Buddy Cop movies have been a staple of film almost since there were films. Buddy Cop movies can be comedy based or super dark, or action packed or even all of the above. Usually, the two cops are as opposite as night and day and often the main cop doesn’t really want a partner but his boss forces a new partner on him. These films are as formulaic as they come, but once in a while, one of them rises above the formula either in story or character making it a true classic of the sub genre.
The definition of what a buddy cop film is ,for the purposes of this list, is as follows: two law enforcement officers (cops, FBI agents etc.) forced to work together to solve a case. The parameters are simple but coming up with the ultimate list is not. Check the list below and add your own list or call me out on movies I missed!
10. Tango & Cash
Ok, so Tango & Cash is a cheesy movie. Is that always a bad thing? Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone surprisingly make a great team in this classic in the buddy cop sub genre. This is the kind of film that’s better than it should be. Stallone is the cop that has it all together, the one that makes headlines and always looks good doing it. Russell plays the grizzled messy cop that ends up getting the job done. The two of them end up working together to clear their names against Jack Palance as the villain. The super vehicle at the end of the film is awesomely hilarious.
9. Red Heat
Walter Hill, the man behind the classic film The Warriors, brought us a buddy cop film in 1988 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Russian Detective partnered with a nutcase cop played by James Belushi to track down a Russian drug dealer. Who knew Schwarzenegger could be funny? He mostly plays the straight man to Belushi but it works great in the action/comedy.
8. Bad Boys
Bad Boys was a career starter for both Martin Lawrence and Will Smith back in 1995 and it made major bucks for director Michael Bay. Smith plays a wealthy ladies man doing the cop thing only because he likes the work, not because he actually needs money. Lawrence plays the bumbling family man fighting the good fight for his family. The film, as is the case with all of Bay’s films, is completely over the top and full of eye candy but the chemistry between Smith and Lawrence holds the film together and makes it worth watching over and over again.
7. Rush Hour
Yes, making opposites work together is a troupe of the buddy cop movie and this takes it to the extreme by bringing Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan together. Tucker plays a sillier version of the archetype created by Smith in the Bad Boys films. He’s a slick ladies man, but he’s much goofier than Smith ever was. Chan plays an uptight cop that can kick ass. Some of the best scenes in the film involve Chan cleaning up Tucker’s messes by beating down everyone.
6. Demolition Man
In the future, people will use shells instead of toilet paper and all restaurants are Taco Bell. When a super villain from the past played by Wesley Snipes finds his way into this new calm ad controlled world, the only solution is to bring a super cop from the past back into action to save the day. Sylvester Stallone plays said super cop and he is partnered with the only cop currently on the force that knows anything about the past played by Sandra Bullock. Stallone does a great job playing the straight man to Snipe’s and Bullock who are both hilarious in the film. The Bullock/Stallone sex scene is just one of the classic moments in this sci-fi buddy cop classic.
5. Lethal Weapon 2
Lethal Weapon 2 reunites Danny Glover, Mel Gibson, a director Richard Donner for another action romp. Gibson plays a cop willing to go to any length to solve a case while Glover plays a conservative family man just trying to get to retirement. New elements that really work in this buddy cop film are the additions of another comedy element in the form of Joe Pesci and a love interest for Gibson’s character in the form of Renee Russo. The villains in this film actually play into Rigg’s (Gibson) past adding a surprising level of depth and emotion to what on the surface appears to be just another action/comedy.
Update: Yes yes Renee Ruso actually came along in the 3rd film which was overall subpar to the first two so her appearance or lack there of doesn’t change this films place in the list. In fact Rigg’s love interest played Patsy Kensit was pivotal on the drastic change that he goes through in the final act of the film.
This buddy cop movie is much different than others on the list as it is super dark and humorless. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt play cops trying to track down a serial killer using the seven deadly sins as his tool for murder. This is a really grim film with an ending everyone knows about. Freeman and Pitt work well together in this stylish film directed by David Fincher.
3. The Enforcer
The “Dirty Harry” series of films starring Clint Eastwood in the seminal role are some of the best cop films ever made. This one finds Harry with a partner he really doesn’t want. Tyne Daly, who you may know from Cagney & Lacey, plays his partner. The two are tasked with busting up a terrorist organization made up of disgruntled Vietnam Vests. Not only is the film full of great drama and action, it also featured more social commentary than you might expect. This one is a true classic.
2. Point Break
At first blush, Kathryn Bigelow may not appear to be one of the best directors of action films working today but in fact, she is. She brought us Near Dark, Blue Steel, and the recent Oscar winning The Hurt Locker but she also directed Point Break. Point Break stars Keanu Reeves as a brash young investigator partnered with Gary Busey as an aged drunken wash out tasked with busting up a ring of bank robbers. There’s solid drama and some of the most fantastic action sequences ever put on film. The film also stars Patrick Swayze in the best role of his career.
1. Lethal Weapon
The first Lethal Weapon film sent Mel Gibson’s career into the stratosphere. He’d already done the Road Warrior films but this mainstream buddy cop film made him a true household name. In this film Danny Glover played a good cop forced to partner with Gibson as a cop on the edge even considering suicide after the death of his wife. The film culminates with a fantastic and brutal fight between Gibson’s character and a mercenary played by Gary Busey.
That’s my top 10! A year, a month, or a day from now ,I might feel different but at this point, these are the most entertaining buddy cop films out there. What’s your list?