Buddy cop movies aren’t nearly as popular today as they were back in the 80s and 90s, especially given Hollywood’s anti-police rhetoric. However, the best buddy cop films continue to shine as both comedic and entertaining, putting a light-hearted and adventurous spin on an otherwise routine – and usually dangerous – profession.
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The idea of having two people, sometimes friends and sometimes enemies, having to work together to solve a crime in a light-hearted storyline works so well that it’s been replicated repeatedly to great effect. Whether the buddy cop formula comes back in full force remains to be seen, however.
10) Blue Streak (1999)
Blue Streak is unique in this particular genre, as one of the “buddies” isn’t even a real cop. Martin Lawrence plays Miles Logan, a thief who hides a priceless jewel in an abandoned building before getting arrested by the police and sent to the clink. After he gets out of prison, he discovers that the same building has since been turned into a police station, much to his frustration.
Seeking to get his hands on the jewel, Miles is forced to impersonate a detective in order to infiltrate the building and get his big score. Soon, his reputation within the precinct goes up, and Logan becomes something of an unwitting legend. He also gets paired with another detective played by Luke Wilson, allowing for some hilarious banter along the way.
9) Zootopia (2016)
Zootopia is one of the few animated films that focuses specifically on the police, making it one of the most unique. The story revolves around an over-eager bunny who becomes a policewoman, and is forced to team up with a criminal fox in order to crack a case. It’s a lighthearted take on police work with some rather funny moments, particularly a few involving an enthusiastic, yet slow-moving sloth.
The film is light-hearted and cute, making it a great choice for the kids. It does try to shoehorn in an underlying narrative about racism, which is not surprising given today’s politics, but it’s a minor theme.
8) Turner & Hooch (1989)
Long before Tom Hanks became an intolerably irritating Leftist, he was making audiences laugh with his unique brand of physical comedy. One of his best was Turner & Hooch, a story about a detective investigating a murder where the only “witness” just happens to be a hulking, destructive French Mastiff with a fondness for muffins, and subduing adversaries with a bite to the throat.
A big part of the film involves Hanks’ character Scott Turner butting heads with Hooch, before the two form an awkward, yet affectionate bond. The other part involves Turner and Hooch solving a murder mystery that goes way deeper than the former ever thought it could.
7) 21 Jump Street (2012)
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21 Jump Street was an attempt to reboot the classic sitcom of the same name, which actually takes place in the same universe and timeline. However, the film adaptation starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum went more for the laughs, as opposed to the dramatic tension of the original series. It’s an interesting cocktail that earned high praise for its absurd humor.
Hill and Tatum play two police officers who are forced to go undercover as high school students in order to quash the spread of a new designer drug. It was popular enough to greenlight a second film titled 22 Jump Street, which attempted to capitalize on the success of the first.
5) Men in Black (1997)
Police work went intergalactic with the original Men in Black, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in what should have been a casting mismatch. Quite the contrary – it works perfectly, and the duo play off of each other in spectacular fashion. Naturally, the plot of the film is absurd, which is part of its inherent charm.
Jones plays Agent K, a shadowy individual who recruits James Edwards, a former NYPD detective with a knack for spotting what others miss. K introduces Edwards to a world unseen by the general public, where intergalactic criminals ply their trade on the planet Earth, forcing the Men in Black to step in.
4) Lethal Weapon (1987)
Lethal Weapon is a widely popular buddy cop franchise that has evolved a lot over time. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are the perfect duo, with the former playing an unhinged and partly-suicidal cop plagued by a bad past, while the latter must keep him grounded and focused to solve an important case.
The original Lethal Weapon helped expand the groundwork laid down by other buddy cop movies over the previous decades, setting it apart from the pack. It was popular enough to spawn three sequels, each with their own unique and entertaining storylines, while the core duo continued to grow wise with age.
3) Bad Boys (1995)
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Sometimes a buddy cop film can succeed based simply on its pairing alone. Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are both exceptional comedic actors that worked very well together. Bad Boys was a Michael Bay vehicle stuffed to the brim with all of his signature moviemaking traits – foul language, rapid-fire editing, gigantic explosions and comedy on fast-forward.
Lawrence and Smith play Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey, two detectives tasked with recovering $100 million worth of seized heroin that was lifted directly from a secured police vault. As the two peel back the layers of the case, they’re forced to square off against a French drug kingpin and his lethal henchmen.
2) Rush Hour (1998)
The act of pairing Jackie Chan with Chris Tucker was a recipe for massive success that capitalized on an on-purpose casting mismatch to create some of the most inventive buddy cop comedy around. Chan plays Hong Kong Chief Inspector Lee, who arrives in L.A. to locate the daughter of a friend and political diplomat.
He’s forced to team up with James Carter, a brash, loudmouthed LAPD detective, and a thorn in the side of the department. While his job is to keep Lee on a tight leash, Carter soon teams up with him to locate the missing girl while the two go head-to-head with an infamous Hong Kong crime lord.
1) 48 Hours (1982)
It’s hard to think of a buddy cop film that set the bar more firmly than 48 Hours. It defined all the tropes and set all the clichés before audiences even understand the direction the genre was heading. From the moment Nick Nolte strolled into prison to hear Eddie Murphy singing “Roxanne,” audiences knew they were in for something special.
A big part of the reason for the film’s success hinged on the popularity of Eddie Murphy as an SNL alum at the time, as well as Nick Nolte’s popularity as a dramatic actor. Other films may have taken this formula and applied it in various settings such the wild west, space, or the future, but they all have 48 Hours and its sequel to thank for that. Without Nolte’s gruff demeanor and Murphy’s mouth, the buddy cop genre wouldn’t exist.