The Nine Most Successful Brother/Sister Acting Duos

Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine

Theatrical troupes have, for centuries, been family affairs. But once Hollywood turned show business into a wildly lucrative industry, for many the only way to stand out among the millions of nobodies desperate for fame is to turn to good old fashioned nepotism; it's no secret that many big stars are the children of big stars. But whereas I've previously listed notable sister acts and brother acts, I find it curious that, in the last century, there are so few brother-sister acts out there, and I'm not referring to Donny & Marie or The Carpenters. On the silver screen, these famous pairs of siblings are the most accomplished:

  1. John, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore. Hardly a "duo", but I can't kick off this list without mentioning the first grand family of cinema, the Barrymores. All three acted in the film Rasputin and the Empress in 1932; after John died, Lionel and Ethel worked together again on the 1953 picture Main Street to Broadway, Lionel's last.
  2. Warren Beatty and Shirley Maclaine. Their original surname is "Beaty", but however you spell it, these legendary sibling actors never performed together onscreen, home movies notwithstanding.
  3. Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal. These two popular stars came of age surrounded by Hollywood prestige: dad Stephen Gyllenhaal is a TV/film director, mom Naomi Foner is a screenwriter (Running on Empty). So far, they've only appeared on screen together in Donnie Darko and two films made by their parents.
  4. Peter and Jane Fonda. It's no surprise that a lot of sibling acting teams made it big because of their celebrity parents. Henry Fonda may have had strained relationships with his kids, but his name probably had something to do with them getting work.
  5. Eric and Julia Roberts. Like the Fondas, this duo is unusual in sexist Hollywood for the sister being far more successful than the brother. That wasn't supposed to be the case: Eric was a promising young leading man in the early '80s, while Julia languished in indie films and duds (see below) until Steel Magnolias instantly turned her into an A-list star, eclipsing her older brother.
  6. Jason and Justine Bateman. One of Julia Roberts' early efforts was the ironically titled Satisfaction, a poorly-conceived (and poorly-received) star vehicle for Justine Bateman, then a popular actress on the hit sitcom Family Ties. Any promise for Justine's movie career faded with that bomb. Meanwhile, younger brother Jason plied his trade on television for years, until the cult series Arrested Development finally established him as a leading man. Unlike his sister, he has made the transition to the big screen.
  7. Danny and Anjelica Huston. Back we go to the "Dad, get me a job in the movies!" pool, with the children of the late great director/actor John Huston. At first, Danny seemed destined to be a filmmaker, directing his older sister in 1988's Mr. North. But directing's hard, so in 1995 he became a full-time actor. As for Anjelica, while she remains the bigger name still, her career has mellowed since her unlikely superstardom throughout the '80s and '90s. Today it is mostly Wes Anderson who keeps her employed.
  8. John and Joan Cusack. This brother-sister team has worked together on screen more than any other - ten features as of this writing. Joan has always seemed content to play second fiddle to her little brother, though she's certainly done all right for herself. (Oldest sister Ann Cusack is also a busy actor, if not a household name like her siblings.)
  9. David, Rosanna, and Patricia Arquette. Most of actor Lewis Arquette's children followed in the old man's footsteps, but these three have earned the biggest stardom, even if we don't hear a whole lot from any of them anymore. They've still gone further than this list's runners-up, including Dick and Joyce Van Patten, Giovanni and Marisa Ribisi, Tim and Tyne Daly, and Marc and Lori Singer.