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Opinion Pieces

The (de) Evolution of The Buddy Movie

With a rare Saturday Night to myself with no work, wife on a night out, the child fast asleep, the Sky Planner was at my mercy.
I had been looking forward to re-acquainting myself with; in this writers humble opinion, Robert Redford’s finest hour as the humble code breaker thrust into a murderous conspiracy in the fantastic Three Days of The Condor (Dir. Sydney Pollock, 1975)
However, by the time everything had settled down and I was ready to crack open a rare beer and turn on a film……..let’s just say I was in no condition to appreciate and enjoy the exploits of The Condor.  I turned instead to a film that has been on my list (albeit near the bottom) for a while now.  Buddy Cop Comedy Ride Along (Dir. Tim Story, 2014)
On the face of things, I was optimistic, Kevin Hart seems to be everywhere at the moment and his recent appearance on Jimmy Fallon did raise a smile.  Tim Story, who has his critics for his helmnsmanship of The Fantastic Four films, but I am not one of them, then there is Ice Cube, a once risk taking rapper/actor, one who, as Dough Boy in Boyz n The Hood, (Dir.John Singleton, 1991) promised so much as a young actor, but sadly for him there have been more XXX: The Next Level, (Dir. Lee Tamahori, 2005) than Three Kings, (Dir. David O Russell, 1999) on his CV. In spite of this, he is difficult to dislike.
After a brisk 1 Hour 40 Mins, I found myself thinking… you know, I quite enjoyed that, then the more I thought about it, the more worried I became…..the underlying thought that I couldn’t shake…….30 years ago, this film would have been 48Hrs (Dir. Walter Hill, 1982) or Lethal Weapon (Dir. Richard Donner, 1987), and I started thinking….. What has happened to the buddy movie?   So, I looked into it, and here is what I found.

As I mentioned, my thoughts immediately went to the buddy cop movies of the 80s, of which there is a rich history, but in looking back a bit further, the buddy genre has been around a lot longer albeit in several different guises.  The premise has remained pretty much the same.  Two characters of the same sex, predominantly male, with contrasting personalities get in an adventure.
Starting with the likes of Abbot and Costello and Laurel and Hardy in the 1930s, the buddy movie was a vehicle for comic actors, this continued into the 1940s, when Bob Hope and Bing Crosby appeared in The Road To Singapore, (Dir. Victor Schertzinger, 1940) which spawned 6 sequels, the Road To… films were famous for their basic plots, that served as showcase for Hope and Crosby’s comic and musical talents.  A formula that worked very well and provided much welcomed escapism as America became embroiled in WWII.  The 1950s saw more of the same, with the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedies.  Often Martin would play the straight man to Jerry Lewis kinetic comic, doing a total of 17 films between 1949 and 1956.
As we approach the 1960s and 1970s things began to change, while Lemon and Mathieu continued the comic trend with The Odd Couple, (Dir. Gene Saks, 1969), the buddy movies of the late 60s and 70s saw the genre spliced with others like the Western in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, (Dir. George Roy Hill, 1969), the road movie with the likes of Easy Rider, (Dir. Dennis Hopper, 1969), a gritty urban drama like Midnight Cowboy, (Dir. John Schlesinger, 1965), the crime movie with the likes of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, (Dir. Michael Cimino, 1975) and even a political thriller, like  All The Presidents Men, (Alan J.Pakula, 1976).  
In the mid 70s, the buddy movie dynamic changed again, with the release of Silver Streak (Dir. Arthur Hiller, 1976), which saw Richard Pryor’s first collaboration with Gene Wilder. This spawned a series of bi-racial buddy movies that mostly shows the white guy who needs a black partner to navigate an unfamiliar landscape.  In Silver Streak, with Wilder’s character accused of murder and in all kinds of difficulty, it isn’t until he teams up with Pryor’s streetwise thief that is able to start to get on top.   Or when Nick Nolte’s tough detective has to navigate the criminal underworld, he has to spring Eddie Murphy’s suave criminal from prison in order to do it in the genre classic 48Hrs.  Staying with Eddie Murphy, in Trading Places, (Dir. John Landis, 1983) His fast talking tramp swaps lives with Dan Aykroyd’s yuppie stock broker.  Murphy’s character flourishes in these new surroundings, while Aykroyd quick hits rock bottom.
The 80s was a big decade for the action movie, and also saw the release of probably, in this writers humble opinion, one of the greatest on screen double acts, with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh in the classic Lethal Weapon.  When Danny Glover’s safe family man is first thrown together with Mel Gibson’s damaged cop on the edge…..who would have known or predicted we would be watching the beginning of something, sure, there were three super successful sequels, but this was really the beginning of the buddy cop movie. 
The 90s, oh boy, the 90s A decade when the very notion of masculinity began to change.  It became ok for men to sensitive and the buddy movie changed again.  We started seeing films that explored more sensitive relationships between men, The Shawshank Redemption, (Dir. Frank Darabont, 1994) being the most obvious example of this, but please, if you are reading this, check out The Fisher King (Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1991) for a stand out example of how two characters who connect through a terrible tragedy and bond to ultimately find something beautiful.  The 90s also saw the genre subverted further, with all manner of relationships explored:  Bad Boys (Dir. Michael Bay, 1995) where both cops were black.   Thelma and Louise, (Dir. Ridley Scott, 1991) saw Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in a modern day Butch and Sundance style road movie, the Male/Female platonic relationship is shown in The Pelican Brief,  (Dir. Alan J. Pakula, 1993), the non-white biracial pairing of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker are seen in Rush Hour, (Dir. Brett Ratner, 1998).  Even Disney got in on the act with the imaginative pairing of a cowboy doll and a Space Ranger in the Pixar classic Toy Story (Dir. John Lasseter, 1995).  With all this change though, there was still room for some old bi-racial buddy movies, The Last Boyscout, (Dir Tony Scott, 1993) is one of my all time favourites, but the 90s also saw Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes in White Men Can’t Jump (Dir. Ron Shelton, 1992) and Money Train (Dir. Joseph Ruben, 1995), not to mention Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the brilliant Men in Black, (Dir. Barry Leveinson, 1997).
As we move into the 00s, we saw the arrival of the Bromance.  By the time the year 2000 came along, we men were actually fine with saying I love you, and comfortable with the fact that loving another man doesn’t have to mean that you are gay.  This deep fraternal and emotional bond between two male characters, love, if you will, without the sexual tension, has given us some of the funniest and most memorable films of the last decade or so.  The Hangover (Dir. Todd Phillips, 2009)Knocked Up (Dir. Judd Apatow, 2006),  Superbad (Dir. Greg Motolla, 2007) and another personal favourite of mine, I Love You, Man (Dir. John Hamburg), are some great examples of something that was probably started by Harry and LLyod back in Dumb and Dumber (Dir. The Farrelly Brothers, 1994).  We even had a buddy movie where one part of the duo was gay, this was of course the utterly brilliant Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, (Dir. Shane Black, 2005)
So, we are now in 2015.  I think we have seen every possible buddy paring.  While writing this, I have rediscovered some of favourites and my “to watch” list has just gotten longer. 
In looking into this subject in some detail and returning to the film that started it all, I am left with one thought, and yes, as clichéd as it might be, watching Ride Along and its contemporaries has taught me one thing……. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to!
Anyways, thanks for visiting The Snooty Ushers and for sticking around long enough to get to this point.  Much appreciated, and if you have 10 minutes, put your top 5 Buddy Films together and let me know!
Dave x

About Snooty Usher Dave

Favourite Film : Ghostbusters (1984) Worst Film: Left Behind (2014) Guilty Pleasure: Pitch Perfect (2012) 40 year old family man from Hamilton, Scotland. I have settled in Gateshead with my wife and 2 beautiful daughters. Worked as a Cinema Manager (or glorified usher) for 14 years, now I run a chicken shop. Love Sport especially Football and Tennis. Love comic books, especially DC and particularly Superman. I own 58 Nicolas Cage films.



  1. Pingback: Holiday Movies: 11 Days, 8 Films | The Snooty Ushers - September 4, 2015

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