The Top 10 “Buddy Cop” Duos in Movie History
It’s a formula as old as storytelling itself: two people with wildly different personalities meet. They hate each other. Circumstances force them to work together. They begin to see things from the other’s perspective. A friendship blossoms despite the odds. They win the day. However, this formula has never functioned better than when it’s placed inside a cop movie.
This is the template for the vast majority of “buddy cop” movies and it’s a template that, when utilized properly, can still deliver the goods to this day.
With the odd pairing of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy arriving in theaters this week with ‘The Heat,’ it’s time to take a look at our favorite buddy cop duos. Spoiler alert: nine out 10 of ’em are mismatched personalities. Hey, when something works, there’s no need to tinker with it!
Schmidt and Jenko
We know what you’re thinking — out of the countless buddy cop movies in existence, we’ve picked a 2012 film to feature on this list. We’re hacks, we have no sense of movie history and so on. Well, all we’ll have to say in response is that we’ve watched ’21 Jump Street’ dozens of times since its release, and it’s one of the funniest movies in years, with many of its laughs being completely due to stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.
The pairing of the hunky Tatum and the non-hunky Hill is initially amusing on its own, but the constantly shifting dynamic between the pair provides countless laughs and plenty of surprisingly sweet moments. For our money, no buddy cop duo has been this hilariously complicated, with the traditionally cool Tatum finding himself out of sorts in a modern world that favors the sweeter, sensitive Hill over his rugged good looks and rough approach to life. The only reason it’s sitting at number 10 is that we don’t want to look like chumps for putting a 2012 film near the very top.
Detective Lee and Detective Carter
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the ‘Rush Hour’ films were one seriously horrible case of diminishing returns. Keep in mind that any nice things we say about the pairing of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker does not apply to the awful ‘Rush Hour 3′ and only half-applies to the passable ‘Rush Hour 2.’ In fact, the first ‘Rush Hour’ is, at its core, a fairly run-of-the-mill cop movie. What elevates it is the unexpected and totally bizarre chemistry between Chan and Tucker, a combination that has absolutely no right to work as well as it does.
Although Chan’s stunts are easily the highlight of the film, his repartee with the fast-talking Tucker is funny (if certainly broad) and their growing friendship surprisingly believable.
Detective Scott Turner and Hooch
Are Scott Turner and the lovable, destructive dog/murder witness Hooch really one of the great buddy cop duos of all time? That’s debatable. What is not debatable is that they have carved out their own little corner of pop culture, so a single reference to the famous cop/dog duo brings up all kinds of feelings and images.
There have been more effective teams and there have been funnier teams, but there is only one team that includes Tom Hanks and a slobbering dog, who only have each other when it comes to solving the murder of Hooch’s owner. It’s also the only buddy cop film where one partner slobbers on the other’s shoes.
Ray Tango and Gabriel Cash
Is raw star power enough to make for a memorable buddy cop duo? ‘Tango and Cash’ proves that when you have the right actors, the answer is yes. Although a fairly straightforward action movie on paper, the film truly comes to life thanks to the casting of Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, two action icons whose strengths and weaknesses perfectly complement one another.
It would probably be incorrect to call ‘Tango and Cash’ a good movie, but for fans of macho cinema, there’s nothing quite like watching Rambo and Snake Plissken team up to kill a whole bunch of guys.
James Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs
Although “Sonny” Crockett and “Rico” Tubbs were made iconic by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas on the television series ‘Miami Vice,’ Michael Mann’s reinvention of the duo for the 2006 film actually manage to quietly outmatch the originals in every way.
Realistic, gritty and no-nonsense, the ‘Miami Vice’ film takes itself very seriously, replacing every ounce of ’80s neon with modern grit. One of the most genius updates is the relationship between Crockett and Tubbs. We don’t see the two meet. We don’t learn too much about their personal lives. Heck, the two of them barely seem to talk about anything that isn’t work related. However, Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx have a silent, simmering chemistry that lurks right below the surface. In conjunction, these two are a law enforcement machine, so comfortable around each other that there is no need for small talk. We learn just how much these two trust and rely on each other through a nod or a cursory glance. It’s easily one of the most fascinating buddy cop duos in recent years.
Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond
Once again, we arrive at an inescapable conclusion: the best buddy cop duos tend to be comprised of people who normally wouldn’t stand to be in the same room as one another. In the case of ’48 Hrs.,’ a lot of that has to do with the fact that one half of this buddy pairing isn’t a cop at all.
Walter Hill’s classic action comedy follows a tough detective who drags a temporally paroled hoodlum out of prison to help track down his former partner. That’s certainly a solid premise for a movie, but it becomes sublime when you cast Nick Nolte as the detective and an in-his-prime Eddie Murphy as the crook. Most of the couples on this list are oposites in one way or another, but none of them have a wider gulf between them than Nolte and Murphy, who still manage to bridge that distance despite the fact that these are two personalities that have no right to be headlining a movie together.
Edmund Exley and Wendell White
One of the greatest pleasures of ‘L.A. Confidential’ is how it carefully and subtly transforms its dense mystery plot into a buddy cop action movie for the ages. For the first hour or so, the screenplay moves Guy Pearce‘s Ed Exley and Russell Crowe‘s “Bud” White to different corners of the same conspiracy, eventually letting the two of them collide in a spectacular fashion. The honorable, by-the-book Exley couldn’t be more different than the brutish, violent White, but when the two of them have their backs against the wall and are forced to work together, they make one of the best cop duos ever.
After the two compare notes, bust heads and solve the mystery at the heart of the film, they participate in a gunfight that showcases two trained professionals working in conjunction with one another instead of pure violent mayhem. Team Exley-White is a delight. We never want to see any kind of ‘L.A. Confidential’ sequel, but we certainly wish we could’ve seen more of these two.
Matthew Sykes and Sam Francisco
As we’ve already discussed, most buddy cop duos are a study of opposites, but few have been quite as different as the two detectives at the heart of ‘Alien Nation.’ Set in a world where aliens have arrived on Earth and have slowly begun integrating into human society, the film teams up a prejudiced human cop played by James Caan with an extraterrestrial cop played by Mandy Pantinkin.
Although the duo do investigate and take down a pretty fascinating conspiracy that integrates big, science-fiction ideas into a typical ’80s action movie scheme, the meat of the film is watching these two men from different worlds grow to respect each other. Despite the inherent absurdity of the plot, both Caan and Pantinkin play their roles perfectly straight, grounding their partnership in a realism that helps sell the rest of the plot. Even though one member of the duo is from outer space, the relationship at the core of ‘Alien Nation’ feels more real and earned than most movies in this genre.
Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman
The real magic of ‘Hot Fuzz’ is that it somehow manages to relentlessly mock and parody the concept of a buddy cop movie while simultaneously creating an unforgettable duo of its own. The film’s style and direction may be as self-aware as they come, but the dynamic between Simon Pegg‘s no-nonsense London cop and Nick Frost‘s small-town, slob cop feels about as honest and sweet as anything else on this list.
In between bouts of extreme violence, ‘Hot Fuzz’ lets the bromance between these two mismatched partners grow in unexpected and heartwarming ways. Most buddy cop duos ultimately get along because the plot demands it. In the case of Angel and Butterman, they get along because they have more in common than they realize and genuinely seem like two guys who should be friends. Badass crimestoppers rarely make you say “Awww” so much.
Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh
Could we really justify any other movie at number one? Although there were plenty of buddy cop movies made before 1987’s ‘Lethal Weapon,’ it still somehow feels like the first of its kind. Despite countless imitators (and three increasingly dire sequels), the partnership between Danny Glover’s straight-and-narrow Murtaugh and Mel Gibson‘s suicidal Riggs still feels fresh and dangerous today. Forget about the stable, almost cuddly Riggs of the later sequels. Gibson’s work in ‘Lethal Weapon’ is pure insanity, a perfectly captured example of just why this guy was so beloved for so many years.
Although Gibson has the flashier role, Glover pulls more than his fair share of the weight, giving the audience a sympathetic, reasonable point of view. Together, they form a mismatched duo for the ages, a team that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but refines it to the point of perfection.