Often, when a director has built a strong and distinctive style and filmography that set them apart from the rest, you’ll find that they tend to work with the same team often. Actors, cinematographers, composers, and the like all build up their artistic voices through their common collaborations with a filmmaker, helping them build a sense of consistency and growth over the course of their work.
Many celebrated directors have spent their careers often working with the same creative team. It’s how Wes Anderson has made his style so strong and instantly recognizable and how the legendary Ingmar Bergman made his body of work feel like one large, cohesive whole. These relationships, often spanning decades, are essential for an auteur to construct a filmography that sticks in audiences’ minds.
12 Wong Kar-wai
Frequent Collaborators: Tony Leung (Actor), Maggie Cheung (Actress), Christopher Doyle (Cinematographer)
Thanks to beautiful works of art like the iconic Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love, auteur Wong Kar-wai has pretty much become the face of Hong Kong cinema over the years. He’s the poster boy of the Hong Kong New Wave, one of the most influential film movements in Asia, which is considered to still be going since its rise in the ’80s.
Wong is known for his atmospheric use of color, signature slow-motion shots, and free-flowing story pacing, which is largely thanks to collaborators like Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle and editor William Chang (who also tends to do costume and production designs for Wong’s movies). Likewise, people like Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Leslie Cheung have become some of Hong Kong’s most legendary actors largely thanks to their work on his movies.
11 Werner Herzog
Frequent Collaborators: Klaus Kinski (Actor), Joe Bini (Editor), Popol Vuh (Composer)
German auteur Werner Herzog is perhaps more familiar to average audiences for his acting work on over 150 films, but he’s just as fruitful of a filmmaker. Herzog has made 20 fiction feature films and 31 feature documentaries, most of which are extraordinary, and he’s praised as one of the most important directors to ever come out of Germany.
Herzog’s tumultuous partnership with Klaus Kinski alone is enough to land theirs as one of the most iconic actor-director collaborations in cinema history, as seen in movies like Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. Herzog also tends to work with editors like the experimental Joe Bini and composers like the criminally underrated Popol Vuh, resulting in a most interesting body of work that deserves more attention from the general public.
10 Richard Linklater
Frequent Collaborators: Ethan Hawke (Actor), Jack Black (Actor), Lee Daniel (Cinematographer)
Known for his realistic approach to stories and uniquely naturalistic style of filmmaking, Richard Linklater is a director that most people either love or hate. But when he keeps making movies as great as the Before trilogy or Boyhood, he makes it increasingly hard to do the latter. His work is inviting and uniquely full of heart, which always makes his films a treat to watch.
When you watch a Linklater film, you’re bound to see a familiar face, like that of Ethan Hawke or Jack Black; or recognize the camerawork of his common collaborator Lee Daniel. It’s no surprise that all his movies feel fittingly intimate and welcoming for all kinds of viewers, since he’s built such an extensive family that has done nothing but empower his filmography.
9 Quentin Tarantino
Frequent Collaborators: Samuel L. Jackson (Actor), Uma Thurman (Actress), Sally Menke (Editor)
Nowadays, there are few American filmmakers as respected as Quentin Tarantino. The writer-director has made some of the most iconic masterpieces in recent times, from Pulp Fiction to Inglourious Basterds, with famous trademarks and a directorial style that has come to be known as energetic, violent, and undeniably engrossing. No matter their taste, viewers can always find something to enjoy in a Tarantino film.
The director is known for his tightly written characters and sharp dialogue, excellent sense of pacing, enthralling stories grounded in reality, and graphic depiction of highly-stylized violence. None of this would be possible without common partners like Uma Thurman and editor Sally Menke (as well as Samuel L. Jackson, by far Tarantino’s most frequent actor collaborator), a community that has helped Tarantino become the icon of cinema that he is today.
8 Tim Burton
Frequent Collaborators: Johnny Depp (Actor), Helena Bonham Carter (Actress), Danny Elfman (Composer)
For those who enjoy dark stories with a moody atmosphere and high-contrast mise-en-scène inspired by the classics of yesteryear, Tim Burton is an ideal match. Burton has an immediately recognizable style unlike anyone else’s, and the team he gathers for his legendary films, from Sweeney Todd to Edward Scissorhands, is a large reason why.
It’s a well-known fact that it’s rare to find a Burton movie that doesn’t feature Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter in memorable starring roles, or a score by the great Danny Elfman (one-half of one of the best director-composer collaborations ever). You always know what you’re getting into with this artist’s films, and it never gets old to see all these familiar faces making his filmography feel inviting and absorbing.
7 David Lynch
Frequent Collaborators: Laura Dern (Actress), Kyle MacLachlan (Actor), Angelo Badalamenti (Composer)
When it comes to cinematic surrealism, you’ll hardly find a modern director who has brought more to the table than David Lynch. The vast majority of his movies are bizarre mind-benders that leave people scratching their heads in confusion, with impossible-to-follow stories and imagery rich in meaning. Most of his work features the work of artists who almost feel like Lynch’s family, who have helped him establish his iconic style.
Actors like Laura Dern and Kyle MacLachlan, and creatives like the late composer Angelo Badalamenti, have all helped Lynch craft staples of the genre like Eraserheadand Blue Velvet. This sense of familiarity permeating his weirdest movies certainly helps to make his work more accessible, where otherwise it would feel much more impenetrable.
6 Ingmar Bergman
Frequent Collaborators: Liv Ullmann (Actress), Max von Sydow (Actor), Gunnar Fischer (Cinematographer)
The best-known Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, didn’t just revolutionize European cinema. He defined an entire generation of filmmakers, and the influence of his quasi-poetic writing, poignant and pensive stories, and powerful directing style can still be felt in international independent cinema today. He made some of the most important films of the 20th century, from Persona to The Seventh Seal, and his level of influence can’t be overstated.
In his films, Bergman explored themes like the crushing weight of existence and faith in the face of the harshest circumstances, all in fascinating ways. In this mission, he was aided by a team of extraordinary actors that appear in pretty much all of his films, from Liv Ullmann to Max von Sydow, and other artists like the director of photography Gunnar Fischer, who made many of his films some of the most visually stunning foreign movies ever made.
5 Wes Anderson
Frequent Collaborators: Jason Schwartzmann (Actor), Owen Wilson (Actor), Alexandre Desplat (Composer)
There are very few directors with a style as consistent across their entire filmography as Wes Anderson’s, a style that has managed to grow and evolve as time has gone on. From his outstanding yet somewhat underrated debut, Bottle Rocket, to his most recent feature outing, Asteroid City, he has become one of the most popular and widely beloved filmmakers working today.
There are many trademarks that make a Wes Anderson movie instantly recognizable: Themes of family and connection, a signature blend of humor that you won’t find anywhere else, and – of course – recurring collaborators. Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson always brighten up his films’ casts, and Alexandre Desplat can always be trusted to deliver a memorable score fitting beautifully into any of Anderson’s unique worlds.
4 Alfred Hitchcock
Frequent Collaborators: James Stewart (Actor), Ingrid Bergman (Actress), John Michael Hayes (Screenwriter)
There’s a good reason why Alfred Hitchcock is considered the master of suspense – plenty of good reasons, in fact. Starting in the silent era of cinema, he made some of the craft’s most iconic masterpieces, from well-known ones like Vertigo and Psycho to criminally underrated ones like Rope. He was an innovator and a trendsetter, and the distinct themes that Hitchcock built across his whole filmography make his work very easy to get into.
Hitchcock did it all. He explored all kinds of genres, framing devices, and stories over the course of his decades-spanning career, resulting in a delightfully varied body of work. Throughout it, you’ll find familiar faces like those of legendary actors Jimmy Stewart and Ingrid Bergman, and the common collaborations with screenwriters like John Michael Hayes (who penned a few of the director’s ’50s masterpieces) are also distinctly noticeable.
3 Christopher Nolan
Frequent Collaborators: Michael Caine (Actor), Hans Zimmer (Composer), Hoyte Van Hoytema (Cinematographer)
To many, Christopher Nolan is nothing short of one of the greatest filmmakers working in Hollywood today. From his earlier masterworks like the indie thriller Memento to ambitious blockbusters like Oppenheimer, one of the best World War II biopics, the filmmaker has given ample evidence of his versatility, keen eye for stunning visuals, and delightful knack for telling mind-bending stories in unconventional ways.
Nolan has built a loyal team both in front of the camera and behind it, which has helped him cement himself as the modern cinematic legend that he is. Actors like Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy show up in his movies quite often, and their presence might be aided by a groundbreaking score by the great Hans Zimmer or gorgeous camerawork by Hoyte Van Hoytema.
2 Akira Kurosawa
Frequent Collaborators: Toshirō Mifune (Actor), Tatsuya Nakadai (Actor), Asakazu Nakai (Cinematographer)
There have been many outstanding Japanese directors over the years, but few have come close to the level of greatness and popularity of Akira Kurosawa, who many say is arguably the greatest filmmaker ever to live. Though he’s best-known for his action-packed yet profound and elegantly written samurai films, his bold and dynamic style also lent itself quite often to all sorts of other genres, at all of which Kurosawa excelled.
From masterful landmarks of the samurai subgenre like Seven Samurai to more traditional dramas like High and Low, Kurosawa made films whose influences can be felt in more modern movies than you may think. In these enthralling classics, you’ll always find someone you remember, like the icons Toshirō Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai, or familiar technical qualities like the ever-beautiful camera of Asakazu Nakai.
1 Martin Scorsese
Frequent Collaborators: Robert De Niro (Actor), Leonardo DiCaprio (Actor), Thelma Schoonmaker (Editor)
Many would argue that Martin Scorsese is the greatest director working today, and that wouldn’t be the case without his loyal team: actors like Robert De Niro, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and cinematographer Michael Chapman are but a few of its members. With them, Scorsese has been able to craft some of the art form’s most popular masterpieces, from gangster movies like Goodfellas to historical epics like his latest outing, Killers of the Flower Moon.
Having such a consistent family of artists has allowed Scorsese to have one of the most versatile and chameleonic voices of pretty much any auteur in history, with a style that adapts to every story he happens to work on. Seeing what he and his team have in store for audiences on each new occasion is always a treat, and it’s likely that their work will forever live on as an essential cornerstone of cinema’s history.
NEXT:Every Scorsese and De Niro Collaboration, Ranked by IMDb Score