The “buddy cop” film genre was a staple of the 1980s when the likes of Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, and Arnold Schwarzenegger jumped on board to make these action-comedies, which, no doubt, helped propel them to superstardom.
There seems to be different interpretations as to what categorizes a film as a “buddy cop” movie. Typically, it’s an action-comedy with the improbable partnering of two cops, though at times one law enforcement officer paired with a civilian will suffice (because, hey, it’s just that much more “zany” that way). But there’s certain aspects we’ve come to expect from these movies: two polar opposites – who’ve somehow stepped out of line on the job – get vindictively matched up by their curmudgeony superior who wants to teach them a lesson and have them catch the bad guys in the process. If there’s only one cop (which, I personally don’t really consider to be a true buddy cop scenerio), that means he’ll be forced to seek assistance by someone who’s more a hindrance than a help (this is usually the “outrageous comedy” variety).
Of course, whoever the partners may be, they’re usually both stubborn, unyielding, and prefer to work alone, so they’ll immediately butt heads – that makes for good comedy (“whacky” even). But in the end, something like having a near death experience and mutually causing millions of dollars’ worth of collateral damage will bond the unlikely duo against the greater forces of evil and in the span of one movie, turn them from adversaries to life-long friends.
There’s been a slew of these films in the last few decades, most just a carbon copy of the next, so here’s a look at the Top 10 Buddy Cop Movies.
10. Red Heat
A decade before Rush Hour did its East meets West bit, Red Heat had West met another part of the East. Comedian Jim Belushi starred as a loudmouth (when is he not?) Chicago detective Art Ridzic, who teamed up with a stiff Russian narcotics cop Ivan Danko, played Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger (Austrian, Russian, what’s the difference?). This 1988 film had the ultimate is unlikely, awkward partnerings, especially since the Cold War was not quite over yet. Schwarzenegger, who still wasn’t big on dialogue-heavy roles back them, spent most of the movie, well, not speaking, as well as punching a lot of people out.
It seems like 1989 was the year of the dog, because not only did Tom Hanks star as a cop alongside a pooch in Turner and Hooch, but just a year after Red Heat, Jim Belushi tried his luck again as a cop in K-9. But this time, he is completely outshined and outsmarted by his on-screen partner — Jerry Lee, a German Shepherd police dog (played by real-life police dog Koton). To help him catch a major drug dealer, Belushi’s rebellious detective Michael Dooley is given the drug-sniffing Jerry Lee as a partner. But Dooley has met his match in the highly intelligent canine officer, who has a mind of his own and answers to no one.
8. Starsky & Hutch
Instead of being a true remake of the 1970’s television cop drama, the film went the action-comedy spoof route, serving as a prequel to the show. While the title characters had a true, expressive friendship in the television series, the film has them as mismatched detectives. Ben Stiller stars as David Starsky, an uptight and sometimes reckless hot-head who’s paired up with the morally ambiguous Kenneth ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, played by Owen Wilson. The characters might have been a mismatch, but long-time friend and collaborators Stiller and Wilson have the perfect chemistry when sharing the screen. [You can catch Starsky & Hutch on the AMC channel this weekend and/or enter to win the DVD from Geeks of Doom.]
7. Rush Hour
Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker make an unlikely, yet humorous pairing in this Far East meets West action-comedy franchise. Chan plays a martial arts-wielding veteran Hong Kong detective who is forced into partnership with Tucker’s crass, streetwise LA detective in an effort to rescue the kidnapped daughter of a Chinese diplomat. Yeah, maybe three Rush Hour movies were a bit much, but the original matching of Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong Detective Inspector Lee with Chris Tucker’s LAPD Detective James Carter was cinematic gold. And while it’s played out now, admit it, when you first heard, “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?,” you laughed.
6. Tango and Cash
The ultimate in badassery (and male shower scenes!) saw the teaming up of Rambo and Snake Plissken in 1989’s Tango and Cash. Sylvestor Stallone and Kurt Russell star as rival LA narcotics cops who, surprise!, can’t get along because they are just so very different. Tango (Stallone) is organized and business-minded, while Cash (Russell) is a slob. But, they both excel at busting drug lords … until they’re framed for murder! Oh shit, now you’ve really made them angry. Now they’ll have to put aside their differences to clear their names and enact revenge on their enemies.
Much like the recent Starsky & Hutch film, 1987’s Dragnet was a light-hearted spoof of its predecessor, the 1950s dramatic television series of the same name. But the updated film was also part homage, thanks to Dan Aykroyd‘s spot-on portrayal of Sergeant Joe Friday (the nephew of Jack Webb’s original Joe Friday from the TV series), and his accompanying voice-overs. Set in Los Angeles, Aykroyd’s anachronistic Friday is given a more modern-thinking, sarcastic partner, Pep Streebeck (Tom Hanks). Together, the odd couple set out to investigate a series of religious cult murders in the area.
4. 48 Hours
There was technically only one real cop in the film — the partner does pretend to be a cop at times — but 1982’s 48 Hours captured the spirit of this variety of the action-comedy genre and set the stage for future buddy cop films. 48 Hours marked the big-screen debut of the then-young comedian Eddie Murphy, who starred as a wise-cracking convict named Reggie who’s released from San Quentin for 48 hours so he can help an unwieldy alcoholic San Francisco cop (Nick Nolte) nab a cop killer. The scene in the redneck bar is classic and you can’t forget the part where Murphy goes off on the patrons … “You know what I am? I’m your worst fuckin’ nightmare, man. I’m a nigger with a badge which means I got permission to kick your fuckin’ ass whenever I feel like it!”
3. Bad Boys
Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?
Oh Michael Bay, how you woo us with your explosive charms. In his first over-the-top action flick, 1995’s Bad Boys, director Michael Bay paired up big-name talent Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as partners in the Miami Police Department. While the detective sergeants do have different viewpoints and personalities — Smith’s Lowrey is a womanizer party boy who comes from money; Lawrence’s Burnett is a married family man — at least they’re not the typical “wacky” coupling seen in most buddy cop movies. Thanks to Bay — and producer Jerry Bruckheimer no doubt — the partners spend most of their time doing what Bay does best: blowing shit up. Since Smith and Lawrence both come from comedic backgrounds, it’s not surprising this big action movie, which has them hunting down the seized drugs that were stolen from a police vault in an inside job, also turned out to be funny.
2. Lethal Weapon
I’ve lost count of the amount of sequels for this Richard Donner-directed franchise, but back in 1987 when Mel Gibson was first paired up with Danny Glover for Lethal Weapon, the flowing-maned actor was still riding high on his Mad Max action-star cred. For this buddy cop feature, Gibson and Glover are LAPD detectives who, of course, are resistent to being partnered up because they each prefer to work alone. Glover plays the 50-year-old Murtaugh, a veteran who’s saddled with the younger Riggs (Gibson), a reckless, almost suicidal cop whose considered a “lethal weapon.” Lethal Weapon also contained the line that would spawn many a buddy cop spoof, “I’m too old for this shit!”
1. Hot Fuzz
Buddy cop movies will come and buddy cop movies will go, but there will never ever be another one like Hot Fuzz. This Simon Pegg and Nick Frost venture is not only one big love letter to the genre, but it’s the buddy cop movie to end them all. The Brits aren’t well-known for their cop films, now are they, now? But man, did they pull this one off big-time. Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a London cop who is so dedicated to his job and does it so well, that he makes everyone in his department seem inferior. That’s why he’s reluctantly transferred to a quiet, crime-free rural village far from any criminal activities. At his new job, he’s teamed up with officer Danny Butterman (Frost), the police chief’s dimwitted son and together, the two find out that life in the village is not what it appears to be. At first, they seem an unlikely pair, but are soon bonded after Butterman, who’s particularly obsessed with Point Break and Bad Boys II , turns Angel on to the action-film genre.