ByLuke Douglas, writer at

Oh, boy, twenty? Really? Are we sure? Ok, then, I'll knock myself out. The twenty greatest movie cops of all time. Not in order, of course, Jesus, I don't want to be TOO hard on myself. What is it about the boys and gals in blue that make us so entertained? Is it their unshakeable code of honor? Or their moral grey? Or perhaps their breaking of honor for the greater good? Or breaking the code for the opposite reason? All four are interesting topics on their own, so let's split them up into those four categories, shall we?

Is it their unshakeable code of honor? -Me, a couple sentences ago.

Top Five Honor Bound/By the Book Cops

1. Nicholas Angel - Hot Fuzz

In Edgar Wright's clever satire of and ode to 80s and 90s action films, Simon Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, the best police officer that the sleepy town of Sandford's ever seen. So law-driven is he, that leaving the town is no option for him, and he will make sure no matter what, the law is followed. Be it his undeniable honor, knack for paperwork, or his quick intellect, Angel is clearly a great starting point for this list.

2. Frank Serpico - Serpico

Corruption is a dirty greedy business, and real life hero Frank Serpico knew it. In this 1979 classic, Al Pacino takes on the role of Serpico, as a straight-as-an-arrow officer who takes a single stand against his fellow police officers, in his war against corruption and dirty cops. He's a true hero.

3. Edmund Exley - L. A. Confidential

Exley wants respect. Son of famous LA cop Preston Exley, Edmund, AKA Ed, is tasked with the Nite Owl Massacre, as he butts head with two other officers, Sgt. Vincennes and Bud White, all of which that do their job differently yet arguably efficiently. Through out the film, Exley keeps himself and stays straight, but learns that he needs to break the laws a little to do what's right in the end.

4. Marge Gunderson - Fargo

A folksy pregnant police chief from Minnesota. What could be more etched on the side of good than that? Marge Gunderson, happily married to her husband, painter Norm "Son of a" Gunderson, and happy with her career and surrounding, is the exact opposite of our antagonists, Jerry Lundegaard, Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimarud, two of which are malicious killers, and the other being a down on his luck car salesman. With Marge's wit and stern good hearted-ness, you just know she's gonna take down the criminals, but even if you can tell, you'll root for her all the way through still.

5. Roger Murtaugh - Lethal Weapon

He's getting too old for this sh*t. The sane side of the Glover Gibson duo in the Lethal Weapon franchise, Roger Murtaugh is a good cop who's forced to serve as the reason to Martin Riggs' loopy and crazy detective work. But, Murtaugh's been on the force long enough to know when the law is too restricting, as evidenced by the line "It's just been revoked" in Lethal Weapon 2. What a badass.

Or their moral grey? -Me in the introduction.

Top Five Morally Middle of the Road Cops

6. The Lieutenant - Bad Lieutenant

The unnamed police lieutenant in Abel Ferrara's compelling character study is not a very good character. He drinks and does drugs on the job, he shoots a lot of people, and he's a very dirty cop. But what makes him middle of the road is his devotion to the church. The one thing that keeps his humanity intact, and his cardinal rule, to never rape a nun, keep the liuetenant from straying into asshole territory, and Keitel's pitiful performance is pitch perfect.

7. Terrence McDonagh - Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Much more likeable than Keitel's portrayal, is Nicolas Cage's portrayal of a similar lieutenant based in New Orleans. He has differences from Keitel's, that make him a very different character. Cage's lieutenant isn't as church going as Keitel's, but he's grounded by his lady-love. Ultimately, he still does terrible things, but he never becomes unlikeable.

8. Max Rockatansy - Mad Max

In the apocalypse, the law has been far forgotten. So, it's easy to forget that once upon a time, Mad Max was a police officer who lost his family to a malicious gang. As the series goes further forward, Max gets madder and madder, yet he still has a sense of justice that brings him on these adventures. It's a mad world, but Max will do his best to protect the innocent or himself.

9. Edwina "Ed" McDunnough - Raising Arizona

Now, Ed McDunnough as a police officer never did anything horrendously terrible. She was pretty good at her job. The problem is, after retiring to live with her ex-con husband, Hi, she decides to steal a furniture store owner's baby because she deems they need it more. Yes, it's explained a lot more good-guy-sounding in the movie, but even still, Ed stole a baby and got Nicolas Cage beat up. Both are cardinal sins last time I checked.

10. Little Bill - Unforgiven

Now, some would be quick to judge that Little Bill is merely corrupt, however, might I add that even though he does beat up English Bob for a ludicrous reason, a reason it is still, and ultimately, that confrontation was Bob's fault. Sure, he doesn't care if a whore is beat up, and that's pretty bad, but being basically the leader of a town with strict gun laws is very hard, and Little Bill does his best despite his shortcomings.

Or perhaps their breaking of honor for the greater good? - Moi.

Top Five Loose Cannon Cops With Hearts of Gold

11. Harry Callahan - Dirty Harry

Everyone considers Dirty Harry a dirty cop, however I disagree. Where as dirty cops can be found breaking the law for their own personal gain. Dirty Harry was a cop who took to the street and took out criminals. It didn't matter if the law was lost, it was Callahan who got the answers and got the results.

12. John McClane - Die Hard

What a poor guy. New York cop John McClane just wants to spend the holiday with his family, when it turns out he was accidentally invited to his wife's job's Christmas party. As awkward as that is, McClane is in for worse yet when Hans Gruber and his gaggle of "terrorists" take Nakatomi Plaza hostage, and McClane is the only one that evaded capture. One line sums it up perfectly.

Karl Vreski: You're a policeman. You have rules.
McClane: Yeah, that's what my captain keeps telling me.

13. Martin Riggs - Lethal Weapon

The second half to earlier listed cop, Roger Murtaugh, Martin Riggs is the exact opposite of him. A suicidal maniac turned reckless cop. As dangerous as he is, he always gets his man, even if everyone he loves (except for Murtaugh, that is) gets killed eventually. Seriously, he loses a lot of people close to him. It's scary.

14. Axel Foley - Beverly Hills Cop

While I wanted to put Eddie Murphy's criminal that was given a badge for 48 hours in 48 Hrs, he wasn't really a cop. Axel Foley on the other hand, is a loose cannon Detroit cop trying to avenge his buddy's murder when he gets apprehended unjustly. Luckily, he gets his cop-status back, and with the help of a duo of straight cops, Foley is able to avenge his buddy's death and get two sequels.

15. Wendell "Bud" White - L. A. Confidential

Back to L. A. Confidential, for Wendell White, AKA Bud, an LA cop who's ex-partner is killed in the Nite Owl Massacre. A regular cop mourns his death and moves on, but Bud pursues the truth against jurisdiction all the while beating up wife-beaters with furious anger until he tragically lays his hand on Lynn Bracken, the prostitue he's in love with. Bud White, the only man who's likeable after hitting a woman.

Or breaking the code for the opposite reason? -Guess who.

Top Five Dirty Ne'r Do Well Cops

16. Captain Mark McCluskey - The Godfather

In Mario Puzo's crime epic series, memorable officers are rather scarce. Except of course for one Mark McCluskey played by Gen. Ripper from Dr. Strangelove. This Irish-American dirty cop does dirty business with the mafioso Virgil Sollozzo for his own personal gain, a reoccuring theme in this section. After punching Michael Corleone in the face, and getting involved in an assassination attempt against Don Vito, Michael decides to end him and Sollozzo out of necessity, and even pushes McCluskey's murder as a tabloid cover when his corruption is unveiled. Nice going, Michael.

17. Norman Stansfield - Léon the Professional

A violent FDA agent and lover of the fine arts, Stansfield is a true looney. A pill-popping corrupt cop who'll gun down entire families because one of the members owes money. If only Mathilda hadn't escaped into Leon's hands, maybe he could have just not bothered with Leon. But, they are exact opposites, and in the end they go together. Ruthless and merciless, you better believe that he wants EV-RY-ONE.

18. Alonzo Harris - Training Day

Taking place on one day, corrupt narc Alonzo Harris spends it training rookie cop Jake Hoyt the ins and outs of the urban narcotics unit of LA. A mean mother who King Kong ain't got sh*t on, Alonzo is willing to do whatever it takes to continue his existence as a corrupt cop. The worst part? He dies a hero for Los Angeles. With no sympathy and all corruption, Harris is almost machine more than man.

19. ED209 - Robocop

Speaking of machines, up here we have ED209, a large mechanic monster who was created to be - get this - a cop. He was meant to keep the streets of Detroit safe, but he malfuncioned, and killed even after the crime desisted. He was only ever fixed by a little girl in Robocop 3, and no one wants to think about Robocop 3. A metal machine built to kill over protect or serve, he's just a big mean bucket of bolts.

20. Hank Quinlan - Touch of Evil

The ultimate unjust and crooked cop can be found in the Orson Welles classic Touch of Evil, with Hank Quinlan recieving his crown of debauchery. Through out the film we see Quinlan in many lights. Scary, pathetic, smart, but none would consider him just. Planting evidence, setting up the innocent, throwing dirt on rivals, Quinlan is truly scummy, and as he gets dirtier and dirtier through out the film, we get a surprising monologue from Quinlan before he shuffles off the mortal coil, prodded by his partner who loved Quinlan so. Tragic.

Honorable Mentions


The T-1000 - Terminator 2

Al Powell - Die Hard

Turner and Hooch

Starsky and Hutch

Tango and Cash

Freddy Heflin - Cop Land

Mr. Orange - Reservoir Dogs

Zed - Pulp Fiction

Det. Christopher Danson and PK Highsmith - The Other Guys

Jake Hoyt - Training Day

Ethan Bishop - Assault on Precinct 13

The Untouchables

Johnny Utah - Point Break and Jack Traven - Speed

Jack Vincennes - L. A. Confidential

The Sheriff of Nottingham - Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Ed Tom Bell - No Country For Old Men

Bad Cop - The Lego Movie

Commissioner James Gordon - The Dark Knight

Billy Costigan - The Departed


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