It doesn’t matter if it’s one of New York’s finest, a small town sheriff or even an actor pretending to be a cop, people love watching police officers on the job. What they love even more are the interactions these cops have with their partners. Upholding the law and protecting the citizens of each city can be difficult when having to work alongside somebody who is the polar opposite of you, whether it is in personality, age, or even gender. These law enforcers can act like sworn enemies or the best of friends, but either way it gives the audience a unique an interesting relationship to sit in on, and sometimes be a part of. In honor of this summer’s newest entry to the buddy cop movie, 22 Jump Street, I break down a list of 20 of the greatest buddy cop relationships at the movies.
Back when Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone were a big deal, they teamed up for Tango & Cash. When both cops show up to a crime scene thinking it’s a drug bust, they are framed for murder, and make it their mission to clear their names by any means necessary. This movie is pure ’80s cheese with silly sound effects, crazy stunts and one liners flying at you every other minute. That said, it’s an entertaining ride with two leads just dying to have some fun with one another.
The creators of Turner & Hooch probably heard the phrase “a dog is man’s best friend” and took that to heart. Tom Hanks plays Detective Scott Turner who is partnered up with a dog to solve the murder case of his owner. If that’s not a unique paring, then I don’t know what is. Forget personality differences, putting a man and a dog on a case together introduces a whole different set of rules, but these rules still end up working. You may not look at police movies, or Tom Hanks, the same way again.
“What’s in the box?!” You’ve probably heard that quote shouted out loud at some point in your life, and that question comes from David Fincher’s Se7en. Yeah, I can’t stress how dark this movie is. Se7en has one of the most disturbing endings I’ve ever seen. Yet, I can’t stop watching it. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are the two officers on the hunt for a serial killer who uses the Seven Deadly Sins as a way of killing his victims. Pitt is a rookie while Freeman is a veteran on track to retire, giving them very different perspectives on the law. But this does not stop them from working together to form one of the more memorable bonds in police thriller history.
Bad Boys could, in fact, be the wildest buddy cop pairing ever. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence seem to always be shouting at something and pulling witty lines out from their pockets, but the amazing thing is, it works. Smith and Lawrence play two cops investigating a case of stolen drugs while also being responsible for the safety of a murder witness. These two guys are more on the similar side in personality compared to many other buddy cop movie pairings, which is equally as fun. Because this is a Michael Bay movie (Transformers, The Rock, The Island), there are of course plenty of over-the-top action scenes and explosions that aren’t always seen in a police movie like this. Some might be turned off by that, but it really worked for me. This is mainly because the two leads do such a wonderful job selling it and playing off of each other, which might be the kindest thing I can say about a movie directed by Michael Bay.
Paul Feig went in a different, perhaps more daring direction, with his buddy cop comedy. The Heat is a comedy centered around two female cops, which automatically peaked the interested of moviegoers and fans of this type of movie. This director of Bridesmaids took what is normally a guy partnership and put award-winning actresses Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in the leads as two polar opposite officers in search of a criminal loose on the streets of Boston. McCarthy, as Detective Mullins, is an unpredictable live wire, while Bullock’s Ashburn is a by-the-book stickler, but one thing for sure, the chemistry and banter between the two will keep you watching.
I know what you’re thinking. “This is not a buddy cop movie”. You’re right to an extent. It’s certainly not a traditional one, yet the plot and relationship between Sherlock and Watson go along with all of the tropes that make up a buddy cop movie, albeit one set in 1891. Sherlock Holmes is arguably the world’s most famous detective, but what makes Guy Ritchie’s re-telling of the classic story so unique is the bickering “bromance” between our two leads. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law make for one of the most entertaining on-screen duos that I’ve seen in quite some time, and the settings and criminal activity give the audience something different to hang onto instead of the “same old stuff”.
Taking a more serious approach than almost any other film on this list is the 2012 surprise hit End of Watch. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, two young L.A. officers in a story that was shot documentary style, which was a decision by Training Day writer David Ayer, who also directed the film. From the marketing, this looked like it was an average cop story that was banking on the ‘found footage’ gimmick, but to my surprise, it’s more than that. This is not the buddy cop movie that plays for laughs (though there are a handful of funny moments between the characters), but instead goes deep into the bond of the brotherhood Taylor and Zavala share by having each others backs and treating each other like family. The characters are more similar than they are different, at least compared to most examples of buddy cops, and it shows in their relationship both in genuine and heart-wrenching ways.
A cop comedy that, on paper, seems rather ordinary, but when brought to life by the actors you can’t help by fall in love with it. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play Detective Hoitz and Gamble, two desk cops given a chance to play in the big leagues when Gamble uncovers a financial conspiracy. I’ll watch Will Ferrell in just about anything (okay, maybe not Land of the Lost), but I never thought for a second I’d see him play a cop in the NYPD. Both Ferrell and Wahlberg nail their roles by being just different enough to stick to the classic buddy cop formula that works, yet similar enough that they have a believable friendship that develops over time. The Others Guys is one of the funnier cop comedies to come out in recent years and it’s mainly due to a talented cast that also includes Michael Keaton as the police captain.
I chose this movie, not just for its clever script and wild characters, but also for its unique pairing. This was Robert Downey Jr., before Iron Man, as a small-time crook posing as an actor to hide out from the real LAPD. As part of his training for a new role he is using as a cover, he’s teamed up with private investigator Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), who is hired by the producers to give him an on-the-job experience for the role. This puts both men right in the middle of a murder mystery, where both of their skill sets will be needed to get them out in one piece. Robert Downey Jr. playing a criminal playing an actor playing a cop is enough of a reason to put this on the list.
Another pair of gentleman who wouldn’t normally be considered cops by the average moviegoer. I’ll admit, they are more “agents” than cops. Heck, their names are even Agent J and Agent K. Nevertheless, they act enough like cops to make the list. K (Tommy Lee Jones) must show new recruit, J (Will Smith) the unseen world of alien invaders who are among us on Earth and what the “Men in Black” must do to make sure these aliens don’t cause any trouble. Kay is a veteran who never lets up on his serious side, while Jay is a wise-cracking motormouth with his own way of handling the alien scum. This is a buddy cop movie with an alien twist, which makes for an exciting experience. There’s also a talking dog, just in case you needed any more reasons to seek it out.
Another TV adaptation? As this list goes on it seems that the best source of buddy cops stories have always come from television. I’m not adding Miami Vice on this list for the 2006 movie itself (that was quite the disappointment to a lot of fans). I’m adding it on this list because the characters of Tubbs and Crocket are some of the most notable lawmen in pop culture and deserve a mention. Michael Mann, who was an executive producer on the original show, gives this adaptation a slick new look with cars, boats, cities and characters that are the very definition of “cool.”
It’s thanks to this movie that I’m even writing this list in the first place. With the surprise success of this film adaptation, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have a franchise to be proud of. These two boyish-looking officers, Jenko and Schmidt, going back to high school, when the actors playing them are clearly in their late twenties, may seem like a ridiculous premise, but the meta, self-aware humor helps it go above and beyond expectations. It has all the tropes of a teen, high school movie, with a minimal amount of juvenile humor. Instead, the script is clever and gives our two leads a lot to work with in the realm of comedy and action.
Based on the 1970s TV series created by William Blinn, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson take on the iconic roles of detectives David Starsky and Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson. Starsky & Hutch lays out the classic buddy cop traits that have been done to death many times before, but the chemistry between them is so fast and funny that it comes off as pretty fresh. The ’70s era setting also helps a lot, giving our duo a lot of different scenarios and types of people to deal with. The perm and disco jokes come flying fast, as does the action that is just small enough to never feel over the top. The fast pace and witty one-liners at every turn make Stiller and Wilson the perfect leads to bring these characters to the big screen in a movie that honors the original source material.
The second film in Edgar Wright’s unofficial Cornetto Trilogy is a cop comedy chock full of British humor. When London officer Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is transferred, against his will, to a quiet little English town, he finds very little crime compared to what he’s used to, until he uncovers a conspiracy that could put the entire world in danger. Angel is partnered with an incompetent local officer (Nick Frost) to put an end to this madness and restore order to this boring little town. If you are at all familiar with the relationship of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, then you are already aware of what makes this movie so special. They have a bond in cinema that not many actors have, and they use that chemistry to transform this average-looking buddy cop premise into a hilarious romp with twists around every corner.
The energetic tension in Rush Hour doesn’t just come from a difference in personality, but in cultural intensity, as well. Carter (Chris Tucker) is an African-American man from L.A. and Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) is from the Hong Kong Police Force. The two team up to rescue a kidnapped girl. Most of the jokes play off of their race and ethnic backgrounds, but it’s never done in a distasteful way (at least in this first installment). The relationship between Carter and Lee is unpredictable, but always funny.
The first of two Die Hard films on the list, this time around John McClain must stop a cyber terrorist who spends most of the movie hiding behind a computer. With McClain still living in the Stone Age, he acquires the help of Matt Farrell (Justin Long) to assist him in taking down his foe. Not only is the clash in personality alive and well, but so is the clash in generation. McClain and Farrell clearly see things from a different perspective because of the respective worlds they each grew up in. With McClain being an old school, do-it-yourself type and Farrell being the tech-savvy kid, the two form a bond that’s essential to stopping these criminals and one we rarely get to see.
Part of what the made the original Die Hard so notable was that John McClain was a lone wolf. He was, for the most part, all alone when facing off with Hans Gruber and his merry band of terrorists. A partnership forms in the third installment of the franchise with everyone’s favorite New York City officer teaming up with Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson), a man from Harlem, to stop terrorists from robbing the Federal Reserve Building. Most of the fun from this movie comes from watching somebody we’ve seen working alone, now given a partner. This move is what gave the series its spark back after the disappointing second installment.
It’s Eddie Murphy again, essentially playing the same role as he did in 48 Hrs. but this time, he’s playing it as more of a spoof. Reality show producers have an idea to put two very different cops on the force together, and make a brand new show from the pairing. Murphy and Robert De Niro play these two officers. These actors, who could not be more different in acting style and in their previous movies roles, manage to work wonders together based on what this premise is trying to accomplish. Showtime might be the most underrated movie on this list, as not many people even know it exists. While it’s not the perfect movie, it’s a refreshing example of how even a movie that plays for laughs can be spoofed and made fun of for the good of the audience.
Time is running out for Eddie Murphy. In 48 Hrs. Murphy plays a con man that is given 48 hours to track down a killer he claims to have leads to. Nick Nolte is the grouchy cop who reluctantly sets him free in order to work with him and catch this criminal. This is another early example that helped shape the way cop movies are handled today by showing a rambling criminal teaming up with a law enforcer to do right by the citizens of the city. It goes without saying that Eddie Murphy is a fast talker, so seeing him in a role that utilizes his skills is a real treat. When he’s playing off Nick Nolte, it’s a foundation of real comedic moments.
Could there be any other number one? In Lethal Weapon—and particularly in Murtaugh and Riggs—we have the mother of all buddy cop pairings. Through the years, this Mel Gibson/Danny Glover partnership went on to become a four-movie franchise, but it’s the first one that sets the stage for how a lot of today’s modern buddy cop movies are done. Both men hate working in pairs (a typical tropes in this type of movie), but set aside their differences to stop a gang of drug smugglers. Even though there were buddy cop pairings before this 1987 film, Lethal Weapon became both the prototype and the standard by which all others are judged.