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Lethal Weapon (1987)
Starting with the very memorable opening scene — a blonde leaps out of a skyscraper to her death — this Richard Donner film is a snapshot of over-the-top, Reagan-era action movie excess. Audiences loved the solid and dependable Sgt. Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and his erratic, and truly off-the-rails partner Sgt. Riggs (Mel Gibson): The four Lethal Weapon films have grossed a total of almost $500 million.
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Freebie and the Bean (1974)
Is this slapstick comedy an example of the worst excesses of the macho, politically incorrect 1970s cop film, or a parody of those excesses? Riding the same San Francisco streets as Bullitt and Dirty Harry, Alan Arkin (pictured, left) and James Caan (right) cause no end of vehicular damage and civilian casualties, proving themselves a much greater danger to public safety than the mobsters they're trying to bring down.
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In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Incorporating the racial tensions of its era, this murder mystery retains its volatile, explosive snap even today. The movie is realistic enough not to have its protagonists — rural Southern police chief Rod Steiger (pictured, left) and stranded Northern big-city detective Sidney Poitier (right) — overcome their antipathy and sing ''Kumbaya'' together, but they do develop a grudging respect for each other as lawmen. The movie won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Steiger — who, for once, delivered a movie's subtlest performance.
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Rush Hour (1998)
Director Brett Ratner's breakthrough actually combines two Hollywood clichés — the buddy-cop action-comedy and the kung-fu flick — creating a hybrid that's perfect for multi-culti audiences. Numerous copycat attempts (see: Cradle 2 the Grave) have tried to replicate the Chris Tucker/Jackie Chan chemistry (and $132 million gross), but Rush Hour made the conceit sparkle with deft fight scenes and Tucker's speedy logorrhea.
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The French Connection (1971)
There's no humor, hugging, or understanding in this buddy-cop movie, just bare-knuckled brawn and car chases that'll give your ticker a workout. As Detective Jimmy ''Popeye'' Doyle, Gene Hackman (pictured, background) is the original unlovable cop bastard, an amoral racist with a drinking problem. Hackman owns the movie — he won an Oscar for the role — and his partner Det. Buddy ''Cloudy'' Russo (Roy Scheider, foreground) seems to spend most of the film just trying to get out of his way. But when Popeye accidentally kills a fellow officer, Russo doesn't turn him in. Now that's a true buddy.
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Bad Boys (1995)
The buddy formula perfected by Lethal Weapon resulted in movies more like Three Stooges comedies than hard-boiled crime dramas, as proved by the clowning of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as mayhem-loving Miami cops here. (Originally, it was to star Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz.) The film helped make mainstream megastars of its two leads, and it launched the directing career of fireball-loving, quick-cutting, fist-pumping action auteur Michael Bay (Transformers).
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48 Hrs. (1982)
In 2006, 48 Hrs. probably wouldn't get the green light today: It's pretty dark stuff, with blunt racial slurs, vicious violence, and two unethical and often unsympathetic leads in hard-drinking crusty cop Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) and jive-talking criminal Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy). Director Walter Hill's mix of humor and action, grit and sentimentality has become a oft-imitated formula, but 48 Hrs. still holds up as the one to beat.
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Training Day (2001)
Turning buddy-cop convention on its ear, naive rookie Ethan Hawke discovers early on his first day patroling alongside veteran Denzel Washington that, while the older cop keeps order on his Los Angeles beat like a warlord, he's also thoroughly corrupt. While Hawke spends most of the film looking for his moral compass, Washington is so liberated by playing a gleefully wicked character that he abandons his usual starchiness, earning himself an Oscar in the process.
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Hickey and Boggs (1972)
Bill Cosby and Robert Culp had been a pioneering interracial pair in the 1960s series
I Spy, but the actors' reunion in this grimy, violent, nihilistic thriller (directed by Culp) is about a million miles away from their light TV capering. As two burned-out gumshoes pursuing a mysterious femme fatale, a missing suitcase full of stolen cash, and a trail strewn with corpses, Cosby and Culp lose everything that has any meaning to them — except their loyalty to each other.
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Starsky & Hutch (2004)
The mismatched duo. The leisure-suited cocaine dealer. The ornery police chief. The car-chase finale. The homoerotic tension. All the conventions of the buddy-cop formula are mocked in Todd Phillips' kitschy remake of the '70s TV series, and the Frat Pack fellas — Owen Wilson (pictured, left), Ben Stiller (center, with Fred Williamson), and Vince Vaughn — wear their handlebar mustaches, curly perms, and nut-hugging jeans with flair.
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Hot Fuzz (2007)
In the buddy-cop send-up Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are like the Odd Couple of police partners: Pegg's tight-ass Nicholas (at right) is a hotshot transferred out of London for showing up his colleagues; Frost's jokey, lazy Danny (left) is a bumbling idiot whose main qualification for his job is that he's the chief's son. Together, the two help uncover a series of murders in their sleepy village — but not before going through the gauntlet of action-movie scenarios (car chases, gun fights, etc.).