Buddy cop movies follow a certain pattern. The good ones are as edgy and violent as they are funny. There is a real sense of danger as the two cops who could get the bad guy “if they don’t kill each other first” go head-to-head with ruthless villains capable of any form of evil. The ‘80s were the Golden Age for buddy cop movies, and so it should come as no surprise that most of the films on this list fall in that decade. So without further ado, here are our picks for the six best buddy cop movies of all time.
John Badham was no stranger to the action film by the time he directed Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez in 1987’s thriller Stakeout. His Blue Thunder is one of the best action movies ever made, period, so he was a natural fit for balancing the humor and thrills needed to pull off this buddy cop movie about two night-and-day different guys assigned to watch a woman in hopes of catching a murderous criminal. In the process, one of the cops (Dreyfuss) falls in love with her. Followed by Another Stakeout.
5. 48 HRS.
Okay, so the two main principals aren’t cops. Only one is. But the formula used is the same. Nick Nolte is the hard-nosed Jack Cates, who receives temporary (48-hour) custody of wisecracking criminal Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy). Hammond has the info needed to track down a killer, but he’s not going to make it easy for Jack, even though the pair end up respecting one another in the end. Like Stakeout, this one was followed by Another 48 HRS.
4. Beverly Hills Cop
Eddie Murphy again as Officer Axel Foley, this time a boy-in-blue for the Detroit PD. After his friend is murdered by two thugs, he follows the trail of evidence to Beverly Hills, where he meets up with a pair of conservative cops assigned to watch him and make sure he gets out of town. The trio end up bringing down a drug lord. Followed by II and III and a pilot that wasn’t picked up. The fourth Beverly Hills Cop feature film is reportedly on the way.
3. Shoot To Kill
Again, not two cops but a FBI agent and a mountain man with the info to lead the agent to an unseen killer in the Pacific Northwest. Sidney Poitier starred as the agent after a decade-long absence from the cinema. A pre-direct-to-video Tom Berenger is his “partner,” and the two men really are at the top of their game. Kirstie Alley is the damsel in distress and the killer — well, that’s up to you to figure out, but he’s a good one! No sequels.
2. Lethal Weapon
Mel Gibson and Danny Glover — what’s not to like? Richard Donner keeps the action serious and violent while using the likable characteristics of both men to mine a lot of humor from the “if they don’t kill each other first” angle. Shane Black’s script is a big help as well. Followed by the fun 2 and 3 before descending into sequel abyss with the fourth and final film, a real stinker.
1. Freebie And The Bean
The one buddy cop movie not made in the ‘80s is also the best. James Caan and Alan Arkin keep the laughs coming and the action fast and furious in this tale of two San Francisco police detectives out to catch a local hijacking boss while also saving him from the murderous cross-dressing hitman intent on killing him. Motorcycle chases, buffet brawls, and a surprisingly touching climax inside Candlestick Park make this one worth seeking out. What’s not worth checking out, however, is the nine-episode TV series this inspired several years later starring Hector Elizondo and Tom Mason. Pretty rough.
So those are our picks for the best buddy cop movies. What are yours? Share them in our comments section, and for more movie fun, check out our 5 Villains Who Deserved To Win.