The 23 Best Police Movies on Netflix

Ever since the heyday of film noir, audiences have been looking over the shoulders of the world’s law enforcement officers as they go about their often life-threatening work. Stylistically, of course, a lot has changed over time, which is why works with a police theme have long taken a variety of forms: While some stick to the serious detective with a depressed disposition, others show their characters in moral gray areas or take the whole affair with a good pinch of humor.

Although crimes these days are best committed or solved in series form, streaming giant Netflix naturally also offers various feature-length film productions on the subject. With that in mind, here we present our diverse investigative findings based on 23 pieces of evidence!

1. Prisoners (2013)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis

After a Thanksgiving dinner together, the respective daughters of the Dover and Birch families disappear without a trace. Led by Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal), a suspect is quickly identified, though nothing can be proven against the mentally impaired man. Accordingly, he goes free while the two children remain untraceable. Enraged, Keller Dover (Jackman) investigates on his own while Loki pursues a different trail.

With his first U.S. production, Denis Villeneuve recommended himself as a director of nerve-wracking material even before “Sicario”: Oscar-nominated camerawork meets tricky ethical questions and an oppressive atmosphere!

2. The Other Guys (2010)

Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes

Detective P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Detective Christopher Danson (Dwayne Johnson) are the absolute stars of the NYPD, usually solving their cases with a figurative crowbar. Their arrogance, however, literally comes before the case, whereupon the ambitious Detective Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) sees his chance come: Together with his partner, the staunch office jock Allen Gamble (Ferrell), he wants to prove himself a worthy successor in the field. An endeavor with all too many obstacles.

Inventive and light-hearted satire of the familiar buddy-cop trope directed by Adam McKay (“Anchorman”)!

3. Bad Boys (1995)

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Téa Leoni

Daredevil Mike Lowrey (Smith) and family man Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are a mismatched but effective team. Together, the two narcotics agents intercepted a sizable shipment of heroin, but it was stolen from the evidence room shortly after that. Their captain gives them three days to solve the case with a loose mouth and an even looser finger on the trigger.

While Michael Bay made his big-screen debut in the director’s chair with “Bad Boys,” Will Smith premiered as the lead on the big screen. The rest is history in both cases! Speaking of which, the 2003 sequel is also available on Netflix.

4. Training Day (2001)

With: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn

Jake Hoyt (Hawke) is an ambitious cop who aspires to work in the Los Angeles narcotics squad. Accordingly, he’s eager to prove himself during his titular trial day under the tutelage of hard-nosed detective Alonzo Harris (Washington) – though it doesn’t remain hidden from Hoyt for long that the latter’s demonstrative confidence is based on ruthless corruption. Before he knows it, he gets caught up in Harris’ machinations and must decide what kind of cop he really wants to be.

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For his premiere as the villain, Denzel Washington was recognized with an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role!

5. Red Heat (1988)

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Belushi, Peter Boyle

In the Soviet Union, police officer Ivan Danko (Schwarzenegger) pursues a nefarious drug dealer who has Danko’s partner on his conscience and eventually disappears behind the other side of the Iron Curtain. However, law enforcement agencies quickly caught him in the United States, and Danko crossed the pond to accompany the criminal’s conviction. When the latter is forcibly freed, the disciplined Russian must team up willy-nilly with borderline U.S. investigator Art Ridzik (Belushi).

Amusing eighties action and, incidentally, the first American film to receive permission to shoot in Red Square!

6. Gangster Squad (2013)

Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn

With the right bribe in place, criminal Mickey Cohen (Penn) is able to evade prosecution with relative ease. For this reason, the LAPD of the late 1940s resorts to unconventional methods: led by hardened war veteran John O’Mara (Brolin), the rule of law is left behind, and the titular unit is formed, with cops launching covert attacks on Cohen’s businesses. Thus, the money tap should be turned off to him in the medium term—a plan as promising as it is risky.

Action thriller with a prominent cast throughout that doesn’t skimp on hard edges despite its glossy retro look!

7. POINT BREAK (1991)

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey

For years, a gang has kept the FBI on its toes with non-violent and extremely efficient bank robberies. The scant evidence suggests the perpetrators belong to the surfing scene. So investigators infiltrate young agent Johnny Utah (Reeves) into the group of charismatic athletes Brodhi (Swayze), so he can gather new intelligence undercover. However, he soon takes a liking to his new friends’ free and fast lifestyle.

Kathryn Bigelow’s action-packed cult film provided obvious inspiration for more than just “The Fast and Furious” writers: A 2015 remake titled “Point Break” is also available on Netflix.

8. The Highwaymen (2019)

Starring: Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kathy Bates

The most exciting stories are written in real life, which “The Highwaymen” also reminds us of! The plot centers on the investigation of two aged Texas Rangers named Frank Hamer (Costner) and Maney Gault (Harrelson), who is hunting down arguably the most famous pair of criminals of all time: Bonnie and Clyde.

After the two outlaws have committed numerous robberies, freed prisoners, and killed several police officers in the course of their deeds, Governor Ma Ferguson (Bates) personally sets the two officials on the duo.

The use of various original locations gives the crime drama additional authenticity!

9. The Departed (2006)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon

At the center of this high-voltage cat-and-mouse game with constantly changing roles are the two young police officers, Sullivan (Damon) and Costigan (DiCaprio): While the former has been successfully infiltrated into Boston’s executive branch by mob boss Costello (Nicholson), Costigan is in turn tasked with infiltrating Costello’s organization as an undercover agent. To make matters worse, the lives of the two informers unwittingly become entangled on a private level – but who uncovers their mole first?

Grandmaster Martin Scorsese draws on a cast that performs perfectly right down to the supporting roles, giving the Hong Kong original “Infernal Affairs” a more than worthy remake!

10. Rush Hour (1998)

Starring: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson

When the Chinese consul’s daughter is kidnapped in Los Angeles, he puts Hong Kong’s most capable cop on the case: Inspector Lee (Chan) travels to the States especially and devotes himself to the investigation as a matter of course, which offends the territorial pride of the local FBI. So the bureau sends in James Carter – a tireless blabbermouth tasked with slowing Lee down. After initial chases, the two detectives finally realize that the consul’s daughter can only be helped by working together.

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Although Jackie Chan had to take a back seat in terms of stunts, this action-comedy gave him his breakthrough in the West. Two sequels, also available on Netflix, complete the successful film series!

11. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

Starring: Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Kyle MacLachlan

Let’s not kid you: If you’re not familiar with “Twin Peaks” – the legendary series – you’ll most likely have very little to do with the film that goes with it. This prequel is definitely controversial, even among devoted fans of the episodic mystery thriller. After all, creator-director David Lynch has staged an occasionally utterly overwhelming fever dream to further illuminate the final days in the life of long-suffering Laura Palmer (Lee).

Despite appearances by Dale Cooper (MacLachlan) and other FBI investigators, this is hardly a straight police film; however, we’re dealing with a thoroughly memorable entry in what is undoubtedly a relevant series!

12. Gridlocked (2015)

With: Dominic Purcell, Cody Hackman, Stephen Lang

David Hendrix is (Purcell) the renowned head of a SWAT unit before a gunshot wound puts a formative career crimp in his plans. From then on, his day-to-day work consists primarily of frustrating routine jobs for the NYPD, which include taking care of Brody Walker (Hackman): The former child star has been sentenced to community service, but a learning effect has not yet set in for the talkative egocentric.

Hendrix is correspondingly annoyed by his thankless task until the two of them unexpectedly find themselves in a lead-containing extreme situation.

“Gridlocked” appealed to critics mostly for its practical, no-frills, old-school approach. It also holds the record for the most bullets fired in a Canadian film, so action fans should get their money’s worth.

13. Seven (1995)

With: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow

Greed, intemperance, sloth, lust, arrogance, envy, and anger: with retirement on the horizon, frazzled detective Lt. William Somerset (Freeman) is entrusted not only with the induction of his hopeful successor (Pitt) but also with a disturbing case. Inspired by the seven deadly sins, a serial killer is on the loose, making the embittered investigator doubt his profession more than ever before. Will the killer be able to complete his accusatory work?

David Fincher’s nihilistic thriller still captivates audiences today with its remarkably dark mood, sometimes downright nightmarish settings, and unforgettable finale!

14. Bright (2017)

With: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace

In this Netflix in-house production, the tried-and-true “two cops working together despite all their differences” principle is taken to a decidedly fantastic extreme: Directed by police-proven “Training Day” screenwriter David Ayer, human cop Daryl Ward (Smith) initially teams up with Nick Jakoby (Edgerton), who is the first orc lawman in an alternate Los Angeles, with the most reluctance imaginable.

As part of a routine investigation, the two come across a magical artifact that must not fall into the wrong hands under any circumstances. Entertaining genre mix with easily digestible social criticism!

15. Sabotage (2014)

With: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard

David Ayer again? In one of the better Schwarzenegger films since his Hollywood comeback, our reliable list guest is responsible for both the screenplay and the direction. Arnold’s John “Breacher” Wharton is the leader of a hot-headed DEA special unit whose agents all have grandiose nicknames. They also grabbed ten million U.S. dollars in a cartel raid! It doesn’t take long before the first team members die in a very unnatural way.

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An equally loose and brutal interpretation of Agatha Christie’s classic “And then there was none.”

16. Shutter Island (2010)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley

U.S. Marshal Edward “Teddy” Daniels (DiCaprio), traumatized by his stint in World War II, is ordered to Shutter Island along with his new partner Chuck Aule (Ruffalo), where a potentially dangerous patient has escaped from a sanitarium for mentally disturbed felons. A storm traps the two officers on the island. Daniels is soon investigating more than just an official mission: He senses a far-reaching, inhumane conspiracy behind the asylum’s walls.

Director Martin Scorsese directs his favorite actor through an unexpectedly tragic case that is also visually memorable, thanks to outstanding scene images!

17. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

With: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn

What hasn’t been said about this classic of crime cinema yet? Both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins star in the roles of a lifetime in this five-time Oscar-winning novel adaptation: Early-career FBI agent Clarice Starling assists in the manhunt for a brutal serial killer. To get on the trail of this one, investigators enlist the help of imprisoned Hannibal Lecter.

This one is not only a highly dangerous cannibal but also an extremely intelligent psychiatrist – and his support comes at a price. For many film fans, “The Silence of the Lambs” is simply a perfect thriller!

18. Antibodies (2005)

Starring: Wotan Wilke Möhring, André M. Hennicke, Heinz Hoenig

Patrol officers in Berlin (one of them portrayed by “The Walking Dead” star Norman Reedus) are alerted to a disturbance in the peace. Rather by chance, they get on the trail of serial killer Gabriel Engel (Henniker), who paints religious paintings with the blood of his young victims.

The suspected perpetrator largely closes himself off to the investigating inspector (Hoenig), while village policeman Martens (Möhring) seems to get through to him better. However, the case soon threatens to grow hopelessly over his head.

Good acting and nerve-racking suspense until the very end speak for this German production.

19. Public Enemies (2009)

With: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard

Crime specialist Michael Mann (“Heat,” “Collateral”) stages a legendary chapter in U.S. police history: Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, officer Melvin Purvis (Bale) is entrusted by FBI chief Hoover himself with the pursuit of John Dillinger (Depp). The notorious bank robber is so reliably one step ahead of law enforcement that he’s been named “public enemy No. 1” is declared – a dubious form of recognition that does nothing to facilitate his ongoing escape.

Johnny Depp stands out in this stellar ensemble, while expert action sequences and fabulous sets make for spectacular time travel!

20. Zodiac (2007)

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr.

After director David Fincher was already able to immortalize himself on our list with the – fortunately – fictional story of “Seven,” his film adaptation of this real-life, still mysterious manhunt should also be acknowledged: In the late sixties, the San Francisco Police Department is hot on the heels of the so-called Zodiac Killer. This one derives perfidious pleasure from sending exclusive perpetrator knowledge to local newspaper editorials, causing cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal), in particular, to sink his teeth into the case.

The almost documentary-like style of this gripping thriller at times is due in no small part to the fact that Fincher used the real Graysmith’s books as a foundation.

21. The Heat (2013)

22. Let’s Be Cops (2014)

23. Spenser Confidential (2020)

Let’s keep in mind: that if you like unequal duos, you will definitely have many hours of streaming ahead of you. At the same time, however, the aforementioned range of police films is also vividly illustrated on Netflix – cinematic historical reappraisals, dark psychological thrillers, action-packed investigations, or commissioners with a penchant for comedy put an end to monotony and boredom!

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