Lethal Weapon

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.

Lethal Weapon
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Donner
Produced byRichard Donner
Joel Silver
Written byShane Black
Music byMichael Kamen
Eric Clapton
CinematographyStephen Goldblatt
Edited byStuart Baird
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • March 6, 1987 (1987-03-06)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million
Box office$120.2 million[1]

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, LAPD Homicide Sergeant Roger Murtaugh is unhappily partnered with Sergeant Martin Riggs, a transfer from narcotics. Riggs, a former Special Forces soldier whose wife was killed in a car accident three years prior, has turned suicidal and his superiors transfer him to Homicide after he nearly kills a drug dealer. Murtaugh and Riggs quickly find themselves at odds as Murtaugh doesn't want to partner with someone who is crazy and Riggs is irritated by Murtaugh's dismissive attitude towards him.

Murtaugh is contacted by Michael Hunsaker, a Vietnam War buddy and banker, but before they can meet, Murtaugh learns that Hunsaker's daughter, Amanda, apparently committed suicide by jumping from her apartment balcony. Autopsy reports show Amanda to have been poisoned with drain cleaner, making the case a possible homicide. Hunsaker tells Murtaugh that he was concerned about his daughter's involvement in drugs, prostitution, and pornography, and was trying to get Murtaugh to help her escape that life.

Murtaugh and Riggs attempt to question Amanda's pimp, but find a drug lab on the premises, leading to a shootout. Riggs kills the pimp and saves the life of Murtaugh, who starts to tolerate his new partner. Even though the case seems closed, Riggs is aware that the only witness to Amanda's apparent suicide was Dixie, another prostitute who was working away from her normal streets. They attempt to question Dixie at her home, but the residence explodes as they approach it. Riggs finds parts of a mercury switch from bomb debris, indicating a professional had set the bomb; a little kid who had been nearby witnessed a man approach the house with a military tattoo similar to the one Riggs has, and Murtaugh suspects Hunsaker is withholding information from him.

The pair visit Hunsaker before Amanda's funeral, where he reveals of having previously been an operative of "Shadow Company," which ran the Vietnam War out of Laos and took over the huge heroin trade in the area after murdering all of its Viet Cong leaders. Long after the war, Shadow Company got back together and resumed bringing in huge bi-annual heroin shipments from their sources in Southeast Asia, a scheme masterminded by retired General Peter McAllister and his right-hand chief enforcer, Mr. Joshua. Hunsaker had been laundering the money but wanted to get out, and when McAllister found out he had contacted Murtaugh, the general had Amanda killed in retaliation. As Murtaugh tries to get Hunsaker to reveal everything he knows about Shadow Company, Joshua arrives in a helicopter and kills Hunsaker. Then Shadow Company attempts to kill Riggs in a drive-by shooting, but he is saved by a bulletproof vest. Murtaugh and Riggs fake his murder in order to gain the upper hand.

Shadow Company later kidnaps Murtaugh's daughter Rianne and demands that Murtaugh turn himself over to them for her return. Murtaugh and Riggs plan an ambush for the exchange at El Mirage Lake with Riggs providing sniper support, but Riggs is caught by McAllister and the trio is taken to an unknown location. Murtaugh and Riggs are tortured for information, but Riggs manages to overpower the captors before freeing Murtaugh and Rianne, and they escape to find themselves in a busy nightclub used as a front for Shadow Company. With their cover blown, McAllister and Joshua attempt to escape separately. Joshua manages to get away, but McAllister's driver is shot by Murtaugh, causing the general's car to veer out of control and get struck by a bus on Hollywood Boulevard, and McAllister is killed when a fire causes hand grenades in the car to detonate. Murtaugh and Riggs race to Murtaugh's home, knowing that Joshua will come after his family for revenge. They arrive in time to prevent him, and Riggs beats Joshua in a violent brawl on the front lawn. As backup officers arrive to take Joshua into custody, he breaks free and steals a gun from one of the patrolmen, but Murtaugh and Riggs pull their guns and shoot Joshua dead.

After visiting his wife's grave, Riggs spends Christmas with the Murtaughs, having become close friends with Murtaugh and bonding with the rest of the family. Riggs also gives Murtaugh a symbolic gift: a Hollow-point bullet which he had been saving to commit suicide, as he does not need it anymore.




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.[2]

His agent sent the Lethal Weapon script to various studios, being rejected before Warner Bros. executive Mark Canton took a liking to it.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[2] 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.

Martial arts

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.[5] Gibson and Busey were instructed in Capoeira by Adams, Jailhouse rock by Dennis Newsome and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by Rorion Gracie.[5][6] Bobby Bass, the stunt coordinator, a former US Army Special Forces instructor and judo champion, also provided training in various techniques.[5] At one point, the actors trained in between filming, for four hours a day for six weeks and did months of choreography.[5]


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.[7][8] 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).[9] 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.

Critical reception

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."[10] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[12]

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."[13] Richard Schickel of Time called it "Mad Max meets The Cosby Show", saying that it works better than expected.[14] Richard Harrington of The Washington Post described it as "a vivid, visceral reminder of just how exciting an action film can be".[15] 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."[16] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars, saying Donner "tops himself".[17]

Home media

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).[18] The theatrical version was also released on Blu-ray in 2006.[19]

Alternate versions

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.[20] Will Beall was hired to write the script.[21] 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.


  1. "Lethal Weapon (1987)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 12, 2018.
  2. Psycho Pension: The Genesis of Lethal Weapon (Documentary). Lethal Weapon Collection, disk 5: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. 2012.CS1 maint: location (link)
  3. Deans, Laurie (January 13, 1989). "LA CLIPS Lethal Weapon II script defused". The Globe and Mail.
  4. Gibberman, Susan R. (1991). Star trek: an annotated guide to resources on the development, the phenomenon, the people, the television series, the films, the novels, and the recordings. McFarland & Co. p. 393. ISBN 0899505473.
  5. O'Neill, Terry (1987). "Lethal Weapon Terry O'Neill interviews Mel Gibson". Fighting Arts International. No. 44. England. pp. 10–14. OCLC 500109467. Archived from the original on 2001-11-26. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  6. Williams, James; Pranin, Stanley (1994). "Interview with Rorion Gracie". Aikido Journal. No. 101. ISSN 1340-5624. Archived from the original on 22 November 2007.
  7. "'Lethal Weapon' Is No. 1 At Box Office for Week". The New York Times. 1987-03-11. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  8. "'Lethal Weapon' Is No. 1 At Box Office for Week". The New York Times. 1987-03-11. Retrieved 2010-10-25.
  9. "The 60th Academy Awards (1988) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-16.
  10. "Lethal Weapon (1987)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  11. "Lethal Weapon (1987): Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  12. "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
  13. "Lethal Weapon". Variety. 1986-12-31. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  14. Schickel, Richard (1987-03-23). "Cinema: Bone Crack LETHAL WEAPON". Time. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  15. "Lethal Weapon". Washington Post. 1987-03-06. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
  16. Maslin, Janet (1987-03-06). "FILM: 'LETHAL WEAPON,' A THRILLER WITH GIBSON". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  17. Ebert, Roger (1987-03-06). "Lethal Weapon". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2016-10-07 via RogerEbert.com.
  18. Movies & TV. Amazon.com (2009-09-09). Retrieved on 2011-06-04.
  19. Lethal Weapon Blu-ray. Blu-ray.com. Retrieved on 2011-06-04.
  20. Vejvoda, Jim. "Lethal Weapon Reloads for Reboot". IGN.
  21. "Lethal Weapon, The Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen remakes announced". Metro.
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