The 25 Best American Cop Action Films of last 50 years

by shanksinha | created - 08 Feb 2011 | updated - 16 Dec 2013 | Public

These, as per my personal views, are the 25 most gritty, hard-boiled and exciting cop action films from Hollywood in the last 50 years. Some of them are more of dramas and some fall under the buddy-cop/action/comedy genre. They are certainly not defined by body count methodology. The chronology of the list isn't as per any rating.

Added Later: I have expanded the list to include some more personal favorites that I happened to watch and re watch recently. The new additions are numbers 6, 7, 9, 15 and 22. Hope they make quality addition to the list.

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1. Touch of Evil (1958)

PG-13 | 95 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

8.1
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

A stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in a Mexican border town.

Director: Orson Welles | Stars: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia

Votes: 81,297 | Gross: $2.24M

2. In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Not Rated | 109 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

8.0
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75 Metascore

An African American police detective is asked to investigate a murder in a racially hostile southern town.

Director: Norman Jewison | Stars: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant

Votes: 55,585 | Gross: $24.38M

3. Bullitt (1968)

M/PG | 114 min | Action, Crime, Mystery

7.5
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
83 Metascore

An all guts, no glory San Francisco cop becomes determined to find the underworld kingpin that killed the witness in his protection.

Director: Peter Yates | Stars: Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn, Don Gordon

Votes: 51,067 | Gross: $42.30M

4. The French Connection (1971)

R | 104 min | Action, Crime, Drama

7.8
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96 Metascore

A pair of NYC cops in the Narcotics Bureau stumble onto a drug smuggling job with a French connection.

Director: William Friedkin | Stars: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey, Tony Lo Bianco

Votes: 91,665

5. Dirty Harry (1971)

R | 102 min | Action, Crime, Thriller

7.8
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When a mad man calling himself 'the Scorpio Killer' menaces the city, tough as nails San Francisco Police Inspector Harry Callahan is assigned to track down and ferret out the crazed psychopath.

Director: Don Siegel | Stars: Clint Eastwood, Andrew Robinson, Harry Guardino, Reni Santoni

Votes: 123,944

6. The New Centurions (1972)

R | 103 min | Action, Crime, Drama

7.1
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An idealistic rookie cop joins the LAPD to make ends meet while finishing law school, and is indoctrinated by a seasoned veteran. As time goes on, he loses his ambitions and family as police work becomes his entire life.

Director: Richard Fleischer | Stars: George C. Scott, Stacy Keach, Jane Alexander, Scott Wilson

Votes: 1,650

7. Serpico (1973)

R | 130 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

7.8
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87 Metascore

An honest New York cop named Frank Serpico blows the whistle on rampant corruption in the force only to have his comrades turn against him.

Director: Sidney Lumet | Stars: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe, Biff McGuire

Votes: 89,155 | Gross: $29.80M

8. The Seven-Ups (1973)

PG | 103 min | Action, Crime, Drama

6.8
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A tough detective who is part of an elite New York City unit is trying to find out who killed his partner, but uncovers a plot to kidnap mobsters for money.

Director: Philip D'Antoni | Stars: Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Victor Arnold, Jerry Leon

Votes: 3,659

9. Fort Apache the Bronx (1981)

R | 125 min | Crime, Drama

6.7
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In New York, South Bronx's main police precinct is nicknamed Fort Apache by its employees who feel like troopers surrounded by hostiles in a wild west isolated outpost.

Director: Daniel Petrie | Stars: Paul Newman, Edward Asner, Ken Wahl, Danny Aiello

Votes: 4,798 | Gross: $29.20M

10. 48 Hrs. (1982)

R | 96 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

6.9
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71 Metascore

A hard-nosed cop reluctantly teams up with a wise-cracking criminal temporarily paroled to him, in order to track down a killer.

Director: Walter Hill | Stars: Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy, Annette O'Toole, Frank McRae

Votes: 58,422 | Gross: $78.87M

11. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

R | 116 min | Action, Crime, Drama

7.3
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A fearless Secret Service agent will stop at nothing to bring down the counterfeiter who killed his partner.

Director: William Friedkin | Stars: William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Debra Feuer

Votes: 23,692 | Gross: $17.31M

12. Running Scared (1986)

R | 107 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

6.5
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Two street-wise Chicago cops have to shake off some rust after returning from a Key West vacation to pursue a drug dealer who nearly killed them in the past.

Director: Peter Hyams | Stars: Gregory Hines, Billy Crystal, Steven Bauer, Darlanne Fluegel

Votes: 9,503 | Gross: $38.50M

13. Colors (1988)

R | 120 min | Action, Crime, Drama

6.7
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66 Metascore

An experienced cop and his rookie partner patrol the streets of East Los Angeles while trying to keep the gang violence under control.

Director: Dennis Hopper | Stars: Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Randy Brooks

Votes: 20,811 | Gross: $46.62M

14. Black Rain (1989)

R | 125 min | Action, Crime, Thriller

6.6
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56 Metascore

Two NYC cops arrest a Yakuza member and must escort him when he's extradited to Japan.

Director: Ridley Scott | Stars: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, Kate Capshaw

Votes: 42,679 | Gross: $46.21M

15. Internal Affairs (1990)

R | 115 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

6.5
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An Internal Affairs agent becomes obsessed with bringing down a cop who has managed to maintain a spotless reputation despite being involved in a web of corruption.

Director: Mike Figgis | Stars: Richard Gere, Andy Garcia, Nancy Travis, Laurie Metcalf

Votes: 14,456 | Gross: $27.73M

16. Point Break (1991)

R | 122 min | Action, Crime, Thriller

7.2
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
58 Metascore

An FBI agent goes undercover to catch a gang of surfers who may be bank robbers.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow | Stars: Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, Lori Petty

Votes: 126,472 | Gross: $43.22M

17. Out for Justice (1991)

R | 91 min | Action, Crime, Drama

6.0
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The gruesome murder of a Brooklyn Detective will turn the case into a personal vendetta when the deceased's best friend and fellow officer will unleash an all-out attack against a psychotic Mafia enforcer's brutal gang.

Director: John Flynn | Stars: Steven Seagal, William Forsythe, Jerry Orbach, Jo Champa

Votes: 18,458 | Gross: $39.67M

18. Bad Boys (1995)

R | 119 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

6.8
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41 Metascore

Two hip detectives protect a witness to a murder while investigating a case of stolen heroin from the evidence storage room from their police precinct.

Director: Michael Bay | Stars: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Lisa Boyle, Michael Taliferro

Votes: 190,312 | Gross: $65.81M

19. Cop Land (1997)

R | 105 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

6.9
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
64 Metascore

The Sheriff of a suburban New Jersey community, populated by New York City police officers, slowly discovers the town is a front for mob connections and corruption.

Director: James Mangold | Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro

Votes: 75,008 | Gross: $44.89M

20. L.A. Confidential (1997)

R | 138 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

8.3
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90 Metascore

As corruption grows in 1950s LA, three policemen - one strait-laced, one brutal, and one sleazy - investigate a series of murders with their own brand of justice.

Director: Curtis Hanson | Stars: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger

Votes: 456,614 | Gross: $64.62M

21. Training Day (2001)

R | 122 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

7.7
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69 Metascore

On his first day on the job as a Los Angeles narcotics officer, a rookie cop goes beyond a full work day in training within the narcotics division of the LAPD with a rogue detective who isn't what he appears to be.

Director: Antoine Fuqua | Stars: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Tom Berenger

Votes: 334,092 | Gross: $76.63M

22. Dark Blue (2002)

R | 118 min | Action, Crime, Drama

6.6
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57 Metascore

A robbery homicide investigation triggers a series of events that will cause a corrupt LAPD officer to question his tactics.

Director: Ron Shelton | Stars: Kurt Russell, Ving Rhames, Scott Speedman, Michael Michele

Votes: 18,413 | Gross: $9.06M

23. Narc (2002)

R | 105 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

7.2
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70 Metascore

When the trail goes cold on a murder investigation of a policeman an undercover narcotics officer is lured back to the force to help solve the case.

Director: Joe Carnahan | Stars: Ray Liotta, Jason Patric, Chi McBride, Dan Leis

Votes: 35,623 | Gross: $10.46M

24. The Departed (2006)

R | 151 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

8.5
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85 Metascore

An undercover cop and a mole in the police attempt to identify each other while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston.

Director: Martin Scorsese | Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg

Votes: 982,447 | Gross: $132.38M

25. End of Watch (2012)

R | 109 min | Action, Crime, Drama

7.7
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68 Metascore

Shot documentary-style, this film follows the daily grind of two young police officers in LA who are partners and friends, and what happens when they meet criminal forces greater than themselves.

Director: David Ayer | Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera

Votes: 200,018 | Gross: $41.00M