point Break
After a string of bank robberies perpetrated by the elusive gang known as the Ex-Presidents, due to the rubber masks of former U.S. Presidents that they wear, rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah is assigned to investigate the crimes. His more experienced partner believes that the robbers are surfers using the money obtained from their crimes to fund their transient, adrenaline-seeking lifestyles.
Utah goes undercover to infiltrate the surfing community, and soon develops a friendship with Bodhi, the charismatic, de-facto leader of a group of surfers. Utah is seduced by Bodhi’s philosophies and lifestyle, and the two form a strong bond.
During the investigation, Utah begins to suspect that Bodhi and his friends are the Ex-Presidents, leading Utah to a moral dilemma, where the line between right and wrong is blurred.
Utah’s actions eventually see him dismissed from the case, but that doesn’t stop him from chasing Bodhi for the ultimate high. Point Break is a modern classic. Its influence can be see in movies like The Fast and the Furious series and even Hot Fuzz, but the less said about the terrible remake the better.
4. Vincent and Jules – Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar winning film features a slew of memorable characters who crop up at various points throughout the twisted crime tale, but the suit-wearing duo Vincent and Jules are easily the most recognizable. Played by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, Vincent and Jules are two cool-as-cucumber hitmen under the employ of one Marsellus Wallace.
These characters act as a constant in the narrative, as the majority of the Pulp Fiction’s plot involves at least one of them. However, it’s when the two of them are together that we see what a great pair they make. Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary might have been responsible for putting the words in their mouths, but the banter between Jules and Vincent is pure gold, thanks to the acting chops and chemistry of Jackson and Travolta.
Jules and Vincent’s ability to keep calm and remain suave while scrubbing brains from the backseat of their car or strutting into a diner looking like they just raided a Salvation Army makes them super cool, even if they accidentally discharge their weapons after hitting a pothole.
3. Andy and Red – The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption isn’t your typical buddy film. It doesn’t feature high-octane action or laugh-out-loud funny dialogue. Instead, the movie focuses on a white banker named Andy who is sent to a maximum-security prison for murdering his wife and her lover.
While incarcerated, Andy meets Red, an inmate with whom he forms a strong bond. During the nineteen years of his imprisonment, the two friends experience heartache, brutality, and pain that would surely break lesser men. The film takes place over almost two decades and the audience is with duo every step of the way, mainly due to the two leads, played by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Their friendship is one built on love and hope, two things that are in short supply in prison.
A box office dud when it was released back in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption is now considered one of the greatest films ever made, thanks to its story of the perseverance of the human spirit and the power of companionship.
2. Thelma and Louise – Thelma & Louise
The buddy film has traditionally been a vehicle for male stars, but with Ridley Scott’s 1991 film Thelma & Louise, it became an early mainstream example of feminist cinema. Two friends named Thelma and Louise (played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, respectively) decide to take a two-day vacation in order to escape from their mundane and oppressive lives.
During their trip, the pair stop at a bar, where they indulge in a few drinks and some dancing. Thelma meets a seemingly charming man who proceeds to take advantage of Thelma’s inebriated state. Louise finds them and pulls a gun on the man, killing him.
The two friends then proceed to make a run for Mexico to avoid prosecution. What follows is an often-celebrated depiction of female friendship and empowerment. Sarandon and Davis earned significant praise for their performances, with both actresses receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
This 1969 film showcased the relationship between a pair of loveable outlaws in the Old West, and is considered the template for all subsequent buddy action-comedies.
Paul Newman is Butch Cassidy, the likable and clever leader of the Hole in the Wall Gang, and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) is his closest friend. The gang decides to rob a Union Pacific train on both the eastbound and westbound runs of its journey, thinking that the authorities would never suspect that the same train would be hit twice.
Unfortunately for the gang, a determined lawman is hired by the Union Pacific head to track down Butch and the Kid until they are both dead. Fleeing from pursuers, Butch and the Kid make their way to Bolivia, where they continue their criminal antics, successfully robbing a strong of banks.
Fearing that the law will catch up to them eventually, the two try their hand at the straight life but conclude that it isn’t for them. Turning back to a life of crime, the duo is optimistic about their future, even after the law catches up with them. The iconic final scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is an example of partners-in-crime at their absolute best.