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Underrated Cop Movies

by Released : 2023-11-05

1. To Live and Die in LA (1985)

William Petersen plays a reckless U.S. Secret Service agent Richard Chance, who vows to avenge his partner. Peterson brings an unhinged persona to this role that makes Chance an unlikable protagonist. Willem Dafoe, in one of his first roles, plays a powerful drug dealer who is also incredibly creepy. William Friedkin is known for French Connection (1971) and the Exorcist (1973), but this is his best film! The car chase in this film even tops the French Connection's famous scene. Friedkin has said this film and Sorcerer were his two favorites that he had made. The film was not a box office success and never developed a significant cult following. Petersen would go on to play another unhinged agent in the Haniabal Lector crime film: Manhunter (1985). 

2. One False Move (1993)

Written by Billy Bob Thorton this film put him on the map and also showed of Bill Paxton's range. Carl Franklin is one of the most underated directors of all time and has been regulated to T.V. work today. He is best known for his collarbations with Denzal Washigton: Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) and Out of Time (2003). Cynda Williams is stunning here and never got the carrer she deserved. Michael Beach as "Pluto"is one of the most terffyiing villians of all itme. 

3. Year of Dragon (1985)

Michael Cimino 1st film after the box office disaster Heaven's Gate (1980). Written by Oliver Stone after he had written another crime epic Scarface and starring Mickey Rorque at the peak of his popularity. The studio was confident in the film and positive it would be a box office success. The film has great posters and one of the best trailers of all time. However, due to polarizing press surrounding the film before it was even released the film bombed at the box office. Cimino initially had Jeff Bridges or Nick Nolte in mind for the lead. But after seeing Rourke  in Pope in Greenwich Village (1984) combined with his previous experience of working with him on Heavens Gate. Both Rourke and John Lone give memorizing performances. Some of the most brutal shootouts ever put to the scene. Despite unfair accusations of being racist, a controversial star, poor box office success, and no availability on streaming the film has developed a passionate small cult following. The final shootout in the film is astonishing and has been praised by Quentin Taratino’s as one of the best climaxes ever and it’s also one of his favorite films. The best film about Chinatown except the obvious one. The film was nominated for 5 razzie awards!

4. Sharky's Machine (1981)

The first film was directed by Burt Reynolds, who always tried to do more serious work but was often hampered by an unfair perception. Reynolds was a massive star in the 1970s however by the mid 1980s his career began to flounder. Everyone likes to focus on his failures or eventual career comeback with Boogie Nights (1997). However, the best pure Burt Reynolds film is Sharky Machine. It has the schlock of a Burt Reynolds film, but is also incredibly violent. Reynolds is outstanding here as a tough, but secretly sweet cop who just wants to do right. The film opens with an amazing shootout and chase scene between Reynolds and a man with a machine gun. The film follows Sergeant Tom Sharky as he falls in love with a call girl and battles with the mob. Although a modest box office success making 35 million to a 17 million $ budget the film is never mentioned today. Watching this film makes one wish Reynold’s got more opportunities to show his dramatic side. A fast paced violent, but poignant cop film that anyone would enjoy.

5. State of Grace (1990)

Overshadowed by Godfather 3 and Goodfellas the film was a huge flop. Gone for a decade, Terry Noonan (Sean Penn) is welcomed back into the fold in his Irish-American neighborhood in New York City. A one-time street tough, Terry is now an undercover police officer who reunites with his best friend Jackie (Gary Oldman), in order to take down Jackie’s older brother crime boss Frank Flannery (Ed Harris). Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, and Ed Harris are all fascinating in this movie. Oldman in particular is a standout as the unhinged brother. Robin Wright is also great as Sean Penn’s love interest and the sister to Jackie and Frank. John C. Reilly and John Turturro also appear in small memorable roles. The film can best be described as a mix between Donnie Brasco and Romeo and Juliet.

6. Q and A (1990)

This film closed Sidney Lument’s New York Corruption trilogy ( Serpico and Prince of the City). The film as the poster shows has three powerhouse performances. Nick Nolte gives the best performance of his career as a menacing racist cop. Timothy Hutton is perfectly cast as the clean cut young assistant district attorney, however this film would be one of his last major leading roles. Armand Assante completely disappears as Bobby Texador, a ruthless hispanic drug dealer. The film also has great supporting performances from Luiz Guzman and Charles S. Dutton. Even some guys from Sopranos show up: Dominic Chianese and Vincent Pastore. As well as a young Mike White! Q&A is one of the best mob vs cop movies and a sprawling New York crime epic.

7. Violent Cop (1989)

A revolutionary film in Japanese Cinema and Takeshi Kitano's directorial debut. The film follows the simple story of a Violent Cop vs Yakuza. However, it’s the film’s style, coolness, and Kitano’s flair that make it more than just a simple cop story. Kitano in this movie is like Dirty Harry mixed with Terminator. A box office failure in Japan the film had success in Europe and led to Kitano’s other big films: Sonnatine (1993) and Fireworks (1997). Although critics tend to like those films even more it’s the simple pure thrills of Violent cop that make it his most rewatchable film. One way to describe this film is badass! If you love Asian cinema or crime films this is a must watch.  

8. The Big Easy (1987)

A modest box office success the film is best known for being one of John Goodman’s first movie roles and helped make Dennis Quaid a star. Quaid and Barkin have amazing chemistry. In this film you can feel the sexual tension and heat of its New Orleans’ setting, coming off the screen. A fast paced film with a vibrant New Orleans setting. The film follows a romance between a young police lieutenant and a tough as nails female DA Quaid’s charismatic performance elevates a simple story. Jim McBride would later work with Quaid again on the underrated Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire (1989). 

9. prince of the city (1981)

Prince of the City

Part of Sidney Lument’s New York Corruption trilogy and substantial in length at nearly three hours, Prince of the City is the most realistic film on this list. Similar to the Wire, this film has been praised by law enforcement for its accuracy. The film allows Officer Ciello, a corrupt cop who wants to do good and decides to help snitch on the mob. His cousin is a made man and is his entry point into that circle. The film shows not just the police side, but also the prosecution. Cielo works with an attorney throughout the film named Mario, whose character is actually based on a young Rudy Giuliani. The film has some fun chase scenes and shootouts. But unlike most cop films, the film takes its time with the legal side showing the audience step by step how the criminals are caught. Treat Williams is a powerhouse in this film, however due to its box office failure it caused his movie career to disappear until the mid 1990s.

10. Cop (1988) 

James Woods gives an electrifying performance as an insubordinate cop on the trail of a serial killer. Charles Dunning, a mainstay in the cop genre, is also great as Detective Dutch. A taut thriller Cop wastes no time getting into the plot and is also a great character study. Woods gives the best performance of his career as a man who tries to do good, but the world is just too damn hard! The film had a modest 7$ million budget, but was a box office failure only grossing 1.9 million. The ending of this film is one of the best of all time and shows how the film is a sendoff to the cop genre as a whole. Roger Ebert perfectly summed it up in his positive review for the film: "Cop" becomes an essay on this whole genre of movie. And then, with the movie's startling last shot, Woods slams shut the book. It's as if Woods and Harris watched a Dirty Harry movie one night and decided to see what would happen if Harry were really dirty."

11. Internal Affairs (1990)

Richard Gere is deliciously evil here and is having a blast. He steals practically every moment he’s in, but Andy Garcia is equally game. Garcia is a confident leading man and it’s a shame he didn't get more opportunities to flex his star power, often regulated to supporting roles. The movie was a moderate success at the box office but performed better on home video. It grossed $27.7 million in the United States and Canada and $20 million internationally for a worldwide gross of $47.7 million. Despite being a seldom box office hit the film is never talked about today. Laurie Meltcafe is also great here as a tough female detective. A steamy fast paced thriller about cops vs cops.

Honarable Mentions 


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