There is nothing like a good cop movie. Thankfully, Hollywood seems to like making them as much as we like watching them. Cop movies have been popular for decades and give us Hollywood’s take of the world of law enforcement. While most include the typical gun fights, arrests, car chases, and evil bad guys; they also look at the more human side of police officers and the struggles they deal with in their lives.
Another great thing about cop movies is just how versatile they can be. Some cop films are gritty, drama-fueled joy rides, while others are a hilariously funny look at the boys in blue. All of the above are welcome in this article as we look at the 10 best cop movies of all time!
10. The French Connection
The 1970s changed film in a big way, as Hollywood began to create films with more “realism.” The French Connection is a great example of that. This film started off a bit slow, but soon became filled with the kind of incredible action and thrilling scenes that people really want out of their cop movies. The set design and theme of the film also captured New York City in an amazing way, which helped the film seem more authentic, especially for way back in 1971.
It won many Academy Awards, including Best Picture (the first R rated movie to ever win), Best Actor (for star Gene Hackman) and Best Director (William Friedkin). It is still considered one of the best films of all-time, period. While it didn’t age exceptionally well, it is definitely a classic and absolutely deserved a spot on this list. The film made tens of millions at the box office, despite costing less than $2 million to make.
This film was very important in the evolution of cop movies, as it really changed how Hollywood would depict police officers and other members of law enforcement. The film tells the true life story of a good cop (Frank Serpico) who is stuck working in a very corrupt environment, eventually deciding to go undercover to turn in his corrupt colleagues.
Al Pacino plays the lead role incredibly well and this film tells a very engaging story of a man who struggles to do what is right, despite everyone doing wrong around him. It was just a very solid film and received a couple of Oscar nods (but no wins) for Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. While it made only $30 million at the box office, it was still profitable. Plus, it continues to receive critical acclaim as one of the best cop movies ever made.
When it comes to a great cop film, very few offer the best of both worlds in the way that Fargo does. The Coen Brothers classic is a black comedy that offers everything from humor, violence, suspense and everything in between. It has a masterful script (as shown by its Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay) and has aged well enough to still be enjoyed today, over 20 years after its original release in 1996.
No matter what your film interests are, there is a good chance Fargo will be something you enjoy. The film is perhaps the greatest work of the Coen Brothers and was nominated for several other Oscars (Best Picture and Best Actress among them) while also being a commercial success at the box office too. If you haven’t seen it, definitely give it a watch, you won’t be disappointed. Then you can continue on with FX television series spin-off, which debuted in 2014.
Se7en is a film that focuses on two detectives (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) who team up to track down a serial killer. The killer uses the Seven Deadly Sins as his motif and the film goes much deeper into his twisted mind than most do. While most cop films rely on suspense before catching the bad guy, this one takes a closer look at the frailties and habits of humanity — in particular, whether we are inherently good or evil.
It takes a look at society as a whole in a way that not many thrillers, let alone cop movies, do. This film continues to be a classic and includes Kevin Spacey as the soulless killer who delivers an intense and memorable final scene (“What’s in the box?). It is dark and brutal, which is what you want when you’re in the mood for a gritty and hard-nosed cop drama.
6. Training Day
Training Day was another gritty cop movie that focuses on the themes of corruption and justice. We really peel back the layers of each character in this Antoine Fuqua film, which helps us to connect with them throughout their journey. Few cop movies get into this much character detail, which is a shame.
While the final third of the film seems a little too convenient and takes away from the realism it had built up until that point, there is no doubting it is some of the best work Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke ever did. They were both nominated for an Oscar (Washington won, Hawke didn’t) and the film itself got tons of critical acclaim and made over $100 million at the box office.
5. Beverly Hills Cop
The film that helped launch Eddie Murphy into relative superstardom was none other than Beverly Hills Cop. It featured Murphy as a street-smart cop who travels from Detroit to California to solve his best friend’s murder. Murphy and his supporting cast are arguably perfect throughout the film and there are few better characters in a cop movie than Murphy as Axel Foley.
While some cop films rely on a variety of actors to achieve success, this one was all Eddie. While this is a comedy at heart, it still offers a bit in the action department and can be seen as the inspiration for future films like Rush Hour. It would never be classified as “gritty,” but not every cop movie needs to take itself so damn seriously. The film made well over $300 million, was nominated for a ton of awards (even a Best Writing nom at the Oscars!), and is often seen as one of the better comedy films of all-time. It also spawned three sequels, which got worse and worse and (obviously) did not make this list.
4. End of Watch
This is by far one of the most underrated films in recent years and is easily one of the best cop films of the last few years. Not only is the acting superb (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star), but it is one of the most realistic cop dramas of all-time. It follows two members of the LAPD during their day-to-day lives and it is extremely suspenseful throughout.
It also does a good job at taking a more detailed look at themes like drug violence and gang membership. It got a ton of praise from critics for its realism and dedication to accuracy, while also still being successful at the box office with over $55 million earned. Director David Ayer said he wanted to make a cop film that focused on the friendship between partners and honest police work, rather than the typical corruption stories. He pulled it off beautifully.
With a cast with the likes of Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer, you knew this one was going to be a masterpiece. When you think about everything that you would want in a cop movie, Heat had it all. The entire cast put on great performances, the directing was top notch, and there were numerous great confrontations in the film, which are a staple in cop flicks.
It is also chock full of action, coming in at almost a three hour runtime. It had a great ending that left people satisfied and never really got too slow, which is a problem with some crime dramas. It made nearly $200 million at the box office and got a ton of praise from movie critics and the fans alike.
2. Hot Fuzz
Hot Fuzz is the story of two British police officers who need to solve a series of strange and peculiar murders in an English village. One is a native of the village, while the other was relocated and is used to a much bigger city. The film is hilarious from end-to-end and the characters work extremely well off of each other (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star).
In addition to being a comedy, the film also contains some suspense, action, and even a bit of gore, to make it toe the edge of being considered a true comedy. Personally, it is one of my favourite films period. The combination of action, comedy,and mystery make it a must-watch, with director Edgar Wright (Ant-Man, Baby Driver) doing a masterful job behind the camera. It also earned over $80 million at the box office and was considered a critical success as well.
1. The Departed
Finally, we have come to what I believe is the best cop movie of all-time — the Martin Scorsese masterpiece that is The Departed. The film takes place in Boston, where a police officer is forced to go undercover with the mob. At the same time, the mob sends one of their own through the police academy to become an inside man with the force. The cast in this film is almost unbelievable, as Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Jack Nicholson all team up to produce something incredible.
While the film is not perfect, with low points including occasional clunky dialogue and inconsistent visuals, those things are overshadowed by the many amazing things about this film, like the amazing cast, spectacular acting, stellar direction, and brilliant soundtrack. It made nearly $300 million at the box office and was the winner of four Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing). It was the film that finally earned Scorsese the coveted Best Director nod after losing six previous nominations.