6. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (2005)
As we said, Shane Black is the master of this particular genre, and if “The Last Boy Scout” was the one where his voice became even more distinct, his directorial debut “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” might just be the work that’s most indicative of Black’s style on the whole: The film is a snarky, hilarious, ultraviolent delight that remains one step ahead of its audience at every turn and provides thrills and icky laughs in equal measure. A pre-Tony Stark Robert Downey Jr. plays our would-be hero, a fast-talking crook who falls down a rabbit hole of mistaken identity and flying bullets that comes to resemble a Raymond Chandler gumshoe story re-written through the wry, winking lens of modern-day Hollywood. Downey’s scenes with Val Kilmer, playing a temperamental private investigator who goes by the moniker of “Gay Perry,” are a scream, and watching these two skilled performers bounce off each other provides shots of electricity even when the movie threatens to become overburdened with plot.
5. “Hot Fuzz” (2007)
We’d be hard-pushed to point to anyone who understands better than Edgar Wright and his frequent collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost that if you’re going to send up a genre successfully, you have to love it unironically and with your whole heart to begin with. And that’s really what leaps off the screen in “Hot Fuzz,” the trio’s tribute to/pastiche of the buddy cop movie that displays just as much real affection for the films it parodies as it does sharp-eyed dissection of their more ridiculous tropes and cliches. But it’s also a mark of the film-as-its-own-thing that much of the humor (and it is very, very funny) comes from character-based moments between real-life buddies Frost and Pegg as does from parodying “Bad Boys” or “Point Break,” and that’s also where it derives a great deal of its surprisingly warm heart — surprisingly warm, for a film that features the single best-ever roundhouse kick delivered to a pensioner, that is. Its plotting may start to fray a bit in the last act, but it’s packed with amusingly hammy cameos and surreal detours (Jim Broadbent’s delivery of “great big bushy beard” is a gift to cinema that will never stop giving) and a deeply dotty Englishness that more than compensate. Nutty, sweet and good to the last crunchy bite, “Hot Fuzz” is a giant delicious Cornetto of a film, and arguably the high-point of the perfect trilogy bookended by “Shaun Of The Dead” and “The World’s End.”
4. “Lethal Weapon” (1987)
Black’s first script, his first entry into the genre, and a film whose success spawned a thousand imitators, “Lethal Weapon” is perhaps now associated with the cozy, comedic family vibe of the later films in the franchise (and, seemingly, the upcoming, awful-looking TV show). But one shouldn’t forget the darkness of the original film, how truly dangerous Mel Gibson‘s suicidal, self-destructive Riggs felt, and the contrast with Danny Glover‘s family man Murtaugh (with whom he’s paired to investigate the death of the daughter of an old friend). And while you undoubtedly root for the pair to defeat Gary Busey‘s unhinged Joshua, you’re also pleading for Riggs to reject the dark side and find a new purpose for living. Later movies would become gimmicky, broad, stunt-driven tales, but the Black pulp-fiction crime novel influence is prominent here, as is the long shadow of the Vietnam War, and the result, despite the lashing of humor, is a movie darker than many here, though just as entertaining.
3. “48 Hrs.” (1982)
The general perception is that “48 Hrs.” was a star vehicle for young Eddie Murphy, and that’s not wrong: As an ex-con now with a badge, Murphy held sway over the screen like the 4o-ft.-tall legends Jim Brown and Richard Roundtree of the earlier Blaxploitation era. However, while those were hard men, Murphy’s charisma and delivery almost seemed welcoming, friendly, and if you were ignoring his words, you’d think this was just one of the guys. It’s this showman/antagonist dichotomy that makes Murphy’s role in Walter Hill’s classic so utterly memorable. Though, again, that general perception doesn’t tell the whole story, namely that Murphy is provided able support from an early-crust turn from Nick Nolte. The actor delivers a performance that’s funny without being comedic, and doesn’t play for your sympathies — the sharp racial edge here is still prickly now. “48 Hrs.” earns its stripes as a buddy cop comedy simply because these two very different, very unpleasant, very chatty men somehow find a believable common ground with minimal dialogue, only through a dedication towards getting the job done.
2. “To Live And Die In L.A.” (1985)
William Friedkin’s cops-versus-counterfeiters thriller is pure ’80s sleaze: a sleek vision of L.A. ultraviolence and underworld grime that’s as much of a fantasy in its way as Friedkin’s more supernatural tales. William Petersen, who would later take on a superficially similar role in Michael Mann’s “Manhunter,” plays Chance, a hotheaded secret service agent whose more level-headed partner is just a couple days away from retirement when the film opens (please, stop me if you’ve heard this one before). During a stakeout on the warehouse of a nefarious counterfeiter played by a baby-faced, even-more-menacing-than-usual Willem Dafoe, Chance’s partner is killed — an act which propels the rest of the movie’s busy plot into motion. Friedkin’s film is gloriously ridiculous: familiar in its plot beats for sure, but boasting style to burn, plus a deliciously retro soundtrack from ’80s synth stalwarts Wang Chung. Perhaps because its style dated faster than “The Exorcist” or “The French Connection,” it’s rarely talked about in the same breath as those, but this is a brilliant, brutal genre masterpiece that can sit with the best of Friedkin’s work.
1. “Seven” (1995)
With its brooding heroes, stylish aesthetic and moody evocation of urban rot, David Fincher’s “Seven” helped to usher in a new wave of 90’s serial killer thrillers that arguably began with Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” While Fincher’s sophomore feature is probably best remembered for the macabre imagination of its many sick set pieces, the influence of which can be seen in everything from the first season of “True Detective” to NBC’s “Hannibal,” the central partnership between Morgan Freeman’s world-weary cynic and Brad Pitt’s cocksure rookie is the emotional bedrock of the film. Freeman has always been able to do this kind of earthy gravitas in his sleep, but back in the mid-’90s, it was still somewhat fresh. There’s a real, authentic brotherly chemistry between Detective William Somerset and Pitt’s swaggering, arrogant younger lawman (who sometimes feels like he’s walked out of a Western) that persists amidst the incessant gloom, and it’s downright touching. The begrudging kinship that eventually develops between these two very different men is just one of the many elements that elevates Fincher’s grisly, patient film above the level of your standard police potboiler and into the realm of popular art.
As ever, there’s stuff that didn’t quite make the list, or didn’t quite meet our criteria. Films like “L.A. Confidential,” “Coogan’s Bluff” and “Point Break” have buddy-cop-like elements but don’t quite qualify entirely. And there are films like “Men In Black,” “Colors,” “Bon Cop, Bad Cop,” “Bad Company,” “Turner & Hooch,” “The Last Action Hero” or recent hits “Ride Along,” “Zootopia” and “Let’s Be Cops” that aren’t bad, but aren’t quite good enough to make the final 25 either.
And then there are films that might be beloved to some of you, but mostly stink: films like the “Rush Hour” franchise, “Tango & Cash,” “Stakeout,” “2 Guns,” “Red Heat,” “Starsky & Hutch” and “Hickey & Boggs.” Any others you adore that don’t make the cut? Shout them out in the comments.