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Buddy and soul: Celebrating the sidekick film genre

Hollywood has always believed that opposites attract and the buddy movie is the epitome of that philosophy. Graeme Ross counts down the genre's 12 best offerings

It's 20 years since Barry Sonnenfeld's Men in Black, the summer blockbuster of 1997, was released. An exhilarating reimagining of the buddy movie, Men in Black mixed many of the genre's traditional ingredients with Sonnenfeld's hip, tongue-in-cheek take on the alien invasion theme.

The buddy movie has been with us for a long time, going back almost a hundred years to when Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle teamed up for a series of silent shorts.

There seems to be a conception that all buddy movies have to be about a pair of ill-matched policemen, at least one of whom is completely unhinged. This list of essential buddy movies should hopefully prove otherwise.

12. Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Charles Barton, 1948). The bumbling twosome encounter not only the mad scientist's lumbering creation, but also Count Dracula and the Wolf Man, as Universal made one last attempt at squeezing some mileage from their iconic monsters. There are no classic honed-in-vaudeville Abbott and Costello routines in the "Who's on first?" mode, but it's a fun romp all the way.

11. Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969). In the year of True Grit, for which he won an Oscar, John Wayne didn't care too much for Midnight Cowboy, but recognised the brilliance of Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, who played the two leads. Voight is the naive, would-be gigolo, who finds that the reality of the New York hustler scene doesn't live up to his dreams, before finding solace in his relationship with the seedy Ratso Rizzo (Hoffman).

10. The Road to Morocco (David Butler, 1942). Although 1945's Road to Utopia is a hoot also, this is generally thought to be the best of the seven Bob Hope/Bing Crosby collaborations that traded on the duo's easy chemistry and camaraderie. As ever, forget the plot as the pair exchange one-liners and insults and there are sight gags galore with talking (and spitting) camels.

9. Men in Black (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1997). A new slant to the buddy movie, with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as a pair of sharp-suited alien investigators tasked with protecting Earth from the scum of the universe (aliens on Earth disguised as humans). The X-Files it's not and it's almost too cool for its own good, but Men in Black was hugely successful at the box office, spawning two sequels.

8. Cutter's Way (Ivan Passer, 1981). It's a hung jury on whether Cutter's Way is a buddy movie per se, but like the best buddy movies, there are several genres going on here. Equal parts neo-noir conspiracy thriller, murder mystery and trenchant examination of post-Vietnam/Watergate America, the key theme of the film is the relationship between the aimless Bone (Jeff Bridges) and Cutter (a brilliant John Heard), an embittered disabled Vietnam veteran.

7. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (John Hughes, 1987). Steve Martin and John Candy are perfectly cast as the archetypal mismatched duo thrown together by circumstances in this hilarious, bittersweet farce with a heart. The uptight Martin is foiled in every attempt to get home from New York to Chicago for Thanksgiving and is doomed to spend almost every step of the way with the oafish Candy.

6. 48 Hours (Walter Hill, 1982). World-weary cop Nick Nolte springs thief Eddie Murphy from jail to help him catch the latter's cop-murdering accomplice. The snag is they only have 48 hours to find him. Naturally, the two diametrically opposed protagonists butt heads from the off and, equally, a mutual respect develops as they pursue their quarry. Murphy is sensational and Nolte not far behind.

5. Midnight Run (Martin Brest, 1988). Following the success of 48 Hours, the mismatched duo thrown together by circumstances became a common theme in buddy movies. This is one of the best examples, with Robert De Niro as the bail bondsman attempting to bring conman Charles Grodin from New York to LA, but encountering almost insurmountable obstacles on the way.

4. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991). A memorable twist on the buddy movie formula, with a clever gender-reversal that made cultural icons of the two protagonists and struck a chord with audiences worldwide. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are stunning as the two put-upon women who embark on a liberating and empowering road trip, which turns them into fugitives from the law.

3. The Odd Couple (Gene Saks, 1968). Neil Simon's wonderful play was food and drink for the talents of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon as two sharply contrasting housemates. Oscar (Matthau) is an easy-going slob and Felix (Lemmon) is a fusspot hypochondriac and the two drive each other up the wall in this classic example of an oil-and-water relationship. The pair appeared in 10 films together, but none as witty and true as this one.

2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969). The epitome of the buddy movie is perhaps the coolest Western ever made - thanks to a great script, a fantastic soundtrack and the wonderful chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The pair invest their two lovable anti-heroes, who are about to become obsolete, with an irresistible charm.

1. Sons of the Desert (William A Seite, 1933). The granddaddy of buddy movies ranks as Laurel and Hardy's best feature. When their wives put the kybosh on the boys attending a fraternal convention, they tell them that they are going on a sea voyage for Ollie's health. It can only end in disaster - and does, with hilarious results. A joyous and treasured classic from the greatest duo in cinema history.

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