The Ten Best Pop Culture Pairings

Written by Jon Land and Heather Graham

When Heather Graham and Jon Land decided to team up to write The Rising for Tor, they had no idea how the process would work or how well they would mesh. But their collaborative effort proved seamless, to the point where neither is exactly sure who was responsible for what in the finished product. As Jon recalls, “It got so we could finish each other’s sentences.” With that in mind, and to celebrate the book’s publication, Heather and Jon have assembled a list of the best pairings in the history of film and pop culture in general. See what you think and then chime in on what else should make the list.

Huck and Jim: Huckleberry Finn’s “freeing” of his friend, Jim, who is a slave, and their subsequent trip down the Mississippi by raft, remains the gold standard against which all such pairings should be judged. Learning from, and sacrificing for, each other defines friendship and love in a way that ushered in the modern age of the novel, even as it signaled the end of innocence for a still young America.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: The quintessential buddy movie is dominated by the relationship between Paul Newman’s Butch and Robert Redford’s Sundance, as they’re chased through the not-so-old West by a relentless posse. That relationship strikes all the right notes and lends the movie a light tone that belies the looming darkness personified by the oft-repeated line, “For a minute there, I thought we were in trouble.”

Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon: The film basically serves up a modern day version of Butch and Sundance in this pairing of an old-school detective with a younger, unhinged partner. Witty banter and byplay highlights Mel Gibson’s Riggs rising from his suicidal funk to become the hero Danny Glover’s Murtaugh needs him to be for both of them to survive. Their relationship inspired scores of would-be carbon copies and ushered in a new heyday for the cop movie.

Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff: Redford and Newman again dominate this even more classic pairing from The Sting, which is defined by Redford’s young Hooker luring Newman’s past-his-prime grifter Gondorff out of retirement to con a crime boss out of a fortune. Male bonding has never been done more effectively, making this one of the best films ever made.

Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega: The black-suit clad, hitman duo, so ably played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta, are featured in the two tales that comprise the brilliant Pulp Fiction. In a movie with no heroes, they lend a crass morality and sense of nobility to an ignoble world. Sure, they’re not nice guys, but everything’s relative and the way they judge the world and each other keeps us from judging them.

Thelma and Louise: What can we say? Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis hit it out of the park in their portrayal of the title characters in a movie way ahead of its time, given that sexual assault is the catalyst that sets everything in motion. The relationship between the women establishes the benchmark for the power of friendship and a love that has nothing to do with sexual attraction.

Phineas and Gene: Speaking of (alleged) sexual attraction, the ultimately tragic friendship between two friends coming of age at a New England prep school remains one of the most enduring in literary history. A Separate Peace daringly explores the boundaries between love and friendship, crafting a relationship for which our two heroes employ entirely different standards and expectations.

Ripley and Newt: The Director’s Cut of the James Cameron classic Aliens restored the fact that, by the time Ellen Ripley got home from clashing with a monster in the original film, her young daughter had grown old and died. Returning to the planetary scene of the original crime unites Sigourney Weaver’s classic female bad ass with a surrogate daughter she has to save and creates the film’s primary relationship and emotional heart.

Natty Bumppo and Chingatchgook: From quasi-mother and daughter to quasi-father and son in James Fenimore Cooper’s classic Leatherstocking Tales about seeking respite in an American frontier roiled by violence. The story of Natty Bumppo, a white boy essentially adopted by a Native American man, was centuries ahead of its time, but right on point in making their relationship a harbinger of hope for an American future that turned out to be remarkably prescient.

Hawk and Spenser: Modern crime fiction is chock full of hero-sidekick pairings, including James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell or Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar and Win. But Hawk’s street wisdom is the perfect complement to Spenser’s more esoteric view of the world, to the point where Robert B. Parker’s characters seem almost to be two sides of the same coin. Their friendship, when contrasted against Spenser’s relationship with Susan Silverman, actually seems closer to a marriage.

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