The Top Five 'Buddy Cop' Films Ever!

top five buddy cop movies

Along with books, I like movies, television, and music. Let me correct that. I LOVE those things—big heart emoji type of love.

As such, I’ve wanted to make some ‘Best/Top’ lists for quite some time. This will be my first, and I thought I should start with a film genre that I love maybe more than any other—the ‘buddy cop’ film.


Most folks would probably say they’d know a buddy cop movie when they see it, but I disagree. Googling ‘best buddy cop movies’ shows a definite shotgun approach to this topic. Even the Men’s Health 25 Best Buddy Cop Movies of All Time list starts with this whacky statement: A “buddy cop” movie doesn’t necessarily need to have cops in it.

I suppose Men’s Health could make the statement that chocolate ice cream doesn’t need chocolate in it, but who the hell would want to eat that?

Men’s Health then includes Midnight Run (1988) on that same list. They support their decision with this claim—Here’s a fun “buddy cop” movie where the main characters are neither buddies nor cops.

I think the Men’s Health contributors have missed the point of “buddy cop.” Next, they’ll put Star Wars on the list with the statement—Here’s a fun “buddy cop” movie that features an upright dog and some lasers.

We need to stop this madness, and we do that with rules. We can’t play any game without defined expectations so let’s get started.

Buddy Cop Movies

First rule: the buddies in any ‘buddy cop’ movie MUST be cops.

That seems like it should go without saying, but Men’s Health already showed that it most definitely needs to be spoken. 48 Hours (1982) isn’t a buddy cop movie, but it makes almost every ‘Best” list. In the film, Eddie Murphy is a wise-cracking criminal (the opposite of a cop), while Nick Nolte is a hard-nosed detective. There are other odd pairings that folks try to slide into the buddy cop genre, but for this list, we will hold them to the standard of actually being cops. Simple, right?

Second rule: they must be partners.

Again, this should be self-explanatory. However, Wikipedia insists that The Presidio (1988) is a buddy cop movie. Mark Harmon plays a San Francisco detective, and Sean Connery plays the provost marshal of the Presidio Army base. They are not partners; they just ended up working together to solve a crime. Riding in a car together does not make two strangers partners, let alone buddies.

This second rule does bite me in the butt because I would love to argue that Beverly Hills Cop (1984) fits the genre. It’s one of my favorite movies. However, Eddie Murphy is a Detroit cop. Only Judge Reinhold and John Ashton are partners in the Beverly Hills Police Department. And now that I’m thinking about it, Murphy spends most of the movie running around on his own causing problems for Reinhold and Ashton until the very end. He antagonized them until the end. They weren’t partners. Never mind.

Third rule: the two partners need to be human.

I’m going to get a lot of naysayers here, and I understand. I love the movie K-9 (1989) with James Belushi and Rando the dog. I also liked Turner & Hooch (1989) with Tom Hanks and Beasley the dog. Cops and dog movies are cute. However, the banter is one way—cop to dog— so it’s not really a buddy movie. When I tell my dog to sit, we’re not having a conversation. She’s following orders or disobeying them, but we’re not conversing.

And yeah, I know the third rule will disqualify those sci-fi movies like Alien Nation (1988). I really liked this James Caan and Mandy Patinkin movie, but standards are standards—gotta be humans.

Fourth rule: there must be some comedic elements to it.

Whenever I hear ‘buddy cop movie,’ I think there should be some laughs associated with it. The movie doesn’t have to be chuckles-a-minute, but there should be some comedic tension every now and then.

Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams were fantastic in Nighthawks (1981). The movie is another of my favorites, and I’ve watched it several times, but there isn’t a funny moment to be had. It’s intense, filled with action, and features two cop partners, but I would never consider it a buddy-cop movie.

So those are my rules:

1.     The buddies must be cops,
2.     The buddies must be partners,
3.     The partners must be human,
4.     The film must be occasionally funny.

With that said, let’s get rolling in reverse order of my favorites…


Bad Boys movie poster

5. Bad Boys (1995)

This movie ticks all the boxes above, but it’s more than occasionally funny. It’s a big-budget action flick starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as two Miami detectives investigating the heist of heroin from the police evidence room.

The two actors had great chemistry in this movie, and the film hummed.


Freebie and the Bean movie poster

4. Freebie and the Bean (1974)

I think this was the first buddy cop movie I ever saw, and it remains one of my all-time favorites to this day. Alan Arkin and James Caan play two bickering San Francisco detectives. They’re determined to bust a local crime boss. Their back and forth is hilarious. Many scenes will be considered politically incorrect in today’s environment, but anyone viewing it should be adult enough to understand that the world was different when this was made.

If not, consider this your trigger warning. Now that I think about it, all these buddy flicks will probably upset someone.


Stakeout movie poster

3. Stakeout (1987)

In Stakeout, Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez are two Seattle cops staking out an escaped convict’s ex-girlfriend (Madeleine Stowe). There’s a sweetness to this buddy cop movie that I’ve always loved.

First, Dreyfuss and Estevez seem like decent guys who genuinely like each other as partners. The mischief they cause the other detectives as well as themselves is hilarious. Then the budding romance between Dreyfuss and Madeleine Stowe was terrific. I could rewatch this movie any time.


lethal weapon movie poster

2. Lethal Weapon (1987)

Even though I consider Lethal Weapon the standard for the buddy cop genre, it’s only my second favorite. It spawned three sequels and many clones.

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover play Los Angeles homicide detectives. There are some holes in the story (how is Gibson immediately back on duty after so many shootings?), yet the story speeds along. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve watched it.

The interaction between Gibson and Glover is fantastic. At the beginning of the movie, they have an antagonistic relationship. Gibson was a loose cannon, and Glover was button-down. They also threw in some conflict due to the young guy/old guy dynamic. All of it worked like a charm.


running scared

1. Running Scared (1986)

Running Scared is my all-time favorite buddy-cop movie, and it came out a year before the standard (Lethal Weapon). Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal play two Chicago detectives who are trying to make one major arrest before they retire to Key West.

Hines and Crystal were both funny and cool in this film. They bounced off each other as if they were true partners. This is a movie I’ve repeatedly watched and would recommend to any crime fiction or buddy cop movie fan.


If you’re interested, I asked my Facebook followers which buddy cop movie was their favorite. You can see the post and their responses here:
Facebook: What is your favorite buddy cop movie all time?
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