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15 Best Cop Movies of All Time

February 8, 2019
11 min read

Cop movies have been an essential part of thrilling movie experiences over the years. Cinema, on one hand is the exploration of intricacies in human lives or a study of people belonging to the different strata of the society. And in that sense, cops play a central role in the law enforcement system and are the basic building blocks of maintaining administrative equilibrium in any part of the world. So, movies featuring their experiences in those situations and the other side of their lives, often mixed with shades of fiction and realism, have proved to be a riveting ride always. The gun fights, car chases, mind-boggling investigative techniques, altogether convey the intense nature of their jobs also making us realize the necessity of a cop in a social structure. With that said, here is the list of the top cop films ever.

On this list you will find both dramatic and funny cop movies. The list begins with the Denzel Washington cop movie you already are very familiar with and ends in another famous movie starring Robert De Niro. The good news is that you might be able to find some these best cop movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.

15. Training Day (2001)

‘Training Day’ is a well done film that brings out the best of both Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in addition to a very interesting story of justice and corruption. For the first two thirds of the movie, the director makes us to snoop around the central characters. We get to observe these two very different people laugh, argue, help, and betray each other over the course of a single day and it makes for a truly great character study. It’s unfortunately during the last third when the film starts to falter. It requires a major suspension of disbelief and things become a little too convenient for otherwise such a realistic movie.

14. Robocop (1987)

Considered as one of the most iconic action films of the 1980’s, ‘RoboCop’ by Paul Verhoeven is an exhilarating ride filled with riveting, over-the-top action, impressive visuals, and most importantly, a thoroughly engaging story. The film is humorous at many times in its portrayal of the media and consumerism. There are themes of corporate greed, privatization and capitalism present in the film that give it a timely factor. The character “Robocop” is one of the matchless cop characters to have appeared on the silver screen and is exalted even now. It has held up very well and is a well-balanced one that will never let you go.

13. Lethal Weapon (1987)

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‘Lethal weapon’, kind of changed the way in which people viewed action movies and laid perfect foundation for the top notch series of films that followed. It set the standard for “buddy cop” genre with unforeseen difference in the lives of the two central characters Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) which also provides for lots of fun to be had later in the movie. Riggs and Murtaugh are probably the best buddy cop duo ever with their absolutely brilliant chemistry. Shane Black’s witty writing mixed with Richard Donner’s precision directing pave way for an entertaining film. It is a must watch if you love action, comedy and drama all at once.

12. End of Watch (2012)

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One of the best cop movies from recent years, ‘End of Watch’ is a brilliantly executed cop drama that is as enticing as it is unrelenting. It is one of the most realistic cop movies ever made. We follow the lives of Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miguel Zavala (Michael Pena), two members of the LAPD, as they accomplish their job of protect and serve. The film provides the viewer with a great historical background on the issues like drug violence, and how it is a much larger world once you have entered it. The violence really adds on to the extreme suspense. As the two cops enter this larger war, their lives are put into extreme danger. Anna Kendrick and the supporting cast are so good as well, but the leads make them look almost wooden in comparison.

11. The Fugitive (1993)

‘The Fugitive’ is one of the most entertaining films ever made. It tells the story of Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), a doctor who is falsely committed of murder and escapes jail from an accident involving a prison bus and is on the run as a fugitive trying to clear his innocence. The hunt is headed by Tommy Lee Jones as US Marshall Samuel Gerard. And most of the rest of the movie involves the cat ‘n mouse game, Gerard trying to track down Kimble. It is great entertainment with a fast paced plot that keeps you interested with just the right amount of twists and turns which are placed evenly through the film. The action meanwhile is fantastically over the top – the train crash and the dam scene are classic moments in cinema history.

10. The Departed (2006)

‘The Departed’ is the film that famously won Martin Scorsese his first Oscar. This film has quite possibly Scorsese’s best ensemble of any of his films. Set in the unpleasant Boston, where mobster Frank Costello runs an extremely tried and tested operation, a young up and comer, William Costigan, is forced to go undercover to expose his crimes. Although brutally hilarious, ‘The Departed’ at times seems extremely forced and littered with dialogues that it trying its hardest to be approved by Tarantino aficionados. The Departed is not perfect, it is visually inconsistent and has some extremely clunky dialogue, but its wonderful character acting, blistering soundtrack and exciting narrative manages to mostly overshadow the low points.

9. Serpico (1973)

Adapted from a biography by Peter Maas, ‘Serpico’ had major impact on how cinema depicts members of law enforcement. Lumet understands how to craft a solid picture, and he takes his time to craft a film that tells an engaging story with phenomenal characters. This film tells the real life story of Frank Serpico, an honest cop working in a corrupt environment. Brilliantly acted by Al Pacino, the lead character is a powerful performance that ranks among the actor’s greatest works. It is depiction of a classical situation of a man driven by noble sentiments to embody something of the civic value one expects of servants of the public trust.

8. Die Hard (1988)

‘Die hard’, no doubt is the quintessential action film of all. Directed by John McTierman, it stars Bruce Willis as John McClane, a New York cop visiting LA to see his wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and kids. Shortly after John arrives at his wife’s big corporate Christmas party, the building is taken under control by terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his 12 henchmen who are using a hostage situation as a cover while they rob the company of its riches. One of the single biggest assets of Die Hard is the simplicity of its execution. Not one moment in the movie we feel out-of-place. Die Hard may be structured as a straightforward fight between good and evil, but the characters feel three-dimensional, with flaws which keep them memorable and make the film all the more rewarding on repeat viewing.

7. Fargo (1996)

Coen brothers have the mastery in painting a vivid tale out of thin air, and ‘Fargo’ is their most revered achievement. The thing with this movie is, it becomes all the things that you not expect to get out of it. With a story that delves into a blend of humor, violence and thrills, the black comedy elements of ‘Fargo’ make it both a bitter and comedic edge-of-seat thriller with Marge Gunderson’s “Oh ya betcha” becoming a highlight over the course of the running time. It is one of those few films that stand the test of time, and can entertain from beginning to end. It’s dark, satirical, quirky, and fundamentally a unique flavor, catering to all aspects desired. The soundtracks alone would leave you stunned at the end of it.

6. Se7en (1995)

Murder mysteries don’t often indulge their audience’s intellectual capacity. They generally believe they can get by on suspense, intrigue and our inherent and insatiable need to find out whodunit. But “Se7en” is a philosophical thriller that addresses a much bigger part of our nature – the age old question of whether or not humans are inherently evil. It indirectly advocates that society, as a whole, is migrating towards an inevitable abyss filled with specialization in many of the deadly sins. Even though humans may be ignorant to this path, it continues to occur all around us until we become dragged into it. ‘Se7en’ still remains a classic, exceling in all departments like cinematography and editing.

5. Dirty Harry (1971)

Clint Eastwood plays a San Francisco cop in this iconic cop movie, directed by Don Siegel. He is one man you do not want to find yourself on the bad side of, because sooner or later, you’ll be asking yourself, “Do I feel lucky?” This film is a fun, intense, hilarious, suspenseful ride. The lack of music used during the climaxes makes the scene even more suspenseful. It’s also interesting how accurately this film portrays the corrupt police force, and Harry Callahan (Eastwood) often just finds himself with no choice but to operate outside the law in order to get the job done and bring those bad guys to justice.  It is filled with moments, scenes and lines that are still being quoted, reenacted and even parodied still to this day. “Dirty Harry” is one of the best characters to be portrayed in film ever.

4. The French Connection (1971)

The late 60s and the 70s changed American cinema with daring realism in their films and finally took the Hollywood dazzle out of these films. In this context, French Connection is a landmark achievement for the changing 70s cinema as well as the best work from William Friedkin. The film, although starts off slow, carries terrific pacing and tight, thrilling scenes. The cinematography, score and the lead actors all add to its taste. It certainly catches the flavor of New York and has interesting sets. It is based upon actual events that occurred about a decade earlier in New York City. It swept the Oscars, and was indeed the Best Picture of 1971. Hackman’s performance justifiably earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor.

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3. L.A. Confidential (1997)

More than just a murder mystery movie with a wonderful cast, this film shines in a way that we quite haven’t seen. It is an utterly engrossing neo-noir thrill ride, combining classic noir elements with stylish violence, a terrific script, a brilliant cast and a breathtaking plot. Adapted from James Ellroy’s novel of the same name, which was inspired by actual events, the film follows a group of LAPD officers who investigate a robbery turned murder at the Nite Owl that involves another officer as a victim, turning the case into a more personal matter for the police department. The film has an incredible story-line that shows us that there’s more to the Nite Owl case than expected, and there is a lot of history between the characters, especially involving corruption, prostitution, celebrities, scandals, drugs, anything that made LA the most dangerous US city in the 40s and 50s.

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2. The Silence of the lambs (1991)

‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is a rare treat of a film with the dramatic and psychological gravitas to stand among the greatest films ever made. The film takes big risks and manages to succeed on almost every front. The film is filled with superb performances with Anthony Hopkins nailing the best in his career.  Clarice is one of the best female leads ever to be in a movie and she is played magnificently by Jodie Foster. Buffalo Bills character adds on to the creepy factor in the movie. Silence of the Lambs never loses its pace and gives an extremely intense finale. ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is ageless. Like all unforgettable thrillers, an adrenaline rush can never get lost in the sands of time.

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1. Heat (1995)

This magnum opus of Michael Mann had everything a cop movie would want. An ensemble cast with powerful performances, brilliant direction, unforgettable deliveries and confrontations, action sequences, all together made a well-polished and breathtaking final product. It’s a nearly three hour crime epic that simultaneously leaves you wanting more and makes you feel completely satisfied. There is really nothing about this film that isn’t perfection. The story unfolds beautifully, never dragging. ‘Heat’ is simply a testament to what can be done with the good old-fashioned cops and robbers theme invested with a top class cast and crew firing on all cylinders. This is one of the reasons why it occupies top position in this list and is a must watch for all film lovers.

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