Lethal Weapon
Lethal weapon poster1
Directed by Richard Donner
Produced by Richard Donner
Joel Silver
Written by Shane Black
Starring Mel Gibson
Danny Glover
Gary Busey
Mitchell Ryan
Music by Michael Kamem
Eric Clapton
Cinematography Stephen Goldblatt
Editing by Stuart Baird
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) March 6, 1987
Running time 110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $ 15 million
Gross revenue $ 120.2 million
Preceded by First of the series
Followed by Lethal Weapon 2

Lethal Weapon is the first entry in the Lethal Weapon Series. Directed by Richard Donner, the film was released on March 6, 1987, and stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as LAPD officers Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh.


LAPD Sergeant Roger Murtaugh is worried about getting older, having recently celebrated his 50th birthday, receives a message from Michael Hunsaker, an old war buddy from Vietnam he hasn't seen in 12 years. Called to investigate a suicide, he is horrified to find the victim is Amanda Hunsaker, daughter of Michael. Elsewhere, younger L.A.P.D. Sergeant Martin Riggs, depressed and suicidal following the recent death of his wife, nearly kills a disarmed suspect after entering a psychotic rage during a drug bust. Weary of his behavior, Riggs' superiors transfer him to Murtaugh's unit, making them very reluctant partners.

During Amanda's autopsy, liquid drain cleaner was found in her system. Supposedly, her barbiturates were all laced with liquid drain cleaner, which ended up in her system in the process. Although she jumped to her death, she would have died within minutes anyway, making her death a homicide, not a suicide. After informing her distraught father, who says he was trying to contact Murtaugh to get Amanda out of her drug and pornography habits, Riggs and Murtaugh go to question a pimp known to have connections to Amanda. Finding a drug lab on the premises, they engage in a brief gunfight with the pimp, where Riggs saves Murtaugh's life, leading to there being respect between them. Having found the drugs and with the pimp dead, Murtaugh assumes the case is closed, but Riggs finds it suspicious that the only witness to Amanda's suicide was a prostitute named Dixie, who was working away from her usual location. They deduce Dixie was the one who poisoned Amanda, then posed as a witness to cover her actions.

The next morning, Riggs and Murtaugh go to Dixie's home to question her, but her house explodes just as they arrive. Investigating the site, Riggs (a former Special Forces soldier in Vietnam) finds part of the bomb, a mercury switch, knowing only a professional would use such a device. A neighborhood child also remembers seeing a Caucasian blonde man at Dixie's earlier circling the perimeter and checking the meter there, who had a Special Forces tattoo similar to Riggs' own. Seeing a connection to Vietnam, they decide Michael Hunsaker knows more than he has admitted and Murtaugh confronts him at Amanda's wake.

Hunsaker admits he is involved in a heroin-smuggling operation run by Vietnam War special forces troops, known as 'Shadow Company' (see Air America). The scheme is masterminded by a ruthless retired General, Peter McAllister - the former commander of Shadow Company - and his chief enforcer and second-in-command, Mr. Joshua. Hunsaker was laundering their profits through his bank. McAllister had ordered the murder of Amanda when Michael wanted out and unsuccessfully tried to alert Murtaugh to the scheme. Just as Hunsaker was about to reveal the entire operation to Murtaugh, Mr. Joshua makes a surprise appearance in a helicopter and shoots Hunsaker dead with a sniper rifle.

As Riggs and Murtaugh attempt to investigate Dixie's connection, the increasingly violent members of Shadow Company make an attempt to kill Riggs (which they believe is successful, though Riggs had been wearing a bulletproof vest the entire time) and then kidnap Murtaugh's daughter Rianne. Using Riggs' presumed-dead status to their advantage, Murtaugh agrees to meet Shadow Company in the desert 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 the three are captured. McAllister tortures Murtaugh to reveal which of their drug shipments have been compromised, eventually threatening Rianne when Murtaugh is not forthcoming, refusing to believe Hunsaker told them nothing, even after they've killed him before he could tell them the whole thing. Riggs, brutally tortured with electric shocks by Endo, kills Endo by breaking his neck. He frees himself and then rescues both Murtaugh and Rianne. The pair then fight their way free of their interrogation chamber, 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 is hit by a bus on Hollywood Boulevard and is blown up by a live hand grenade (along with the heroin shipment). Riggs and Murtaugh then head to Murtaugh's home, knowing Joshua will head there to attack Murtaugh's family, who are absent. Seeking revenge, Riggs engages Joshua in hand-to-hand combat on Murtaugh's front lawn; after a long and brutal exchange and being in triangle choke-hold by Riggs, Riggs is the victor. As he's being handcuffed by two officers, Joshua overpowers the two arresting officers, steals one of their pistols, and attempts to shoot Riggs and Murtaugh. Riggs and Murtaugh both draw their guns and fire simultaneously, killing Joshua.

Riggs goes to visit his wife Victoria's grave and puts flowers on it, and says, "Merry Christmas, Victoria Lynn. I love you." Murtaugh and Riggs are now solid friends, and Riggs spends Christmas Day at the Murtaugh home with Roger'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 with, as he doesn't need it anymore, which Murtaugh would've figured out and understood from there.


The Murtaugh Family

Other Cast



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, 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 Mount 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 Graumans Theater

Lethal Weapon banner at Grauman's Chinese Theater, 1987.

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 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 (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.

Deleted scenesEdit

There are some deleted scenes from the film that did not make the final cut of the film. Excluding scenes featured in the Director's cut edition of the movie, below are the scenes listed in order from the bonus features of Lethal Weapon:


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 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", 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.


Box officeEdit

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 Boys and the Rush Hour series.

Critical receptionEdit

The reviews by critics were mostly positive, The film holds a score of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.1 out of 10. Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert in particular enjoyed the film, giving it four-out-of-four stars, saying Donner "tops himself." American Film Institute Lists

Home mediaEdit

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).

Alternate versionsEdit

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 as one of friendship, and filmed the ending that appears in the completed film.

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 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.

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