25 Cult Cop Movies That Are Worth Your Time

9. The Offence (1973)

The Offence (1973)

“After 20 years what Detective-Sergeant Johnson has seen and done is destroying him” [11]. Detective-Sergeant Johnson (Sean Connery) has been with the police for twenty years and the history of violence he’s had to investigate has irreparably harmed him. His level of anger and rage reaches a boiling point when he beats a rape suspect to death during an interrogation. Through a series of flashbacks to the interrogations, we see that Johnson is possibly no better mentally then the criminals themselves.

This film was made as part of a deal United Artists made with Connery in order to get him to play James Bond again in Diamonds Are Forever; they agreed to finance two films of Connery’s choice that cost under $2 million to make [12]. The film bombed at the box office and it took nine years before it made any type of profit [12].

The film was directed by Sydney Lumet, who was known as an actor’s director who was willing to share and be collaborative with the actors. He is considered one of the great filmmakers, directing 12 Angry men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network.

It was based on a stage play called This Story of Yours by John Hopkins. Connery gives a powerful performance as the officer that is struggling psychologically. There are also strong supporting performances from Trevor Howard as the Superintendent and Vivien Merchant as Johnson’s wife.

Despite the poor box office, it has received good reviews and has a cult following among fans of crime thrillers and the director. If you like any of those or Connery, then you should check this out.


10. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Assault on Precinct 13

“L.A.’s deadliest street gang just declared war on the cops” [13]. A group of members of a dangerous Los Angeles gang shoot a little girl and the distraught dad chases and kills the gang’s leader. The father ends up running into a police precinct that is practically abandoned and due to be officially shut down the next day.

Running the short handed precinct is Lieutenant Ethan Bishop, a black officer who was just promoted and assigned to take charge of it until it officially closes.

A prison bus is also forced to stop at the precinct because of a sick prisoner, which happens to be carrying a well known convicted murderer heading to death row named Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston). The gang declares a blood war on the precinct and everybody in it must join forces in order to survive and stop the gang.

The film was written, directed, scored, and edited by John Carpenter. He is arguably one of the great directors of the 1970’s and 1980’s, creating a ton of movies with cult followings including Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Prince of Darkness, and They Live. This was a very low budget film but it really stands out for the directing, editing, sound, and acting.

There is a strong story and good dialogue, with the sort of western last stand theme going on. The two main characters, Bishop and Wilson are great and mesh well together. Both actors are relatively unknown and didn’t go on to become big stars, but they are the right people for these roles and they end up being quite memorable. The score on all of Carpenter’s movies is good, and in here it adds that extra element of suspense that would be missing without it.

It initially received mixed reviews and didn’t do well at the box office, but has a very strong cult following. A remake was made in 2005 starring Ethan Hawke and Lawrence Fishburne, but is nowhere near as good as the original. If you’re a fan of the remake, the director, or action films, then you really need to watch this one.


11. Man on the Roof (1976)

Man on the Roof (1976)

This is a Swedish produced crime thriller based upon the novel The Abominable Man by Sjowall and Wahloo. A cop is murdered while he is a patient in a hospital. An investigation is led by Martin Beck (Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt) and they discover that this cop had a very bad reputation for taking advantage of his police privileges and hurting civilians.

In fact, many people disliked him and would have been happy to have him dead. The investigation leads them to an ex cop who blames the police for his wife’s death, who was mistaken for a drunk and died in jail from a diabetes coma. They track him down and it leads to a shoot out as he has barricaded himself on the roof of an apartment building, and is shooting policemen with a sniper rifle. Beck’s team must find a way to stop him.

This is a pretty excellent film that combines the police procedural type of film with an intense finish; it’s almost like two separate movies. More than half the film is police procedures as they investigate the death of this cop. There’s no score or music and it plays almost like a documentary, a group of cops going around conducting normal procedural things.

There is the investigation of the murder site, interviewing different people and going through various questions, conducting a press interview, typing up information, the long hours, detectives falling asleep and needing to drink coffee. It has a great opening scene that shows the killer getting prepared to go kill the cop, and then an intense murder scene with blood going all over the place.

Then once they figure out who the killer is, it turns into an intense shoot out as he has barricaded himself on a rooftop and is killing cops. Music is added at certain points of the shootout to add to the intensity. There is a lot of action as they try to get to him, including a spectacular scene when a helicopter is shot down and crashes around a crowd of people.

The acting and dialogue are realistic for the situation. Lindstedt does a good job playing the old police detective. He had never played a serious role before; he was one of Sweden’s popular comedians [14].

The character of Martin Beck has been played by six different actors, including Walter Matthau in The Laughing Policeman [14]. The opening hospital murder scene “was shot 7 times with approximately 8 liters of pig’s blood per shot” [14].

The film did well in Sweden but is relatively unknown among people that don’t follow foreign films, but it does have a cult following among foreign film and crime thriller fans. If you like either, I suggest watching this. It is a great mix of police procedural and then action at the end.


12. God Told Me To (1976)

God Told Me To (1976)

“IT WILL GIVE YOU NIGHTMARES FOREVER” [15]. New York police detective Peter Nicholas (Tony LoBianco) is investigating a series of mass killings by New York residents; a sniper shoots random people from a water tower, a cop kills people during the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and a father shoots his entire family.

The only consistency between them is that they all say that the reason they did it, was because “god told me to.” His investigations lead him to a Christ-like figure that can get into people’s minds, and also the truth about his own birth.

This was essentially a precursor to the X-files series, with many of the same elements that appear in the show-alien abductions, religion, the cop that believes and won’t let go of a case, the superiors who don’t believe him, powerful elements, unexpected and bizarre twists.

Written and directed by Larry Cohen, who is known for several other cult films including Bone, Black Caesar, Hell Up in Harlem, It’s Alive, and The Stuff. Cohen has been able to create a rich and complex world consisting of vivid characters, realistic dialogue and situations, a weird story, all in vibrant New York City locations. All of the actors are great and very believable, even ones with very minor parts which is not typical for most low budget movies.

LoBianco stands out in his lead performance. There are many great and interesting shots with rapid editing. The whole series of shots with the water tower sniper were excellent.

The score is incredibly done and is reminiscent of old Hitchcock films, most notably Psycho. Bernard Hermann was supposed to score the film; he had done most of Hitchcock’s films, but died before completion of the film. Frank Cordell completed the score with some help from the notes that Hermann had left behind.

Andy Kaufman makes his first appearance in this film as the cop that goes on a shooting rampage at the parade.
If you like the X-Files, or the horror genre, then you may enjoy this.


13. Mad Max (1979)

Mad Max (1979)

“He rules the roads” [16]. In a dystopian futuristic time, society has begun to break down and the Australian Highway patrol tries to maintain control of the roads.

Led by their top pursuit officer Max Rockatansky, they have to try and deal with a violent motorcycle gang led by a man called Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). The back and forth battle between the police and the gang ends with Max’s wife and child being murdered by the gang. Max then looks to get revenge and kill the remaining members of the motorcycle gang.

This was the ultimate in guerilla filmmaking. Shot on a budget of AU$350,000, everything had to be done as resourceful as possible [17]. Film permits weren’t obtained and director George Miller and crew would have to stay behind to sweep up the roads after the car crash scenes [17].

They passed on casting an American actor because it would use up the whole budget [17]. They had widescreen camera lenses that they used which were essentially discarded from America to Australia, after the filming of The Getaway [17]. Gibson was a relative unknown casting choice at the time, having another cult film released the same year called Tim.

The film is memorable for many reasons. The style and speed of the car chase scenes had never been filmed like that before and had a uniqueness and intensity too it. The cars, motorcycles, and police uniforms all had a distinct and different look to them, something that is probably more a part of it being an Australian film. Max’s outfit and his black pursuit special car have become an iconic part of this character and the franchise that has been built.

It had a mixed reception among critics because of its violence, but it was a very large success worldwide and has continued to grow as a cult film. It held the Guinness World Record for highest box office to budget ratio up until The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999 [18].

It spawned two sequels with Gibson starring in the 1980’s and has revived itself with Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, which many considered one of the most exciting films of the year. Maybe somewhat surprising, but most of the new generation of Mad Max viewers were not aware of the three previous films.

So if you’re a fan of the new film, action, or Ozsploitation, then you should watch this.


14. Cruising (1980)


“Al Pacino is Cruising for a killer” [19]. New York City police detective Steve Burns goes undercover in order to catch a serial killer that is targeting gay men, mostly in an area consisting of gay S&M and leather bars in what is known as the Meatpacking District.

Resembling most of the victims, Burns goes undercover and must learn the complex ways of this small society in order to catch the killer. As with most undercover assignments, the new and different lifestyle starts to change him.

The film was directed and co-written by William Friedkin, who is probably best known for directing The Exorcist, To Live and Die in L.A. and The French Connection. The film was based upon the book Cruising by Gerald Walker, as well as a series of killings and mysterious deaths in the New York City gay community [20].

It was also based on accounts from a real police officer that went undercover in the gay community and what he went through [20]. They filmed in actual gay bars in New York City and the screen extras were the frequenters of those bars, they got paid as extras but they were doing acts that they normally would perform [20].

It shows a society that hadn’t been seen on the screen before, full of leather, guys half naked wearing jock straps, kissing and other sexual acts, and a scene involving someone being anally fisted.

The film had modest success earning around $19 million but received a backlash from the gay community and critics gave “tepid receptions upon [its] release” [20]. The gay community also wasn’t pleased with the fact that the killer was gay [20]. It was a controversial film when it came out because it involved the gay community and because of all of the real sexual acts taking place on camera.

Friedkin also had to cut 40 minutes of the film in order to get an R rating, he said in an interview that the “sexuality was actual. It was not simulated. I took the film back to the ratings board 50 times before they would give it an ‘R.’ I know because it cost us $50,000—a thousand dollars a day—to work with the consultant from the ratings board whom we’d worked with in the past when we were faced with other films that had to be resubmitted for a mainstream rating” [20].

Despite its controversy at the time, it has had a cult following and has being reexamined after a length of time and is considered a very good piece of filmmaking. Pacino’s performance is on par with similar characters that he played in Serpico and Sea of Love, but didn’t receive any recognition because of the controversial subject matter.

He subtlety changes through the film as he goes deeper into the leather and S&M world; at first he looks and feels like an outsider, then he slowly adjusts, as he goes deeper we see his struggle in scenes with his girlfriend (Karen Allen) and his Chief (Paul Sorvino).

One strong scene is a talk between Pacino and Sorvino, where Pacino tells him he doesn’t think he can continue. Sorvino tells him that he has to, that we both need to finish this. Sorvino and Allen give great performances in the time that they appear on screen. Allen is best known for appearing in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sorvino is best known for appearing in Goodfellas. There are also small appearances from Ed O’Neil, James Remar and Powers Boothe.

Give this one a chance. It has a lot to offer. It captures an era and lifestyle that was real and it is an authentic view of it, from the point of view of both the gay community and the police. It deals with police procedural rules and the problems that hinder being able to open an investigation. It deals with police corruption and police brutality during questioning.

It shows the psychological effects that happen to someone that has to go undercover and must conform to the new surroundings, isolated from what they once new. It also has a strong performance from Pacino, which is on par with his other great performances.


15. Bad Timing (1980)

Bad Timing (1980)

“A Terrifying Love Story” [21]. This a British produced thriller, neo-noir that involves a young American woman’s overdose in Vienna and the investigation by Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel) into whether it was a suicide attempt, or if there was some type of foul play from her older American lover professor Alex Lindon (Art Garfunkel).

The story takes a nonlinear path as Netusil interrogates him, taking us into the past with a series of flashbacks that examine the character’s dark and unhealthy erotic sexual relationship, her issues with drinking and various sexual affairs, and a Czech husband she has left.

The inspector completes the triangle of dark and seedy characters in this film as he is trying to solve the investigation; he is essentially Lindon’s Doppelganger who has some secrets and perversions of his own. Their characters are mirror image reflections of each other; they have similar dress and mannerisms but are “on opposite sides of the mirror” [22].

The director said that for the Netusil, “his demon was leading him somewhere else. I don’t know where he’d go, but I know he was in a lot of pain in the end” [22].

While the basic premise of the film is the investigation of what may end up being a murder, it is more about the main characters and their obsessions and perversions and their effects on themselves and the world around them. Each of the main actors gives good performances. There have been complaints about Garfunkel’s performance as being too wooden, but that may have been the intent because of his role as a professor in psychoanalytics.

The direction and filmmaking is excellent from director Nicholas Roeg, who has become known for keeping the story out of chronological order. He is known for a series of movies that may be considered cult films, including Performance, Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Eureka, and Insignificance.

The film was controversial because it received an X rating for its sexual sequences, and was even described by its UK distribution company as “a sick film made by sick people for sick people” [23]. Despite this controversy, or even partly because of it, this film has gained a cult following.

There are also fans of the director and the cast involved, and those that believe it’s a great film that just had some bad timing. The DVD distribution company Criterion has felt this way, releasing a DVD version of the film in their Criterion Collection which is “dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions of the highest technical quality” [24].

So if you’re a fan of the director, the cast and crew, or character dramas then you may enjoy this.


16. City on Fire AKA Lung foo fong wan (1987)

City on Fire

This is a Hong Kong production that deals with a cop (Chow Yun-Fat) sent undercover in order to bring down a gang of jewel thieves that were responsible for a violent jewelry robbery. His loyalty to the force is put to the test as he forms a friendship with the leader of the gang, played by Danny Lee.

If this sounds familiar to a somewhat well known film by Quentin Tarantino called Reservoir Dogs, well this is where he was inspired or some would say stole the idea from. There are so many similarities between the films, that it was noted in several publications and a short film titled Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?.

This is an excellent film, more of a character driven story that features a gritty realism to it as opposed to a straight action film. The direction and performances from the main actors is excellent. This was the breakout film for director Ringo Lam, who did a trilogy of “fire” movies. Lam wanted to make this film seem realistic, so he based it on some newspaper articles about a jewelry robbery and also conducted interviews with both cops and criminals [25].

So the film ends up with a film noir style, featuring a dark world containing doomed characters. This film pretty much cemented Chow Yun-Fat’s status as the next Hong Kong action superstar and his performance won him a Best Actor award at the Hong Kong Film Awards. He would team back up with actor Lee in the action film The Killer switching up roles, with Lee playing the cop and Yun-Fat playing the gangster.

The film performed well, earning HK$ 19,723,505 versus a budget of HK$ 4,000,000 [26]. It built on that success and has gained a strong cult following among Hong Kong cinema, Tarantino fans, action films, and fans of the director and actors. If you like any of those then this is a must see. If you enjoy this film, you may also like Full Contact, Tiger on the Beat, the Better Tomorrow series, and Prison on Fire.


17. Angel Heart (1987)

Angel Heart (1987)

“Nothing can prepare you for the ending of Angel Heart” [12]. In 1955, a NYC private detective Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is hired by Louis Cyphre (Robert Deniro) to track down a missing big band singer named Johnny Favorite, who has violated some type of contract they had. The trail leads him to New Orleans, Louisiana and a world of murder, voodoo and the occult.

This film is a mix of horror, thriller, and noir thrown into a voodoo basket. It is somewhat controversial for the elements of violence, sex, and the occult that are in it. And there is a significant amount of sex, most notably between Rourke and Lisa Bonet. Bonet was trying to get rid of her child image after previously starring in The Cosby Show.

The film was originally rated X and they had to cut some scenes in order to get an R rating, though now you can obtain an unrated version. The film is based off of a book titled Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg. The film was directed by Alan Parker, who also did the cult films Midnight Express and Pink Floyd The Wall.

The film did poorly, just making back its budget of $17,000,000. This is most likely due to the controversial subject matter and sexual sequences, which is also part of why it has a cult following.

If you like dark crime thrillers, film noir, neo-noir, or any of the cast, then you should check this out at least once.