With 'Southland's triumphant return to the airwaves on TNT (Tue., 10PM ET), we're in the mood for some serious law and order, with a heaping side of service and protection. We could also go for some mavericks flouting authority, flatfoots working a solid hunch, not-so-by-the-book interrogations, covers being blown and, of course, a few extremely dangerous high-speed car chases and maybe the odd shoot-out or two.

We spent all night getting the goods on the best cinematic cop dramas ever and we've narrowed it down to these top 10 suspects.
10. 'Rush' (1991)
Based on the true story of author Kim Wozencraft's experiences as an undercover narcotics agent in the '70s, we follow rookie cop Kristen Cates (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as she goes undercover with vet Jim Raynor (Jason Patric) to try to catch a high-profile drug lord. The two become partners and then lovers -- and we hold our breath as Kristen, to keep her cover, is forced to do the drugs she's buying. She and Jim spiral down a dark path, one that ends in corruption, murder and suicide. Like all great cop dramas, the pursuit of justice rings hollowest for those doing the pursuing.

9. 'The Naked City' (1948)
This tale of the citywide hunt for a murderer plays out almost like a documentary: Because it's filmed on location in New York, a rarity in the heyday of the Hollywood-based studio system, when the police go door to door to canvas the neighborhood, we get a glimpse of real New Yorkers of all sizes, shapes and colors, not just whatever Central Casting decided to send over. Some aspects may be dated, but the solid detective work, the sweaty interrogations and the suspenseful showdown atop a New York bridge haven't aged a day. Barry Fitzgerald is terrific as the gruff (and very Irish) head cop on the case.

8. 'Bullitt' (1968)
Steve McQueen is, as usual, effortlessly cool as San Francisco cop Frank Bullitt. When the mob informant he's guarding is gunned down at a supposedly secret location, Bullitt suspects a leak within the force. He begins his own investigation, which goes all the way up to the top. Featuring one of the most epic car chases in movie history, as Bullitt's car flies over the many steep hills of San Francisco and out of the city -- but never across the Golden Gate Bridge, which they clearly didn't get permission to film on.

7. 'Dirty Harry' (1971)
Even if you've never seen 'Dirty Harry,' you know his scowl, the glint in his eye, the knowing sneer as he challenges a nameless criminal who's stupid enough to point a gun at San Francisco's most trigger-happy cop, "You've got to ask yourself a question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?" Even if you take away all the groovy spaghetti westerns, all his prestigious directing awards and all the Harry Callahan sequels, for that scene alone, Eastwood will live on forever in movie history as one guy you really, really don't want to cross.

6. 'Witness' (1985)
Harrison Ford (in what's surprisingly his only Oscar-nominated performance) is your typically grumpy, overworked city cop saddled with an out-of-towner who's witnessed a murder, except this witness is Amish and just a boy. Ford is forced to go into hiding with the Amish, a strange world without guns -- or buttons! Thanks to director Peter Weir, there are shiver-inducing moments, like the utter quiet when Ford realizes, in the middle of his chaotic squad room, that his young witness has i.d.'d a decorated officer as the murderer, or when three armed gunmen descend at dawn on the unsuspecting Amish village.

5. 'Serpico' (1973)
Gritty authenticity is in every frame of this real-life, shot-on-location story of New York City cop whose honesty nearly gets him killed. Frank Serpico (Al Pacino, in one of his most iconic roles) refuses to take bribes like everyone else on the squad does. Taking the case to his superiors is useless as they're just as corrupt as the rank and file. Serpico's decision to go public as a whistleblower makes him the target of every cop on the beat. Released just as the Watergate scandal was peaking, the film proved, once again, that corruption always goes hand in hand with power.

4. 'In the Heat of the Night' (1967)
When black city cop Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) unhesitatingly returns a vicious slap to a small-town, Southern suspect, 1967 audiences were probably just as shocked as the character who delivered the first blow. "There was a time, I could have had you shot," says the shaken bigot, who asks the sheriff (Rod Steiger) what he's going to do about Tibbs. "I don't know," admits the sheriff, who starts off every inch as bigoted as the suspect, but by film's end, has learned a grudging respect for Tibbs and his methods. The film earned five Oscars and remains a must-see for anyone who loves Poitier, policing, or just plain great filmmaking.

3. 'The Departed' (2006)
When Martin Scorsese decided to tell the boys in blue's side of things, is it any surprise he went for a story where the criminal's really a cop and the cop's really a criminal? Billy Costigan's (a buff and brooding Leonardo DiCaprio) sordid family ties make him a natural for undercover, but he goes in so deep we're not sure he'll ever come out. Same with his doppelganger, the mob-placed cop Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) who's made such a shining success on the force that he starts to believe he's one of the good guys. The line between cons and cops has never been so thin.

2. 'LA Confidential' (1997)
You can't find two cops more different in LA in the 1950s: Volatile Bud White (Russell Crowe) thinks with his fists, while straight arrow Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) makes a point of following procedure, even at the cost of his fellow officers. That makes him the most hated man in the LAPD, until he draws, and quickly solves, the biggest case of his life, the Night Owl Murders. When he and White, separately, begin to look deeper into the case, we wait for the terrific moment of impact when their investigative courses collide and these two unstoppable forces realize they're on the same side.

1. 'The French Connection' (1971)
Five Oscars went to the quintessential "gritty '70s police drama," including Best Picture, Best Director (William Friedkin) and Best Actor to Gene Hackman as dogged detective Popeye Doyle, who's never off the case. Rightly remembered for one of the tensest chase scenes of all time as Doyle and partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) try to outrace a commandeered elevated train. If the near-misses (and ultimate collisions) in this out-of-control pursuit don't get your heart pumping, we're calling the coroner.

categories Features