The “buddy cop” formula is one that’s been well established in Hollywood for quite some time now—two cops, usually with opposing personalities and agendas, get partnered up in a turn of fate that’s both fortuitous and hilarious—but that doesn’t mean it’s an unsuccessful formula. If anything, our research found that there’s been an effort to revitalize the genre over the past 20 odd years, and many of the titles from the following list, the 10 greatest buddy cop films of all time, are a reflection of that. While there’s some classics on here, we were surprised to find out just how many of these hilarious and often action-filled films had come out in recent years, and it seems that along with indie comedies and superhero films, the buddy cop genre is experiencing a bit of a renaissance in Hollywood. So without further ado, we give you some riotous romps about mismatched cops and the cases they’re tasked with solving.
10. Bad Boys II (2003)
We’d normally lament having to put a sequel on one of these lists rather than the original (what with sequels rarely surpassing the original, although this is not entirely impossible), but Bad Boys II, directed by Michael Bay and released in 2003, is most definitely superior to its predecessor, Bad Boys. Starring Martin Lawrence and Will Smith as Miami Police detectives Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey, respectively, Bad Boys II sees the narcotics detectives attempting to stop the flow of ecstasy, or “E,” into the Miami club scene. The film, whose plot takes some alarming leaps (especially in the third act, when Gabrielle Union’s character is introduced), doesn’t rely all that heavily on narrative, and that’s alright in the case of a film like this; the plot of Bad Boys II more than serves its purpose as a vehicle to intersperse comedy and action in equal doses, and above all, it works. Smith and Lawrence have excellent chemistry, and with a reported sequel on the way, it would appear this buddy cop duo isn’t quite tapped out yet.
9. The Other Guys (2010)
We’re not going to lie, we didn’t really expect much when we fired up 2010’s The Other Guys, directed by Adam McKay (of Anchorman fame), on Netflix. Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised by this absolutely hilarious, well-paced and surprisingly well-choreographed buddy cop comedy that sees Mark Whalberg and Will Ferrell starring as Terry Hoitz and Allen Gamble, respectively, as they attempt to uncover the mystery behind an apparent real estate scam in New York City. The film, which also stars Steve Coogan and Ray Stevenson in antagonistic roles and Eva Mendes as Gamble’s overly attractive wife, is a genuinely hilarious experience (we don’t know why we’d expect anything but from McKay, who has a stellar track record with comedies) that blends the necessary action beats with awesome lead chemistry and succeeds on the strength of its ensemble cast and some clever writing. A shout out to the Derek Jeter cameo and the incredible but short lived performances of Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as two macho detectives with a flair for destroying public property.
8. Rush Hour II (2001)
We’re dipping back into the sequel pool for the number eight film on our list, and it has us wondering why the buddy cop genre is so conducive to producing quality sequels. As you’ll see with many films on this list, it’s the chemistry between the lead duo (the buddy cops, so to speak) that can make or break the film, and perhaps that’s why sequels are so successful; the actors have “settled in” to their roles, so to speak, allowing for better interactions between the characters. One film which makes for an excellent example of this is Rush Hour II, the sequel to Rush Hour, which stars Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker as a mismatched police duo tasked to investigate a counterfeit scam involving the notorious Triad gang while on vacation in Hong Kong. With an added element of cross-cultural miscommunication, this buddy cop film also stars Roselyn Sanchez and succeeds with the help of some quality fight choreography and Chris Tucker consistently failing to understand exactly what Chan is saying.
7. Men in Black (1997)
The second film on this list to star Will Smith (whose made a good chunk of change playing half of buddy cop duos in his day…let’s not forget that the atrocious Wild Wild West also called on this formula), Men in Black was released in 1997 and spawned two sequels, both of which are very forgettable and never manage to touch the heights of the first film. Men in Black succeeds admirably as a creature/comedy/cosmic endeavor that pairs Smith’s streetwise detective Jay as he follows an older agent, Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), on a quest to save planet Earth from destruction at the hands of an alien race. Directed by Barry Sonnenfield, the film is adapted from the Marvel comic series of the same name and also stars Rip Torn, Vincent D’Onofrio and Linda Fiorentino. Critically acclaimed and commercially successful upon its release, Men in Black remains the intergalactic buddy cop comedy we always yearned for.
6. 21 Jump Street (2012)
We’ll be the first to admit we were skeptical when a remake of 21 Jump Street, the beloved television series which launched Johnny Depp to stardom in the late 1980s, was being remade as a feature film. We’ll also admit that we thought the advertising and marketing were, well…sh–t…and made the movie seem like your run of the mill action comedy starring a slimmed down Jonah Hill and everyone’s favorite muscle with a face, Channing Tatum. So, it pains us to admit that we were horribly and terrifically wrong about 21 Jump Street, which happens to be one of the best comedies that’s been released in the last 10 years, and a worthwhile entry to any list of buddy cop films. Directed by dynamic duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 21 Jump Street also stars Dave Franco, Brie Larson, Ice Cube and Rob Riggle, and sees young officers Morton Schmidt (Hill) and Greg Jenko (Tatum) infiltrating a high school under the guise of being students to stop the spread of a new powerful narcotic. Wickedly smart and satirical, 21 Jump Street spawned an equally hilarious sequel (the aptly named 22 Jump Street) after being a smash hit with both critics and movie audiences worldwide.
5. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
There’s some films that are renowned for making an actor’s career; for Eddie Murphy, that film was Beverly Hills Cop. In combination with his acclaimed stand-up comedy specials Raw and Delirious, Beverly Hills Cop made Eddie Murphy into the star he is (or rather, was) in the 1990s and 2000s. Directed by Martin Brest, Beverly Hills Cop stars Murphy as Axel Foley, a reckless and bad tempered cop from Detroit who travels to Beverly Hills to solve the mystery behind his best friend’s murder. While there, he runs afoul of the local police department, including Detective Billy Rosewood (as played by Judge Reinhold). Critically acclaimed (it even received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay) and a commercial smash, Beverly Hills Cop remains one of the finest entries into the buddy cop genre, and one we’ll gladly watch any day of the week.
4. Hot Fuzz (2007)
There’s no shame in admitting that one of the greatest buddy cop films of all time is actually a satire of the genre, and such is the case with 2007’s Hot Fuzz, directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as detectives Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman, respectively. After being transferred to the sleepy town of Sandford, Detective Angel is paired with the incompetent Butterman as they attempt to uncover the conspiracy behind why Sandford is such a safe place to live. With references aplenty to the buddy cop films that came before it, Hot Fuzz is equal parts dry British humor, genre satire and Wright’s signature hyper-kinetic action sequences, and its immense success with both critics and at the box office speaks to its likeability and strength as a film.
3. Super Troopers (2001)
We were hesitant to include 2001’s Super Troopers on this list, mostly because we weren’t sure if it qualified as a “buddy cop” film. Most of the time, these sorts of movies are limited to a duo of mismatched detectives, not an entire gaggle of incompetent state troopers who stumble upon a drug smuggling conspiracy involving the local police department. That said, Super Troopers is far too hilarious and far too quotable for us to not include it on this list, given that it (broadly) falls under the subject matter at hand. Written and starring the comedy troupe Broken Lizard (who you’d no doubt recognize from their other works, Club Dread, Beerfest and The Slammin’ Salmon), Super Troopers sneaks onto this list as a technicality, but a welcome one at that.
2. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
It seems an impossible thought to entertain given his resounding success in recent years, but there was a time when Robert Downey Jr. was nigh unemployable in Hollywood circles. After years of struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, Downey burst back onto the scene sober and hilarious as ever with Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a neo-noir buddy cop film that also starred Val Kilmer in one of the actor’s best roles as “Gay” Perry van Shrike. A hilarious and witty send up of the classic noir detective tales of old, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a return to form for both Downey and Kilmer, and was famous screenwriter Black’s first foray into directing (we’ll have more from him in a minute). Also starring the underrated Michelle Monaghan and Corbin Bernsen, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of the least famous films on this list, but also one of the best.
1. Lethal Weapon (1987)
While Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was Shane Black’s first foray into directing, he was an established scriptwriter for years before helming that picture. But some eighteen years before directing the number two buddy cop film on this list, he wrote the only one that topped it, 1987’s Lethal Weapon. A solid mix of comedy, action and Gary Busey’s teeth, Lethal Weapon stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as two extremely mismatched police detectives, one of whom is crazier than crazy and one who is, to quote, “too old for this sh–t.” Working to solve the murder of an old acquaintance’s daughter, Riggs (Gibson) and Murtaugh (Glover) provided the blueprint for all buddy cop films to follow, complete with dramatic saxophone score and nefarious villain and conspirator.