Everyone enjoys a good action film. From its chaotic car chases, wild shootouts and crazy fight scenes, action films have been a staple of cinema for a long time and will continue to endure (think the recent success of John Wick: Chapter 2). From the Rambo, Die Hard, and The Terminator franchises, these action films were great but no one can deny the one action film that really changed the course of genre – Lethal Weapon. The leads are police officers and they have one thing in common – they hate working with partners. One is a veteran officer who plays by the rules and has a loving family. The other is a loose cannon who can be described as a “lethal weapon” and they will be working together for the first time.
Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon is a film that offered us amazing action sequences, funny dialogue and two great actors who arguably will be best remembered for playing the respective characters they portrayed here. Danny Glover is Roger Murtaugh, a family man who is a veteran of the LAPD who always wears a suit on the job. Mel Gibson is Martin Riggs, a man with no family and who contemplates suicide after the tragic loss of his wife. He has martial art skills, is handy with a gun, and is the worst partner to work with. So, when Murtaugh and Riggs are partnered up to investigate a group of drug smugglers in Los Angeles what follows is a house exploding, shootouts, one wild car chase that involves Riggs chasing the suspect on foot while the criminal is fleeing in a car and a Christmas dinner to end the evening.
What made Lethal Weapon a major hit was the sheer excitement that was on the screen. As soon as the film started, the audience was glued to their seats as the action unfolded making way for exciting moments and a real sense of fun. The film did have some brutal parts, but was laced with humor, yet most of all kept bringing people back to the theater as three sequels were released over the next 11 years.
Written by Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3) in 1985, the original story was much darker than the final product and vastly different. Originally, Shane wrote the story as an urban western in the vein of Dirty Harry. Even the main characters were written as everyday policemen doing their jobs as they normally would. Also, the violence in the original script was more gruesome and way too dark for Richard Donner to agree to film the script. He later brought in Jeffrey Boam to change up the script who was responsible for adding in the comedic elements along with vastly changing the action scenes and dialogue. He also did script additions for Lethal Weapon 2 and was one of the screenwriters for Lethal Weapon 3.
One thing that really separates the Lethal Weapon franchise from other films is how clever it was. Two police officers who do their job, see their family, and interact with each other all while chaos is around them was just a blast. The chemistry between Gibson and Glover is perfect from them working well when the bullets fly and times when they don’t agree and have quite an argument about it. Their chemistry makes the film ever better. The action scenes felt real and not too over the top, the dialogue was especially funny between Riggs and Murtaugh, and of course the famous theme from Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton.
Against a budget of $15 million, Lethal Weapon was released on March 6, 1987 and held the top spot for three weeks straight. Total sales were $120 million worldwide, making its way to the ninth highest grossing film of the year. Critics did enjoy the film for its adrenaline fueled action scenes, the chemistry between Gibson and Glover, as well as the funny dialogue throughout. Richard Donner, Mel Gibson, and Danny Glover would return for the three sequels that were released over the next 11 years. Lethal Weapon is also credited as being the best of buddy cop genre and helped influence other films of the genre such as Bad Boys, Tango and Cash, and finally the Rush Hour series.
Shane Black also wrote the script for Lethal Weapon 2 which was changed in such a way that Shane Black left the series never to return. Nevertheless, the Lethal Weapon franchise has found its way in history totaling near $1 billion in total box office sales and let’s not forget the two famous catchphrases: “I’m too old for this shit.” and whenever gunfire explodes our two cops always go on three. Remember it’s 1, 2, then 3. So, be sure to find that old VHS tape or better yet go out and find the Lethal Weapon collection to revisit some good old-fashioned action fun. With awesome character chemistry, top-notch action sequences, and memorable moments; there is something to always enjoy when Riggs and Murtaugh are on the case. We will never grow tired of you guys. Thanks Richard Donner for all the fun and Shane Black for introducing us to two great police officers of the LAPD.