It may be hard for some Screen Rant readers to believe, but March 5 marked the thirtieth anniversary of one of the greatest action franchises of all time, Lethal Weapon. It’s true: on March 5, 1987, the cinematic landscape was changed forever with the release of the original film, which stunned audiences with its unique mix of high-octane thrills, dark-yet-hilarious comedy, and the sheer chemistry which resulted from the pairing of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as Vietnam veterans turned LAPD detectives Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. 48 Hrs. may deserve credit for inventing the “buddy cop” genre, but Lethal Weapon perfected it.
Lethal Weapon became a smash hit and spawned three sequels, the last of which came out in 1998. This past year, the franchise was rebooted for television, starring Clayne Crawford as Riggs and Damon Wayans as Murtaugh. The TV version of Lethal Weapon just received an order for a second season of small screen shenanigans.
In the thirty years since the first film, and the nearly twenty since the end of the series, what happened to the myriad stars involved in the production? Let’s take a look back and answer the question: Where Are They Now? The Cast Of Lethal Weapon.
15. Gary Busey
After receiving praise for his small role in 1976’s A Star Is Born, Gary Busey was launched into superstardom with his transformative performance as the titular musical pioneer and rock and roll icon in The Buddy Holly Story, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. By 1987, however, his star had faded… But then he found himself in the role of Mister Joshua in the first Lethal Weapon film.
Busey credited LW for breathing new life into his ailing career, though things took a turn just one year later; in 1988, Busey, who famously and foolishly never wore a helmet, crashed his motorcycle and suffered brain damage, which is said to have loosened his mental filters, leading to Busey’s current status as a memetic crazy person. Regardless, his Lethal Weapon comeback led to roles in other action-packed movies like Under Siege, Point Break, and Predator 2 (starring Danny Glover!).
Eventually, however, Busey’s career began to stagnate once more. His output didn’t slow down one bit, but most of his movies were direct-to-video schlock, and his acting was criticized as lazy and ham-handed. It’s a shame that Busey is more well-known for being unhinged on reality TV dreck like Celebrity Apprentice and one-note cameos in trash like Piranha 3DD than for any of his legitimate acting roles. Watching any of his older movies, it is obvious that his talent was tremendous, even if it’s all but forgotten today.
14. Joe Pesci
Joe Pesci had already lived one heck of a life by the time he found his way into the first Lethal Weapon sequel. In the 1960s, he recorded an album (under the pseudonym Joe Ritchie) and then formed a comedy duo with Frank Vincent. This eventually led to a role in the film The Death Collector, at which point he was noticed by Martin Scorsese, who cast him in Raging Bull. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Pesci was already a well-respected character actor by 1989, but Lethal Weapon 2 provided the actor with his signature role, that of fast-talking shyster Leo Getz. Over the course of the three sequels, Pesci said the word “okay” hundreds of times, and his rant about drive-through service is legendary. (This link is decidedly NSFW)
After his Lethal Weapon debut, Joe Pesci starred in a variety of films, from Christmas favorite Home Alone and its first sequel, to more adult-oriented fare, such as Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino. In 1999, Pesci announced his retirement from acting, though he did return to the big screen sporadically. Pesci’s next role is in the highly-anticipated Netflix original crime epic, The Irishman, directed by – who else? – Martin Scorsese.
13. Joss Ackland
To American audiences, Joss Ackland is probably most famous for getting his diplomatic immunity revoked with extreme righteousness by a sharp-shooting Roger Murtaugh in the explosive final moments of Lethal Weapon 2. Prior to this, however, Ackland was a member of the Old Vic Theater Company, alongside such prestigious contemporaries as Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. To television fans, his most famous role might be opposite Alec Guinness in the original television version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
After Lethal Weapon 2, Ackland starred in a variety of movies, from the Tom Clancy adaptation, The Hunt For Red October, to the screwball comedy sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. In 2002, he returned to the world of submarine warfare in K-19: The Widowmaker, and 2008 saw the actor star in an episode of BBC’s popular Midsomer Murders series. Most recently, Ackland starred in Decline of an Empire, which went straight-to-video in the United States, but is notable for being one of the final films of the great Peter O’Toole, who died in 2013, a year before the film came out.
12. Stuart Wilson
By the time he appeared as treacherous ex-LAPD cop Jack Travis in Lethal Weapon 3, English actor Stuart Wilson had already paid his dues on British television, appearing in such programming as Running Blind, The Old Men at the Zoo, and the 1977 miniseries version of Anna Karenina, as Vronsky (a role which would later be played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the 2012 feature film).
Wilson’s most famous role came in 1998’s The Mask of Zorro, in which he played the villain, Don Rafael Montero, who finds himself on the receiving end of the fury of the original Zorro, played by Anthony Hopkins. Wilson followed this with roles in such blockbusters as Enemy of the State and Vertical Limit, as well as the cult favorite Hot Fuzz, in which he played the local doctor of the mysterious town of Sandford.
11. Chris Rock
It may not have seemed like a great idea to some, but Chris Rock proved to be the perfect addition to Lethal Weapon‘s broad ensemble of characters. His scenes with Joe Pesci’s Leo Getz are particularly gut-busting (once again, this clip is NSFW). His comic timing was impeccably honed from a career of stand-up comedy, his time as a Saturday Night Live cast member, and performances in films such as CB4 and Beverly Hills Ninja.
After Lethal Weapon 4, Rock really broke out, landing leading roles in such high-profile comedies as Head of State and Down to Earth. Rock then produced the sitcom, Everybody Hates Chris, for the UPN network, which was loosely based on his own upbringing in Brooklyn, New York. In 2014, Chris Rock wrote, directed, and starred in Top Five, in which he plays a thinly-veiled pastiche of himself. He then followed the film’s success with a gig hosting last year’s Academy Awards ceremony, poking fun at the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and being endearingly aggressive towards Hollywood’s egotism in a way which recalled David Letterman’s infamous 1995 hosting, but with more palatable jokes.
10. Jet Li
In 1998, Jet Li was a Hong Kong superstar, but virtually unknown to American audiences. That all changed with his role as Triad enforcer Wah Sing Ku in the fourth Lethal Weapon film. The soft-spoken assassin/martial arts master crosses paths with Riggs and Murtaugh several times over the course of the adventure, all building to that epic final battle in the rain. That fight, of Ku versus Riggs and Murtaugh, isn’t just the best fight scene in the Lethal Weapon franchise, but it’s one of the best on-screen brawls of all time, featuring brutal stunt choreography and lots of great character beats. As the last scuffle in the series, it’s the culmination of everything Riggs and Murtaugh had endured and all the bonding they had experienced over the last eleven years and four films.
After Lethal Weapon, Jet Li became an international action star, starring in movies like Kiss of the Dragon, The One, Unleashed, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. He also starred in all three films in Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables trilogy. Most recently, he was to star alongside Vin Diesel in XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, but he dropped out before filming and was replaced with Donnie Yen. It’s yet unclear as to whether or not Li will return for the promised fourth and final Expendables film.
9. Nestor Serrano
In Lethal Weapon 2, a group of detectives investigating the South African cartel are targeted for assassination by the criminal empire. Among this group is Detective Esteban, played by Nestor Serrano, beloved character actor. Following Lethal Weapon 2, Serrano went on to enjoy a long and prosperous career as “one of those actors who appears on every show.” Across four different Law & Order series, Serrano played no less than six different characters. That’s got to be some kind of record.
Serrano’s most famous television role might be his work as Navi Araz in season 4 of the television drama 24. Navi was the patriarch of a terrorist sleeper cell disguised as a typical American family. His wife, Dina, was played by Shohreh Aghdashloo (Star Trek Beyond), and their son, Behrooz, was played by Jonathan Ahdout. The storyline of these three characters became the backbone of much of 24‘s fourth season, and remains one of the show’s most endearing plots to this day.
After 24, Serrano popped up in series like Dexter, 90210, Graceland, and Revenge. Most recently, he appeared on ten episodes of TNT’s acclaimed drama, The Last Ship, as well as a couple of episodes of Fox’s new series, APB. Seriously, this guy’s in everything.
8. Dean Norris
One of the other ill-fated detectives in Lethal Weapon 2 is Detective Cavanaugh, played by Dean Norris. These days, Norris is best known for his role in AMC’s prestigious series, Breaking Bad, which is commonly cited as one of the greatest television dramas of all time, right alongside HBO’s The Wire.
Like Serrano, Norris also appeared in 24, starring in two episodes of season 2 as a military general and adviser to President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert). In 2003, Norris starred in Sci-Fi Channel’s Tremors: The Series, which only lasted for one season, despite decent ratings and approval from franchise fans.
After Breaking Bad ended in 2013, Norris moved to CBS’s Under The Dome, as well as a recurring role in the nerd-themed sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Up next, the actor will play the police detective on the case of Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) in Eli Roth’s highly-anticipated remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson classic, Death Wish.
7. Mary Ellen Trainor
Doctor Stephanie Woods is one of only a handful of characters to have appeared in all four Lethal Weapon films, alongside Riggs, Murtaugh, Captain Murphy, and Murtaugh’s immediate family. Mary Ellen Trainor gave a wholehearted performance as the long-suffering police psychiatrist struggling to get Riggs the help he needs. By the end of the series, he’s completely at peace with his demons, but still takes great joy in infuriating her at every turn!
Actress Mary Ellen Trainor made her film debut with 1984’s Romancing the Stone, and then followed that up with The Goonies in 1985. Richard Donner must have remembered her fondly, because she was cast in his next film, 1987’s Lethal Weapon. In addition to film, Trainor became well-known for her television work, which included stints on shows like Parker Lewis Can’t Lose and Roswell.
6. Darlene Love
Despite starring as Trish Murtaugh, Roger’s wife, in all four Lethal Weapon movies, Darlene Love, without a doubt, is best known for being one of the most legendary singers of the 1960s. As a background singer, she sang with artists like Elvis Presley and Tom Jones among so many others, but her thunderously booming voice deserved to be singing lead vocals, not playing second fiddle, so to speak.
As lead singer of The Blossoms (though credited to fellow girl group The Crystals) or as a solo artist, Darlene Love sang on such pop classics as “He’s A Rebel,” “He’s Sure The Boy I Love,” and the melancholy Christmas classic, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)“, which she sang on David Letterman’s show nearly every year at Christmas time from 1986 through to 2014, only bowing out in 2007 due to the writers strike. Her odyssey through the music industry and complicated relationship with legendary record producer/legitimate crazy person Phil Spector is chronicled in the award-winning documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. In 2015, following the success of the film, she released a new album, entitled Introducing Darlene Love.
5. Renee Russo
By the end of Lethal Weapon 2, Riggs had completed his character arc; he had effectively been adopted into the Murtaugh family, overcome his suicidal tendencies, and had faced his past, literally crushing his demons under a ten-ton shipping container.
Lethal Weapon 3 marked the start of the next chapter of Riggs’s life. While it’s generally seen as the weakest entry in the series, LW3 still has the series’ signature blend of humor, drama, and grand action spectacle. Most importantly, LW3 marked the first appearance in the series for Rene Russo as Internal Affairs Detective Lorna Cole, who ultimately marries Riggs in the heartwarming final moments of Lethal Weapon 4.
In between 3 and 4, Russo and Gibson would share the screen again in 1996’s Ransom, directed by Ron Howard. After wrapping up the Lethal Weapon series, Russo starred in such films as the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, opposite Pierce Brosnan, and Two for the Money, with Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey. More recently, she starred as Friga, mother to the God of Thunder in Thor and its sequel, The Dark World. This summer, Russo will be featured in the action comedy Villa Capri, alongside Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones.
4. Writer Shane Black
Lethal Weapon superfans know that the first film has a distinctly different tone from the sequels. The sequels all begin with overtly comic opening acts before eventually escalating into high-stakes drama and life-or-death tension. The first film, however, is much more dour; Riggs is way more unhinged here, nearly committing suicide multiple times, and the jokes are mostly of the black comedy variety.
This is courtesy of writer Shane Black, who had a much darker tone in mind for the series. His original script for Lethal Weapon 2 would have ended with Riggs slowly bleeding to death in Murtaugh’s arms from the stabbing and gunshot wounds inflicted in the final battle. His script was heavily re-written to have a lighter tone until the final act, and Black refused to be involved in Lethal Weapon 3 or 4.
After writing such films as The Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, Black made his directorial debut with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. This black comedy is evocative of the hardboiled drama of the first Lethal Weapon and the comedy of its sequels, pushing the action/comedy genre to its limits. After Kiss‘s resounding critical success, star Robert Downey Jr recruited Shane to direct and co-write Iron Man 3, one of the most delightfully subversive (if controversial) entries in the MCU to date.
Most recently, Shane Black directed and co-write The Nice Guys, starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, one of 2016’s bounciest, bloodiest, and most memorable movies. Coming up, the writer/director is currently hard at work on The Predator. Yes, that Predator. To say that expectations are insanely high is an understatement, especially since Black actually co-starred in the original film as wise-cracking dead meat commando named Hawkins.
3. Director Richard Donner
While Shane Black jumped ship after the Lethal Weapon 2 script was taken out of his hands, director Richard Donner stuck around to direct all four films in the series.
Prior to his work on the first Lethal Weapon, Donner was already one of Hollywood’s most famous filmmakers, having helmed such acclaimed films as The Omen, Superman: The Movie, and The Goonies. Before that, however, he was a prolific television director stretching all the way back to the 1950s TV golden age. He helmed seven episodes of the seminal western series, The Rifleman, as well as six episodes of The Twilight Zone, among many other popular shows of the era.
After closing the book on the Lethal Weapon series (literally, the credits of the fourth film end with the closing of a LW scrapbook), Donner only directed a couple more films, the critically-panned commercial flop Timeline, and the seriously underrated 16 Blocks. His wife, Lauren Schuler Donner, is a lead producer on the X-Men film series. In fact, the legend goes that Donner stepped in, uncredited, to direct reshoots on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, after director Gavin Hood left the set. Perhaps the Donner connection is the explanation for how they were able to use the theme from Richard’s Superman film in the recently-released Deadpool 2 teaser…
2. Danny Glover
In Lethal Weapon, Roger Murtaugh could often be heard complaining about “getting too old for this s***,” but by the end of the fourth film, a decade of kicking butt alongside Riggs had the older veteran in shipshape. In reality, despite playing 50 in the original movie, Danny Glover was a full decade younger than his character; he just had that older man’s aura of authority.
After Lethal Weapon, Glover’s output never slowed down. While he starred in more than his fair share of direct-to-video drivel (Bad Asses, Rage), some highlights include 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, 2004’s pioneering horror tale Saw, and 2010’s Death at a Funeral (also starring Chris Rock), among a great many others. Most recently, Glover starred in Mr. Pig alongside Maya Rudolph, and headlined the holiday dramedy Almost Christmas. He will next be seen in the Netflix original, Come Sunday, alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor and Martin Sheen.
1. Mel Gibson
Pre-Riggs, Mel Gibson had already made a name for himself as a broad and varied leading man. From Mad Max to The River and The Year of Living Dangerously, it was obvious that this man was a star, and Lethal Weapon catapulted him straight to the A-list, where he remained for the better part of two decades, even winning an Oscar for directing the Scottish epic, Braveheart.
Gibson’s career was steadily rolling along, until… The 2006 incident. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of his anti-semitic comments, a drunken Gibson said some really bad things while sitting in the back of a police car, and his career went into a full-blown nosedive. His long history of alcoholism and lifetime of hardcore, old-school Catholic indoctrination came to a head that night, and he was effectively blacklisted for the better part of a decade. Things didn’t improve in 2010, when a recording of a heated argument between Gibson and his then-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva was leaked, in which he said more things which were arguably even worse than the 2006 incident.
After a years-long absence from any major projects, Gibson was, occasionally, still making movies. In 2010, he starred in Martin Campbell’s Edge of Darkness, a violent revenge conspiracy thriller with Danny Huston. In 2011, Jodie Foster directed him in The Beaver, about a mentally unhinged man who chooses to only communicate with his family through the use of a cockney-accented hand puppet. 2012’s Get the Gringo went straight to Video on Demand but earned strong reviews nonetheless, and he followed-up with a hammy villain role in the audaciously wacky Grindhouse spin-off sequel (no, that’s not a typo), Machete Kills.
Mel Gibson has a long way to go on his road to redemption, but it’s hard to argue with the merit of his artistic output, especially when his latest directorial effort, Hacksaw Ridge, was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. As long as he doesn’t screw it up with any more foul-mouthed tirades, then perhaps Mel can return to being one of the greatest actor/directors of all time.
What’s your favorite Lethal Weapon movie? Who would win in a fight, Martin Riggs or John McClaine? Sound off in the comments below!
(Riggs. No contest, Riggs would absolutely win.)