Lethal Weapon is a 1987 American buddy cop action film directed by Richard Donner. It stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as a mismatched pair of L.A.P.D. detectives, and Gary Buseyas their primary adversary.
The film was a box office hit and resulted in a series of four films.
L.A.P.D. Homicide Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is worried about getting old, having recently celebrated his 50th birthday. He receives a message from Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins), an old Vietnam War friend who Murtaugh realizes he has not seen in over 12 years. Before he can meet him, he is called to investigate a suicide and learns that the victim is Hunsaker's daughter, Amanda. Elsewhere, L.A.P.D. Narcotics Sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), who is suicidal following the recent death of his wife in a traffic accident, nearly kills a disarmed suspect after flying into a psychotic rage during a drug bust. Wary of his behavior, Riggs' superiors transfer him to Homicide, making him and Murtaugh reluctant partners.
Amanda's autopsy results show that she had taken drugs laced with drain cleaner. Even though she jumped to her death, she would have died within minutes anyway – making her death a homicide. After informing her distraught father, who claims he was trying to contact Murtaugh to help Amanda get out of the underworld of drugs, prostitution and hardcore pornography, Riggs and Murtaugh question a pimp Amanda was connected to. Finding a drug lab on the premises, they engage in a brief gunfight, killing the pimp (which leads to respect between Murtaugh and Riggs after he saved Murtaugh's life). Having found the drugs and with the pimp dead, Murtaugh assumes the case is now closed, but Riggs finds it suspicious that the only witness to Amanda's suicide was a prostitute named Dixie (Lycia Naff), who was working away from her usual "stroll". They deduce that Dixie poisoned Amanda and then posed as a witness to cover her crime.
Riggs and Murtaugh head to Dixie's home to question her, but her house explodes just as they arrive. Riggs—who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces during the Vietnam War—finds part of the bomb, a mercury switch which only a professional would use. A neighborhood child remembers seeing a man with blond hair at Dixie's earlier who had a Special Forces tattoo similar to Riggs's own. Seeing a connection, they deduce that Hunsaker knows more than he has admitted and Murtaugh confronts him at Amanda's wake. Hunsaker admits that for more than two years he has been involved in a heroin-smuggling operation run by former-special operations forces from the Vietnam War, known as "Shadow Company". The scheme is masterminded by a retired general, Peter McAllister (Mitchell Ryan)—the former commander of Shadow Company—and his chief enforcer, Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey). Hunsaker waslaundering the profits through his bank. McAllister had ordered Amanda's murder when her father, Michael, unsuccessfully tried to alert Murtaugh to the scheme in an attempt to get out of the business. As Murtaugh attempts to get Hunsaker to reveal the entirety of his operation, Joshua makes a surprise appearance in a helicopter and shoots Hunsaker dead.
As Riggs and Murtaugh attempt to investigate Dixie's connection, Joshua and the increasingly violent members of Shadow Company attempt to kill Riggs (which they believe was successful, though Riggs had been wearing a bulletproof vest) and later kidnap Murtaugh's daughter, Rianne (Traci Wolfe). Using Riggs's presumed dead status to their advantage, Murtaugh agrees to meet Shadow Company at El Mirage Lake to exchange himself for Rianne, knowing Shadow Company's plan is to kill them all anyway. As Riggs provides sniper cover from a distance, Roger attempts to make Rianne flee, but ultimately all three are captured. McAllister tortures Murtaugh for information regarding the heroin shipment by having his henchmen beat him and rub salt into his bullet wound. McAllister demands to know which of their drug shipments have been compromised eventually threatening Rianne when Murtaugh refuses to give in. Joshua has Riggs brutally tortured with electric shocks for information, but Riggs later escapes and then rescues both Murtaugh and Rianne. The pair then fight their way free of their prison, finding themselves in a downtown L.A. nightclub. Riggs chases Joshua on to the street and attempts to cut him off on the freeway, though Joshua ultimately escapes. Murtaugh finds McAllister trying to flee in his car. Taking out McAllister's driver, Murtaugh watches as the car crashes on Hollywood Boulevard and is destroyed (along with the heroin shipment) by a live hand grenade. Riggs and Murtaugh then go to Murtaugh's home, knowing Joshua will go there to attack Murtaugh's family, who are absent. While Joshua is arrested and led away without incident, Riggs, wanting revenge, proposes "a shot at the title", which Joshua eagerly accepts. Sanctioned by Murtaugh, Riggs beats Joshua in hand-to-hand combat on the front lawn. As he's being arrested, Joshua overpowers two deputy officers and attempts to shoot Riggs. Riggs and Murtaugh both draw and fire, killing Joshua.
After a visit to his wife's grave, Riggs spends Christmas Day at the Murtaugh home with his new partner's family; Riggs brings his dog Sam to be a friend to the Murtaugh family cat, Burbank. Riggs also gives Murtaugh a symbolic gift: the unfired hollow-point bullet which he had been saving to commit suicide, as he does not need it anymore.
- Mel Gibson as Detective Sgt. Martin Riggs
- Danny Glover as Detective Sgt. Roger Murtaugh
- Gary Busey as Mr. Joshua
- Mitchell Ryan as General 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 Capt. Ed Murphy
- Mary Ellen Trainor as Dr. Stephanie Woods (Police Psychiatrist)
- Ed O'Ross as Mendez
- Blackie Dammett as Drug Dealer #3
- Al Leong as Endo
Recent UCLA graduate Shane Black wrote the screenplay in mid-1985. His agent sent it to producer Joel Silver, who loved the story and worked with Black to further develop the script. After they took it to Warner Bros. in early 1986, studio production executives offered it to director Richard Donner, who also loved it. Leonard Nimoy was one of the choices considered for directing, but he did not feel comfortable doing action films, and he was working on Three Men and a Baby at the time. With those key elements in place, the search began for the right combination of actors to play Riggs and Murtaugh.
Casting director Marion Dougherty first suggested teaming Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. She arranged for Gibson to fly in from his home in Sydney while Glover was flown in from Chicago, where he was appearing in a play, to read through the script. According to a June 2007 Vanity Fair magazine article, Bruce Willis was considered for the Riggs role. This is referenced in the spoof of the Lethal Weapon films, National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1. Bruce (as John McClane) appears after the villains attack the wrong beach residence, looking for the protagonist.
According to Donner, "It took about two hours and by the time we were done, I was in seventh heaven. They found innuendoes; they found laughter where I never saw it; they found tears where they didn't exist before; and, most importantly, they found a relationship — all in just one reading. So if you ask about casting... it was magical, just total dynamite."
Explains Gibson, "This particular story was a cut above others I had passed on, because the action is really a sideline which heightens the story of these two great characters. I picture Riggs as an almost Chaplinesque figure, a guy who doesn't expect anything from life and even toys with the idea of taking his own. He's not like these stalwarts who come down from Mt. Olympus and wreak havoc and go away. He's somebody who doesn't look like he's set to go off until he actually does."
The draw for Glover was equally strong. Fresh from his success as Mister in The Color Purple, he felt the role of Roger Murtaugh offered a whole new range of character expression and experience. "Aside from the chance to work with Mel, which turned out to be pure pleasure, one of the reasons I jumped at this project was the family aspect. The chance to play intricate relationships and subtle humor that exist in every close family group was an intriguing challenge, as was playing a guy turning 50. Murtaugh's a little cranky about his age until everything he loves is threatened. His reawakening parallels Riggs'."
Both actors were signed by early spring 1986. Gibson and Glover then flew home to pack, and, returning to Los Angeles, began an intensive two months of physical training and preparation. Meanwhile, the crucial role of Joshua was settled when Gary Busey asked for a chance to read for the part. An established star since his Academy Award-nominated performance in The Buddy Holly Story, Busey had not auditioned for longer than he could remember. "I had butterflies," he realized. "I'd never played a bad guy. And no one had seen me since I'd lost 60 pounds and got back into shape. But I decided to take the initiative in order to have the opportunity to work with Dick, Joel, Mel and Danny. I'm constantly looking for someone to pull the best performance out of me and any of those guys could. They even talked me into dyeing my hair!" In his E! True Hollywood Story biography, Busey says he was hired to play Joshua because they were looking for someone big and menacing enough to be a believable foe for Mel Gibson. Busey also credits the film for reviving his failing film career.
Stunt coordinator Bobby Bass planned and supervised all phases of Gibson's and Glover's intense pre-production training; physical conditioning, weight workouts, and weapons handling and safety. Bass also used his own military experiences to bring a greater depth of understanding to the Riggs character. To familiarize the actors with the specialized skills and sensibilities acquired by undercover cops, arrangements were made for Gibson and Glover to spend time in the field accompanying working L.A.P.D. officers. Throughout filming, technical advisers from the L.A.P.D. as well as the L.A. County Sheriff's Department worked closely with Donner and the actors to ensure authenticity.
Lethal Weapon began principal photography on August 6, 1986, shooting on locations throughout the Los Angeles area, as well as on the backlot facilities of Burbank Studios. Filming began in Long Beach, with helicopter camera work that would set the tone for the opening title sequence and the first spectacular stunt of the film. The company then moved to Palos Verdes, Santa Monica, Studio City, West Hollywood, and Inglewood with one week out-of-town in El Mirage, an enormous dry lake bed outside Victorville.
From the early pre-production stages of Lethal Weapon, Richard Donner wanted Mel Gibson's final fight sequence to be unique, yet also to make a strong statement about the characters involved. Coincidentally, assistant director Willie Simmons had an avid interest in unusual forms of martial arts, and he invited several practitioners to the set to demonstrate for Donner. The result was the hiring of three technical advisors, each a master of a particular martial arts style.
Cedric Adams was the first expert brought in. "Adams thought the best possible way to show just how lethal Riggs really is — is to show his mastery of a form of martial arts never before seen onscreen," said Donner. Adams taught the actors the movements of Capoeira. A second technical advisor, Dennis Newsome, brought jailhouse rock to the fight sequence. The third technical advisor was Rorion Gracie, who specialized in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The filming was spread over four complete nights, shooting from dusk to dawn, resulting in an edited sequence that would last minutes on screen. Principal photography was completed in mid-November 1986. Hollywood city officials hung Christmas decorations on Hollywood Blvd. a few months early so that the scenes shot for this film, particularly the action scenes near the film's end, looked like they happened at the end of the year.
Legendary stunt man Dar Robinson was killed in a motorcycle accident shortly after principal photography was finished. Director Richard Donner dedicated the film to him. Jackie Swanson performed the high fall on her own. She was trained by Dar Robinson. Richard Donner's directing credit appears after Amanda Hunsaker leaps to her death. This is a reference to a joke that Richard Donner films often have sequences of people falling in his films (Lee Remick in The Omen and Margot Kidder in Superman).
One sequence shows a theatre marquee advertising The Lost Boys, a film Donner was producing at the time. A short segment of the 1951 film A Christmas Carol is shown on a television towards the film's end.
Michael Kamen, who just completed work on Highlander, composed the score for Lethal Weapon. The guitar part of Riggs' theme was performed by Eric Clapton. Kamen and Clapton had worked together on the music for the 1985 BBCTV series Edge of Darkness (the feature adaptation of which would later, by coincidence, star Mel Gibson). The saxophone part of Murtaugh's theme was performed by David Sanborn. The Christmas song "Jingle Bell Rock", is played during the film's opening credits. Honeymoon Suite's song, "Lethal Weapon," is played during the film's end credits without being credited.
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 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 Tango & Cash, Bad Boysand the Rush Hour series.
The reviews by critics were mostly positive. Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert in particular enjoyed the film, giving it four-out-of-four stars, saying Donner "tops himself." Franco Zeffirelli reportedly decided to offer Mel Gibson the role of Hamlet after seeing his suicide contemplation scene in this film. In 2007, Entertainment Weekly magazine named Lethal Weapon No. 24 on their list of the greatest action films of all time.
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Martin Riggs & Roger Murtaugh – Nominated Heroes
Lethal Weapon has been released on VHS and DVD numerous times, along with a single Blu-ray Disc release. The first DVD was released in 1997 and featured the film's theatrical version. The Director's Cut was released in 2000. Since then, numerous sets have been released that contain all four films in the series (featuring the same DVDs). The theatrical version was also released on Blu-ray in 2006.
In addition to the film's theatrical release, an extended "Directors 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 notable extended scene includes Riggs dispatching a sniper who had been firing at children in a playground. Another noteworthy scene added to the Director's Cut is one in which 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. This scene demonstrates his terrible loneliness after his wife was killed.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 punks who want his money. Riggs claims all of his is in the bank and tells the thugs "not to fuck with him." The thugs attack him, but Riggs easily subdues them. He is then allowed to take a free bottle of whiskey from the bar in exchange for never returning. Director Richard Donner felt the film should open with a brighter look at Riggs and filmed the scene with Riggs awakening in his trailer to replace it. The alternate ending featured Riggs and Murtaugh saying good-bye to one another. Murtaugh tells Riggs he's thinking of retiring, but Riggs tells him not to. Without even thinking about the possibility of sequels, Donner decided that Riggs and Murtaugh's partnership should continue and the two end as friends, and filmed the ending that appears in the completed film.
On January 19, 2011, Warner Bros. announced plans to reboot the Lethal Weapon franchise without Gibson and Glover. The new franchise would feature the same characters but a brand new cast. Will Beall has been drafted in to pen the script.