Action movies have been around since the dawn of cinema, but the action genre as we know it came to be during the ’70s and ’80s. The formula for action movies hasn’t changed much in the decades since then. While many standard action flicks go for a single lead, like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, Sylvester Stallone in Rambo, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator films, action comedies tend to work best when pairing up two stars as duos in buddy flicks.
The best duos in action movies are almost never one-off occurrences. If something worked well the first time, then you can count on Hollywood to revisit the well again and again. But we’re okay with a few more sequels if it means that our choices for the five best duos in action movies can team up one last time.
Martin Lawrence and Will Smith were already established TV stars when director Michael Bay united them in Bad Boys, a buddy cop film that critics absolutely hated. Audiences felt differently about Smith’s Mike Lowrey and Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett, a pair of detectives in the Miami police department.
The first Bad Boys was especially funny because it created a situation where Marcus had to pretend to be Mike in order to win over the trust of an informant, Julie Mott (Téa Leoni). To keep the deception intact, Mike the family man had to step into the role of Marcus the playboy, and vice versa. Smith and Lawrence reteamed with Bay for Bad Boys 2, before the duo came back for a third movie, Bad Boys for Life, in 2020. A fourth movie was reportedly set to begin filming this year before it was derailed by the currently ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. When the actors go back to work, Smith and Lawrence will likely be back together again.
Watch Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys via rental or digital purchase on Prime Video.
Although Men in Black is technically a sci-fi film, it’s also an action comedy that thrives on the dynamic between its two stars: Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. Nobody does “grizzled old veteran” quite like Jones, and at this point in his career, Smith was still the fresh young movie star. They played off of each other so well that audiences barely noticed that Men in Black was only 98 minutes long. Everyone was just having too much fun watching Agent K (Jones) show Agent J (Smith) the ropes after he joined the secretive Men in Black organization, which keeps the peace between humans and the surprisingly large number of aliens who also live on Earth.
Smith and Jones reunited for Men in Black II, but they only briefly shared the screen in Men in Black III because Smith’s J was trapped in the past in order to save a younger K, as played by Josh Brolin. Still, this kind of action duo doesn’t just happen by accident. Nor is their onscreen bond easy to recreate, as illustrated by Sony’s failed attempt to revive the franchise without Smith and Jones in Men in Black International.
Watch Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in Men in Black via rental or digital purchase on Prime Video.
Eddie Murphy made his big screen debut in 48 Hrs., but he wouldn’t have been able to parlay that into greater stardom without Nick Nolte’s great turn as Jack Cates, the perfect straight man to Murphy’s Reggie Hammond. 48 Hrs. wasn’t the first buddy action movie, but it was one of the best and it helped popularize the genre.
Within the film, Nolte’s Jack Cates is an inspector for the San Francisco police department who was out to recapture two dangerous convicts: Albert Ganz (James Remar) and Billy Bear (Sonny Landham). Jack was so desperate to bring them down that he made a deal with their former associate, Reggie (Murphy), to temporarily release him from prison for 48 hours. Although Reggie got on every single one of Jack’s nerves, the onscreen comedy chemistry between Murphy and Nolte was undeniable. That’s one of the reasons why they reteamed for a sequel, Another 48 Hrs., in 1990.
Watch Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs. on Paramount+.
There are few more unlikely duos than Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. Regardless, their first team-up in Rush Hour was a runaway hit. Chan played Chief Inspector Lee, one of the best cops in Hong Kong, who felt the need to come to Los Angeles when Soo-Yung Han (Julia Hsu), the daughter of Lee’s close friend, Consul Solon Han (Tzi Ma0), was kidnapped by a drug lord.
Tucker’s LAPD Detective James Carter was assigned to keep Lee busy and out of the investigation. But Lee and Carter hit it off as partners and they decided to work together. A lot of the comedy in this duo comes from Tucker’s motor-mouth antics and wisecracks. But Chan is no slouch when it comes to humor … especially with his unique brand of physical comedy. The first Rush Hour was truly lightning in a bottle, and even the two sequels are a lot of fun, thanks to this dynamic duo.
Watch Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in Rush Hour via rental or digital purchase on Prime Video.
When it comes to the best duos in action movies, nobody did it better than Mel Gibson and Danny Glover across four Lethal Weapon movies. They set the template in the first film in 1987, and no other franchise since has been able to fully recapture that magic. Even the short-lived Lethal Weapon TV series on Fox played like a pale imitation of the films.
Because Gibson and Glover played off of each other so naturally, it’s easy to forget that the first Lethal Weapon was a lot more serious than its sequels. Sergeant Martin Riggs (Gibson) was suicidal over the death of his wife, and his new partner, Roger Murtaugh (Glover), was alarmed by Riggs’ death wish. And yet by the end of the original movie, Riggs and Murtaugh were practically family. That’s a dynamic that carried Gibson and Glover all the way through Lethal Weapon 4. Hollywood keeps threatening to make Lethal Weapon 5, but it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s a better idea to just let these two go out on top.
Watch Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon via rental or digital purchase on Prime Video.