So, let's say we've got at least two actors, with about the same level of success and popularity. They might be interested in making similar projects, have starred in similar roles, or may even be buds and want to make a film together; in any case, it is certain that people will love to see these two in a movie together to watch them go at it. Thus, we get a Dueling Stars Movie, a film whose entire reason for being (and the main reason to see it) is to see "those guys" together.
It should be noted that a film starring two bankable actors doesn't automatically qualify as a DSM. Here are a few qualifications that must be met:
1) The stars must be about equal in success and popularity.
For instance, Lethal Weapon
a DSM: people didn't say "Aw man, Mel Gibson
and Danny Glover
are making a movie together, I gotta see this!"; Gibson provided the star power here (in fact, this is the movie that made Glover a star). Similarly, Rush Hour
wouldn't be considered this either: people didn't give a damn about seeing Jackie Chan
and Chris Tucker going at it, they wanted to see Jackie Chan kick ass, and Tucker was along for the ride. This wasn't the case with the next two films though, where Jackie Chan was billed under Chris Tucker.
2) We are interested in seeing the film not only for the characters the actors play, but primarily to see them.
People didn't go to see Lethal Weapon
to watch Gibson and Glover play off each other, they went to see Murtagh and Riggs
do that, which is an important distinction. In the same vein, while movies like Harry Potter
may have big name stars to their credit that we love to see together (Alan Rickman
, Jason Isaacs
, Kenneth Branagh
, etc. for the former; Ian McKellen
and Patrick Stewart
for the latter), we don't go just to see them, we go to see Snape, Magneto, Professor X, and so on.
, on the other hand, is perhaps the poster boy of this trope. The sheer awesome ridiculousness
of the plot was just icing on the cake; what people really wanted to see was "Travolta/Cage"
(as the poster proclaimed) to see who could better Chew The Scenery
and blow up more stuff. Of course, a DSM need not be merely a action-blockbuster; sometimes we can get films where we actually want to see the stars act
: The Lion in Winter
is a good example of this, as the main draw is seeing two of the best actors in Hollywood (Peter O'Toole
and Katharine Hepburn
) give it their all while they verbally eviscerate each other for two hours (Hepburn won Best Actress at the Oscars for her performance).
In short, this trope could be thought of as Just Here for Godzilla
as applied to the film's stars, and as a result is practically made
of And the Fandom Rejoiced
. It will very often (nay, almost inevitably) involve copious amounts of Chewing the Scenery
, with the stars often making glorious hams of themselves
, to the point that the whole movie can be made of pure, juicy meat
, especially if the stars in question go after each other in a bout of Ham-to-Ham Combat
of All-Star Cast
. Not to be confused with Dueling Movies
- Universal Soldier: Jean-Claude Van Damme vs. Dolph Lundgren.
- The Towering Inferno with Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, for which diagonal billing (one person's name top right, the other's lower left) was invented. In fact, at McQueen's insistance, both men were paid exactly the same and had the same number of lines.
- Moon Child, starring Japanese Visual Kei superstars Gackt and Hyde (of L'Arc~en~Ciel fame). And the fangirls rejoiced.
- Bowfinger- Let's face it, it's got both Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. In 2002, Murphy would have unsuccessful pairings with Owen Wilson in I Spy and Robert De Niro in Showtime.
- The Bucket List, because who wouldn't want to see Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman on-screen together?
- Tango & Cash: Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell team up to kick ass? Yes please.
- The Prestige: While it's adapted from a novel, its main attraction is seeing Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman screw with each other (no, not that way). Having David Bowie and Andy Serkis certainly didn't hurt, either.
- Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Fight Each Other And Do Sexy Things
- One of Hollywood's most famous examples is The Sting, where Robert Redford and Paul Newman get into dangerous situations and act manly together, following on from their huge success doing so in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
- The African Queen, which was Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn's only screen pairing to boot.
- Catch Me If You Can: Leonardo DiCaprio vs. Tom Hanks.
- Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the Road to ... ... movies—you were either watching to see those two spark off each other, or for Dorothy Lamour.
- Even though they're only together for one hilarious scene, Limelight was famous for finally putting two of the biggest stars of the silent film era, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, on the same stage.
- Baby Mama was basically an excuse to see what happens when you give BFFs Amy Poehler and Tina Fey a film together. They got to team up again in 2015's Sisters.
- Date Night was similar with Tina Fey and Steve Carell as a married couple.
- And let's be honest, people didn't go to see Mamma Mia! for the plot. They went to see Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan sing ABBA songs.
- There were, in fairness, a few good reasons to go see Public Enemies. No-one cared about any of them, except to see Batman square off with Jack Sparrow.
- "A historical costume drama about Anne Boleyn and her sister fight over the Henry VIII? Booorrrin- Wait, the sisters are played by Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson? Well, I guess I'll give The Other Boleyn Girl a shot!"
- Borsalino: Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon in the same movie in 1970, meaning possibly at the height of their national (and possibly international for Delon) fame. To find an American gangster movie with two top and highly bankable stars at the time it was made, you would have to wait for... let's say Heat.
- Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster made a couple of movies together including: Gunfight At The OK Corral, Seven Days in May and last one, much later in their career when they were both older Tough Guys.
- The Film Noir I Walk Alone is Douglas vs. Lancaster, with zero scenes not featuring at least one or the other.
- The Way We Were starred Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford when they were both at the height of their careers.
- City Heat starred Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds◊.
- The Man Who Would Be King starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine. The movie itself is great but it also inspired these great impressions by Simon Pegg as Caine and Nick Frost as Connery, as seen in this outtake from Shaun of the Dead and this one from Hot Fuzz.
- War was basically an excuse to see Jason Statham and Jet Li duke it out, mostly because we barely got to see it in The One. For those savvy enough, these two stars work well together and often get paired (see The Expendables).
- Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in The Tourist.
- Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole in How to Steal a Million.
- Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren in Arabesque.
- John Wayne and James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
- Fathers' Day teamed up Billy Crystal and Robin Williams. It didn't help the film though.
- Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were the two most popular singers of their day. High Society, a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, had them singing a duet together — the only time the two of them ever did this on screen.
- The original Sleuth starring Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. The remake paired Caine with Jude Law.
- The Missouri Breaks (1976) starring Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando.
- A Few Good Men has Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise.
- Mae West and W.C. Fields in My Little Chickadee (page image).
- Fast Five, starring Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson. Johnson's character was originally going to be an older guy, but awesomely enough the filmmakers took up a fan's suggestion on Facebook that it would be great to see Diesel and Johnson in a movie together. And it was.
- Viva Las Vegas! starring Elvis Presley and Ann Margaret. The former of whose rock star career cooled a little bit since joining the army and the latter who was white hot after Bye Bye Birdie.
- Ishtar starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty is a notoriously unsuccessful example.
- Charlie Wilson's War and Larry Crowne starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
- A rare theatrical example: David Tennant and Catherine Tate as Benedick and Beatrice starring together in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2011 production of Much Ado About Nothing. The play was basically advertised as "Tennant and Tate together again!!"
- 3:10 to Yuma (2007) with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.
- Another theatrical example: Mary Martin and Robert Preston in the 1966 Broadway musical I Do! I Do!. Unusually for this trope, and even more unusually for a musical, they were the entire cast.
- The main appeal of Seraphim Falls is the showdown between Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson, two greatly respected Irish actors.
- Due Date, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifinakis.
- Grudge Match stars Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone as rival boxers, clearly drawing inspiration from Raging Bull and Rocky.
- Viva Maria! - Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau.
- The Legend of Frenchie King - Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale.
- Blonde in Black Leather - Monica Vitti and Claudia Cardinale.
- Demolition Man: Sylvester Stallone vs. Wesley Snipes. The film's poster◊ doesn't make any bones about this being the whole point of the movie; resembling the poster from a prize fight or pro wrestling match.
- White Men Can't Jump: Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes. This worked so well that they paired up again on First-Name Basis in the less successful Money Train.
- The Specialist starred Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone.
- Ocean's 11 and Ocean's Eleven blur this with All-Star Cast.
- The Black Cat pitted Boris Karloff against Bela Lugosi and it was so successful that a number of other films featuring both of them were made as a result.
- Broadway Melody of 1940 paired the top male tap dancer of the day (Fred Astaire) with the top female tap dancer of the day (Eleanor Powell). The story was just an afterthought.
- Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The actresses hated each other, and went out of their way to make life as unpleasant for each other as possible during filming.
- Who remembers Ziegfeld Follies for anything other than Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dancing together for the first time?
- The Hunted: Tommy Lee Jones vs. Benicio del Toro.
- Trading Places starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy.
- Guys and Dolls starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.
- Interview with the Vampire starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.
- Cape Fear: Gregory Peck vs. Robert Mitchum.
- Papillon: Steve McQueen vs. Dustin Hoffman.
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels paired Michael Caine and Steve Martin.
- A Perfect World: Kevin Costner vs. Clint Eastwood.
- 2 Guns paired Denzel Washington with Mark Wahlberg.
- Kramer VS Kramer is pretty obvious from the title - Dustin Hoffman vs. Meryl Streep.
- A notoriously unsuccessful example was Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, which paired Antonio Banderas with Lucy Liu. The title is, in fact, a complete lie, as they fight each other in one scene and spend the rest of the film fighting other people.
- Knight and Day starred Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.
- Spy Game starred Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.
- Rooster Cogburn, the sequel to True Grit, paired John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn.
- The Break-Up: Real Life couple Vince Vaughn vs. Jennifer Aniston.
- What About Bob?: Richard Dreyfuss vs. Bill Murray.
- Becket: Richard Burton vs. Peter O'Toole.
- Charlie Chaplin's final film, A Countess From Hong Kong, paired Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. It didn't help the film.
- American Gangster: Denzel Washington vs. Russell Crowe. Also, Virtuosity.
- The Hard Way paired Michael J. Fox and James Woods.
- Two Mules for Sister Sara paired Clint Eastwood with Shirley MacLaine.
- The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex: Bette Davis vs. Errol Flynn.
- John Ford's western The Horse Soldiers paired John Wayne and William Holden.
- Anger Management: Adam Sandler vs. Jack Nicholson.
- Sweet Smell of Success paired Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.
- 3000 Miles to Graceland with Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner was a notoriously unsuccessful example.
- I Love You Phillip Morris paired Jim Carrey with Ewan McGregor.
- The Ghost and the Darkness paired Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer.
- Robin and Marian paired Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn.
- Rain Man paired Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman.
- Philadelphia paired Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.
- 12 Monkeys: Bruce Willis vs. Brad Pitt.
- Air America paired Mel Gibson and Robert Downey, Jr..
- Michael Winner's comedy Bullseye was the only pairing of longtime friends Michael Caine and Roger Moore.
- Easter Parade paired Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.
- The Vikings saw Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis as rival viking brothers.
- The Desperate Hours: Humphrey Bogart vs. Fredric March.
- That Touch Of Mink paired Cary Grant with Doris Day.
- Down with Love paired Ewan McGregor with Renée Zellweger.
- Red Sun saw the onscreen pairing of Toshiro Mifune and Charles Bronson.
- The Book of Eli: Denzel Washington vs. Gary Oldman.
- Infernal Affairs: Andy Lau vs. Tony Leung.
- The Devil's Advocate: Keanu Reeves vs. Al Pacino.
- I Love Trouble featured the disastrous pairing of Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts.
- Saving Mr. Banks starred Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.
- The Fugitive: Harrison Ford vs. Tommy Lee Jones.
- The 1973 drama Scarecrow saw the pairing of Gene Hackman and Al Pacino.
- The Barefoot Contessa paired Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner.
- The Great Gatsby (1974) unsuccessfully paired Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.
- The Devil's Own paired Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt. Didn't help the film, though.
- Angel Heart: Mickey Rourke vs. Robert De Niro.
- One Fine Day paired George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer.
- Moulin Rouge! paired Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman.
- Cowboys & Aliens: Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.
- Spies Like Us paired Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd.
- The Jackal: Bruce Willis vs. Richard Gere.
- Internal Affairs: Richard Gere vs. Andy Garcia.
- Desperate Measures: Michael Keaton vs. Andy Garcia.
- Sommersby paired Richard Gere and Jodie Foster.
- Intersection paired Richard Gere and Sharon Stone.
- Bird on a Wire paired Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn.
- Nick of Time: Johnny Depp vs. Christopher Walken.
- Mercury Rising: Bruce Willis vs. Alec Baldwin.
- The Juror: Demi Moore vs. Alec Baldwin.
- The Cowboy Way: Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland.
- Where Eagles Dare: Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.
- Thunderbolt and Lightfoot: Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges.
- The Rookie (1990): Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen.
- The Bridges of Madison County: Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.
- The Undefeated: John Wayne and Rock Hudson.
- El Dorado: John Wayne and Robert Mitchum.
- Hard Times: Charles Bronson and James Coburn.
- The Delta Force: Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris.
- Notting Hill: Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.
- Point Break: Keanu Reeves vs. Patrick Swayze.
- Old Dogs: John Travolta and Robin Williams.
- Gravity: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.
- Bandidas: Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek.
- The Agony and the Ecstasy: Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison.
- Blown Away: Jeff Bridges vs. Tommy Lee Jones.
- Autumn In New York paired Richard Gere and Winona Ryder.
- Entrapment paired Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
- Fun with Dick and Jane paired George Segal and Jane Fonda.
- Malice: Alec Baldwin and Nicole Kidman.
- My Life: Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman.
- All the President's Men: Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.
- Five Card Stud: Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum.
- Crimson Tide: Gene Hackman vs. Denzel Washington.
- The Nice Guys: Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe.
- Dave: Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver.
- The Avengers (1998): Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman.
- Mad City: Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta.
- Made in America: Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson.
- The Cable Guy: Jim Carrey vs. Matthew Broderick.
- Passengers (2016): Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, meaning a lot of people still saw the film despite the poor reviews.
- The Heat had Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock.
- The Defiant Ones had Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis.