Lethal Weapon Movies, Ranked Worst To Best (2023)

Here are the four movies in the Lethal Weaponseries ranked, worst to best. Directed by Richard Donner (Superman: The Movie) and starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, the Lethal Weapon franchise is among the finest and most popular action movies ever made. Lethal Weapon was also rebooted into a successful FOX TV series from 2016-2019 and Lethal Weapon 5 has been rumored to be in development since 2011. However, it's unlikely any reboot or continuation can ever recapture the magic of the original Lethal Weapon quadrilogy.


Created by Shane Black, who is credited with the original film's screenplay although the first three Lethal Weapon movies were largely written by Jeffrey Boam with Robert Mark Kamen, the original Lethal Weapon reinvented the classic buddy cop dynamic, making it stand out in the 1980s action movie field dominated by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis (who was considered for the role of Martin Riggs). The secret of Lethal Weapon's success is the crackling chemistry between Gibson and Glover, guided by the savvy direction of Donner, who helmed all four films. Gibson plays Martin Riggs, a suicidal, "psycho nut cop"and ex-Green Beret mourning the death of his wife, while Glover portrays his opposite number, Roger Murtaugh, a family man and veteran police detective who turned 50 in the original film and lamented being "too old for this sh--!" The Lethal Weapon series also dealt with themes of growing older, change, and family as Riggs gradually evolved from an uncontrollable loner cop into a husband and father over the films' 11-year time-frame.

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As the Lethal Weapon movies continued, more and more characters joined the franchise to serve as foils for both Riggs and Murtaugh, but the core of Lethal Weapon always focused on the friendship and brotherly love between the two lead detectives. The Lethal Weapon series also stood out for its ribald comedy, which smoothed out the edges of its bombastic action sequences and brutal violence, underscored by Michael Kamen's music and Eric Clapton's memorable guitar riffs. In the years since, the Lethal Weapon series has been imitated and parodied, but it remains unequaled in the annals of Hollywood action movies. Although the quality of the films did decrease as the franchise aged, the Lethal Weaponfranchise remains as a high standard of the blockbuster action/comedies from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. Here are all four Lethal Weapon movies ranked.

4. Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

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At the heart of Lethal Weapon 4 is the theme of family and, indeed, the movie is like a rambling reunion cluttered with familiar faces and new additions. Over a decade after they formed their partnership, Riggs and Murtaugh are at a new crossroads: Martin learns his love Lorna Cole (Rene Russo) is pregnant and so is Roger's eldest daughter Rianne (Traci Wolfe), which would make Murtaugh a grandfather. Roger also doesn't realize that the precinct's eager new detective, Lee Butters (Chris Rock), is Rianne's husband and his new son-in-law. Rock was one of America's hottest comedians in the '90s and the film literally grinds to a halt so he can do some of his stand-up act with the superfluous Joe Pesci, who's back as Leo Getz. As Riggs faces the fact that he has aged and is now past his physical prime,he and Murtaugh stumble upon a Chinese human trafficking ring and a deadly new enemy, Wa Sing Ku (Jet Li).

Lethal Weapon 4 is over-cluttered with subplots; the story is meandering, the over-the-top action mostly comes off as perfunctory by this fourth outing, and some of the comedy is downright cringe-inducing, especially the outright racist depiction of the Chinese villains. However, Lethal Weapon 4 deals with the fact that Riggs is getting older in a manner that nicely echoes Murtaugh's arc in the inaugural film, and Martin comes to terms with finally letting go of his late wife Victoria Lynn to embrace a new future with Lorna. The shockingly violent final confrontation between Riggs, Murtaugh, and Wa Sing Ku is also the single best fight scene of the franchise. Despite being the longest, most expensive, and the weakest film of the saga, Lethal Weapon 4's heartwarming moments are worth seeing, as are the classy closing credits that pay tribute to the crew, most of whom worked in all four films over 11 years.

3. Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

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Lethal Weapon 3 is the highest-grossing film of the franchise. Released in 1992,Lethal Weapon 3echoes the Rodney King riots of that year by dealing with gun violence among LA's black inner-city youth. However, the main story is about Riggs and Murtaugh stumblingupon a weapons trafficking ring run by a dirty ex-cop named Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson). Yet, as the heavy, Travis doesn't hold a candle to the South African villains in Lethal Weapon 2. Meanwhile, Murtaugh is a week away from retirement but, thanks to Riggs, he can't seem to stay out of trouble and the duo even gets busted down to uniformed patrolmen as punishment for their antics. The highlight of Lethal 3 is the star-making introduction of Rene Russo as Lorna Cole, an Internal Affairs detective who is an ideal match for Riggs and becomes his love interest, thanks to their memorable and sexy game of one-upmanship when they compared their scars and injuries.

Marking the clear downturn of the franchise's quality, Lethal Weapon 3 is more interested in the sum of its parts rather than on the whole. The plot unfolds in a haphazard way and the movie's many gonzo action sequences seem to start just because; Riggs and Murtaugh are dubbed "Mayhem and Chaos" by their frustrated Captain Murphy (Steve Kahan), and Lethal Weapon 3 embraces this with gusto. No one seems to be taking things too seriously in Lethal 3 and Leo Getz is shoehorned in strictly as comic relief because he was such a hit with audiences in Lethal Weapon 2. Still, when the moviefocuses on the deep bond between Riggs and Murtaugh ("What happens to you happens to me") and the smoldering romance between Riggs and Lorna, Lethal Weapon 3 more than delivers the goods. Also, Sting and Eric Clapton openLethal Weapon 3with the moody "It's Probably Me", the best theme song of the entire Lethal Weapon franchise.

Related: Where Are They Now? The Cast Of Lethal Weapon

2. Lethal Weapon (1987)

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Raw, gritty, and downright revolutionary, Lethal Weapon set the high standard by reinventing the buddy cop action movie. The original film is also the darkest of the franchise; it opens with a nude prostitute leaping from a high-rise to her death, Riggs is a suicidal cop who literally puts his gun in his mouth at his lowest point, while Murtaugh is targeted by a drug trafficking consortium run by ex-Special Forces Vietnam vets. This results in Roger's teenage daughter Rianne being kidnapped by her boyfriend, the psychotic Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey). Riggs is also tortured by electroshock and has a grisly final fight scene with Joshua to close out the picture. Yet, amusingly, Lethal Weapon is also a Christmas movie that's set during the holidays.

The original Lethal Weapon efficiently establishes what would become the franchise's winning formula and quickly forges the chemistry between Riggs and Murtaugh, who slowly and reluctantly learn to trust each other but, after their shared ordeal, they become closer than brothers by the end. However, there are also sharp comedic moments and unforgettable set pieces, especially when Riggs "saves" a suicide jumper by cuffing him and jumping off the ledge with him. Considering the direction the Lethal Weapon movies went, it's a bit startling to watch the original and see Riggs and Murtaugh at odds with each other, but the first Lethal Weapon remains thrilling, visceral, brutally violent, and it stands as one of the definitive action movies of the 1980s.

1. Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

The tagline for Lethal Weapon 2 boasted, "The Magic is Back!" and, indeed, the second film is the absolute best of the series. Lethal Weapon 2 was released in the epic summer of 1989 and, faced with competition from Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it still came in as the third highest-grossing blockbuster of that year. Lethal Weapon 2 crystallizes everything that worked in the first Lethal Weapon and achieves a perfect balance of character interplay ("We're back, we're bad, you're black, I'm mad!"), balls-to-the-wall action, and big laughs while introducing the greatest villains of the saga: a cadre of drug trafficking South African diplomats hiding behind their diplomatic immunity. Lethal 2 also solves thelingering mystery about the death of Riggs' wife Victoria Lynn in 1984: the culprit wasPieter Vorstedt (Derrick O'Connor), the henchman of the film's main villain, South African consul-general Arjen Rudd (Joss Acklund). Riggs also gets a tragic new love interest in Lethal Weapon 2, Rudd's assistant Rika Van Den Haas (Patsy Kensit).

Lethal Weapon 2's most ingenious new addition is Joe Pesci as money launderer Leo Getz, a lovable motormouth who exasperates both Riggs and Murtaugh. The film literally hits the ground running with a breakneck car chase and it never stops entertaining, from Riggs falling out of a hotel window into a pool to Martin taking his vengeance out on the South Africans by using his truck to pull down their house on stilts in the Hollywood Hills. A running gag that Riggs' daughter Rianne starred in a TV commercial for condoms also goes over like gangbusters every time, but Lethal 2 also boasts the most memorable scene of the whole franchise: Riggs saving Rog from the bomb planted on Murtaugh's toilet. Shane Black's discarded Lethal Weapon 2 screenplay ended with Riggs' death and, indeed, in the film's ultraviolent finale on a freighter, Riggs is seemingly shot to death before Murtaugh executes Rudd. Richard Donner shot two endings but obviously, due to the films' popularity, he wisely opted for the finale where Riggs survives. The Lethal franchise continued for another decade but it reached its apex with Lethal Weapon 2.

Next: The Matrix Movies Ranked, Worst To Best

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