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Classic Ten – Buddy Cop Movies

There’s the buddy film, there’s the cop film… and then there’s the buddy cop film. Roger Ebert best defined it as a “Wunza Movie” when he reviewed Rush Hour : “Wunza martial arts expert and wunza wisecracking showboat… together, they make an entertaining team.” The genre hit its peak in the mid-’80s, but it still remains popular to this day — last year saw the release of Rush Hour 3 and Starsky & Hutch. (For a full schedule of Starsky & Hutch on AMC, click here.) Here are the ones that have achieved immortality:

Collision Course.jpg10. Collision Course (1989)
Only during the golden years of the buddy cop film could producers seriously entertain and then execute the idea of pairing The Karate Kid‘s Mr. Miyagi and the future host of The Tonight Show as a wacky crime-fighting duo. All you have to know about Collision Course is that it contains a scene in which Pat Morita jumps through the front windshield of a speeding car in order to save the life of partner Jay Leno. That’s friendship.

The Hard Way.jpg9. The Hard Way (1991)
The meta-buddy movie: Michael J. Fox is a pampered Hollywood superstar trailing James Woods’ short-tempered New York City cop in pursuit of a psychopath nicknamed the Party Crasher. Fox learns how to be a cop in order to land a “mature” role, while Woods learns that even the toughest street smarts can’t prepare him for an adventure that more and more resembles something out of a movie script. Which, of course, it is.

Theodore Rex.jpg8. Theodore Rex (1995)
The steep decline of the buddy cop genre can be traced according to its most ludicrous representatives: Turner & Hooch (1989), pairing Tom Hanks and a dog; Cop and ½ (1993), pairing Burt Reynolds and a child; and, most notoriously, Theodore Rex (1995), pairing an embarrassed Whoopi Goldberg and an animatronic dinosaur. Why is it on this list? It fulfills one major requirement — it’s so bad it’s good, featuring a scene of the title reptile screaming “Whyyyyyyyy?” as his partner gets hit. See it to believe it.

Bad Boys.jpg7. Bad Boys (1995)
Just when the genre looked dead and buried, along came producers Jerry Bruckheimer, Don Simpson, and first-time director Michael Bay to its rescue. Bad Boys took the Lethal Weapon formula and amped it up to Top Gun levels of non-stop action and macho posturing, pushing TV talents Martin Lawrence (the family man) and Will Smith (the playboy) to the ranks of big screen megastars.

Die Hard With a Vengeance.jpg6. Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995)
The first Die Hard
forged a dynamic between loose cannon Bruce Willis and by-the-book
Sergeant Reginald VelJohnson, but it was trumped by the third
installment of the series. Updating its buddyness for the post-Rodney
King ’90s, Vengeance features Willis’ John McClane and Pulp Fiction
co-star Samuel L. Jackson as a civilian-turned-honorary-cop trading
racially-charged barbs while taking down smuggler baddie Jeremy Irons.

Hott Fuzz.jpg5. Hot Fuzz (2007)
Hot Fuzz
is a true rarity — a buddy cop satire often funnier and more thrilling
than the movies it satirizes. Setting the opposites attract chemistry
and action operatics of Point Break and Bad Boys
in the sleepy fictional English village of Sandford, director Edgar
Wright combines budding male friendship with high-octane shoot-outs in
this affectionate ode to the power of American machismo in even the
most passive of locales.

Forty-Eight Hrs.jpg4. 48 Hrs. (1982)
Between the 48 Hrs. movies, the Beverly Hills Cop series and the film version of I Spy
(the first TV series to feature black and white crime-solving
partners), Eddie Murphy may very well be the buddy cop king. In the
first 48 Hrs. film, the best of the lot, he plays a smart
aleck convict forced to help hard-boiled Nick Nolte track down the man
responsible for killing a fellow officer. Director Walter Hill kept the
edge to this action-comedy and fashioned a classic.

In the Heat of the Night.jpg3. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
“They call me MISTER Tibbs!” In the Heat of the Night
was virtually tailor-made for Sidney Poitier, who during the
mid-to-late-’60s was much more than a box office champ — he was a
cultural icon. Though costar Rod Steiger won an Oscar for best actor,
it was Poitier’s performance as a black cop taking on the racial
bigotry and injustice of the South (in the form of Steiger’s prejudiced
detective) that solidified his role as progressive spokesman and
dramatic actor.

Tango and Cash.jpg2. Tango & Cash (1989)
No other film took the genre to such excessive, gonzo extremes as Tango & Cash,
the team-up of Sylvester Stallone (playing against type as the refined
one) and Kurt Russell (playing to type as the slob) where every cliché
is supersized. Forced to put aside their mutual distrust to take on the
man who set them up, the pair use machine gun-fitted RVs and
foregrounded homoerotic tension (“Is that a proposal?”) to pursue drug
lord villain Jack Palance, whose scenery chewing performance is the
last word in scenery chewing performances.

Lethal Weapon.jpg1. Lethal Weapon (1987)
The Casablanca of buddy cop films, Lethal Weapon
perfected the formula during the genre’s zenith: Take a straight-laced
cop (Danny “I’m too old for this s—” Glover), a suicidal, live-wire
cop (Mel Gibson), make them, against conventional wisdom, partners —
and watch the sparks fly. Hugely successful enough for a full decade of
sequels and an endless supply of imitators, Lethal Weapon‘s well-timed barbs have aged like fine wine since the original’s debut.

What’s your favorite buddy cop movie?


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