Buddy cop film

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A buddy cop film is a film with plots involving two people of very different and conflicting personalities who are forced to work together to solve a crime and/or defeat criminals, sometimes learning from each other in the process. The two are normally either police officers or secret agents (cops), but some films, such as 48 Hrs. (a police officer and a convicted criminal), that are not about two officers may still be referred to as buddy cop films. It is a subgenre of buddy films. They can be either comedies or thrillers.

Frequently, although not always, the two heroes are of different ethnicity or cultures. However, regardless of ethnicity, the central difference is normally that one is "wilder" than the other: a hot-tempered iconoclast is paired with a more even-tempered partner. Often the "wilder" partner is the younger of the two, with the even-tempered partner having more patience and experience. These films sometimes also contain a variation on the good cop/bad cop motif, in which one partner is kinder and law-abiding, while the other is a streetwise, "old school" police officer who tends to break (or at least bend) the rules. Another frequent plot device of this genre is placing one of the partners in an unfamiliar setting (like a different city or foreign country) or role (like requiring police field work of a non-cop, rookie, or office-bound "desk jockey"). In these cases, they are usually guided by the other partner.

In his review of Rush Hour, Roger Ebert coined the term "Wunza Movie" to describe this subgenre, a pun on the phrase "One's a..." that could be used to describe the contrasts between the two characters in a typical film.[1]

The cliché was satirized in the film Last Action Hero. While the movie in itself was a buddy cop film (i.e. pairing a fictional cop with a real world boy), the film's police department obligatorily assigned all cops a conflicting buddy to work with, even to the extreme of one officer being partnered with a cartoon cat.

A subgenre of the buddy cop film is the buddy cop-dog movie, which teams a cop with a dog, but uses the same element of unlikely partnership to create comedic hijinks. Examples include Turner & Hooch, Top Dog and K-9.


Akira Kurosawa's 1949 Japanese film Stray Dog, starring Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, is considered a precursor to the buddy cop film genre.[2] Other early pioneers of the buddy cop film genre are the 1967 American film In the Heat of the Night and 1974's Freebie and the Bean. The genre was later popularized by the 1982 film 48 Hrs., starring Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, one of the most successful buddy cop films. 1987 saw the buddy cop genre reach its apex when Lethal Weapon made a theatrical debut. 1989 saw the release of Tango and Cash, starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell.


  • Dragnet franchise (1949–2004, US)
    Focuses primarily on police Sgt./Lt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) and his various partners (most notably Officers Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) and Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan)).
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964–68, US)
    This series features secret agents not cops, although it is similar to the traditional buddy cop format. The series focuses on the relationship between American spy Napoleon Solo, Russian spy Illya Kuryakin and their English boss Alexander Waverly who all work for U.N.C.L.E..
  • Homicide (1964–77, Australia)
    Focuses on members of the Victorian Police homicide squad.
  • I Spy (1965–68, US)
    Two secret agents Kelly Robinson and Alexander "Scotty" Scott travel the globe masquerading as tennis players.
  • Adam-12 (1968–75, US)
    A veteran police officer and a rookie officer on daily patrol; as the series progressed, the two remained beat partners.
  • The Mod Squad (1968–73, US)
    A trio of young undercover cops.
  • Both the original Hawaii Five-O and its reboot focus on Hawaii police detective Steve McGarrett and his colleagues Danny "Danno" Williams, Chin Ho Kelly and Kono Kalakaua.
  • McCloud (1970–77, US)
    New Mexico Marshal Sam McCloud works with the New York City Police Department, partnered primarily with Sgt. Joe Broadhurst.
  • The Persuaders! (1971–72, UK)
    Two millionaires, one American, one British, solve crimes.
  • The Streets of San Francisco (1972–1977, US)
    Det. Lt. Mike Stone partnered with Inspector Steve Keller and later with Inspector Dan Robbins.
  • McMillan & Wife (1971–77, US)
    A police commissioner solves crimes with his young wife.
  • Barnaby Jones (1973–80, US)
    An ageing private eye teamed up with his daughter-in-law.
  • The Rockford Files (1974–80, US)
    Private Eye Jim Rockford aided by his dad "Rocky" and LAPD detective Dennis Becker.
  • Starsky & Hutch (1975–1979, US)
    Two best friend detectives.
  • Ellery Queen (1975–76, US)
    Ellery Queen a mystery writer and amateur detective teamed with his father Police Inspector Richard Queen.
  • The Sweeney (1975–78, UK)
    Two officers of the Flying Squad.
  • Switch (1975–1978, US)
    Retired cop and young con man work work at a detective agency together.
  • Charlie's Angels (1976–1981, US)
    A trio of female private detectives work with mysterious millionaire Charlie Townsend and his assistant John Bosley.
  • Hart to Hart (1979–1984, US)
    Wealthy husband and wife Jonathan and Jennifer Hart solve crimes with the aid of their loyal butler Max.
  • Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (1980, US)
    Two part-time detectives: one a former hustler, the other an accountant.
  • Simon & Simon (1981–89, US)
    Two brothers run a private detective agency together.
  • Cagney & Lacey (1982–88, US)
    Two female NYPD detectives.
  • Remington Steele (1982–87, US)
    A female private detective teams up with a con artist who takes on the identity of her fictional boss "Remington Steele".
  • Knight Rider (1982–1986, US)
    Michael Knight fights crime with the aid of an artificially intelligent talking car named KITT.
  • Hardcastle and McCormick (1983–86, US)
    A retired judge aided by former car thief.
  • Riptide (1984–86, US)
    A trio of private detectives work from a boat called Riptide.
  • Miami Vice (1984–1989, US)
    Two undercover detectives, Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs.
  • Hunter (1984–91, US)
    Detective Sergeants Rick Hunter and Dee Dee McCall.
  • Moonlighting (1985–89, US)
    A couple moonlight as private detectives.
  • The Ruth Rendell Mysteries (1987–2000, UK)
    Majority of episodes focus on DCI Reg Wexford and his colleague DI Mike Burden.
  • Jake and the Fatman (1987–1992, US)
    District Attorney J.L. "Fatman" McCabe, works with detective Jake Styles and Assistant district attorney Derek Mitchell.
  • Inspector Morse (1987–2000, UK)
    Inspector Endeavour Morse partnered with Detective Sergeant Robbie Lewis. A spin-off called Lewis (2006–2015) sees a promoted Lewis paired with DS James Hathaway, whilst prequel series Endeavour (2012–present) has a younger Morse partnered with DI Fred Thursday.
  • Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989–2013, UK)
    Belgian detective Hercule Poirot solves crime with the separate/combined assistance of many colleagues including: his best friend Captain Arthur Hastings, police Inspector Japp, Poirot's secretary Miss Felicity Lemon and author Ariadne Oliver.
  • Father Dowling Mysteries (1989–1991, US) Catholic priest Father Frank Dowling solves murders, with the aid of Sister Stephanie "Steve" Oskowski.
  • A Touch of Frost (1992–2010, UK)
    DI Jack Frost is partnered with various different detectives most notably DS George Toolan.
  • Diagnosis: Murder (1993–2001, US)
    Dr. Mark Sloan solves crimes with the aid of his Detective son Steve and his hospital staff.
  • Byomkesh Bakshi (1993–97, India)
    Detective Byomkesh Bakshi and his chronicler Ajit.
  • The X-Files (1993–2002/2016, US)
    Two FBI agents Mulder & Scully, investigate paranormal cases.
  • Walker, Texas Ranger (1993–2001. US)
    Texas Rangers Cordell Walker and Jimmy Trivette.
  • Due South (1994-1997, Canada)
    A Canadian Mountie, who first came to Chicago on the trail of his father's killer, and a Chicago Detective.
  • Inspector Rex (1994–2004/2008–2015, Austria-Italy)
    Rex, a German Shepherd police dog partnered with various human detectives.
  • Wycliffe (1994–98, UK)
    Detective Superintendent Wycliffe is partnered with Detective Inspectors Doug Kersey and Lucy Lane.
  • Cadfael (1994–98, UK)
    Benedictine monk Brother Cadfael solves crimes along with Sheriff Hugh Beringar.
  • Dalziel & Pascoe (1996–2007, UK)
    Two detective partners: One is blunt and rude, the other is calm and well mannered.
  • Midsomer Murders (1997–present, UK)
    Inspectors Tom (and later) John Barnaby alongside Detective Sergeants Troy, Scott, Jones, Nelson and Winter investigate murders in the village of Midsomer.
  • Beck (1997–present, Sweden)
    Martin Beck, a by the book detective, solves cases with Gunvald Larsson a cop who is angry and violent.
  • Total Recall 2070 (1999, US)
    A police officer paired with android partner.
  • Inspector Montalbano (1999–present, Italy) and The Young Montalbano (2012–2015, Italy).
    Both these shows focus on Salvo Montalbano and his police colleagues: Domenico "Mimi" Augello, Giuseppe Fazio and Agatino Catarella.
  • The Invisible Man (2000–02, US)
    Two operatives for a secret organisation one of whom can turn invisible.
  • A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001–02, US)
    Overweight and Eccentric private detective Nero Wolfe solves cases with the aid of his legman Archie Goodwin.
  • The Inspector Lynley Mysteries (2001–08, UK)
    Inspector Thomas Lynley paired with Sergeant Barbara Havers.
  • Rosemary & Thyme (2003–07, UK)
    Two gardeners who are also amateur detectives.
  • Wallander (1994–2006, 2005–13, Sweden, 2008–16, UK)
    Inspector Kurt Wallander works with his detective daughter Linda and his colleagues Martinsson and Nyberg.
  • Bones (2005–17, US)
    Forensic anthropologist Temperance "Bones" Brennan teamed with FBI agent Seeley Booth.
  • Psych (2006–14, US)
    Police consultant and fake psychic Shawn Spencer works with his partner and best friend Gus.
  • Life on Mars (2006–2007, UK)
    21st century detective Sam Tyler is seemingly transported back to the 1970s and ends up working alongside tough cop Gene Hunt, their different methods clashing. The series was remade in the US in 2008-09. Ashes to Ashes (a sequel to the original UK series) set this time in the 1980s showed Gene working with another time-displaced cop Alex Drake. The series aired from 2008–2010.
  • Inspector George Gently (2007–present, UK)
    George Gently paired with DS John Bacchus.
  • Murdoch Mysteries (2008–present, Canada)
    Detective William Murdoch is assisted by Inspector Brackenreid, Dr. Julia Ogden and Constable George Crabtree.
  • The Mentalist (2008–15, US)
    A fake psychic working with the CBI (California Bureau of Investigations), particularly with female CBI agent.
  • Castle (2009–present, US)
    A crime author partnered with female NYPD detective.
  • White Collar (TV series) (2009–14, US)
    A con artist helping an FBI agent solve crimes.
  • DCI Banks (2010–present)
    Inspector Alan Banks, DI Helen Morton and DS Annie Cabbott.
  • Sherlock (2010–present, UK) A sociopathic consulting detective and a former afghan doctor.
  • The Good Guys
    An outdated maverick and by-the-book rookie.
  • Rizzoli & Isles
    (2010–16, US)
    Homicide detective Jane Rizzoli is paired with medical examiner Maura Isles.
  • Vera (2011–present, UK)
    DCI Vera Stanhope assisted by DS Joe Ashworth and DS Aiden Healy.
  • Grimm (2011–present, US) Police detective and grimm Nick Burkhardt, his human partner Detective Hank Griffin and his Wesen friends Monroe and Capt. Renard.
  • Scott & Bailey (2011–16, UK)
    Female police officers Rachel Bailey and Janet Scott.
  • The Finder (2012, US)
    Spin-off to Bones.
  • Ripper Street (2012–present, UK)
    Former Ripper investigator Detective Inspector Edmund Reid solves crimes in post-Ripper Victorian London with the aid of Detective Inspector Bennet Drake and Pinkerton agent Homer Jackson.
  • Beauty & the Beast (2012–16, US)
    A female NYPD detective and a genetically engineered ex-soldier.
  • The Blacklist (2013–present, US)
    A criminal working alongside FBI profiler.
  • Sleepy Hollow (2013–17, US)
    Ichabod Crane paired with Lt. Abbie Mills.
  • Mr & Mrs Murder (2013, Australia)
    A married couple work as crime scene cleaners and become amateur sleuths.
  • Almost Human (2013–14, US) Similar premise to Total Recall 2070: Human detective and android partner.
  • Hannibal (2013–15, US)
    An FBI profiler initially solves crimes with a forensic psychiatrist who is a secret cannibalistic serial killer.
  • Old School (2014, Australia)
    A reformed criminal paired with retired cop.
  • Forever (2014–15, US)
    A secretly immortal NYPD medical examiner teamed up with female detective.
  • Gotham (2014–present, US)
    Gotham City Police Department partners Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock.
  • Grantchester (2014–present, UK)
    Sidney Chambers, a young priest and amateur detective works with Inspector Geordie Keating.
  • Battle Creek (2015, US)
    A small town cop teamed with F.B.I. agent.
  • iZombie (2015–present)
    Female zombified coroner's assistant teamed with human male Seattle PD officer.
  • Lucifer (2016–present, US)
    The Devil "punishes" guilty ones with the aid of female LAPD detective.
  • Houdini & Doyle (2016, UK/US/Canada)
    Illusionist Harry Houdini and his friend, Author Arthur Conan Doyle solve crimes with the aid of Constable Adelaide Stratton.
  • Ozzy & Drix
    Animated: above the law white blood cell cop with a by-the-book cold pill cop
  • Comrade Detective (2017–present, US)
    A satire of Communist propaganda through the lens of a buddy cop show.

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the animated prime time series, The Critic, Jay Sherman reviews a sub par movie titled "Beverly-Hills-Robo-K-9-Cop-and-a-half 2" in which the title parodies numerous "buddy cop" films. In the film within a television show within a television show, Dirty Harry's constant loss of partners forces the police captain to team him with "a woman, a cute little kid, an ugly old dog, a dinosaur, and a leprechaun (which ends up exploding)." An Arnold Schwarzenegger character comments that he is partnered with "a pig, an alien, Siamese twins, a sofa, and a second rate mime (which explodes)." The scene parodies the aspect that a "partner" in a buddy cop film can be absolutely anything, no matter how strange it is.[3]
  • On sketch comedy series MADtv, a sketch appears for the trailer of a buddy cop film parody, known as The Seven Buddy Cops. The title refers to seven actors known for buddy cop films over the years (Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy, Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones). Another sketch from the series called "Cream of the Cop" featured a hardened cop Phil LaMarr partnered with a can of creamed corn.
  • The Annoying Orange YouTube series features a mini video-series literally called Buddy Cop which parodies this genre. It features supporting protagonists Midget Apple and Marshmallow as amateurish buddy cops, with Marshmallow still possessing his usual childish, immature nature as a cop.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 18, 1998). "Rush Hour". rogerebert.com. Retrieved 2006-06-25. 
  2. ^ "FilmInt". Film International. Sweden: Kulturrådet. 4 (1–6): 163. 2006. Retrieved 28 April 2012. In addition to being a masterful precursor to the buddy cop movies and police procedurals popular today, Stray Dog is also a complex genre film that examines the plight of soldiers returning home to post-war Japan. 
  3. ^ "The Critic" Season 2, Episode 20: "Sherman of Arabia"

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