We’ve all seen this movie a thousand times. A young cop and an old cop – or a black cop and a white cop, or a male cop and a female cop, whatever it takes to make the two leads different – who are mismatched polar opposites in every way are paired up by the police captain to take on a new case. At first, they are adversaries who butt heads, but over the course of their investigation, they become best friends. A lot of them are terrible and cliched – but there have also been some great ones. These are the 10 greatest buddy cop movies of all time.
10. Running Scared
Director Peter Hyams can be credited with making this movie one of the coolest of the ‘80s. It’s one of the lesser known buddy cop movies, but its pairing of comic legends Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines and its use of excellently staged action scenes make it a slick, fun, utterly cool movie. Hyams explains how the coolness came about: “MGM came to me with this script about two elderly cops in New York who retire. I said I wanted to make it about two young cops in Chicago who don’t retire. We went around a bit. There were a lot of cop movies around at that time, so I decided that if I wanted to be interesting, I needed to do it with two actors you would not normally expect to see in an action movie. So, I wanted [sitcom star] Billy Crystal and [dancer and choreographer] Gregory Hines, and I got them and they were wonderful together. They just clicked.” It’s about two cops who want to leave the dangers of police work behind and move to Key West to open up a bar – but not before they take on one final case together. Which is a great premise for a buddy cop movie.
9. The Heat
Screenwriter Katie Dippold actually got the idea for this movie after watching the above movie and deciding that she didn’t want female roles in these movies to be limited to the love interests – she wanted to see a buddy cop movie with female leads who ran around with guns and got into car chases and solved crimes. She explained, “[In that movie], they go down to the Caribbean and there’s this montage of them on scooters, and there’s a different hot girl on the back every time it cuts back to the scooter. And it just felt like, I don’t want to be the girl on the back of the scooter. I want to be the awesome cop doing this stuff.” So, she wrote that movie. There was a lot of pressure on this one to be great. If a buddy cop movie about two male cops is terrible, then it doesn’t matter, because there will still be a ton getting made. But one about two female cops, released during the female comedy revolution that started with Bridesmaids, had to be great or it would reaffirm anyone’s ignorant assumptions that women couldn’t lead an action movie. A buddy cop movie is only as good as its lead actors. Luckily, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are both terrific in their roles – with Bullock playing a straight laced FBI agent and McCarthy playing a foul mouthed Boston cop who doesn’t play by the rules – and wring a lot of laughs out of their easy chemistry and out of the improvisation that a director who understands comedy like Paul Feig will allow during shooting.
8. The Other Guys
One night, Adam McKay was having dinner with Mark Wahlberg and his friend and frequent collaborator Will Ferrell. After seeing how easily Ferrell and Wahlberg bounced off each other and what great chemistry they had, McKay emailed a movie producer pal of his to suggest that the two actors should do a movie together, offering up a buddy cop movie off the cuff as an example. The producer loved the idea, and so this movie was born. As with all of McKay and Ferrell’s other creative collaborations, this is a hilarious and insightful and satirical and unabashedly silly achievement. While the main plot satirizes the financial crimes that led to the mortgage crisis, which was relevant at the time, there are some beautifully absurdist subplots to keep the laughs coming, like Allen’s past as the pimp “Gator,” Terry’s accidental shooting of Derek Jeter, and the recurring appearances of “Dirty Mike and the Boys.” The supporting cast is incredible. It’s a feast of comic talent mixed with dramatic talent who go silly: Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Steve Coogan, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Rob Riggle, Brett Gelman, Rob Huebel, Bobby Cannavale – they’re all fantastic. It’s an endlessly funny movie with some hysterical gags.
7. Tango and Cash
Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell were two of the biggest action movie stars of the 1980s, so it was only natural that a studio somewhere would want to team them up together for a buddy cop movie. This is certainly one of the cheesiest and most far-fetched and ludicrous of all the action cinema of the ‘80s, which is saying a lot, since that is an era of action cinema that is marked by being cheesy and far-fetched and ludicrous. Stallone and Russell play two rival cops who are forced to work together after an evil criminal played by Jack Palance frames them for murder. There were some troubles behind the scenes of the movie, since four directors ended up taking on the duties of helming the movie after each of them walked out on the project, but the end result is at least a fun moviegoing experience. Producer Jon Peters fired the original director, Andrei Konchalovsky, because the director and Stallone wanted to give the film a serious and dramatic tone, while Peters wanted it to be dumb and goofy and camp. With Konchalovsky gone and Stallone contractually obliged to do whatever Peters wanted, the producer got his way and the movie ended up being goofy and silly and ridiculous. But it is fun.
6. 48 Hrs.
Walter Hill’s seminal 1982 action comedy starring Nick Nolte as a gruff cop and Eddie Murphy as the fast talking criminal who he has temporarily released to help him out with a case is often cited as being the first ever buddy cop movie. This was before Riggs and Murtaugh, before Lee and Carter, before any of those guys. It was also the movie that made Eddie Murphy a movie star. Before then, he was just a standup comic who had released one album. After this came out, he was one of the biggest comedy stars on the planet. Nolte was the first of a long line of co-stars with whom Murphy would develop an excellent rapport with – Judge Reinhold, Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd, Jeff Garlin, Arsenio Hall, Martin Lawrence, Steve Martin, the list goes on. Hill was very demanding with the various writers who were brought on to rework the script. If he thought that they were bringing in gags and not character development, then they were out. If he thought that their writing was slowing the movie down, then they were out. The end result has two brilliantly drawn characters, played by actors with tremendous talent and chemistry with one another, in a plot that is rapidly paced and very exciting to watch.
5. Die Hard with a Vengeance
Bruce Willis’ first foray into the role of John McClane saw him fending off terrorists at an office Christmas party where his wife was being held hostage. Then the first sequel saw the same thing happen again, except it was at an airport and his wife was circling an unlit runway in a plane on Christmas Eve. By the time that the third one rolled around, it was time to shake up the formula. The adventures of Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh were very popular at the time, so the producers decided to pair McClane up with a wise ass black guy played by Samuel L. Jackson. Once you get past the gimmick and the obvious attempts to emulate a different action movie franchise, it actually becomes one of the most riveting and entertaining action thrillers ever made. Not everybody agrees, but this is a stellar action picture. Willis and Jackson have hysterical chemistry together and the “Simon Says” plot gets a lot of thrills and fun out of the characters as they dart across New York, defusing bombs and answering riddles. More movies should be like this – movies that are fun and balance action and comedy deftly and perfectly match their leads.
4. Bad Boys II
The most stunning and cinematic and breathtaking action movies come from Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer finding themselves an absurd amount of money (in this case, it is reported to have been $130 million) and using it to create mayhem and then shooting that mayhem. So, they’ll pump millions of dollars into buying a bunch of cars and then launch those cars at Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as they drive down a highway. And then they’ll have Smith and Lawrence banter and quip and joke about the whole thing. It doesn’t exactly make for a masterwork of cinema, but it does make for one hell of a time at the movies. This isn’t the kind of movie that someone like Orson Welles or Frank Capra would be proud of, but it is certainly one of the most entertaining viewing experiences in film history. While the movie appears to have broad appeal, there are some pretty sick moments – the scene in the morgue employs a lot of gallows humor, and there’s nothing broad or mainstream about gallows humor. But it is funny, especially when Smith and Lawrence are allowed to have fun with it. The drug trafficking plot ends up being pretty irrelevant and the dialogue has a loose and improvisational feel to it. No one’s trying to make a masterpiece here. They’re just trying to give you a fun time at the movies – and they succeed.
3. Midnight Run
The relationship that Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin develop on screen in this fantastic Martin Brest movie is one that many actors have tried to emulate over the years and always failed: the uptight, easily angered guy and the laidback, chilled out guy. De Niro and Grodin clash spectacularly – their banter brings a lot of laughs and those laughs come not out of gags or jokes or one liners, but out of character. The plot of the movie keeps moving all the way through, always being driven by action, which is what all the best action movies should do. They shouldn’t stop and start with a plot bit followed by an action bit followed by a plot bit, and so on. The action should move the plot along, which is difficult to pull off, but not impossible. A prime example is this hilarious, yet touching action comedy. As the movie goes on, it’s a fun and action packed and thrilling ride, so we don’t even notice how attached we are becoming to these characters. But at the end, as the two of them part ways and share a genuinely heartfelt and sweet moment, we realize just how much we have come to love these two guys.
2. Lethal Weapon
This movie has the visceral feel that action movies nowadays, which are heavy on CGI effects, lack. Director Richard Donner’s use of practical effects – both for shooting spectacular sequences on rooftops and on the streets of L.A. and for staging action scenes like shootouts and car chases – makes the movie feel a hell of a lot more real. The screenplay, which Shane Black wrote while he was still in college, introduces many of the tropes and conventions of the buddy cop action comedy subgenre that would eventually become overused clichés of these movies. It had the cop who saw a bunch of action in the week of his retirement, the midpoint conflict of the kidnapped daughter, the hotshot young cop paired with the more level-headed veteran cop – it had everything. We’ve seen this movie play out dozens of times in the years since this one was released back in 1987, but it has yet to be topped. It is still the greatest story of mismatched cops who become best friends over the course of an investigation. It also launched one of the greatest action movie franchises in film history. None of the sequels topped the original, but they sure are fun.
1. Hot Fuzz
This movie, directed by Edgar Wright, managed to simultaneously satirize the buddy cop subgenre – and the action film genre as a whole – and also be the finest example of it. As shown in all of their other collaborations, but never pulled off quite so perfectly, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have a hilarious and naturalistic chemistry with one another that comes only from being actual friends in the real world. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover have terrific chemistry, as do Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, but they’re all just actors who were cast alongside each other. No two actors’ chemistry can compare to that of Pegg and Frost, because they are actually friends in real life. You can’t fake that. Plus, the script – written in a collaboration by Wright and Pegg – tells a spectacular story. Not only is it an action comedy movie with ample amounts of action and ample amounts of comedy (like, genuine thrills and genuine laughs all rolled up in the same movie) – it also has an Agatha Christie style murder mystery tale going on that has all the twists and turns and layers of the novels of Christie herself. Except Agatha Christie never wrote a buddy cop movie. If she had, this is probably what it would have looked like. It’s a truly brilliant movie.