5 Best Cop Movies You Have to Know

Photo: Silver Screen Collection (Getty Images)

If there’s one thing that Hollywood producers simply love making, it’s cop movies. Usually, they revolve around a loose cannon detective, set upon rectifying some injustice and getting his revenge by any means necessary. The reason why this genre is so popular is probably because people suffer injustice every day and often daydream about someone taking the law into their own hands and making everything right. Of course, numerous films have evolved from this simple premise and turned into true masterpieces of modern cinema. In this list, we take a look at some of the best cop movies that both stick to the formula and massively diverge from it.

Dirty Harry (1971)

We’ll start things off with a film that began all this cop movie craze and set the standard for the whole genre – Dirty Harry. Released back in 1971, the movie follows an ill-tempered police inspector by the name of Harry Callahan who is on a mission to track down the psychopathic killer known as Scorpio. Callahan, also known as Dirty Harry, does whatever it takes to bring the criminal to justice, which means acting recklessly, collecting information violently and threatening people with his ridiculously long .44 Magnum revolver. Dirty Harry basically created the well-known formula of a tough guy cop that doesn’t follow the rules and deserves being called a classic.

Serpico (1973)

Right after he captured the public’s eye with his portrayal of Michael Corleone in the Godfather, Al Pacino made yet another great film that can be considered one of the best cop movies ever. Based on real events, Serpico follows a young police officer who goes undercover and tries to fight the overwhelming corruption in the police force. Serpico was noted for his unconventional clothes and untrimmed beard, which turned most of his fellow officers against him and made him a loner. The movie is a great piece of realistic drama set in the corruption-driven ’60s where a whistleblower like Serpico has quite a hard time.

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

While the Dirty Harry was a an epitome of an antihero that breaks the rules in order to get the bad guys, Bad Lieutenant did something else entirely. This gritty cop drama follows an unnamed police lieutenant that breaks the law almost constantly, in a way identifying himself with the criminals. One of the pivotal points in the film is the rape of a nun and how it affected the lieutenant. He’s constantly tortured by the aspect that she’s forgiven the assailants and doesn’t want to prosecute them. In a way, this slowly changes him and makes him want to become a better person, but in vain. Bad Lieutenant is a great but troubling cop movie that spins the roles and shows us a villainous side of the police.

Cop Land (1997)

James Mangold is a fairly diverse director, known for his various hits and misses over the years. In 2001 he directed a cheesy romantic comedy called Kate & Leopold, a couple of years later, a psychological strange thriller Identity, and after that a biographical drama Walk the Line that depicted the life of the country icon Johnny Cash. However, before it all, back in 1997, he made a cop movie with an ensemble cast simply called Cop Land. The story followed sheriff Freddy Heflin, played by Sylvester Stallone, as he deals with the corrupt police officers in his town. In a somewhat classic (though intricate) story of one man fighting the system, Stallone pretty much excelled. Considering how the rest of the cast included legends like Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, the film didn’t disappoint.

Departed (2006)

Whenever you attach Martin Scorsese to a project, you know it’s going to be something noteworthy and the 2006 film Departed didn’t disappoint. The story is based on a 2002 Hong-Kong film by the name of Infernal Affairs and follows two men working as undercover agents on opposite sides. One is a cop (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) who infiltrates a notorious Irish gang led by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) and tries to gain their trust. The other is Colin Sullivan who works as a police mole for the aforementioned gang. The whole plot of the movie revolves around the two trying to find and eliminate each other without arising any suspicion. Departed brought the cop movie genre to a new level and revived the whole concept.

This is our choice of the 5 best cop movies ever made that show all the beauty of the genre thanks to their diversity. Which one of these is your favorite?