Whether they're taking justice into their own hands when they think it can't be done otherwise, like Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, or they're so far on the other side of the moral compass they've dropped off it, like Samuel L. Jackson in Lakeview Terrace, rogue cops remain a staple of Tinseltown entertainment. Click through for 10 of our favorite dirty movie cops who stretch the thin blue line to its breaking point.
Kurt Russell in Dark Blue
In this cop thriller in the vein of Narc and Training Day, Russell stars as a corrupt, ruthless veteran cop with a newbie partner. He gleefully commits reprehensible acts--sometimes even murder--with abandon, eventually spiralling into a picture of self-loathing not even a mother could love.
Josh Brolin in American Gangster
As the truly odious Detective Trupo, Brolin sizzled in one of his two lauded roles in 2007, a scumbag cop who extorts and steals his way through Ridley Scott's Oscar-nominated film. Quick, someone get this guy a dishonorable discharge.
Matt Damon in The Departed
In a different twist on the "dirty cop" genre, Damon plays a Mob recruit who enlists with the Massachusetts state police force and becomes a rising star, all the while leaking info to his gangster boss.
Ray Liotta in Narc
Liotta's hulking, psychotic undercover cop Henry Oak is never more than a flinch away from meting out justice via a sock and some cue balls, putting someone's head through a wall, or even snickering over a drug addict's corpse. Good times!
Richard Gere in Internal Affairs
At first, it seems like Richard Gere's LAPD cop Dennis Peck is a decent guy, a family man, maybe bends the rules a bit for good reason. Turns out he's bedding his partner's wife and he's got every bad guy on the streets in his back pocket—and he's not about to let a goody-two-shoes IA guy (Andy Garcia) expose his dirty secrets.
Keanu Reeves in Street Kings
Alcoholic, unemotional and wound tight as a drum, Reeves’s Det. Tom Ludlow would sooner dispense with the “Make my day” threats and go straight to blowing the bad guy’s head off before drunk-driving his cop car into the sunset.
Nick Nolte in Q & A
Take a little bit Dirty Harry and a lot of John Wayne Gacy and you’ll have Nick Nolte as angry brute Capt. Mike Brennan, a swaggering homophobe who looms menacingly over everyone he’s on screen with. Scarily charming but ultimately just twisted, Brennan shoots folks in cold blood as he spits bigotry and racial epithets like bullets.
Orson Welles in Touch of Evil
As ginormous, boozy and sweating Sheriff Hank Quinlan, Orson Welles sleazes into a seedy Mexican-American border town with more than a touch of evil—he frames people for heinous crimes, destroys and plants evidence, and wheezes racist insults to boot. Citizen Kane? More like Citizen Bane.
Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant
Harvey Keitel plays a lieutenant who is bad. As in really, really bad. As in the last guy you'd call one of New York City’s finest. He cheats, lies, steals from thieves, extorts from drug dealers, smokes crack, buys hookers (and—gasp!—he’s Catholic!). It takes the gang-rape of a nun for this nameless bruiser in blue to realize his sins against the world—and himself.
Denzel Washington in Training Day
Could a cop get more repulsive? Washington's brutal but charismatic Alonzo Harris serves up sadism with a smile as an undercover cop with a particularly vile view of how punishment should be dealt—and to whom. Hey, at least he gets results.