Actor Collaboration


The other night, as I was aimlessly scanning my Apple TV to find something to watch, I stumbled upon the movie The Internship.  I had seen it before, but since it was too late to start something that required my full attention, I flipped it on and kicked back.  The movie stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as two “older” workers who are forced out of their jobs and are in search of their next careers.  They set out to land jobs at Google through a highly competitive internship process (hence the title) and are seemingly in over their heads.  As the two go about their business, they toss out one-liners and banter every chance they get, and I can’t help but flash back to their work together in Wedding Crashers.  Both movies were quite entertaining (to me), and it got me thinking – how many movies have Vince and Owen been in together?

Then I thought even bigger – how many times have my favorite actors collaborated?  Who has/has-not worked together?


To get to the bottom of my inquiry, I needed to come up with two lists.  First, I needed a list of actors that I wanted to investigate.  Second, I needed a list of all the movies these actors are associated with.

Coming up with a list of actors was easy.  I simply thought about movies I enjoy and wrote down who performed in them.  This resulted in the following list of 22 actors (which could have easily been more):


To get the list of movies for each actor, I turned to my good friends at IMDB.  IMDB contains everything about everything related to movies and TV (and probably even more).  After searching for a specific actor, I filtered his/her filmography to include Feature Films only and recorded each released movie that was shown.  Since I was interested in true collaboration, I did not filter this list further to include only movies where these individuals were acting.  Therefore, collaboration could be in the form of a producer, voice actor, music, director, etc.  Once the list of films was recorded for each actor, it was time to compare!

The matrix below was my first attempt at organizing the data.  The actors’ names are placed along the left and top sides of the grid, and the number of film collaborations are shown at the intersection of each row and column.  Since an actor is not collaborating with her/himself, the diagonal from top-left to bottom right contains all zeros.  Also, since the row and column labels are the same, the values in the grid above and below the diagonal are mirror images of each other (as expected).


As a second way of showing this information, I set out to see if there was a better way to “visualize” the data.  Chord diagrams are a neat way to show relationships between entities.  This type of diagram is more “picture” than it is organized numbers like the matrix above, so it seemed like the perfect approach.  I had never created a chord diagram before, so this was a first for me (I love a good challenge!).

As an avid user of MS Excel, I thought it would be fun to create one of these diagrams in the tool.  I found a couple sites online that laid the groundwork for how to attack this problem (see references below).  Without diving into the nitty-gritty details, I followed these three steps to create my diagram:

  1. Wrote a formula that identified all actor collaboration pairs and translated those into polar coordinates for plotting
  2. Created a combo chart that stacks a pie chart, doughnut chart, and multiple scatter plots with smooth lines on top of each other
  3. Modified (slightly) the final coordinates and coloring to enhance the aesthetics

The final result is the chord diagram below (which also serves as the picture at the top of this post, only rendered differently).



There were several things that jumped out to me when analyzing the data:

  • Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have collaborated on 14 films!  That was a lot more than I expected.
  • Will Ferrell has worked with the most people (13)
  • Jennifer Lawrence has worked with the least (2)
  • 9 of the 22 actors have collaborated with ten or more others on the list
  • 13 of the 22 actors have had multiple collaborations with at least one other actor on the list
  • Jennifer Aniston has collaborated with 11 others on the list!?  That was a lot more than anticipated.
  • Tom Hanks has only worked with 3 other actors on the list.  That was less than expected.

From the looks of things, these actors like to collaborate with each other.  The fact that over half of the actors have collaborated with one another more than once is not too surprising.  Box office hits tend to spawn sequels or new movies with similar casts.  Sequel examples for this group include Iron Man, Anchorman, and Despicable Me.  Wedding Crashers and The Internship, the two movies that caused me to wonder about actor collaboration in the first place, are perfect examples of different movies with similar casts.  Hollywood knows when it has a winner, so studios will keep pairing actors together until they squeeze out every possible cent.  To me, this is not always a bad thing – so I will continue to sit back and enjoy the show.

– SD



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