Video: 10 "Cop Movies" Worth Seeing—Again and Again

For a little bit of lighter fare for this week, here are 10 of my favorite feature films with police officers as the central characters.

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Last week in this space I posted a list of law enforcement books—all non-fiction—I recommend as providing value to my law enforcement friends.

After that item went live, one of my LEO buddies texted me, "What about cop novels?"

I admitted to him that I've read almost no novels centered on the police profession.

My chosen genre of fiction is international espionage (think Jason Bourne). I replied back that I probably couldn't even name ten cop novels—much less recommend them.

He texted me back, "What about TV shows?"

Again, my reply was probably disappointing.

"I watch sports, news, and my son's cartoons," I said.

"The last show about police I regularly watched was Southland, and that went off the air years ago. Sorry."

However, this exchange got me to thinking about police movies I've enjoyed over the years.

That—I decided—was a list I could assemble.

So, here are 10 of my favorite feature films—in alphabetical order—with police officers as the central characters.

Grab your popcorn and silence your cell phones—let's go to the movies!

Blade Runner

This classic Ridley Scott picture from 1982 is one of my all-time favorite movies—regardless of genre. The post-apocalyptic world in which Harrison Ford's character—Rick Deckard, a veteran cop given the unenviable task of tracking down and "retiring" robotic humanoids known as Replicants—is thought-provoking on many levels.

Interestingly, Blade Runner takes place in 2019.

Unfortunately, we still don't have flying cars.

Blue Thunder

Roy Scheider plays Officer Frank Murphy, a Vietnam veteran and helicopter pilot with some lingering post-traumatic stress and a penchant for pissing off his supervisors. Daniel Stern plays Officer Richard Lymangood, a new member of the airborne division of the LAPD.

The helicopter was played by a highly modified AĂ©rospatiale Gazelle.

What was total suspension of disbelief in 1983 has become surprisingly real today, with high-tech capabilities now commonplace for police airborne units—except for the Gatling gun mounted to the nose of the bird, of course.


Starring Steve McQueen, this picture is a must for anyone who claims to love police movies. McQueen's character—Lieutenant Frank Bullitt of the San Francisco Police Department—is charged with protecting a witness about to turn state's evidence on a crime syndicate. Things go wildly sideways and Bullitt kicks into action.

This picture features one of the best—if not the very best—car chase scenes in movie history.

Die Hard

This is first and foremost a Christmas movie—I will entertain no argument to the contrary.

It takes place at a Christmas party.

There is Christmas music.

The villain—Hans Gruber, portrayed brilliantly by the late, great Alan Rickman—says at one point, "It's Christmas, Theo. It's the time of miracles."

Christmas movie—period.

Bruce Willis is the perfect fit for the role of John McClane, an NYPD detective who has to single-handedly stop a cadre of heavily armed bad guys from killing the party goers and making off with a bunch of loot.

It's not Christmas season until the scene in the air duct airs on television.

Dirty Harry

Another film set in my adopted hometown of San Francisco, this is the first—and best—in the series of films that turned a Spaghetti Western actor into a genuine American treasure. Clint Eastwood's portrayal of Inspector Harry Callahan is brilliant.

Every cop I know can quote lines from this film verbatim.

"Do you feel lucky?"

End of Watch

I admit that my list so far has been a bit—uh, dated. It's in alphabetical order, but it's probably no small coincidence that the first five pictures are all more than three decades old.

End of Watch—starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña—was released in 2012. There are some storyline flaws—no cop is going to take off their duty belt to get into a knock-down fistfight with a subject—but as an action-adventure movie, it satisfies.


The Cohen brothers have made dozens of highly entertaining movies, most of which are a unique mix of tense drama and quirky comedy. Fargo—starring Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson, a pregnant Minnesota police chief called out to investigate several roadside murders—is a true classic Cohen brothers film.

Dark humor and unexpected twists are peppered throughout and the ensemble cast is perfectly selected.

Hot Fuzz

It surprises me how many LEO of my friends who haven't seen this movie. In addition to the next feature on this list, it's one of my very favorite police comedies.

Like any good buddy movie, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play two UK officers who could not be much different from each other. Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is a hard-charging and highly successful officer from the city and Danny Butterman (Frost) is more of a country bumpkin type. The humor in this film is off the charts, and there are myriad references to police movies of years past.

This one must be watched over and over in order to find all the "Easter Eggs."

The Naked Gun

A bumbling Los Angeles police detective named Frank Drebin—played to perfection by the brilliant Leslie Nielson—must foil an attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II. They made two more of these films, and each is good in its own right, but the opus is the best of the lot.

It's odd to watch this today because we're reminded that once upon a time—long, long ago—O.J. Simpson was actually a likeable guy. Oh how things have changed on that front, but the laughs in this film are still there in this classic.

The Untouchables

No list of fantastic police movies is complete without this award-winning film based on the real-world work of Eliot Ness and his team of law enforcers—who came to become known as 'The Untouchables' due to being impervious to graft or corruption—to take down Chicago crime boss Al Capone.

It's a cinematic treasure—one I've probably watched two dozen times since it came out in 1987.

Honorable Mentions

Before anyone starts firing off angry emails calling out all the great movies I've failed to put on this list, here are my "honorable mentions."

A reasonable argument can be made that any one of the following films could be swapped out with one of my Top 10 above.

Those titles include 48 Hours, Bad Boys, Beverly Hills Cop, Dragnet, L.A. Confidential, Patriots Day, Point Break, Police Academy, Se7en, Super Troopers, The Departed, The French Connection, To Live and Die in L.A., Witness, and Zootopia.

Yeah, I said it—Zootopia.

Watch it.

Trust me.

Sound off with your favorite feature films in the comments section below.

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