A tough, foul-mouthed and violent thriller (it is, after all, a Walter Hill movie), 48 Hrs. may not have been the first "buddy cop" movie ever made, but it just may be the most influential. Every entry in the genre afterwards -- and, to be clear, there are many, from Running Scared to Lethal Weapon to Cop Out to last summer's Central Intelligence -- has just followed suit. I say this not to diminish the buddy cop genre, for which I have a frequently professed love. I say it to point out that a movie like 48 Hrs., which may seem formulaic in 2017, only seems that way because it's the one that created the formula.
There were buddy cop films that predate 48 Hrs. Movies like Freebie and the Bean or Peter Hyams excellent Bustin' or Hickey and Boggs (private detectives, I know, but it still fits within the genre -- and it's written by Walter Hill!) were creating the template for the genre in the 1970s, but the difference between those movies and 48 Hrs. is that the '70s iterations presented duos who were really partners on the force, working together to solve a case. The invention of 48 Hrs. is that it puts the buddy cops at odds with one another, forcing them to cooperate despite total differences in their personalities and philosophies. This would be the template for the majority of buddy cop movies going forward, which seem to subscribe to the notion that oil and water makes for a) greater comic potential (people arguing = big laughs) and b) built in drama, because you can take two characters who don't get along and then by the end they get along and that's how you show growth.
But Hill isn't chasing these sorts of cheap dramatic shortcuts; he would rather give each of his characters a code by which they live, then allow them to learn and respect one another's personal code. One of the things I really like about 48 Hrs., is that Reggie and Jack don't necessarily get along by the end. They don't become best buds, with Jack invited over for Reggie's family dinners or vice versa. (I know, I know, neither one really has a family, and while this may sound like I was throwing shade at Lethal Weapon, trust when I say that I love Lethal Weapon.) What they develop instead is a sort of mutual respect, and that's as much as Hill will allow them without betraying the fundamental nature of either man.
Alien or his work on The Driver. Though 48 Hrs. is far from minimalist, it does value deeds over words.
48 Hrs. was also something of a commercial breakthrough for Walter Hill, one of the greatest genre filmmakers to ever have lived. Though he had already experienced mainstream success as the writer of movies like The Getaway and Alien, which he also produced (and for which he receives no on-screen credit as a writer), Hill was still something of a cult director at this point in his career. His early films are beloved now -- titles like Hard Times, The Driver, and Southern Comfort -- but it was really only The Warriors that became any sort of box office hit. 48 Hrs. changed everything for Walter Hill. In the words of film critic Drew McWeeny, it bought him the rest of the 1980s and paved the way for both a dream project, 1984's Streets of Fire, and an attempt at a much more commercial hit, Brewster's Millions, in 1985. The former is my favorite Walter Hill movie, while the latter is among my least favorite (last year's The Assignment may have claimed the top spot). The rest of the decade found Hill getting back to basics, using what he learned on 48 Hrs. (a notoriously troubled production that began its life as a Clint Eastwood/Richard Pryor pairing) to make Walter Hill-style movies with a slicker studio gloss, resulting in his strongest period as a filmmaker: Crossroads, Extreme Prejudice, Red Heat, and Johnny Handsome. It wasn't until Hill tried to chase commercial success with Another 48 Hrs. in 1990 that his career started to veer off course a bit. Then again, Another 48 Hrs. is the highest-grossing movie he ever made, so what the fuck do I know?