Sergeant Rick Hunter, from Hunter (portrayed by Fred Dryer)
What do you get when you cross an ex-NFL defensive end, a hot brunette co-star, and Stephen J. Cannell (remember the typewriter paper-throwing guy at the end of shows?)? A badass cop show about a badass cop, oh yeeaah.
Detective Sonny Crockett, from Miami Vice (portrayed by Don Johnson)
Living on a boat? Cool. Having a pet alligator? Cool. Being a cop in Miami? Super cool. Wearing a T-shirt, blazer, and shoes with no socks? Three out of four ain’t bad.
Finally, a cop show that showed to take down the bad guys, you have to be badder. Mackey was a cop who not only bent the rules, but also broke them and used them to cut your face. Tough, gritty, unnerving, and provocative, he definitely wasn’t The Commish. Too bad his shield couldn’t stop what went around from coming around.
Officer Tom Hansen, from 21 Jumpstreet (portrayed by Johnny Depp)
Late 80’s/early 90’s alternative rock set to tales of high school sex, drugs, and criminal activity as infiltrated by undercover, baby-faced cops. Yes, this was actually a show, and yes, it was hugely popular.
Lieutenant Steve McGarrett, from Hawaii Five-O (portrayed by Jack Lord)
Cool suits; cool state, cool quote (“book ’em, Danno”), cool theme song, and an influence to Conan O’Brien’s pompadour. Enough said.
Detective Sergeant Joe Friday, from Dragnet (portrayed by Jack Webb)
The original tough talking, terse, and to-the-point authoritarian criminals hated to see. Though outdated these days, Webb’s portrayal of Friday remains historically Hollywood, hall-of-fame material when it comes to cop characterization.
Detective Frank Pembleton, from Homicide: Life on the Street (portrayed by Andre Braugher)
“Fiery,” “self-righteous,” and “unyielding” are just some of the terms used to describe Braugher’s portrayal of Pembleton. Here’s another one: “really good.” Good enough to warrant a ton of nominations, awards, and an Emmy.
Officer Frank “Ponch” Poncherello, from CHiPs (portrayed by– eek! Erik Estrada, yes Erik Estrada)
Yes kids, believe it or not, Erik Estrada was once a sex symbol, playing Ponch: the sexy, ethnically-enigmatic California Highway Police Officer women dreamed to have pull them over. Well, at least in the scripts.
Cagney was single and career-minded. Lacey, a mother and wife. Both took to the beat as dedicated cops, regardless of gender. But because their genders are what they are, the duo broke a glass ceiling long held by the Friday’s and McGarrett’s who preceded them.
Officer Billy Costigan, from The Departed (portrayed by Leonardo Dicaprio)
Realistically, Costigan barely makes the cut, as he is seemingly nothing more than two hours of brooding, seething, anger in a fake Boston accent. But hey, with Martin Scorsese driving the car, you already know the destination is not only somewhere good, but a trip that’s going to be enjoyable.
Detective Freddy Newandyke/Mr. Orange, from Reservoir Dogs (portrayed by Tim Roth)
Holdaway: Use the commode story? And with that line, we take a deliriously enjoyable tangent from what was already a deliriously enjoyable film to understand undercover Detective Freddy Newandyke and what he’s gone through to get to this very point. Empire magazine calls Reservoir Dogs the “greatest indie film of all time.” StatingTheObvious Weekly says “no shit.”
Detective John McClane, from Die Hard (portrayed by Bruce Willis)
Willis’ portrayal of McClane has been called the “quintessential American hero:” a maverick with a gun, fighting terrorists some 40 stories up. Sometimes, without shoes. Die Hard remains one of the classic action movies of all time, still untainted despite its less-than-stellar sequels and “don’t see”-quels.
Inspector Harry Callahan, from Dirty Harry (portrayed by Clint Eastwood)
Perhaps the epitome bad-ass cop, Eastwood’s portrayal of Callahan has become so embedded in American pop culture it’s impossible to see his face and not think two things: .357 magnum, and “make my day.”
Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, from Bullitt (portrayed by Steve McQueen)
Steve McQueen: cool. Steve McQueen as a cop: still cool. Steve McQueen as a cop involved in one of film’s greatest car chase scenes? Warm. Just kidding! Ultimate cool!
Detective Jack Scagnetti, from Natural Born Killers (portrayed by Tom Sizemore)
Sizemore’s depiction of Detective Scagnetti broke the mold, as did the film itself. Imagine, a cop on the hunt of crazed, psychotic killers… who may be crazier than they are.
Inspector “Tequila” Yuen and undercover officer “Tony,” from Hard Boiled (portrayed by Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai)
If gun shootouts were like a slam-dance ballet, and co-choreographed by Jackie Chan and Quentin Tarantino, you’d end up with Hard Boiled. Or if it was done by John Woo and brought to life by two of the best partners since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Lieutenant Detective Vincent Hanna, from Heat (portrayed by Al Pacino)
Think: the intensity of The Godfather (Pacino), plus the intensity of The Godfather II (De Niro), plus Val Kilmer with a ponytail. Ohh yeaahh. A film so tense it inspired the real thing (North Hollywood, 1997).
Detective Alonzo Harris, from Training Day (portrayed by Denzel Washington)
King Kong didn’t have nothin’ on him, and neither did his badge. Harris was rotten, rough, beyond crooked, and a bully. Think Vic Mackey but without the restraints of television and about five megatons more anger. Also, a goatee.
Cadet Carey Mahoney, Cadet Moses Hightower, Cadet Larvell Jones, Cadet Eugene Tackleberry, and Cadet Laverne Hooks from Police Academy (portrayed by Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, Michael Winslow, David Graf, and Marion Ramsey)
The coolest bunch of cops a criminal could ever hope to encounter. Everyone appreciates a good underdog story, and though people may debate whether Police Academy was actually “good,” it was definitely about underdogs.
The T-1000, from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (portrayed by Robert Patrick)
Though not technically a cop, he definitely perpetrated as one and was definitely cool… no pun intended. For a relatively unknown actor like Patrick to take on a role opposite the arguably biggest action star ever– more than just “cool.”
Police Chief Marge Gunderson, from Fargo (portrayed by Frances McDormand)
Slow, methodical, smart, and… pregnant? McDormand’s portrayal of Gunderson was an awesome display of the tortoise (herself) versus the hare (plotting kidnappers). Just because she spoke with a slow, Minnesotan drawl didn’t mean she functioned like one. Such a super, super lady.