The cast of David O. Russell's American Hustle is crazy impressive. It's not every day that you get to see the likes of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner in the same movie. Of course, audiences have flocked to all-star movies for as long as they've existed. This list of amazing Hollywood ensembles isn't definitive, but for a taste of some of the greatest casts of all time, it's a start.
By Jacob Hall
Incredible ensembles begin and end with Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. In addition to Marlon Brando's legendary performance as mob boss Vito Corleone, you've got Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan in a career-best turn and the short-lived-but-incredible John Cazale. The big names are just the tip of the iceberg: the massive cast is filled with wonderful character actors, people whose names you don't know but whose faces you'll never forget.
A Bridge Too Far
We don't have enough space to list everyone involved in A Bridge Too Far, the WWII epic that tells the tale of Operation Market Garden. Just look at this cast list: Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, James Caan, Maximilian Schell, Elliott Gould, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford and, well, just about everyone else big in the '70s. With no central protagonist, the film jumps between a dozen different storylines, each of them headlined by one of your favorite movie stars.
L.A. Confidential wasn't necessarily an "ensemble" movie when it came out, not the way it would be today. Sure, Kevin Spacey was an Oscar winner and everyone knew Danny DeVito, but Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce were still discoveries (rescued from Australian soap operas!), David Strathairn was still a decade away from his Oscar nomination, and Kim Basinger's career had taken a slide. Looking back, it's one of the most impressive ensembles ever assembled.
For decades actors have bent over backwards to appear in Robert Altman's films. Known for his sprawling narratives and massive casts, Altman has worked with more major actors than just about any other Hollywood director. After the '90s started with a string of ensemble hits and ended with some misses, Altman returned with the multiple-Oscar-nominated Gosford Park in 2001. This murder mystery features the likes Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Ryan Phillipe, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Tom Hollander, Bob Balaban, Stephen Fry, Kelly MacDonald, Clive Owen and Helen Mirren. Just imagine the conversations between takes...
Traffic set out to be the definitive film on the war on drugs and its sprawling nature required a sprawling cast with recognizable names. Benicio del Toro took home an Oscar for his performance, but don't discount the performances by Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, Luis Guzman, Don Cheadle, Topher Grace, James Brolin, Viola Davis, John Slattery and Benjamin Bratt, who each contribute star power to their corners of this story.
A collection of interlocking stories that ultimately add up to something grander, the film casts recognizable faces for every character: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, Jason Robards, John C. Reilly and many more. Even the tiniest moments have the power of a star behind them.
Glengarry Glen Ross
The greatest story from the set of Glengarry Glen Ross is that actors would show up on their days off just to watch the rest of the cast work. And could you blame them? How often do you get Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Pryce in the same room? This cast of legends chews into David Mamet's dialogue with gusto, taking his simple stage play and transforming it into captivating, near-perfect cinema.
Some ensemble movies are prestige projects that demand upper-tier talent, but some come together because they're just plain fun. Ocean's Eleven is a laid back, clever movie that requires (nay, demands!) the coolest people in the world. You don't cast the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts lightly -- you cast them because A-list stars of their caliber can effortlessly transform a heist thriller into a sexy and endlessly pleasurable experience.
Few films have ever utilized their ensemble cast quite as well as Pulp Fiction. Some actors, like Christopher Walken and Ving Rhames, get cast because their roles demand immediate definition. Others are trickier, like John Travolta making a comeback playing against type. And then there's Bruce Willis, cast to do what he does best. Like the film itself, watching the cast of Pulp Fiction is a surprising experience, asking you to look at familiar actors in a brand new light.
Moonrise Kingdom's impressive cast--Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman--is there for a major reason: to support the two unknown kid actors in leading roles. By surrounding his young protagonists with veterans, director Wes Anderson puts a buffer around them. It's akin to tossing a kid into the deep end on day one of swimming lessons, but you can't argue with the results. Sometimes you just need movie star support.