25 Best Cop Movies of All Time

Cinema is the exploration of intricacies in human lives or the study of people belonging to the different strata of society. 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. The gunfights, car chases, and 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.

25. Ride Along (2014)

This Tim Story directorial is an action comedy starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart as a veteran cop, James, and a security guard/aspiring police officer, Ben, respectively. As Ben tries to prove to James that he is worthy of James’ sister Angela and even gets selected into the academy, James decides to put his worth to the test by taking him along on a shift across Atlanta. This is when things go awry, and they end up facing the wrath of a dangerous criminal. To make things worse, we have Ben’s non-stop blabbering, which is a staple of any character that Hart plays. Thankfully, to balance this, we get Ice Cube’s expressions that are iconic and evergreen. You can stream ‘Ride Along’ right here.

24. Miss Congeniality (2000)

Considered a classic, ‘Miss Congeniality’ is an action comedy directed by Donald Petrie. The story centers on F.B.I. Agent Gracie Hart is given the assignment to infiltrate the Miss United States beauty pageant as a contestant to foil a bombing at the event. The only problem is that she is too tomboyish to be a part of such a contest and this can be an obstacle in her way of staying in the competition until she finds evidence of the impending disaster and finds a way to stop. Will she be able to change herself? What will the outcome be? To find out, you can watch ‘Miss Congeniality’ here.

23. Gone Baby Gone (2007)

‘Gone Baby Gone’ is a neo-noir thriller directed by Ben Affleck and stars Casey Affleck, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan, Morgan Freeman, and Michelle Monaghan. Based on Dennis Lehane’s 1998 novel of the same name, it tells the story of two private detectives who are hired by a kidnapped 4-year-old girl’s aunt after the police show no effective interest in the case, be it due to the dangerous neighborhood or any other reason. The complexity of the case increases with progression, and so do the stakes. How the two detectives manage to find the girl while maneuvering through all this is what the film shows. You can check it out here.

22. The Untouchables (1987)

Directed by Brian De Palma, ‘The Untouchables’ has a huge ensemble that includes Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Andy García and Robert De Niro. The movie is based on the 1957 memoir of the same name by Oscar Fraley and tells the story of crime boss Al Capone of Chicago (during the Prohibition era) and how Treasury Agent Eliot Ness teams up with veteran patrolman Jimmy Malone, cadet George Stone, and Ness’s peer Oscar Wallace to bring the criminal to justice. How the four guys get the job done is what the film showcases. You can stream it here.

21. 21 Jump Street (2012)

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, ‘21 Jump Street’ is an action comedy that stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who feature as high school batch mates Schmidt and Jenko, who go on to become police officers. They are then transferred to 21 Jump Street to be a part of a revived undercover police program. Their job turns out to be to return to their high school undercover as students to find the supplier of a new drug that is making rounds within the premises. As easy as it sounds and seems at first, Schmidt and Jenko realize times have changed, and to find the supplier, they will have to adapt to the surroundings, including becoming like the teenagers around them. And that is not easy. To find out about their experiences, you can stream the movie here.

20. Rush Hour Franchise

Another popular buddy cop action comedy franchise that is easily at par with the ‘Bad Boys’ franchise, the ‘Rush Hour’ movies stars Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker as Hong Kong Chief Inspector Lee and Los Angeles Police Detective James Carter, respectively. Throughout the three movies, we see the duo maneuvering their careers through crime and criminals in Los Angeles and Hong Kong. With a perfect mix of action and comedy like only Jackie and Tucker can pull off on-screen that is further complimented by their chemistry, the ‘Rush Hour’ movies are a must-watch for any cinephile. You can stream the movies here.

19. Bad Boys Franchise

‘The Bad Boys’ is considered one of the best buddy-cop movie franchises of all time. The first two movies have been directed by Michael Bay while the third movie has been directed by Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi. In all three action-comedy movies, Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are partners/detectives in the Miami Police Department, where they keep crime in check. In all three movies, it is the duo’s chemistry, propelled by camaraderie and comedy, that makes the most impact. You can watch the films here to keep yourself up to date with the events in the movies.

18. Police Story Franchise

Before Jackie Chan did ‘Rush Hour,’ he did ‘Police Story.’ Created by Chan, the action comedy crime series stars himself as Sergeant “Kevin” Chan Ka-Kui of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force. The movies show him and his team taking on drug lords and crime syndicates to bring an end to their illegal and criminal activities. As is with any action movie that Jackie is in, this franchise (6 movies in total) is known for its stunts and action, all of which were real without any use of computer graphics whatsoever and done by Chan himself, along with his stunt team. Considered among the best action movies ever made, ‘Police Story’ movies are a must-watch. You can watch them here.

17. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

From director Quentin Tarantino comes this cult classic neo-noir crime drama starring Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, and Steve Buscemi. When six robbers are hired by a crime boss to carry out a heist, they are given pseudonyms so that they do not establish any kind of connection with each other that goes beyond the crime they are going to commit. However, when the heist is botched by the cops, who arrive in the nick of time, and two of the robbers are killed, the remaining four doubt whether there is a rat among them. To find out who the rat is, you can stream the film here.

16. Chinatown (1974)

A masterpiece by director Roman Polanski, ‘Chinatown´ is also a neo-noir drama starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, and C. O. Erickson. Set in Los Angeles in 1937, the movie centers on private detective J.J. Gittes, who takes up the case of a cheating husband, Hollis Mulwray, to find out who he is cheating on his wife with and whether the wife’s allegations are even true. But he soon finds out Hollis’s real wife is someone else and that hiring him was a plan to harm Hollis’s reputation. Then, when Hollis turns up dead, things get even more complicated, and Gittes finds himself involved in a dangerous conspiracy that is bigger than he expected. As he proceeds with his investigation, more secrets come to light. To see what truth Gittes finally manages to dig up, you can check out the film here.

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 snoop around the central characters. We get to observe these two very different people laugh, argue, help, and betray each other over 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. You can check it out here.

14. Robocop (1987)

Considered one of the most iconic action films of the 1980s, ‘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. Feel free to check out the movie here.

13. Lethal Weapon (1987)

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

12. End of Watch (2012)

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‘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 protecting and serving. 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 adds to the extreme suspense. As the two cops enter this larger war, their lives are put in extreme danger. Anna Kendrick and the supporting cast are so good as well, but the leads make them look almost wooden in comparison. You can watch the movie here.

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 to 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 throughout the film. The action, meanwhile is fantastically over the top – the train crash and the dam scene are classic moments in cinema history. You can check out the movie here.

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 manage to mostly overshadow the low points. You can stream it here.

9. Serpico (1973)

Adapted from a biography by Peter Maas, ‘Serpico’ had a 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 a 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. You can stream ‘Serpico’ here.

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 do 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 that keep them memorable and make the film all the more rewarding on repeat viewing. You can stream the film here.

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 that it becomes all the things that you do 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 throughout 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 soundtrack alone would leave you stunned at the end of it. You may watch ‘Fargo’ here.

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 of this path, it continues to occur all around us until we become dragged into it. ‘Se7en’ remains a classic, excelling in all departments, like cinematography and editing. You may watch it here.

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 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. You can watch ‘Dirty Harry’ here.

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 it starts slow, carries terrific pacing and tight, thrilling scenes. The cinematography, score, and lead actors all add to its taste. It certainly catches the flavor of New York and has interesting sets. It is based on 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. You can check out the film here.

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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. Feel free to check out the movie here.

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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 Bill’s character adds to the creepy factor in the movie. ‘Silence of the Lambs’ never loses its pace and gives an extremely intense finale. Like all unforgettable thrillers, an adrenaline rush can never get lost in the sands of time. You may watch the film here.

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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, and 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 nothing about this film that isn’t perfect. 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 the top position in this list and is a must-watch for all film lovers. You can watch the movie here.

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