1-2. Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, Frasier

Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce had more time than most to perfect their fraternal chemistry, spending 11 years together as snooty siblings Frasier and Niles Crane on NBC’s long-running Cheers spinoff. But the DNA of their relationship—which ranged over the years from bitter rivalry to giddy camaraderie, as brotherhood so often can—is present from Niles’ very first appearance in “The Good Son,” Frasier’s pilot episode. It’s all in the precision with which he wipes down his chair at the brothers’ usual coffee spot, CafĂ© Nervosa—the first of many times the show would lean on Pierce’s considerable gifts for exaggerated physical comedy. In a moment, Niles comes sharply into focus: an effete, Cheers-less version of his (relatively) rougher older brother, he nimbly reflects and exaggerates Frasier’s snobbish tendencies, while simultaneously establishing himself as his own lovably neurotic man. [William Hughes]


3-4. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins

One of the intangible demands of playing siblings is a sense of effortless familiarity, the kind of closeness that comes only from knowing a person your entire life. That’s why so many pretend brother/sister pairings seem vaguely unconvincing: No matter how much chemistry two actors share, they can’t entirely fake a lifelong relationship. But Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader come close to doing just that in The Skeleton Twins, a recent Sundance dramedy about estranged siblings reunited by mutual despondency. Wiig and Hader made their SNL debuts during the same season, in the autumn of 2005, and were castmates for seven years, appearing together in multiple recurring sketches. Their creative compatibility translates well to Skeleton; the two just seem credibly related, in a way only two performers completely comfortable with each other can. They also perfectly capture the emotional seesawing that defines many sibling relationships—that ability to slide from affection to antagonism and back again, confident in the knowledge that no fight of any size will break the bond they were born into. [A.A. Dowd]


5-9. Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Lucille Bremer, Joan Carroll, Henry H. Daniels Jr., Meet Me In St. Louis

It’s one thing to find two actors with chemistry, but finding five is no small feat. Yet despite that challenge, Vincente Minnelli’s 1944 musical Meet Me In St. Louis gets the big family dynamic just right. Henry H. Daniels Jr. is the kindhearted but slightly removed older brother in a family of girls. Lucille Bremer and Judy Garland feign maturity while occasionally revealing their insecurities about growing up as older sisters Rose and Esther. And Joan Carroll and Margaret O’Brien are delightfully unhinged as the troublemaking younger sisters Agnes and Tootie. When the whole family comes together, the actors smartly realize that the older children can serve as a cross between a parent and a friend to their little siblings. [Caroline Siede]

10-11. Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages

There’s a wonderful story from the first time Linney and Hoffman met to begin rehearsals for Tamara Jenkins’ honest and acerbic comedy. As Jenkins tells it, Linney immediately pulled out a giant piece of cardboard with a line-by-line accounting of her character’s emotional beats in the narrative. “Phil looked at her and went: ‘Jeez, I didn’t bring my chart,’” Jenkins recalled. That sense of lived-in comfort and acceptance of bizarre foibles suffuses their performances in the film, as they portray very different siblings who nonetheless share an emotional honesty when it comes to each other. It’s a familiarity unprompted by leaden backstory references in the dialogue or other shortcuts. For two actors who had never worked together before, it was a feat to behold. Really, you’d think they’d grown up together or something. [Alex McCown]


12-13. Daveigh Chase and Tia Carrere, Lilo & Stitch

The easiest way to establish onscreen sibling chemistry is through physicality, which makes it even more impressive that Daveigh Chase and Tia Carrere built a believable relationship using nothing but their voices in Lilo & Stitch. The underrated film remains Disney’s strongest examination of the bonds of sisterhood (sorry, Frozen) thanks in large part to the performances from Chase as Lilo and Carrere as Nani, the older sister who raises her after their parents die. Not only do the two actors throw themselves into the fight scenes (a necessary component of any sister relationship), they also find small moments of emotional connection that feel entirely realistic despite being fully animated. [Caroline Siede]

14-15. Ivan Dobronravov and Vladimir Garin, The Return

As two brothers whose father returns from a 12-year absence, Dobronravov and Garin establish a powerfully complex bond—and it’s accomplished largely through physical gestures and fleeting glances alone. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Russian-language drama paints an intimate and fragile bond between two brothers, both dealing with adolescence in different ways. As their father’s return drives a wedge between the siblings, Garin in particular paints a picture of emotional need from the parent, and the minor slights and suppressed resentments inherent in almost any familial relationship bubble up like a surfacing monster. It’s a terrific representation of sibling bonds—and the force with which a bad parent can rupture them. Sadly, Garin died shortly after filming was completed, so this affecting role stands as the swan song of his over-too-soon career. [Alex McCown]


16-17. Geena Davis and Lori Petty, A League Of Their Own

A sibling rivalry is never as simple as two people facing off against each other, and Geena Davis and Lori Petty are remarkably intuitive about the way birth order colors sisterly conflict in A League Of Their Own. Petty’s Kit is insecure about living up to her older sister’s seeming perfection, so she’s more outspoken and aggressive when they fight. Davis’ Dottie, meanwhile, will always be the more mature one with the instinct to protect her kid sister—even when she can’t stand her. Plenty of films have centered on sibling rivalries, but few have gotten it as right as this one. [Caroline Siede]


18-19. Bill Hader and Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Perhaps Bill Hader gives off an especially fraternal vibe, as his sibling relationship with Jason Segel is one of the highlights of 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Hader serves as Segel’s confidante as the latter goes through a painful breakup. Segel’s character is comfortable enough with Hader to let all his darkness out, while Hader’s fast-paced switches, back and forth from caring to disdain to anger, exemplifies a comfortable (step)sibling relationship. Hader slowly fades from the film as Segel gains more confidence, but he returns in the grand finale in the ultimate act of brotherly love: helping perform a puppet Dracula musical with his bro. [Rowan Kaiser]


20-21. Carlen Altman and Alex Ross Perry, The Color Wheel

Reportedly, the idea for The Color Wheel came from the fact that stars/co-writers Alex Ross Perry and Carlen Altman would often get mistaken for brother and sister—something that the movie subverts, in typical style, within the first 15 minutes, by having the sibling characters get mistaken for a married couple. One of the oddest movies to appear on the indie landscape in the last few years, this demented road trip comedy hinges on different kind of sibling dynamic: discomfort. As losers J.R. and Colin, the two do a great job of suggesting a lifetime of being annoyed and repulsed by each other, which is both funny and sad, given that they still relate better to one another than to anyone else. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

22-24. Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Gwyneth Paltrow, The Royal Tenenbaums

Siblings often end up being variations on a theme, especially in their relationships with their parents. So while Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Gwyneth Paltrow don’t look terribly related, they were terrific siblings in The Royal Tenenbaums. As the offspring in a family of child geniuses who never lived up to their potential, each of the three finds their own way to combine frustration, loneliness, keen intelligence, and resentment—much of it directed toward inattentive patriarch Gene Hackman—into three different personalities who each found their own way to cope with the same family trauma. [Mike Vago]