The 25 Best Buddy Cop Movies of All Time

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A “buddy cop” movie doesn’t necessarily need to have cops in it. No—while the trope tends to come from movies like Lethal Weapon where the entire endeavor is built on the chemistry, or lack thereof, between a pair of police officers with fundamental differences as they come together to solve a crime or figure out a mystery, a “buddy cop” movie can really pair any two people together. The “cop” part isn’t the hook as much as the “buddy” part is. What we’re looking for here is that familiar dynamic: people who aren’t so similar putting aside, and even embracing their differences for a sum that’s greater than its parts. It’s a familiar formula, but one that can always be entertaining when executed right.

One good way to think about that formula might be with a phrase that Roger Ebert coined in his review of Rush Hour, as a “Wunza movie.” The opening of his review reads as follows:

“Rush Hour” is our reliable friend, the Wunza Movie, pairing two opposites: Wunza legendary detective from Hong Kong, and wunza Los Angeles cop. And wunza Chinese guy, and wunza black guy. And wunza martial arts expert and wunza wisecracking showboat. Neither wunza original casting idea, but together, they make an entertaining team.

You get the idea. It’s not so much the police aspect that we’re after, but the dynamic of two distinctly different people coming together. Chemistry is key—you may not realize it, but that’s the key ingredient you’re looking for here.

So, no, not all of the movies on this list are explicitly “police” movies. But they all capture that dynamic you were looking for when you clicked onto this list: two people coming from different places in life, coming together to get to the bottom of something. Sometimes this can be funny. Sometimes this can be dead serious. But the formula is there, and by hook or by crook these movies tend to make it work.

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21 Jump Street (2012)

Based on the cultural ’80s touchstone TV series of the same name, 21 Jump Street isn’t just one of the best of the expansive ‘buddy cop’ genre, but it’s one of the funniest movies of the last decade full stop. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have perfect chemistry together, and in addition to big laughs the movie also has a pretty damn compelling story, too. Bonus? The sequel, 22 Jump Street, is basically just as good.

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Lethal Weapon (1987)

Lethal Weapon might be the formative buddy cop movie, and comes from the master of the subgenre in Shane Black. A detective who doesn’t play well with others gets paired up with a partner, and the two uncover a massive criminal conspiracy. It’s fun, it’s funny, and if you haven’t seen it it’s exactly what you’re looking for on this list.

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Last Action Hero (1993)

Last Action Hero is a very self-aware take on the ‘buddy cop’ subgenre, as the plot revolves around a kid who loves a cop movie, and watches it over and over again. One time, his viewing of his favorite movie takes an even weirder turn, as he gets sucked into the movie and becomes the partner of the cop (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Arnold always has the skillset to do action and comedy, and shows it off.

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Se7en (1995)

This one: definitively not a comedy. But maybe the best movie on the entire list. David Fincher’s serial killer film pairs a young cop (Brad Pitt) with an old vet (Morgan Freeman) as the two come from different places to uncover a series of connected murders. Stylish, fun, and with an utterly thrilling climax, Se7en is a classic for good reason.

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The Other Guys (2010)

Where Se7en is definitively not a comedy, The Other Guys most certainly is. Director Adam McKay and star Will Ferrell team up for the third time (following Anchorman and Talladega Nights) for this incredible buddy cop comedy that also doubles as a social commentary on the 2008 financial crisis. Ferrell plays a glorified accountant version of a cop, while his partner is an incredibly game and very funny Mark Wahlberg. The movie gets the best out of its supporting cast, which also includes Samuel L. Jackson, The Rock, and a fantastic Michael Keaton.

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Rush Hour 2 (2001)

While Roger Ebert coined that very useful “wunza” phrase in his review for the original Rush Hour, we’re actually going to go with the sequel as our pick for the Rush Hour franchise entry. The Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker duo already has their chemistry well established at this point, leaving most of the time for exactly what we want: funny jokes and fun action. This movie also features the best moment in the franchise, when Chris Tucker sings “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” at a Hong Kong karaoke bar.

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Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

Oh yes. While The Rock’s Hobbs is kind of a cop (he works for the DSS), Jason Statham’s Shaw certainly isn’t (he’s a former Fast/Furious franchise villain turned somehow kinda hero), but these two have exactly the kind of dynamic that anyone reading this list is looking for. They’re two guys who don’t really like each other, but sure come to understand that together they can get the job done. The movie has huge action, some big laughs, and our duo here takes on an awesome villain in a super soldier played by Idris Elba. One of the most fun movies in the entire Fast and Furious universe.

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The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys is a perfect entry in this genre, which is built primarily on the performances of its leading performances from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Gosling plays a mediocre detective, and Crowe plays, basically, a goon, as the two get into the twisty story of a missing girl and the death of a porn star. A very, very fun movie from Shane Black (who also wrote Lethal Weapon and directed another movie on this list).

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Osmosis Jones (2001)

Osmosis Jones is such a fun movie, and to explain it almost sounds a little bit like a hallucinated fever dream. But we’ll start. The movie starts out in live action, where a widower zookeeper (Bill Murray) does not take care of his health, including routinely eating food that fell on the ground. Enter the (animated) inside of his body, where a white blood cell (Chris Rock) and a pill (David Hyde Pierce) attempt to fight off a virus (Laurence Fishburne) wreaking all sorts of havoc. Yup. It’s a good one.

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Men in Black (1997)

Men In Black might be one of the most unexpected franchises of the last 30 years. But when the first Men In Black came out, of course, no one really imagined it could’ve become a multi-film franchise; back then, it was just a sci-fi/adventure that fit perfectly into our buddy cop world, putting old vet Tommy Lee Jones together with young gun Will Smith, and letting some magic happen. Such a fun movie.

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Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995)

Audiences who already knew Bruce Willis’ all-time badass John McClane from the first two Die Hard movies got to see him finally find a partner of equal badassery in Die Hard With A Vengeance, when he was paired up with a member of the all-time movie name hall of fame in Zeus Carver, played by none other than Samuel L. Jackson. The duo has great chemistry, and most importantly go against a fantastic maniac bad guy played by Jeremy Irons. This might be the most fun Die Hard aside from the original.

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The Heat (2013)

Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig have teamed up on a number of very funny comedies, and among those is a classic in the buddy cop formula, 2013’s The Heat. The movie finds McCarthy as a local Boston cop who gets teamed up with an FBI agent played by Sandra Bullock. The movie, predictably, has quite a few funny moments and the chemistry between the two leads keeps the energy charged throughout.

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Pineapple Express (2008)

One of Seth Rogen’s early leading role classics was Pineapple Express, which found him as a goofy process server paired with a very lazy drug dealer played by James Franco. The two have nothing particularly notable happening in their lives…until Rogen’s character witnesses a drug deal-influenced murder. And it all takes off from there. Another bonus is a very, very, funny Danny McBride role as another dirtbag. No cops here—well, one crooked cop played by Rosie Perez—just all mismatched goofy stoner fun.

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48 Hrs (1982)

Eddie Murphy was only 20 years old when he filmed 48 Hrs. which marked his debut on film (a couple years after he started on Saturday Night Live). And while he went on to make a few other movies that would qualify for this list (including another that we’ll get to in a little bit), it’s 48 Hrs. which fits the “buddy cop” description best. Murphy plays a criminal, freed briefly by a hard-nosed cop played by Nick Nolte. The unsuspecting pair work together to eventually track down some cop killers. Basic, but formative to this genre.

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Bad Boys II (2003)

The Bad Boys series is a fun one, and even the latest entry, 2020’s Bad Boys For Life is potentially worthy of this list. But we’re going to go with Bad Boys II, the Michael Bay-directed, inflated-budget sequel to the 1995 original. Sometimes a budget inflation takes away from the charm of a lower budget original, but that’s not the case in a Michael Bay action movie about a pair of loose cannon cops played by Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. The movie is super fun, and has an absolutely classic (and very 2003) theme song.

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

It’s hard to remember, because the MCU took up so much of the last 12 years of Robert Downey Jr’s career, but he was making some really fun and unique movies in the pre-Iron Man 2000s. One of those is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which comes from Shane Black (again!) and finds RDJ as an accidental movie star. Downey is teamed up with Val Kilmer as a legendary detective, and the two get enveloped in a twisty, fun, murder mystery.

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Point Break (1991)

Point Break is top-notch buddy cop action. Best movie name all-time contender Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates a group of surfers who he believes might be bank robbers, and builds a complex relationship with their leader, Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). Directed by Katheryn Bigelow, who would eventually win a pair of Oscars for directing The Hurt Locker.

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End of Watch (2012)

End of Watch is one of the grittier entries in this list, a thriller drama that rides its great pairing of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña to a great finish. The movie finds the two hero cops exposing members of a drug cartel—and facing the brutal backlash that follows.

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Midnight Run (1988)

Here’s a fun “buddy cop” movie where the main characters are neither buddies nor cops. A bounty hunter (Robert De Niro) is tasked with bringing a mob accountant (Charles Grodin) across the country.

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Hot Fuzz (2007)

The amazing team of director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost took their stab at a buddy cop movie with Hot Fuzz, which found Pegg as a big city, action-hungry cop who gets reassigned to a boring small town. One of the funniest movies of the 2000s, and a more-than-worthy follow-up to this same team’s zombie outing in Shaun of the Dead.

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Shanghai Noon (2000)

Jackie Chan had a good stretch going in the late ’90s and early 2000s, and in the wake of Rush Hour he landed another franchise, beginning with Shanhai Noon. This movie put Chan (as Chon Wang, say it out loud) alongside jokester Owen Wilson (as Roy O’Bannon) in a rare martial arts/western hybrid. No traditional ‘cop’ dynamic, but the two come together here to make an unlikely pair in a movie with a ton of thrills and possibly even more laughs. That’s what we’re all after, right?

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Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Beverly Hills Cop might have been Eddie Murphy’s truest star making performance. Axel Foley is a classic character in the comedy legend’s admittedly deep archive, and the movie balances action and comedy really well.

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Blue Streak (1999)

We’ve already got Martin Lawrence and Will Smith together on this list, but how about Martin Lawrence together with Luke Wilson? The two team up in the 1999 romp Blue Streak, where Lawrence plays an out-of-jail convict who poses as a cop in an attempt to retrieve a diamond he stole and hid years earlier. Wilson plays his actual cop partner, and there’s a really great early-career Dave Chappelle role.

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Starsky and Hutch (2004)

Starsky and Hutch was a cop show between 1975 and 1979, but it worked even better as an action comedy in 2004 with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in the titular roles respectively. Lots of car chases, police investigations, and classic comedy, combined with two great leading roles, Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear, and Vince Vaughn as the villain, and this is one of the best genre entries on the entire list.

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Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia is a classic buddy cop movie. The movie might be remembered most for its social commentary on racism, but it also just packs an entertaining and very fun story (complete with twists!) into its 108-minute running time. Ginnifer Goodwin (as a young, bright-eyed police officer bunny) and Jason Bateman (as a con artist fox) make for our principal buddy team here, and they uncover a deep criminal conspiracy. A movie that’s really great for the entire family.

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