Top 10 Buddy Cop Movies

There were definitely a few movies before the ’80s that fit the mold of buddy cops, but the ’80s was their time to shine. I don’t know why. The ’80s had a whole lot of violence and dirty humor. I’m sure that was a benefit to having to clashing cops argue in the middle of a shootout. I liked how Roger Ebert referred to them though. He called them “Wunza” movies, as in, “One’s a (this); and the other’s a (that),” a famed logline structure to describe these films. The Heat is out this weekend (One’s an up-tight FBI agent; the other’s a tough talking Boston cop), so here are some of my favorite “Wunza” movies.

Michael J Fox

10. The Hard Way

“One’s a hard-boiled detective; the others an actor doing research.”

The Hard Way is more of a guilty pleasure I guess. I just liked seeing Michael J. Fox in a different kind of movie than I’m used to seeing him in. Fox plays Nick Lang, a popular actor who stars in a series of Indiana Jones like pulp action movies. He wants something different. Something more gritty. He lines up a grimey cop thriller, but he wants to do some research. He sees James Woods’ John Moss go ballistic in front of a news crew, so he pulls some strings with the mayor so he can shadow Moss. It’s basically Castle now that I think of it. The action is plenty competent, and the jokes are pretty funny. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but I think most people will have a good time.

Will Smith

9. Bad Boys

“One’s a rich kid thrill-seeker; the others a family man pretending to be the first guy.”

I know people hate Michael Bay, but I definitely dig this flick. Star Will Smith was just starting his career playing hot shot narcotics cop, Mike Lowery. When he is unavailable to speak to a witness who would only trust him, his partner, a reluctant family man played by Martin Lawrence, has to take his place. I like that it seems more like an idea for a sequel, but that means it has to rely on a sense of history and chemistry that exists between Smith and Lawrence, which is totally there. Plus Joey Pants is awesome as the captain.

Will Ferrell Mark Wahberg

8. The Other Guys

“One’s a former forensic accountant; the others a loud mouth who got in trouble for shooting one of the Yankees.”

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg were actually set up to star in the movie that would become Kevin Smith’s Cop Out, but when Smith signed up they ended up exited the project. They still wanted to work together so they teamed up with Ferrell’s usual collaborator, Adam McKay. They used the recently financial collapse to rig a banking conspiracy for these Ferrell and Wahlberg’s bonehead cops. I’m not the biggest fan of Ferrell and McKay, but this one had me rolling on the floor.


7. Alien Nation

“One’s a detective; the others an alien.”

Way before District 9, Alien Nation used alien visitors as a metaphor for racism, bigotry, and second class citizens. James Caan plays a bigoted detective on the trail of a cop killing alien with armor piercing super bullets who is teamed up with an alien cop, played hilariously by Mandy Patinkin. James Caan is pretty funny too actually. James Caan was recently asked about it, and let out a big annoying sigh about how bad he thinks the movie is. Screw that though! I love this flick. I am way overdo for a re-watch.


6. Sherlock Holmes

“One’s an eccentric private detective; the others his army doctor roommate.”

The Sherlock Holmes stories MUST be the original buddy cop story, even though neither of the characters are cops. Sherlock is a private detective or consultant or just bored eccentric genius who likes to solve puzzles. He teams up with his roommate, Dr. Watson, who practiced in the military. There have been dozens of adaptations of the series, including this Guy Ritchie studio picture that used the traditional movie buddy tropes to make an overall exciting and funny detective tale.

Bruce Willis

5. The Last Boy Scout

“One’s a washed up private detective; the others a washed up football player.”

Bruce Willis plays an alcoholic private eye on the outs with his wife and daughter. He was once a hotshot secret service agent who took a bullet for the President once. He is hired by a stripper with some revealing evidence on rich and powerful man for protection. When he fails to save her, he teams up with her boyfriend, a former pro quarterback kicked out of the league for gambling played by Damon Wayans. Wayans gives an Eddie Murphy like performance. I’m surprised he didn’t go on to make more action comedies like this one. Willis and Wayans trade one-liners as they uncover a conspiracy involving sports gambling and drugging pro athletes. 

Robert Downey Jr.

4. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

“One’s a private detective; the others a thief playing an actor playing a cop.”

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is probably one of the best directorial debuts from a popular screenwriter. Shane West, who wrote the script for Lethal Weapon and infamous for being one of the highest paid spec script writers, crafted this old fashioned noir tale bumped up to the modern day. Robert Downey Jr. is a thief mistaken for an actor and chosen for a big Hollywood detective movie. While shadowing a private detective, played by Val Kilmer, he sees an old crush and tries impressing her by saying he’s a detective. He ends up taking on her case and finds himself in way over his head. 

Simon Pegg Edgar Wright

3. Hot Fuzz

“One’s a by-the-book constable from the city; the others a simple cop from the country dying for action.”

Edgar Wright’s follow up to Shaun of the Dead sees Wright regulars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost taking on roles as British police officers. Pegg’s city constable is so good he is making the rest of his department look bad so they send him to a quiet country life partnered up with the simpleton son of his new captain, played by Nick Frost. The two of them uncover a sinister conspiracy keeping the countryside quiet that mixes Wright’s love of horror gore and love of action movie tropes.

Eddie Murphy

2. 48 Hrs

“One’s a cop; the others a crook.”

48 Hrs is one of the definitive buddy cop movies. The 48 hours refers to a leave of absence that Eddie Murphy’s con-artist thief, Reggie Hammond, gets to help Nick Nolte’s tough talking and walking cop. Nolte is investigating stolen credit cards when he comes across some fugitives just broken out of prison. The fugitives kill some cops and are out looking for some cash they had stolen with Reggie. Nolte does what he does best, but this is one of the star-making roles that sent Eddie Murphy to all-star heights. I know that is hard to believe nowadays.

Mel gibson

1. Lethal Weapon

“One’ a cop a few days from retirement; the others a cop with a death wish and an itchy trigger finger.”

Even more so than 48Hrs.Lethal Weapon is the most definitive buddy cop movie. Danny Glover plays a family man cop who is close to retirement. He catches a new assignment, the death of one of his old war buddies. He also gets partnered up with a newly transferred narcotics cop, Mel Gibson’s suicidal marksman suffering major depression after the death of his wife. Despite being a cop actioner, Gibson gives great performance, and he has amazing chemistry with Danny Glover leading to 3 more installments and constant questions if they’ll ever make a fifth one