Every Lethal Weapon Movie Ranked

Writer Shane Black pretty much invented the "buddy cop" movie with "Lethal Weapon," his gloriously violent Christmas-set action pic that introduced moviegoers to LAPD Detectives Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover). The basic set-up of the franchise, which was helmed entirely by Richard Donner: Murtaugh plays things by the book and is close to retirement (he somehow remains "close to retirement" through a series of four films). Riggs, in sharp contrast, is a trigger-happy psycho, suicidal in the wake of the death of his wife. These two mismatched cops become partners and, of course, friends. Also, they kill a lot of people. While this is one franchise that should probably finally retire (just like Murtaugh), there's a fifth film in the works. 

But we're not here to talk about that. Instead, let's go back to the days when Mel Gibson sported a mullet and wasn't problematic! Let's rank the "Lethal Weapon" movies from worst to best!

Lethal Weapon 4

"Lethal Weapon 4" has its moments. For one thing, it sports a great villain in the form of Jet Li. Seriously, he's got a killer presence here and kicks the crap out of Riggs and Murtaugh. But the film is bloated to the extreme, with about 50 different subplots, some of which go absolutely nowhere (there's an entire subplot, for instance, about Murtaugh's wife writing romance novels under a pen name; who cares?!). There's also a streak of casual Asian racism running through the film that was ugly even when the movie came out and is even worse now. As of now, this is the end of the franchise, and it ends things on a low note, even though the end credits try to make things nice and sweet and full of family-based moments. Also, Chris Rock is really annoying here playing a young cop who is dating Murtaugh's daughter. Again, who cares?! 

Lethal Weapon 3

Honestly, if I could do ties here, I'd tie "Lethal Weapon 4" and "3" at the bottom together. But I can't! So "3" slightly eeks out and comes in ahead of "4" for one reason: it introduces Lorna Cole, an internal affairs cop played by Rene Russo. Lorna and Riggs hit it off, and Russo and Gibson have really great chemistry together. The plot is pretty damn forgettable, and the film's villain, an ex-cop turned arms dealer, is an absolute snooze. But hey, this movie does feature a bleach-blonde Joe Pesci, and how many other movies can claim that? Not many! And yes, in case you were wondering, Murtaugh is still talking about retiring in this movie. 

Lethal Weapon 2

"Lethal Weapon 2" is pretty much a retread of the first film. But it has some great slimy villains (South African drug dealers who have diplomatic immunity!) and brings in Joe Pesci, always a welcome addition to any movie. But the film also tries to flesh out the mythology, and that feels pointless. Did we really need to have one of the villains here be responsible for killing Riggs' wife? Why? Wasn't it enough that she was dead and that was what sent him over the deep end? It feels like a needless addition to just give Riggs motivation he doesn't need. On the plus side, "Lethal Weapon 2" does feature a bomb wired to Murtaugh's toilet, one of the most iconic set pieces from this franchise. There's also an incredibly badass moment where the main villain smugly intones that he has "Diplomatic immunity!" Murtaugh's response? He kills him and says, "It's just been revoked." Hell yes (side-note: cops brutally murdering people in cold blood is not a cool, acceptable thing in the real world, only in dumb action movies like this, let me just make that clear in case there was any doubt). 

Lethal Weapon

It's no surprise that the pic that started it all is the best of the bunch. Yes, "Lethal Weapon" has great action set pieces, but what really makes the movie sing is Shane Black's smart, tight, funny script, and the genuine chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. The two work incredibly well together, and part of the joy of the movie is watching how the older Murtaugh, and his large family, help bring the suicidal Riggs back from the edge. I mean, at one point, Riggs sticks his own gun in his mouth and cries! This guy is a mess. But working with Murtaugh makes him both a better cop and a better man. While Gibson and Glover continue to have chemistry throughout the series, you just can't beat their initial pairing. Bonus: Gary Busey and Tom Atkins both show up here! And Tom Atkins chugs egg nog directly from the carton, because that's how Tom Atkins rolls, baby. 

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