From action-packed buddy cop movies to gritty depictions of police officers protecting the mean city streets, there is no shortage of films about law enforcement. Although it is a common topic in Hollywood, film buffs know that a select few of these movies stand out from the rest. Here are nine of the most unforgettable portrayals of badass cops in motion picture history.
Based on a remarkable true story, this film features a tour de force performance by Al Pacino as New York Police Department officer Frank Serpico. The hero of this movie is a good cop who dares to become a whistleblower in a valiant effort to expose the corruption all around him. Although he paid a personal price for his selfless act, it also secured his place as the standard for what honest officers everywhere should strive to be.
Clint Eastwood might be best known for his success in classic Westerns, but his turn as San Francisco cop Harry Callahan cemented a spot as one of the most memorable performances in a career that has spanned seven decades. Generations of fans have been captivated by Callahan’s hunt for the Scorpio Killer, a violent criminal who has been terrorizing the city.
This 2001 film portrays a fresh-faced cop, played by Ethan Hawke, who is sent out with a grizzled narcotics officer, played by Denzel Washington, to learn the ropes in some of the toughest neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles. The twists and turns that follow culminate in a crescendo that left countless audiences on the edge of their seats and earned Washington an Academy Award.
This high-stakes cat-and-mouse film stars Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble, who became the only suspect in his wife’s murder. As U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard, portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, tries to catch the suspected killer, Kimble struggles to stay one step ahead of authorities while searching high and low for the actual murderer.
Dog Day Afternoon
Hollywood legend Al Pacino stars in another movie on our list by portraying a would-be bank robber who, along with a partner played by John Cazale, sees his plan go horribly awry. After the scene devolves into a standoff with police and hostages being held inside the bank, the tension between the good guys and bad guys hits a fever pitch. This 1975 film proves that there can be plenty of action and drama even if most of the scenes take place on one city block.
Steve McQueen is at his best when he portrays a dedicated San Francisco police officer thrust deep into the criminal world as he searches for the mob boss responsible for murdering a witness he had been protecting. Action-packed scenes and plenty of car chases makes this a timeless classic that still wows audiences more than 50 years after its theatrical debut.
Few movies in cinematic history have injected moments of levity into action-packed crime stories as expertly as this 1987 classic. When nihilistic detective Martin Riggs, played by Mel Gibson, is partnered with soon-to-be-retired officer Roger Murtaugh, played by Danny Glover, all bets are off. Despite their obvious differences, they are able to combine their unique skills to track down the criminals behind a dangerous drug smuggling ring. The mismatched chemistry between the two leading men sparked three sequels and cemented its place as one of the greatest buddy cop films of all time.
The French Connection
Two New York police detectives, played by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, go to outrageous lengths to stop a heroin smuggling operation based in France in this 1971 film. The inherent drama of the plot as well as a compelling study of Hackman’s flawed-but-dedicated character Detective “Popeye” Doyle serve to keep the attention of audiences from start to finish. If that’s not enough, though, this movie also boasts one of the most thrilling car chases in Hollywood history.
The film that made Bruce Willis a household name and sparked multiple sequels certainly deserves a spot on this list. New York police officer John McClaine is a tough-talking cop who isn’t afraid to put his own life in danger to stop a hostage situation in Los Angeles. His motivation for getting involved is to save his wife and his intuition is on full display as he takes on a gang of violent foriegn terrorists. There have been a number of compelling lone-wolf cop movies over the years, but perhaps none has achieved the cultural significance of this 1988 gem.