vulture lists

15 Most Dynamic Duos in Pop Culture History

Clockwise from top left: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox, MGM, The Producers; Getty Images

While Brett Ratner’s magnum opus Rush Hour 3 won’t make anyone’s list of the best Part Threes everexcept maybe Scott Foundas — it is a part of another proud tradition in film history: the buddy movie. You know, two guys who seem to have nothing in common team up, save each other’s asses, and become better people along the way. But buddies aren’t the exclusive province of Hollywood; since before Falstaff and Prince Hal threw back a flagon of mead together, friendship has been a constant feature of pop culture. Who are the best buddies of all time — in movies, literature, TV, and music?

We set out a few ground rules in making this list. To start with, no sidekicks allowed! Our buddies must be on an equal footing; so long Sancho Panza, Robin, and DJ Jazzy Jeff. Romance is completely off the table, so off went Mulder and Scully, Lyra and Will, Fred and Ginger, and Ennis and Jack. And finally, the buddies must stand alone, not as part of some larger group of near-equal importance; adios to the Friends, the Honeymooners, the Flintstones, John and Paul, and Mick and Keef.

That still left us with some hard choices to make, though. Who made our list? Find out after the jump.

15. Bialystock and Bloom
… in The Producers (film, 1968; Broadway musical, 2001–2007; film musical, 2005)

Why them? How’s this for an odd couple? A maniacal, greasy, unscrupulous Broadway producer who shtups rich old ladies for funds teams up with an adenoidal, neurotic accountant with a security blanket to stage the world’s most tasteless musical for fun and profit. Though the stars — Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick — have been splendid, the stroke of genius is in the characters themselves: polar opposites united in desperation, playing off each other’s hilarious weaknesses like a white-collar criminal Laurel and Hardy.
Signature moment: In Mel Brooks’s musical, the song “I Want to be a Producer” — wherein Bloom gives in to Bialystock’s sleazy seductions and, in doing so, becomes a man.

14. Laverne and Shirley
… in Laverne & Shirley (TV, 1976–1983)

Why them? The chemistry between these Milwaukee brewery slaves — stick-in-the-mud Laverne and the flightier, prudish Shirley — elicited enough material to give L&S five good seasons (and only three crappy ones) and make it the best of Happy Days’ three spinoffs.
Signature moment: “Schlemiel! Schlemazl! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!

13. Mike Nichols and Elaine May
… in their stand-up and improvisational comedy career (1955–1961)

Why them? You can trace back most threads in contemporary comedy to the groundbreaking work done by Nichols and May, first at the Compass Theater in Chicago, and later around the country, on Broadway, and on a Grammy-winning comedy album. Ruthlessly honest and ironic, the pair used impeccable comic timing to pack every routine with tiny explosions of subversive hilarity, Nichols usually playing straight man to the flamboyant May.
Signature moment: How about this routine from the late fifties, with May as an overwrought mother phoning her rocket-scientist son?

12. Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay
in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (book, 2000)

Why them? Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel is about a lot of things: the primacy of Jewish artists in the creation of America’s popular culture; the Holocaust; mid-century anti-Semitism and homophobia; the joy of comic books. But more than any of those, it’s about the stormy but enduring friendship between ambitious émigré Josef and frustrated, closeted Sammy, and the artistic and emotional fruit that friendship bears.
Signature moment: Desperate to come up with a moneymaking comic-book idea, the partners — both obsessed with Houdini and the dream of escape — brainstorm The Escapist, the superhero who makes them famous.

11. Calvin and Hobbes
… in “Calvin and Hobbes” (comic strip, 1985–1995)

Why them? Six-year-old Calvin, hero of Bill Watterson’s beloved comic strip, was once described by his creator as having “not much of a filter between his brain and his mouth.” But Hobbes, the anthropomorphic tiger who’s his best friend, serves as counterpoint to Calvin’s impulsiveness and conscience to his occasional cruelty. Hobbes is no sidekick; without him, there’d be no strip at all.
Signature moment: In Watterson’s final strip, Calvin and Hobbes explore a fresh snowfall. “It’s a magical world, ol’ buddy,” Calvin says to his friend as they leap on a sled. “Let’s go exploring!”

10. Riggs and Murtaugh
… in Lethal Weapon (movie, 1987)

Why them? Because among all the buddy action comedies that flooded theaters in the late eighties, Lethal Weapon was the smartest, the funniest, and the craziest. And the love-hate relationship between family man Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and loose cannon Riggs (Mel Gibson) — with Murtaugh teaching Riggs how to be a cop, and Riggs teaching Murtaugh how to be a killer — was snappy and surprisingly affecting, at least before three half-assed sequels spoiled it all.
Signature moment:
Murtaugh: See how easy that was? Boom, still alive. Now we question him. You know why we question him? Because I got him in the leg. I didn’t shoot him full of holes or try to jump off a building with him.
Riggs: Hey, that’s no fair. The building guy lived.

9. Skip Donahue and Harry Monroe
… in Stir Crazy (movie, 1980)

Why them? This story of two ordinary, down-on-their-luck New Yorkers serving a 125-year sentence in an Arizona prison after being framed for a bank robbery features its two stars playing somewhat against type: the usually nebbishy Gene Wilder ping-pongs between Zen innocence and psychotic hysteria, and the usually brash and confident Richard Pryor is all frayed nerves and anxious glances. But the duo’s impeccable comic timing, and their ability to play off one another, makes it all work, gloriously.
Signature moment: Walking into jail, the pair, in a pathetic and hilarious attempt at self-preservation, strut around intoning “We bad, we bad…” And even when it all starts to go horribly wrong, they stick together.

8. Andre 3000 and Big Boi
… on Outkast’s Stankonia (album, 2001)

Why them? Stankonia represents the Atlanta hip-hop duo’s creative peak, a unified album that plays the pair’s best qualities off each other perfectly, mixing Andre’s wide-eyed absurdism with Big Boi’s sturdier, hitmaking reliability. When the pair went their separate ways on 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, it was quickly obvious that, without each other, Big Boi’s just a good rapper and Andre’s just a Prince fan in a silly outfit.
Signature moment: The dizzying “Bombs Over Baghdad.”

7. Bert and Ernie
… on Sesame Street (TV show, 1969–present)

Why them? Buddies, roommates, longtime companions: Whatever you want to call them, these two mismatched Muppets share the longest-lasting friendship on TV today. Fastidious, uptight Bert is driven crazy daily by Ernie’s cockamamy schemes; together, they’ve taught kids about compromise and comedy for almost 40 years.
Signature moment: “Bert, are you awake?” Ernie asks in the middle of the night. He can’t sleep, and much to his nightcap-clad roomie’s annoyance, Ernie wants to count sheep, or sing a song, or play his drums. Soon Ernie is snoring happily while a distracted Bert sits up in his bed, diverted from sleep by his pal. This has happened 6,000 times.

6. Vladimir and Estragon
… in Waiting for Godot (play, 1952)

Why them? Those of a dourer disposition may argue that the entire point of Samuel Beckett’s existentialist drama is that we’re alone, alone, always alone. But we prefer to think of Godot as a buddy story, populated by two downtrodden clowns who prop each other up through hunger, peril, and the bitter absence of God from His earth. After all, without each other, who have Vladimir and Estragon got?
Signature moment: As the play ends, the pair consider hanging themselves, but Estragon’s belt is too short. “You could hold on to my legs,” he suggests. “But who’d hold on to mine?” asks Vladimir. “True,” agrees Estragon. He takes off his belt anyway, and his pants fall down.

5. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin
… in the Aubrey-Maturin series (books, 1970–2004; movie, 2003)

Why them? Because Patrick O’Brian’s larger-than-life British Naval Post Captain Aubrey and cranky, sallow doctor-spy Maturin are as close as two sailors can be without humping. Aubrey’s ease, simplicity, and discipline is perfectly offset by Maturin’s brilliance and ever-shifting discontent. Their mutual respect and admiration is so thick, so palpable, so … salty that it really makes the bosun hoist the mizzen topgallant into the forecastle.
Signature moment: In Post Captain, the second novel in the series, Aubrey and Maturin are on the verge of dueling over a woman when Maturin’s better judgment takes over and he instead warns Aubrey of a brewing mutiny. Friendship, England, and His Majesty’s Royal Navy take the day.

4. Rick Todd and Eugene Fullstack
… in Artists and Models (1955)

Why them? Though they were the hottest comedy act in America in the fifties, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin secretly resented one another. Which makes it all the more fascinating that the fourteenth film they did together, merely a year before their breakup, represents the high point of their collaboration. Here, Dino is Rick, an aspiring comic-book artist who appropriates the fever-dream rantings of childish roommate Eugene (Lewis) to create a new superhero. The dementedly psychoanalytic overtones of this premise reveals the true nature of their appeal: They were ego and id, the Superman and Bizarro of Eisenhower’s America.
Signature moment: A patient Martin helps Lewis keep his “dickie” down while getting dressed.

3. Thelma and Louise
… in Thelma & Louise (movie, 1991)

Why them? Because in Ridley Scott and Callie Khouri’s road movie, Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) upend the familiar tropes of the buddy flick to tell a story of female empowerment that’s still fresh and surprising fifteen years later. Thelma’s goofy innocence and Louise’s hard-bitten wisdom combine in a flash to transform two lonely women into a raging force of nature.
Signature moment: After convincing a filthy-minded trucker to pull over, the two outlaws tell him off, pull out big-ass guns, and blow his rig sky-high.

2. Frodo and Sam
… in The Lord of the Rings (books, 1954–1955; movies, 2001–2003)

Why them? Scoff if you must at the hairy feet, the twee trappings, or the lingering looks that spawned a universe of hobbit slash. In J.R.R. Tolkein’s fantasy trilogy — and in Peter Jackson’s movies — Frodo and Sam’s is the epitome of a rich fictional friendship. We laugh with them, fear for them, and weep when they’re driven apart. Sam may start the trilogy as a sidekick, but he ends it a hero — and, surely, Frodo’s equal.
Signature moment: An exhausted Sam heaves an overcome Frodo onto his back for the last brutal steps up the face of Mount Doom.

1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
… in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (movie, 1969)

Why them? Widely credited with the invention of the buddy movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid set the standard of which all others will fall short into perpetuity. Paul Newman’s Butch, the brainy bank robber, and Robert Redford’s Sundance, the trigger-happier of the pair, play off one another with such dexterous comic brio, it’s like watching a charisma tornado blow through the American West.
Signature moment: Holed up with an army outside, Butch and Sundance talk about the Australia they’ll never see. “Well, I just don’t wanna get there and find out it stinks!” insists Sundance. Then they go out in a blaze of glory.

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15 Most Dynamic Duos in Pop Culture History