Top Movie Cops List
5. Alex Murphy in "RoboCop" - 1987
Director Paul Verhoeven has quite a talent for taking material, which in anyone else's hands would be campy schtick, and creating a statement on the current state of media, propaganda and corporate facism. In "Starship Troopers" he changed a movie about fighting bugs into a statement about the dangers of propaganda. In "RoboCop", his first Hollywood movie, he changed a movie about a cyborg police officer into a study of the human psyche.
Robocop might seem like a film targeted at kids, but it certainly not. Originally given an X rating, Verhoeven had to trim the gore quite considerably to even get it to a more theater friendly R rating. Peter Weller plays the title character with a sense of stoic realism and avoids straying into what would be considered camp. Verhoeven did not return for either of the two sequels and neither could recreate the overtones of the original (despite the fact the brilliant Irvin Kershner, famed director of "The Empire Strikes Back", directed "RoboCop 2").
4. Axel Foley in "Beverly Hills Cop" - 1984
"The heat is on this summer with Sylvester Stallone starring as Axel Foley". This is what audiences almost heard in the summer of 1984 with the release of "Beverly Hills Cop". Stallone eventually left the project citing the need for more action and an edgier tone (which he would eventually realize with release of "Cobra"), to be replaced by up-and-comer Eddie Murphy who had seen success on the big screen with "48 Hrs." and "Trading Places." Murphy brought his comedic touch to "Beverly Hills Cop," which in the hands of another actor would have turned this story about a Detroit police officer that travels to Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of his friend, into just another forgettable cop movie (i.e. "Cobra").
The franchise has spawned two sequels (and it appears a third slated for 2009): The solid but uneven "Beverly Hills Cop II" and the borderline dreadful "Beverly Hills Cop III". One begins to wonder what the odds are of a police detective, based in Detroit, having to travel to Beverly Hills to investigate a crime. This, however, does not change the fact the original "Beverly Hills Cop" went on to gross $234 million at the box-office and to this day is the most successful R Rated comedy of all time.
3. Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle in "The French Connection" - 1971
The film is based on a real-life heroin trafficking case that "Popeye" Doyle is assigned to. In the thirty-seven years since this film was released, no car chase has come close to recapturing the adrenaline rush associated with viewing Doyle chase an elevated train through the streets of Brooklyn in his commandeered 1971 Pontiac LeMans. This is still considered the greatest car chase scene ever filmed (though "Ronin" comes close).
Based on real life New York City detective Eddie Egan, Gene Hackman's portrayal in "The French Connection" still lives on today as perhaps the greatest realization of police drama to ever be captured on film. In fact "The French Connection" won the Academy Award for Best Picture while Hackman won the award for Best Actor.
2. Harry Callahan in "Dirty Harry" - 1971
Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan in the "Dirty Harry" series defined an entire new genre of tough talking cops who play by their own rules. It would be difficult to imagine the same level of innovation if Frank Sinatra, who was originally slated to play the role of Callahan, had not left the project. Set in San Francisco, "Dirty" Harry relentlessly tracks down serial killer Scorpio while brandishing his signature .44 Magnum. Scorpio was based on the real-life serial killer "The Zodiac" who at the time was terrorizing the real-life San Francisco. In fact "Dirty Harry" was a bit of an embarrassment to the San Francisco Police Department - as depicted in the 2007 film "Zodiac" - considering the relative ease in which Callahan defeated the on-screen killer, as opposed to the real life killer who, to this day, was never caught. Eastwood would reprise the role, to varying degrees of success, four more times in: "Magnum Force", "The Enforcer", "Sudden Impact" and "The Dead Pool."
1. John McClane in Die Hard - 1988
It is true that without Harry Callahan there would be no John McClane (though one could counter that the concept of "Die Hard" came first, it was based on a book called "Nothing Lasts Forever" which was a follow up to the book "The Detective", released as a movie in 1968 starring Frank Sinatra); without John McClane there would (for better or worse) not be nearly every high thrill action move since then.
Bruce Willis created a new definition of action star: the reluctant hero that wisecracks his way through every trial and tribulation, set to the backdrop of non-stop, yet believable, action. The three sequels would stray a bit from the concept of believability, yet they all remained highly popular and profitable. They certainly did not stop every action film from that point on to be described as "Die Hard on a bus" ("Speed"), "Die Hard at a prep school" ("Toy Soldiers") or perhaps even "Die Hard at a fashion magazine" ("The Devil Wears Prada" - admittedly that is a stretch, but you get the point).
Frank Serpico in "Serpico" 1973
Martin Riggs in "Lethal Weapon" 1987
Bud White in "L.A. Confidential" 1997
Marge Gunderson in "Fargo" 1996
Bad Lieutenant in "Bad Lieutenant" 1992
Story by Mike Ryan
Starpulse contributing writer
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