Lethal Weapon is a 1987 American buddy cop action comedy film directed by Richard Donner, and produced by Joel Silver, and written by Shane Black. It stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover alongside Gary Busey, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, and Mitchell Ryan. In Lethal Weapon, a pair of mismatched LAPD detectives – Martin Riggs (Gibson), a former Green Beret who has become suicidal following the death of his wife, and Roger Murtaugh (Glover), a 50-year-old veteran of the force – work together as partners.
The film was released on March 6, 1987. Upon its release, Lethal Weapon grossed over $120 million (against a production budget of $15 million) and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing. It spawned a franchise that includes three sequels and a television series.
Shortly after his 50th birthday, LAPD Homicide Sergeant Roger Murtaugh is partnered with Sergeant Martin Riggs, a transfer from narcotics. Riggs, a former Special Forces soldier who lost his wife in a car accident three years prior, has turned suicidal, and has been taking his aggression out on suspects, leading to his superiors requesting his transfer. Murtaugh and Riggs quickly find themselves facing off with each other.
Murtaugh is contacted by Michael Hunsaker, a Vietnam War buddy and banker, but before they can meet, Murtaugh learns that Hunsaker’s daughter, Amanda, apparently committed suicide by jumping from her apartment balcony. Autopsy reports show Amanda to have been poisoned with drain cleaner, making the case a possible homicide. Hunsaker tells Murtaugh that he was concerned about his daughter’s involvement in drugs, prostitution, and pornography, and was trying to get Murtaugh to help her escape that life.
Murtaugh and Riggs attempt to question Amanda’s pimp, but find a drug lab on the premises, leading to a shootout. Riggs kills the pimp and saves the life of Murtaugh, who starts to tolerate his new partner. Even though the case seems closed, Riggs is aware that the only witness to Amanda’s apparent suicide was Dixie, another prostitute who was working away from her normal streets. They attempt to question Dixie at her home, but it explodes as they approach it. Riggs finds parts of a mercury switch from bomb debris, indicating a professional had set the bomb; some children who had been nearby witnessed a man approach the house with a tattoo similar to the one Riggs has, and Murtaugh suspects Hunsaker is not telling the full picture.
The pair approach Hunsaker before Amanda’s funeral, where he reveals that he had previously been part of “Shadow Company,” a heroin-smuggling operation run by former special forces operators from the Vietnam War, masterminded by retired General Peter McAllister and his right-hand chief enforcer, Mr. Joshua. Hunsaker had been laundering the money, but wanted to get out, and when McAllister found out he had contacted Murtaugh, the general had Amanda killed in retaliation. As Murtaugh tries to get Hunsaker to reveal everything he knows about Shadow Company, Joshua arrives in a helicopter and kills Hunsaker. Then Shadow Company attempts to kill Riggs in a drive-by shooting, but he is saved by a bulletproof vest. Murtaugh and Riggs fake his murder to gain the upper hand.
Shadow Company later kidnaps Murtaugh’s daughter Rianne and demand that Murtaugh turn himself over to them for her return. Murtaugh and Riggs plan an ambush at the exchange at El Mirage Lake with Riggs providing sniper support, but Riggs is caught by McAllister and the trio are taken to an unknown location. Murtaugh and Riggs are tortured for information, but Riggs manages to overpower the captors, frees Murtaugh and Rianne, and they escape to find themselves at a busy nightclub used as a front for Shadow Company. With their cover blown, McAllister and Joshua attempt to escape separately.
Joshua manages to get away, but McAllister’s driver is shot by Murtaugh, causing the general’s car to veer out of control and get struck by a bus on Hollywood Boulevard, and McAllister is killed when a fire causes hand grenades in the car to detonate. Murtaugh and Riggs race to Murtaugh’s home, knowing that Joshua will come after his family for revenge. They arrive in time to prevent him, and Riggs beats Joshua in a violent brawl on the front lawn. As backup officers arrive to take Joshua into custody, he breaks free and steals a gun from one of the patrolmen, but Murtaugh and Riggs pull their guns and shoot Joshua dead.
After visiting his wife’s grave, Riggs spends Christmas with the Murtaughs, having become best friends with Murtaugh and bonding with the rest of the family. Riggs also gives Murtaugh a symbolic gift: a hollow-point bullet which he had been saving to commit suicide, as he does not need it anymore.
- Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs
- Danny Glover as Roger Murtaugh
- Gary Busey as Mr. Joshua
- Mitchell Ryan as Peter McAllister
- Tom Atkins as Michael Hunsaker
- Darlene Love as Trish Murtaugh
- Jackie Swanson as Amanda Hunsaker
- Traci Wolfe as Rianne Murtaugh
- Damon Hines as Nick Murtaugh
- Ebonie Smith as Carrie Murtaugh
- Steve Kahan as Captain Murphy
- Mary Ellen Trainor as Dr. Stephanie Woods
- Ed O’Ross as Mendez
- Lycia Naff as Dixie
- Jimmie F. Skaggs as Drug Dealer #1
- Jason Ronard as Drug Dealer #2
- Blackie Dammett as Drug Dealer #3
- Al Leong as Endo
- Jack Thibeau as McCaskey
- Grand Bush as Boyette
- Henry Brown as Plainclothes Cop
Released on March 6, 1987, Lethal Weapon was No. 1 at the box office for three weeks before Blind Date supplanted it.
It grossed $120.2 million worldwide and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing (Les Fresholtz, Dick Alexander, Vern Poore and Bill Nelson) (losing to The Last Emperor). It is widely considered to be one of the best buddy cop films of all time, influencing numerous “buddy cop” films such as Hot Fuzz, Tango & Cash, Bad Boys and the Rush Hour series.
The film holds a score of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 53 reviews; the average score is 7/10. The site’s critical consensus reads, “The most successful installment in a phenomenally successful franchise, Lethal Weapon helped redefine action movies for the 1980s and 1990s”. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “A” on an A+ to F scale.
Variety wrote, “Lethal Weapon is a film teetering on the brink of absurdity when it gets serious, but thanks to its unrelenting energy and insistent drive, it never quite falls.” Richard Schickel of Time called it “Mad Max meets The Cosby Show”, saying that it works better than expected. Richard Harrington of The Washington Post described it as “a vivid, visceral reminder of just how exciting an action film can be”. At The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, “The film is all fast action, noisy stunts and huge, often unflattering close-ups, but it packs an undeniable wallop.” Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars, saying Donner “tops himself”.
An alternate opening and ending were both filmed and can be seen on the Lethal Weapon 4 DVD. The alternate opening featured Martin Riggs drinking alone in a bar where he is accosted by a couple of thugs who attack him for his money, but are easily subdued by Riggs. Director Richard Donner felt the film should open with a brighter look at Riggs, and replaced the bar scene with the scene in which Riggs awakens in his trailer. The alternate ending featured Riggs telling Murtaugh not to retire. Without even thinking about the possibility of sequels, Donner decided that Riggs and Murtaugh’s relationship is one of friendship, and filmed the ending that appears in the completed film.
In addition to the film’s theatrical release, an extended Director’s Cut version was released later on DVD. The Director’s Cut version is longer (117 minutes) than the original theatrical release version (110 minutes), and features additional scenes. One extended scene depicts Riggs dispatching a sniper who had been firing at children in a playground. In another scene, Riggs picks up a street-walking prostitute, but instead of having sex with her, he takes her home to watch The Three Stooges on TV, thus illustrating his loneliness following the death of his wife.