Total Recall

Total Recall: The 10 Most Corrupt Cops in Movies

You can't clean the streets and not get a little dirt on you...


It’s terrible, but there’s something hot about bad cops. They’re authoritative, powerful, within arms reach of the worst villains life can throw and, they’re only occasionally redeemable. What a challenge.

In honor of David Ayer‘s Street Kings we did a little bad-to-worse survey of the boys who soil their blue. Some of them are hot, some of them caustic, but all of them are fascinating. The cops on this list might shame those who loyally “Protect and Serve” but you know what they say, it’s hard to look away from a train wreck.

10. Web Smith (Wesley Snipes) in Rising Sun

Web Smith (Wesley Snipes) is a good cop. He’s mostly clean, except for one little incident in his past, involving a drug dealer, a crib, and a small stack of bills. Web’s been walking around with this secret for a long time, and the bad news is that someone else knows about it, and it eventually gets used as leverage against him. But compared to the plans and conspiracies surrounding the murder he’s investigating, the old bribe is really just small change.



9. Everybody but Al Pacino in Serpico

Frank Serpico was an honest cop in a sea of corruption. The entire NYPD may not have been completely corrupt, but in Serpico it sure feels like it. Even the low-level officers are on the take, and hush money from bookies and dealers is passed around between cops with such banality that when Frank refuses a bribe, his brother officers think that there is something wrong with him.



8. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) in The Departed

It’s one thing when a cop goes bad, seduced by the power and authority that comes with the job. But it’s something else entirely when the cop in question wasn’t good to begin with. Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) becomes a police officer so that he can work as mole within the Boston PD, and feed information back to his gangster pal Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). So instead of making the streets safer, he’s just making them safer for crooks.



7. Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) in Training Day

The only thing more frightening than a bad cop is a bad cop responsible for others. When Alonzo (Denzel Washington) takes Jake (Ethan Hawke) out on his Training Day the day looks more like a trip into a nightmarish revisioning of The Wizard of Oz than a beat cop instructional tour. Some crimes seem easy to overlook (Alonzo’s incessant drinking while driving) but others (like extortion or drug trafficking) are harder to overlook. And it’s this play between the upholding of the law and its use that makes the situation between Alonzo and his pupil such a challenging one.



6. Pete Davis (Ray Liotta) in Unlawful Entry

Before Ray Liotta played Hank Hill in Goodfellas he used that baby face to play Officer Pete Davis in Unlawful Entry. Kurt Russell and Madeline Stowe play happy and successful couple who open their doors to Davis just in time for him to slowly devolve into a stalking, hooker-brutalizing monster. Liotta plays his cards close to his chest, alternating between irksome and alluring, conscientious and reckless, honorable and deviant, all without skipping a beat.



5. Sheriff Cobb (Brian Dennehy) in Silverado

We meet Cobb early on in Silverado, and it’s clear than he and one of the heroes, a somewhat reformed outlaw named Paden (Kevin Kline) have a history together. Cobb comes off as menacing, and since he’s played by Brian Dennehy, you know he’s going to come back later. Sure enough he does come back, as the sheriff of Silverado, and the other members of his gang are now his deputies. But in spite of his position, Cobb isn’t much of a tyrant; he may be sheriff, but the cattle baron that’s bribing him is the one that’s really calling the shots.



4. Captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) in The Godfather

After multiple turns playing crooks in Noirs from The Asphalt Jungle to The Killing, Sterling Hayden had perfected the diligent working-class villain. Who then could be more evocative as the mob-complicit Captain McCluskey in Coppola’s Godfather? Hayden’s establishment in the industry along with his kindly good looks made him an easy choice for McCluskey, and his performance in this part is short but leaves a lasting impression (on more than just the tablecloth).



3. Norman “Stan” Stansfield (Gary Oldman) in Leon the Professional

Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman) is corrupt on almost all levels. He’s a pill-popping, mob-affiliated DEA agent that uses his position to run his own little drug empire. He uses his own officers to rub out the competition, but he’s not above hiring a professional from time to time either. And he’s not simply ruthless; he’s crazy enough to really enjoy hurting or killing anyone that stands against him. Between this film and Romeo Is Bleeding, Gary Oldman seemed to embody the half-crazed cop role in the early 1990s.



2. Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) in L.A. Confidential

Captain Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) isn’t as crazy Oldman’s Stansfield in Léon, but he’s working on a much larger scale. The seemingly upstanding Captain Smith asks purist recruit Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) to rat out corrupt cops, in what seems to be a genuine effort to clean up the department, but Smith is merely covering his bases. He’s also using the brutish Bud White (Russell Crowe) on a goon squad that runs mobsters out of L.A so that Smith can maintain control of the city’s drug traffic. James Cromwell is frighteningly believable as the “man in charge,” especially once we see how corrupt he really is.



1. The Lieutentant (Harvey Keitel) in Bad Lieutenant

The title for Abel Ferrara‘s completely unredeemable drama is perfect: unambiguous, straightforward, and completely without explanation. This Bad Lieutenant abuses his power in the most unrelenting and disturbing ways, offering us only slivers of insight into his conscience. (Perhaps this is because he only has a sliver of a conscience.) In addition to watching Keitel wantonly abuse his authority by randomly pulling guns on cops and citizens alike, you can actually catch him smoking stolen crack, naked. In fact, you only need to see the poster art to get the idea — and to see proof he’d been working out. He may not be working on a grand scale, but his behavior is so shocking that you can’t imagine any cop being worse that this.



That’s our list of the 10 most corrupt cops in the movies. Who would you add to the list? And do you think any cop is more corrupt than Kietel in Bad Lieutenant?

If you want Cinematical’s take on the subject, check out their Cinematical Seven feature on Out of Control Cops.

Tag Cloud

Writers Guild of America medical drama diversity GLAAD Nat Geo Mary Tyler Moore anime historical drama Black Mirror technology Nickelodeon aliens Animation 24 frames Photos TCM Paramount CNN police drama IFC sports Box Office Showtime dramedy crossover Starz Sundance Song of Ice and Fire DC Universe GIFs Cartoon Network See It Skip It 45 Action talk show E! ratings Extras Freeform YouTube Premium Disney jamie lee curtis Trophy Talk TCA Netflix SundanceTV ABC Family Bravo Acorn TV serial killer Western Comic Book adventure VH1 sitcom GoT Lucasfilm politics Reality YA Summer Awards Tour History Dark Horse Comics Shudder Star Wars Set visit Fantasy doctor who Toys Pixar 2017 TV Land WGN Columbia Pictures Musical Christmas 2016 FXX 20th Century Fox travel Emmys Trailer Ellie Kemper Cosplay cults Mary poppins singing competition Awards Amazon Horror Disney Channel justice league cats Nominations TLC Infographic CBS Opinion President 007 political drama facebook Fox News vampires 2015 festivals BBC America DirecTV FOX YouTube Red Biopics USA Super Bowl Hulu Star Trek Comedy Central ITV CBS All Access New York Comic Con Masterpiece Logo spider-man hist thriller 21st Century Fox what to watch Video Games BBC war social media discovery Sundance Now golden globes Walt Disney Pictures docudrama green book comiccon biography SDCC Character Guide TruTV television El Rey finale unscripted Reality Competition Marathons Quiz Musicals Music romance 2018 ABC Kids & Family DC Comics LGBTQ cops Chilling Adventures of Sabrina miniseries transformers DC streaming service robots mutant Interview Watching Series Mindy Kaling Mystery MSNBC Lifetime composers harry potter Best and Worst Sci-Fi AMC Oscars crime Rock Creative Arts Emmys Grammys supernatural Pop Fall TV Shondaland USA Network Pirates TV Apple based on movie The Arrangement Holidays Tumblr crime thriller Comics on TV Spike Countdown Winter TV Drama TBS ESPN cinemax period drama award winner Trivia E3 Red Carpet TCA 2017 zombie TNT VICE National Geographic boxoffice Universal comic Adult Swim 2019 Country Valentine's Day Superheroes San Diego Comic-Con SXSW Mary Poppins Returns Teen Calendar Syfy Ghostbusters APB Podcast NYCC HBO CW Seed X-Men Food Network PaleyFest Esquire BET Lionsgate IFC Films dceu Warner Bros. Comedy Polls and Games Rom-Com TIFF Premiere Dates blaxploitation psycho science fiction FX The CW cooking CMT Election Thanksgiving Paramount Network Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Certified Fresh Marvel binge First Look Martial Arts NBC Superheroe spy thriller Rocky Ovation PBS dc Britbox Spring TV Winners RT History Sony Pictures OWN Schedule Crackle American Society of Cinematographers crime drama Sneak Peek A&E MTV Tomatazos streaming Year in Review Epix zombies