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

comiccon 2020 TIFF Epix stoner sequel Kids & Family anthology Calendar Thanksgiving Chilling Adventures of Sabrina theme song Lionsgate strong female leads AMC Brie Larson crime thriller Tarantino Dark Horse Comics Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Superheroe TCA cults Family FX on Hulu chucky boxoffice The CW PBS nature Disney slashers Trophy Talk Emmy Nominations RT21 Winners canceled spinoff YouTube Red 4/20 Musicals war NBC Cartoon Network video unscripted The Witch Mary Tyler Moore documentaries Shondaland History political drama Marvel Studios romantic comedy Masterpiece Sundance Now Disney Channel reboot cancelled TV shows versus Extras Syfy E3 Character Guide Spring TV YouTube concert Adult Swim Sony Pictures indie zombies Comics on TV Logo latino comic south america crime drama Film Reality Competition Cosplay CNN child's play Comedy Toys A&E MSNBC composers canceled TV shows scary movies singing competition diversity Interview Disney Plus Star Wars Schedule Biopics Sundance TV Creative Arts Emmys universal monsters disaster CBS Starz Ghostbusters cinemax Nominations mockumentary CMT game show Food Network batman Peacock CBS All Access Crackle American Society of Cinematographers Mary poppins Ellie Kemper independent Horror Lifetime facebook Funimation IFC technology Rock 2017 VH1 DC streaming service franchise BBC Video Games ITV twilight Awards Universal MTV ratings Travel Channel Polls and Games Grammys Cannes true crime Bravo Pride Month Classic Film Valentine's Day YA BAFTA TCA 2017 richard e. Grant based on movie WarnerMedia Film Festival teaser spy thriller A24 name the review children's TV discovery revenge Best and Worst 71st Emmy Awards See It Skip It APB TV renewals FXX DGA Arrowverse OneApp Fantasy HBO Go First Reviews critics BET Certified Fresh Reality Animation what to watch TLC USA natural history movie Fox News Lifetime Christmas movies elevated horror dark El Rey Anna Paquin cats Song of Ice and Fire Acorn TV Emmys TV Land Hallmark 2019 Election Black Mirror Mystery screenings mission: impossible supernatural Rocky rotten movies we love vampires jamie lee curtis Spectrum Originals Showtime Shudder Awards Tour sports President 45 comedies Hulu cooking game of thrones dceu Western cartoon ghosts NYCC TCM Sundance biography science fiction The Walking Dead Christmas news Britbox cancelled television Amazon Studios Paramount Network stand-up comedy Rom-Com hist YouTube Premium streaming breaking bad period drama crossover free movies historical drama Musical Netflix Country Action USA Network politics RT History Esquire Columbia Pictures 007 CW Seed Premiere Dates social media Women's History Month Baby Yoda Television Academy romance Countdown Oscars Fall TV Rocketman Watching Series cancelled TV series BBC America video on demand Superheroes talk show IFC Films blaxploitation docudrama police drama die hard crime San Diego Comic-Con Amazon Prime Marvel Binge Guide harry potter Music 21st Century Fox Black History Month Box Office ABC Family finale Netflix Christmas movies mutant spider-man green book casting travel Nickelodeon films hispanic Avengers GLAAD Pop Tumblr christmas movies cancelled 24 frames Drama FOX Trailer Pirates golden globes VOD Mindy Kaling miniseries satire Apple TV+ Pet Sematary aliens National Geographic 2015 tv talk HBO Max Quiz New York Comic Con BET Awards werewolf space television asian-american Mudbound Paramount SXSW SundanceTV Podcast Set visit renewed TV shows VICE Stephen King 20th Century Fox documentary Sneak Peek joker The Purge Writers Guild of America medical drama Amazon TruTV robots Marvel Television DirecTV Marathons Martial Arts TCA Winter 2020 Apple TV Plus toy story criterion Holiday Walt Disney Pictures spain Lucasfilm Summer parents PaleyFest halloween dc cops Amazon Prime Video series dogs movies Elton John quibi GIFs LGBT Trivia Turner Classic Movies festivals Winter TV PlayStation dragons Comic Book OWN award winner Infographic Nat Geo Super Bowl screen actors guild WGN Tubi Hallmark Christmas movies BBC One Tomatazos First Look cars E! The Arrangement animated Comedy Central Disney streaming service ABC FX serial killer dramedy indiana jones 2016 2018 sitcom Turner zombie best Mary Poppins Returns GoT ESPN justice league a nightmare on elm street Academy Awards Heroines kids Star Trek MCU doctor who TV anime Vudu sag awards Sci-Fi Opinion Holidays TNT Spike Pixar adventure Apple TBS Ovation binge SDCC Photos Freeform all-time Hear Us Out psycho Teen Disney+ Disney Plus spanish language transformers book directors Captain marvel LGBTQ Crunchyroll DC Comics Warner Bros. adaptation X-Men comics zero dark thirty Endgame witnail Pop TV Red Carpet DC Universe Year in Review Discovery Channel psychological thriller reviews HBO foreign Chernobyl thriller blockbuster