Lethal Weapon is a 1987 American buddy cop action film directed by Richard Donner, produced by Joel Silver, and written by Shane Black. It stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover alongside Gary Busey, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, and Mitchell Ryan. In Lethal Weapon, a pair of mismatched LAPD detectives – Martin Riggs (Gibson), a former Green Beret who has become suicidal following the death of his wife, and Roger Murtaugh (Glover), a 50-year-old veteran of the force – work together as partners.
|Directed by||Richard Donner|
|Written by||Shane Black|
|Produced by||Richard Donner|
|Edited by||Stuart Baird|
|Music by||Michael Kamen|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$120.2 million|
The film was released on March 6, 1987. Upon its release, Lethal Weapon grossed over $120 million (against a production budget of $15 million) and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound. It spawned a franchise that includes three sequels and a television series.
Shortly after his 50th birthday, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Homicide Sergeant Roger Murtaugh is partnered with Sergeant Martin Riggs, a former Special Forces soldier who has become suicidal and erratic following the death of his wife several years prior. The pair do not get along as Murtaugh wants to avoid the dangerous and violent situations in which Riggs often finds himself.
Murtaugh is contacted by his old Vietnam War friend Michael Hunsaker, but before they can meet, Murtaugh learns that Hunsaker's daughter Amanda killed herself by jumping from an apartment balcony. Her autopsy shows that she was poisoned, meaning she was possibly murdered. Hunsaker reveals he contacted Murtaugh to help Amanda escape her life of drugs, prostitution, and pornography. Riggs and Murtaugh attempt to question Amanda's pimp, but find a drug lab on the premises, leading to a shootout. Riggs kills the pimp and saves Murtaugh's life. Following their last lead, the pair go to meet Dixie, a prostitute and the only witness to Amanda's death. When they arrive at her home, it explodes. Riggs finds components of a mercury switch bomb among the debris, indicating it was set by an explosives expert. Neighborhood children witnessed the suspect and noticed he had a tattoo similar to Riggs's, indicating he is also former special forces. Murtaugh suspects Hunsaker is withholding information.
Riggs and Murtaugh visit Hunsaker during Amanda's funeral, where he reveals he was a former operative of "Shadow Company", a defunct Central Intelligence Agency paramilitary unit which ran the Vietnam War out of Laos and took over the substantial heroin trade in the area from the natives. After the war, Shadow Company continued the heroin trade, shipping large quantities from Asia to the United States, under the leadership of retired General Peter McAllister and his right-hand man Jack Joshua. Hunsaker's role as a banker allowed him to launder the illicit funds, but once he decided he no longer wanted to work for McAllister, McAllister had Amanda killed in retalliation. Before Hunsaker can reveal anymore, Joshua arrives in a helicopter and shoots him to death before escaping. Joshua later attempts to kill Riggs in a drive-by shooting, but the latter is saved by his bulletproof vest. Murtaugh and Riggs fake Riggs's death to give them an advantage.
Concerned Murtaugh knows too much, Shadow Company kidnaps his daughter Rianne to force Murtaugh to meet them at El Mirage Lake. Riggs ambushes the meeting using a sniper rifle but is captured by McAllister, and he, Murtaugh, and Rianne are recovered to an unknown location. Riggs and Murtaugh are tortured to determine what Hunsaker told them, until Riggs manages to escape and frees the Murtaughs. Riggs and Murtaugh pursure McAllister and Joshua upstairs into a busy nightclub used as a front for Shadow Company. Joshua successfully escapes, but Murtaugh shoots McAllister's driver, causing the general's car to crash and burst into flames, detonating the hand grenades in the car, killing McAllister.
Riggs and Murtaugh go to Murtaugh's home, deducting Joshua will go there for revenge. Murtaugh holds the police back as Riggs and Joshua engage in a brawl between special forces on Murtaugh's lawn. Riggs eventually defeats Joshua but restrains himself from killing him. As police officers take Joshua into custody, he breaks free and steals a gun from one of the patrolmen. As he takes aim at Riggs, Riggs and Murtaugh draw their weapons and shoot him to death.
After visiting his wife's grave, Riggs spends Christmas with Murtaugh and his family, the partners having become close friends. Riggs gifts Murtaugh a Hollow-point bullet, which he had been saving to commit suicide, as he no longer needs it.
- Mel Gibson as Sergeant Martin Riggs
- Danny Glover as Sergeant Roger Murtaugh
- Gary Busey as Jack 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 Captain Ed Murphy
- Mary Ellen Trainor as Dr. Stephanie Woods
- Ed O'Ross as Mendez
- Lycia Naff as Dixie
- Jimmie F. Skaggs as Drug Dealer #1
- Jason Ronard as Drug Dealer #2
- Blackie Dammett as Drug Dealer #3
- Al Leong as Endo
- Jack Thibeau as Sergeant Rick McCaskey
- Grand Bush as Detective Dan Boyette
- Henry Brown as Plainclothes Cop
- Paul Tuerpe as Mercenary
- Sven-Ole Thorsen as Mercenary
- Chad Hayes as Mercenary
- Selma Archerd as Policewoman
- Don Gordon as Cop
- Donald Gooden as Alfred
Recent UCLA graduate Shane Black wrote the screenplay in mid-1985. Black stated that his intention was to do an "urban western" inspired by Dirty Harry where a violent character "reviled for what he did, what he is capable of, the things he believed in" is eventually recruited for being the one that could solve the problem. The protagonists would be everymen policemen, "guys shuffling in a town like Los Angeles searching for something noble as justice when they're just guys in washed and worn suits seeking a paycheck".
According to Black, his original first draft of the script was very different and much darker than the final film. It was 140 pages long and both the plot and characters were different, and action scenes were also much bigger. The ending of the script contained a chase scene with helicopters and a trailer truck full of cocaine exploding over Hollywood Hills with cocaine snowing over the Hollywood sign. Black hated this first draft and initially discarded it but later picked it up again and re-wrote it into the new drafts that were eventually used for filming.
His agent sent the Lethal Weapon script to various studios, being rejected before Warner Bros. executive Mark Canton took a liking to it. Canton brought along producer Joel Silver, who loved the story and worked with Black to further develop the script. Director Richard Donner also brought in writer Jeffrey Boam to do some uncredited re-writes on Black's script after he found parts of it to be too dark. Boam mostly added some more humor into the script, and later did a complete re-write of Shane Black and Warren Murphy's rejected script for the second film. He also wrote the script for the third film and an unused draft for the fourth film.
After the script was purchased for $250,000, 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.
Mel Gibson was invited by Richard Donner as he was interested in working with the actor after Ladyhawke. Casting director Marion Dougherty first suggested teaming Gibson with Danny Glover, given Murtaugh had no set ethnicity in the script. 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, 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 a film in years. "I had butterflies," he said. "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.
Cedric Adams was the first technical adviser 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. Donner wanted Riggs's style of fighting to be unique with the second assistant director Willie Simmons, who was interested in unusual forms of martial arts, choosing three martial arts styles. Gibson and Busey were instructed in Capoeira by Adams, Jailhouse rock by Dennis Newsome and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by Rorion Gracie. Bobby Bass, the stunt coordinator, a former US Army Special Forces instructor and judo champion, also provided training in various techniques. At one point, the actors trained in between filming, for four hours a day for six weeks and did months of choreography.
Michael Kamen, who just completed work on Highlander, composed the score for Lethal Weapon. The guitar part of Riggs's theme was performed by Eric Clapton. Kamen and Clapton had worked together on the music for the 1985 BBC TV 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", performed by Bobby Helms, 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 the 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 Hot Fuzz, Tango & Cash, Bad Boys and the Rush Hour series.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 80% based on 56 reviews, with an average rating of 6.90/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The most successful installment in a phenomenally successful franchise, Lethal Weapon helped redefine action movies for the 1980s and 1990s." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Variety wrote, "Lethal Weapon is a film teetering on the brink of absurdity when it gets serious, but thanks to its unrelenting energy and insistent drive, it never quite falls." Richard Schickel of Time called it "Mad Max meets The Cosby Show", saying that it works better than expected. Richard Harrington of The Washington Post described it as "a vivid, visceral reminder of just how exciting an action film can be". At The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "The film is all fast action, noisy stunts and huge, often unflattering close-ups, but it packs an undeniable wallop." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars, saying Donner "tops himself".
Lethal Weapon has been released on Betamax, 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.
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 thugs who attack him for his money, but are easily subdued by Riggs. Director Richard Donner felt the film should open with a brighter look at Riggs, and replaced the bar scene with the scene in which Riggs awakens in his trailer. The alternate ending featured Riggs telling Murtaugh not to retire. Without even thinking about the possibility of sequels, Donner decided that Riggs and Murtaugh's relationship is one of friendship, and filmed the ending that appears in the completed film.
In addition to the film's theatrical release, an extended Director's 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 extended scene depicts Riggs dispatching a sniper who had been firing at children in a playground. In another scene, 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, thus illustrating his loneliness following the death of his wife.
On January 19, 2011, Warner Bros. announced plans to reboot the Lethal Weapon franchise without Gibson and Glover. The new franchise was set to feature the same characters but a brand new cast. Will Beall was hired to write the script. A television version premiered in September 2016 on Fox starring Clayne Crawford as Martin Riggs, Damon Wayans as Roger Murtaugh, and Thomas Lennon as Leo Getz.
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