A distinctly American genre, it’s the States’ glorified, gun-happy approach to law enforcement that, aside from appalling crimes in real life, allows for some of the best damn action movies ever made — and you know what we’re gonna be focusing on today.
I’m counting a cop film as any film with a police officer or detective as the main character, as you’d expect, of course. So, heavy-handed magnums, big blocks of heroin and skinny lil’ informants at the ready, guys, we’re going on patrol.
10. Dirty Harry (1971)
It’s your favourite miserable badass bastard coming in hot at number ten, with Clint Eastwood building on past “nowt-to-be-fucked-wit” roles to give us this; the man unloading magnums like their ice creams (wait). There’s something so effortlessly cool about this film, defining 70s action cinema for many, and inspiring basically every police movie and TV show that came after it, and maybe a music video or two as well.
9. Training Day (2001)
Let’s beat around the bush here, Denzel Washington is the man — the man. An acting powerhouse, he manages to switch from the straight man to a shit-kicker-in-er in a matter of minutes while remaining totally dope. For many, it’s his performance in Training Day that brought him this reputation. A nasty piece-of-work here, his general arrogance spliced with unshatterable charisma makes him one of the most interesting antagonists of the 21st century. The supporting cast is great too, with Ethan Hawke not annoying the shit out of me like he usually does and appearances from Dre and Snoop (hell yeah). It’s a true edge-of-seat thriller and one that puts the grit in gritty.
8. Lethal Weapon (1987)
Perhaps criminally low for some, there’s no denying that Lethal Weapon, for most people, defines the cop movie. With Shane Black making his writer’s debut, simultaneously perfecting the “buddy cop” genre that he’d go on to essentially remake with every movie he made (but we love it though), this 80s classic balances big action set pieces and textbook wisecracking. The duo of Gibson and Glover will go down as one of cinema’s best, as their chemistry elevates this from your standard fare.
7. The Raid (2011)
This film ain’t messin’ about, that’s for sure. Directed by little-known Welsh writer Gareth Evans, this Indonesian fight-fest both inspires and wears its inspiration on its sleeve, taking cues from both Eastern and Western cinema. With all that going on behind the cogs, however, it’s no wonder that this film manages to pack so much gut-wrenching awesome into its 1hr40min runtime. The action in this is near-unmatched by anything released, ever, and, while it lacks some of the more technical aspects like a “story” or “writing”, you’re not going to see fight scenes like this anywhere else, you have my word.
6. The Departed (2006)
Perhaps a slightly contentious pick here, if only due to its walking a fine line between “cop” movie and “gangster” movie. Of course, no one’s contending the quality of The Depaated, one of Martin Scorcese’s most gripping crime thrillers, and his befuddlingly first Best Picture winner. Acting juggernauts Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson each find themselves at peak form, particularly the former, who puts in a career-best performance. It’s a movie that keeps you guessing right until the end, with plenty of genuinely shocking moments spattered throughout.
5. Dredd (2012)
Ah, remember when I said how The Raid has inspired plenty — yeah, this boi has a lot to owe. While many might argue (rightfully) that the original is often best, and The Raid is a fuckin’ claseeeek, this 2012 comic book adaptation takes from it and makes it a benchmark that all comic book adaptations should aspire to be like. Writer Alex Garland (known for sci-fi masterpieces Ex Machina, Sunshine and 28 Days Later) obviously knows 2000AD knowledge and gleefully flexes it as any fan would. If that’s not enough, Karl Urban clocks in one of the most accurate performances ever put to screen as Mega-City One’s toughest law enforcer. If you’re in the mood for violent, beautiful, perfectly-executed indie comic fan service, you won’t find better.
4. Fargo (1996)
Often overshadowed by the, so I incessantly hear, “must-watch” TV show of the same name and setting, Fargo is, quite deservedly, ranked as one of the Coen’s best movies, introducing the mainstream to one of the finest actresses to hit the screen in the instantly likeable Frances McDormand. Her performance here is one I always rate as one of my favourites, and, on first watch, was actually one of the only reasons I enjoyed it. Of course, on the countless rewatches between now and then, I’ve come to enjoy the bone-dry wit and engaging, original plot that the director’s offered up.
TOP THREE EH LADS — LADS? WHERE ARE MY LADS? I’M LADLESS.
3. Se7en (1995)
My favourite David Fincher movie until I watched Fight Club (I mean…), I will never get tired of talking about Se(seven)en, a film that mixes the engaging mystery of noir, fluid pacing of thriller and horrific imagery of psychological horror into a cocktail accented by eerie cinematography and garnished by unspeakable dildos. Fincher has always been able to create an atmosphere like no one else and here, through offbeat framing and muted colour palettes, he chooses to make me feel intensely uncomfortable for a couple of hours. The performances are masterclass, with Brad Pitt and the movie’s antagonist shining throughout, and the writing is thick and steeped in twisted morality.
2. RoboCop (1987)
YEA. BOI. If you thought I liked talking about Se(seven)en, you’ve got no idea how much I can rattle on about this 80s icon. It’s, in many ways, the perfect popcorn movie; buckets of squib-ejected blood, deceivingly clever writing and more shots fired than the reunion ep of Drag Race S9 (gurl). The performances feel wrapped in irony, and, even if they’re not, they make the film feel even more awesome. All this 80s nostalgia should drop the neon and synths, and get diggidy-down with acid-melting faces and Jesus-allegories — I’d buy that for a dollar.
WHOOP WHOOP IT’S THE SOUND OF DA *honourable mentions* WHOOP WHOOP IT’S THE SOUND OF DA *cop movies that were good but didn’t quite make the cut*.
The Nice Guys (2016)
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Die Hard (1988)
Rush Hour (1998)
End of Watch (2012)
Ahhhh it’s not Die Hard fuck you hahahahahahahahahaha
1. Hot Fuzz (2007)
It seems only fitting that movie so in love with the genre should sit at the top of said genre. It’s no secret on this website that I enjoy the movies of Edgar Wright, “enjoy” being the key understatement in that sentence. The second and, in my opinion, best entry in the Cornetto trilogy, Hot Fuzz pastiches the classics of the action genre, with Point Break and Bad Boys (dummy) being the main targets. It’s a film that never fails to make me laugh, with buckets of blood and quotable one-liners galore — it’s one of the finest UK movies ever, simple as.
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations