On-screen pairings are a fickle science. The right chemistry lulls audiences into buying even the most absurd plot lines. (Julia Roberts' hooker with a heart of gold in Pretty Woman comes to mind.) The wrong formulation (Bonfire of the Vanities, Gigli) guarantees box office lead.
While audiences may measure their favorite film duos with ineffable metrics like emotional resonance, even tears spilled, Tinseltown's bean-counters track performance in much more concrete terms: grosses. Hollywood's most successful film duos, as measured by their box office bang, are a mixed lot, including the leads of Tinseltown's highest-grossing film, a pair of animated children's toys and several iterations of the buddy-cop tag team.
In terms of box office gross, as provided by Box Office Mojo, the most successful film duo in history is Spider-Man's Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. That big-budget franchise grossed $2.5 billion worldwide at the box office. (In all, it is believed to have cost nearly $600 million.) The original 2002 flick inspired the memorable kissing scene, in which Maguire's unmasked Spider-Man kissed Dunst's Mary Jane Watson upside down in the rain. "We wanted the audience to need them to be together for the picture to work," said Spider-Man director Sam Raimi in 2002. "When I saw Kirsten Dunst and Toby perform a scene together, they made that connection."
Titanic minted superstars of its relatively unknown co-stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Their doomed love story wooed audiences to theaters for an unheard-of eight months. Titanic nabbed Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director and went on to gross $1.8 billion worldwide, more than any other film in history.
The cop action-comedy genre has produced some of cinema's most successful celluloid partnerships. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, secret agents in 1997's Men in Black and the 2000 sequel, grossed over $1 billion together at the box office. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, playing Los Angeles cops in the lucrative Lethal Weapon series, have generated a combined $955 million as on-screen partners. Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan round out Tinseltown's most successful police partners thanks to Rush Hour and its requisite sequels, which have grossed just under $850 million.
The box office figures on the list, from Box Office Mojo, are not inflation-adjusted. As such, none of Old Hollywood's iconic pairs, like Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, or Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, make the cut. Films where three primary characters share the spotlight ( Shrek, Harry Potter) were also excluded. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, who memorably united for three films ( Joe Vs. the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail) fell short, banking $518 million. They were, surprisingly, edged out by Crocodile Dundee co-stars (and marrieds in real life) Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski. The three Dundee flicks grossed $607 million.
Cartoon characters also clinched a spot on the list. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen provide the voices for Woody and Buzz Lightyear, respectively, in the Pixar-produced, Walt Disney-distributed 1995 blockbuster animated feature Toy Story, which grossed $354 million. Four years later, the pair reprised their roles for a sequel that booked $485 million worldwide. Hanks and Allen may soon move up the list of Hollywood's Most Successful On-Screen Pairings. They are at work on a third Toy Story sequel, slated for release in 2010.