The action genre has been well known for its great use of heroic archetypes, ranging from the gunslinger to the retired soldier. One of the best and most successful of these action hero archetypes is the hardened, no-nonsense cop, often one who works against the very system he upholds. Typically, facing superior numbers, these heroes use a combination of brain and brawn to fight their way to victory.
These cops, often seen packing a unique and cool gun, are tasked with bringing down the toughest criminals around, sometimes facing corruption too. Once a great action cop is on a case, nothing short of death itself can stop them from achieving their goals and finding the bad guy. But when it comes to the toughest of the tough cops, these officers of the law are unbeatable.
10/10 Ben Shockley Overcomes Corrupt Cops, The Mob, And A Hangover To Keep A Witness Safe
The Gauntlet – Clint Eastwood
In The Gauntlet, Ben Shockley (Clint Eastwood) was charged with the transportation of “Gus” Malley (Sondra Locke) from Las Vegas to Phoenix, AZ. Shockley soon learned the gambling town had odds against the two making it to their destination, where Gus was set to testify.
As the duo set out on their journey pursued by police, gangsters, and biker gangs alike, they fight their way through every obstacle in their way. Shockley started the job as a drunken and bitter cop, but ends victorious, blowing the lid off a ring of corruption involving the police and mafia.
9/10 Jim Malone Knows That When They Pull A Knife, You Pull A Gun.
The Untouchables – Sean Connery
The Untouchables tells the story of Eliot Ness’ police task force against Al Capone in prohibition-era Chicago. Keen to get honest cops on his side, Ness approaches Malone, an older beat cop on the Chicago PD, when he showed himself to be both a good cop and a believer in the law.
Played by Sean Connery, Malone, initially reluctant, proved to be one of Ness’ most ardent fighters against both Capone and the corruption of the Chicago police department. Even when Capone’s men found him and gunned him down, an entire magazine of bullets wasn’t enough to stop Malone from getting the last laugh.
8/10 Martin Riggs Was A Cop With A Death Wish
Lethal Weapon – Mel Gibson
The pairing of Danny Glover’s Murtaugh and Mel Gibson’s Riggs is one of the greatest buddy cop duos in cinema, making Lethal Weapon the great series it is. While most cops would try diplomatic methods to take down a criminal, Riggs was a typical shoot-first-style hero.
Riggs reveled in creating the image of an unstable cop with a death wish, something that made him unpredictable against criminals. While Murtaugh was looking forward to his retirement, the energetic and aggressive Riggs kept landing them in trouble that could only be delt with by shooting a lot of bad guys.
7/10 Mike Harrigan Defeated A Predator Single-Handedly
Predator 2 – Danny Glover
Danny Glover’s Mike Harrigan was the chief protagonist of Predator 2, leading a squad of detectives against the unchecked gang violence in Los Angeles. When a Yautja showed up and started to take care of the gangs for Harrigan, he was hot on the case to find out what was committing the gruesome killings.
Harrigan, one of a tiny number of humans who have battled a Predator and lived to tell about it, is undoubtedly the toughest cop in Los Angeles. His chase of the predator through the streets and buildings of Los Angeles culminated with a showdown on the alien hunter’s ship, with Harrigan being the one to walk away alive. Not even Arnold Schwarzenegger was able to pull that off.
6/10 John Spartan Brought 1990s Action To A Peaceful Future
Demolition Man – Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone’s John Spartan earned himself the nickname of Demolition Man in 1990’s Los Angeles for his overly destructive tactics against criminals. When he was framed for murder, Spartan was frozen in ice, set to be released in the future.
When notorious criminal Simon Phoenix was awakened from his own freeze, he set about terrorizing the city – requiring Spartan’s own return. While Spartan was an exceptionally hardened cop even in his own time, the soft and passive future of San Angeles made him the toughest officer in town.
5/10 John McClane Always Managed To Beat The Odds
Die Hard – Bruce Willis
In the holiday action classic Die Hard, Bruce Willis’ John McClane was just trying to visit his estranged wife at her workplace one Christmas when a group of criminals opened fire and took the employees hostage. With nothing but a gun and radio, McClane managed to fight his way through almost a dozen gunmen.
John McClane went on to find himself repeatedly thrust into more major crimes throughout the Die Hard series, ranging from terrorists attacking an airport to a heist on the Federal Reserve. No matter the odds or the situation, McClane always manages to come out on top, and even old age hasn’t changed that.
4/10 Part Man. Part Machine. All Cop
RoboCop – Peter Weller
RoboCop was the perfect combination of science fiction, action, and dystopian storytelling all in one. When Detroit cop Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) was mercilessly gunned down by Clarence Boddicker and his gang, Murphy was turned into the cyborg law enforcement of the future, RoboCop.
As he slowly regained free will and his old memories, Murphy’s RoboCop set about tracking down the men responsible for his situation. Fighting his way through gangs, giant robots, and the corporation that destroyed his life, RoboCop managed to come out victorious against OCP and the criminal underworld.
3/10 Callahan Is San Francisco’s Deadliest Officer
Dirty Harry – Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood’s legendary role as Inspector Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry series is one of the most memorable and successful of his long Hollywood career, launching four sequels. Harry was a Wild West gunslinger-type character re-imagined as a San Francisco inspector hunting a serial killer sniper.
Undeterred by the changing political and legal landscape of 1970s California, “Dirty Harry” Callahan remains stalwart in his rough and no-nonsense tactics. As much criticism as the film and character have received, Harry Callahan set a new modern cowboy archetype that went on to influence later cop movies.
2/10 Crime Is A Disease. He’s The Cure
Cobra – Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone’s iconic action cop Marion “Cobra” Cobretti lives in a city that has been pushed to the edge of unbridled chaos. The world of Cobra feels like a society due to collapse any day, with senseless violence becoming idolized by some of the city’s worst criminals and youths.
A serial killer known as the Night Slasher leads a cult-like group, forcing Cobra to protect a witness and guard against the killers who want to keep them silent. In many ways, Cobra is the epitome of the ’80s action hero – a tough and level-headed heroic cop hindered by a bureaucratic system.
1/10 He Is The Law Of Mega City One
Dredd – Karl Urban
As campy and fun as the 1995 Judge Dredd movie was, 2012’s Dredd took the Mega City One action hero – played by Karl Urban – to a whole new level. On what should have been a routine murder case, Judge Dredd and his partner, Judge Anderson, find themselves trapped in a Mega Block with every criminal looking to take them out.
Armed with his iconic and powerful Lawgiver handgun, helmet, and armor, Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson battle their way through one of the city’s toughest gangs. The comic book antihero is known for his status as the toughest cop in all fiction, his name synonymous with a nonsense super cop.
NEXT: 10 Best TV Action Heroes