Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Entire Lethal Weapon Timeline Explained

"Lethal Weapon" arrived in summer 1987 and instantly shot lead actors Mel Gibson and Danny Glover to superstardom. Richard Donner's cop thriller raked in $120 million worldwide and earned strong reviews that praised the action, Shane Black's intricate script and the performances of its cast. Said success also gave way to three sequels (and a TV show), namely the equally praised "Lethal Weapon 2," which introduced Joe Pesci's memorable Leo Getz into the franchise, "Lethal Weapon 3," which earned a robust $319 million worldwide and finished as the second highest-grossing picture of 1992, and "Lethal Weapon 4," which we should probably forget ever happened.

With Gibson and Glover possibly reprising their roles as Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh in the long-planned "Lethal Weapon 5," we thought it best to take a look at the first four entries in the popular franchise and detail the events that transpired between 1987 and 1998. While director Richard Donner and his revolving door of writers certainly leave plenty of gaps between films for audiences to fill in, there's enough information within each "Lethal" entry to give us a basic chronology to follow.

Before we get too old for this s***, join us as we explain the entire "Lethal Weapon" timeline, so that you are better prepared should Gibson and company return for a fifth chapter in the classic series.  

Riggs and Murtaugh in Vietnam

For all its focus on cops versus bad guys, the original "Lethal Weapon" is first and foremost an examination of the effects of grief and PTSD. Many of the characters, including Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, served in the Vietnam War in the late '60s and early '70s, an event that greatly impacted their lives and ultimately factors into the main plot.

Indeed, Shadow Company, headed by ruthless General Peter McAllister (Mitchell Ryan), runs drug shipments via an old Vietnam smuggling route, while many of his foot soldiers, especially Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey), have ties to U.S. Special Forces. At one point, a woman is killed in an explosion and Riggs deduces that the parts used to make the bomb are similar to those he saw in the war. Later, Murtaugh notes how Riggs' experience in Vietnam as an assassin for the Phoenix Project helped mold him into an effective killer and likely led to him becoming a cop, a darker aspect of the story later "Lethal Weapon" chapters regrettably never explore.

Murtaugh's time in the war is a little more cryptic. Early in the film, we see an old picture of him with "Vietnam buddy" Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins). In the photo, the two men wear military uniforms adorned in 82nd Airborne badges. Murtaugh never brings up his time in the service again throughout the franchise, though various online character profiles suggest he rose to the rank of lieutenant before his service ended in the late '60s.

Riggs and Murtaugh become cops

After their time in the war, both Riggs and Murtaugh go on to become police officers and eventually start families. The latter joins the Los Angeles Police Department in 1967 and is a 50-year-old man contemplating retirement at the start of "Lethal Weapon" (though actor Danny Glover was just 40 during filming). Murtaugh has three kids, including a 16-year-old daughter, which means he met and married his wife Trish (Darlene Love) shortly after the end of his military service in the late '60s.

Incidentally, in "Lethal Weapon 4," Murtaugh gives Hong (Eddy Ko) his father's watch and reveals that his old man received the item after he retired from the police force. Meaning Murtaugh likely chose his profession as a cop to follow in his father's footsteps. 

Riggs, on the other hand, is a "young" 38-year-old detective (Mel Gibson was 30) with quite a few years' experience in the narcotics division under his belt when we first meet him. Based on dialogue in the film, we can assume he joins the force shortly after Vietnam in the early '70s. He then marries Victoria Lynn in 1973 and serves as a detective long enough to earn a reputation as a "tough b******" among his fellow officers. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes our young trooper...

Riggs' wife is killed

At the start of "Lethal Weapon," Riggs is a man dealing with grief and suicidal tendencies because of his wife's sudden death a few years prior. The tragic incident kickstarts Riggs' descent into madness, as it were, leading to problematic behavior that earns him a reputation as a "lethal weapon."

The heat really turns up in "Lethal Weapon 2," when Riggs learns that his wife was killed by evil South African diplomat Pieter Vorstedt (Derrick O'Connor) — but not on purpose. Pieter was gunning for Riggs due to his involvement in a case regarding Pieter's boss, Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland). When he drove Riggs' car off the road, however, he was stunned to find Victoria's body inside the vehicle instead. 

As explained in "Lethal Weapon 2," Riggs was supposed to meet Victoria for dinner that night. Unfortunately, he was "up to his eyeballs in work" and forgot about the date. Victoria waited at the restaurant for about an hour, headed for home alone and was subsequently killed. As a result, Riggs feels responsible for her death, an aspect that only adds to his immense grief.  

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Riggs is classified as a lethal weapon

Following his wife's death, Riggs begins a downward spiral into depression that drastically impacts his job. At the start of "Lethal Weapon," the detective has already had his fair share of incidents, many of them egregious enough to warrant counseling from department psychiatrist Stephanie Woods (Mary Ellen Trainor). The latest episode, involving a group of cocaine dealers in a Christmas tree sales lot — during which Riggs practically begs his fellow officers to shoot him — convinces Dr. Woods that the man needs help. 

LAPD Captain Ed Murphy (Steve Kahan) doesn't buy it. He thinks Riggs is playing the system in the hopes of cashing in on an early retirement. As such, he pairs Riggs with Murtaugh to deduce Riggs' true mental state. Murtaugh quickly classifies his new partner as a "lethal weapon" after learning about his past and experiencing some of his unique police methods firsthand. At one point, Riggs leaps off a roof with a man in order to prevent him from ... leaping off the roof. Riggs also nearly blows his head off right in front of his partner, but Murtaugh manages to pull the gun away before it discharges. "I'm getting too old for this s***," Murtaugh mutters. He has no idea. 

Lethal Weapon

The events of "Lethal Weapon" commence with the death of a prostitute named Amanda Hunsaker (Jackie Swanson), who launches herself from the top of a Los Angeles high-rise one cold December night. LAPD detective Roger Murtaugh is called to the scene and becomes personally invested in the case when he learns that the victim is the daughter of his old Vietnam War buddy, Michael Hunsaker. 

Later that day, Murtaugh is teamed with Riggs, and together the pair dive headfirst into a violent plot laden with drugs, sex and ruthless villains. Chief among them is a murderous psychopath, Mr. Joshua, a former U.S. Special Forces member with ties to a dangerous drug-smuggling cartel known as Shadow Company. Michael is going to blow the lid off Shadow Company's whole operation, leading the dangerous organization to kill his daughter. The problem is that Amanda was supposed to die via poisoning, but instead jumped to her death after a cocaine binge. Ironically, her suicide inadvertently draws the police closer to Joshua and the cartel. 

Following a series of investigations, Riggs and Murtaugh stumble upon the truth of the matter, leading General McAllister to kidnap Murtaugh's daughter Rianne in retaliation. Our heroes attempt to save the young girl and are subsequently captured and tortured. Riggs eventually breaks free, and the team engages in a wild shootout with McAllister on Hollywood Boulevard that ends with the General's death. Unfortunately, Mr. Joshua escapes.

Riggs takes on Joshua

Later that night, Joshua heads to Murtaugh's home to exact revenge but our heroes manage to get the jump on him. Rather than arrest the villain outright, Riggs offers Joshua "a shot at the title" and the two men engage in a violent smackdown in front of the entire LAPD. Riggs eventually wins the matchup but refuses to kill his enemy. Naturally, as all movie villains do, Joshua makes a last-ditch effort to take down Riggs by snatching the sidearm of a nearby officer. Luckily, Riggs and Murtaugh manage to pull out their own weapons and execute Joshua in dramatic fashion.

Days later, on Christmas, a battered and bruised Riggs visits Victoria's grave. After cleaning off the humble stone marker — replanting an American flag for good measure, which possibly signifies his coming to grips with his Vietnam experience — Riggs says he loves her and makes peace with her death. He then heads off to Murtaugh's home where he hands Rianne a gift to give to her father: a single bullet, the one he planned to kill himself with. "Tell him I won't be needing this anymore," he says. Before he can leave, Murtaugh comes out and invites him in for dinner.

Riggs and Murtaugh track unidentified thieves

"Lethal Weapon 2" finds our heroes more or less where we left them. Riggs is still sort of nuts, though he is less "lethal weapon" and more efficient police officer with a propensity for outrageous behavior. He still lives alone in his trailer but seems to spend an unusual amount of time at the Murtaughs' home. He's basically one of the family. At some point in the intervening years, Murtaugh decides to build a hobby room above his garage. Meanwhile, Rianne has suddenly become an actress and even recently wrapped a television commercial centered around condoms. That doesn't go over well. 

Elsewhere, small-time crook Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) finds himself in hot water after skimming money from corrupt South African diplomats. As a result, he turns himself in to the authorities and becomes a federal witness. 

At the start of the sequel, Riggs and Murtaugh are in hot pursuit of a pair of unidentified criminals who are attempting to smuggle gold krugerrands into the country. The chase culminates in a massive shootout, replete with helicopters and explosions aplenty. Eventually, the bad guys either escape or are killed; that leads Riggs and Murtaugh to investigate the case further, unaware of the danger they've just put themselves in.

Lethal Weapon 2

Following their pursuit of the criminals at the beginning of "Lethal Weapon 2," Riggs and Murtaugh are targeted by the criminal organization behind the theft — the Afrikaner apartheid government of South Africa headed by the vile Arjen Rudd. Murtaugh's family is threatened at gunpoint, which only incentivizes our heroes to pursuit the case further. 

Sensing the precariousness of the situation, Captain Murphy orders Riggs and Murtaugh to babysit federal witness Leo Getz, not knowing that by doing so he's all but placing them directly in Arjen's path. After thwarting an attack on Leo's life in a hotel room, Riggs and Murtaugh convince the smooth-talking turncoat to take them to Arjen's base of operations — a house on stilts located on the outskirts of LA. After a brief freeway chase, our boys are quickly forced off the property because of sanctions granted to the South Africans by diplomatic immunity. Also during this time, Riggs meets Rika van den Haas (Patsy Kensit) and begins a steamy love affair. Oh, and Murtaugh nearly dies on his toilet. 

Later, members of the LAPD are ruthlessly assassinated by Arjen's men. Murtaugh survives by the skin of his teeth — and a carefully placed nail gun — but the bad guys manage to kidnap Leo during the scuffle. Meanwhile, Riggs and Rika are captured by Pieter. The young woman is executed for her betrayal, forcing Riggs to revert to his old ways in a bid to exact bloody vengeance.        

Riggs dies ... or does he?

After Rika's death and learning the true nature of his wife's accident, Riggs goes on a murder spree. He teams up with Murtaugh to rescue Leo and ends up destroying Arjen's stilt house. Later, Riggs and Murtaugh head to the harbor where they discover Arjen's men loading a large container full of money onto a ship. A shootout ensues. Riggs takes Pieter one-on-one and eventually crushes him with a massive container. Arjen suddenly appears and shoots Riggs several times, then declares diplomatic immunity. Murtaugh shoots the South African diplomat in the head, achieving his own character arc in the process, and goes to comfort his dying friend — except Riggs doesn't die. In fact, the pair laugh about the situation, make a few jokes and then the film comes to an end. 

Presumably, our boys make it to the hospital in time to save Riggs and he recovers from his wounds in the intervening years between "Lethal Weapon 2" and "Lethal Weapon 3." During this time, Murtaugh decides he's had enough police action and prepares for retirement, Riggs attempts to quit smoking, and Leo becomes a successful real estate agent, while a corrupt police lieutenant named Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson) steals weapons from the LAPD to sell on the black market. His actions draw the curiosity of Internal Affairs and the lovely, tough-as-nails Lorna Cole (Rene Russo). 

Lethal Weapon 3

"Lethal Weapon 3" begins with Riggs and Murtaugh — a week before the latter's retirement — attempting to diffuse a bomb in an office building in downtown LA. The situation quickly goes south, the building explodes, and the pair are demoted to patrol officers as a consequence. After stopping what appears to be a common robbery, our boys inadvertently stumble onto a case centered around the aforementioned Travis. The pair also meet Lorna Cole, a police officer for Internal Affairs who shares many of Riggs' quirky mannerisms. She's trying to keep the case under wraps, as the illegal sale of LAPD firearms paints the force in a bad light, but eventually teams up with Riggs and Murtaugh to stop Travis once and for all.

Riggs and Lorna also fall in love, Leo gets shot during a hockey game, and Murtaugh deals with local gang members who have lured his son into their inner circle. We even see Riggs kick his smoking habit by chewing on dog biscuits. The climax sees Riggs, Murtaugh, and Lorna battle Travis at a housing development (the location of which is given by Leo). Lorna is shot by Travis, who is then executed by Riggs. The next day, Riggs and Murtaugh visit Lorna at the hospital and the former decides to take up smoking again to beat his dog biscuit addiction. Murtaugh decides to postpone retirement ... for the time being.

Lorna Cole survives her wounds

A lot happens in the six years between "Lethal Weapon 3" and "Lethal Weapon 4." Lorna survives wounds sustained at the end of the third film, moves into Riggs' trailer by the ocean and gets pregnant. During this time, Murtaugh's wife Trish begins writing cheesy sex novels under the pseudonym Ebony Clarke, which earns his family a lot of money on the side — something that prompts an investigation by Internal Affairs, only because Murtaugh attempts to hide the gig from Riggs and his co-workers. Oh, and Leo forgoes his real estate practice and becomes a private detective. 

More importantly, Rianne secretly dates Lee Butters (Chris Rock), a loud-mouthed rookie LAPD detective, and also becomes pregnant. She withholds the news from her dad, knowing his overprotective self would never condone her dating a cop. 

At some point, the Four Fathers of organized crime are brought to the United States by a corrupt Chinese general, forcing dangerous Triad criminal Wah Sing Ku (Jet Li) to produce counterfeit money to buy them back. He begins shipping Chinese slave laborers to the US to increase production, and that's where our story begins.  

Lethal Weapon 4

As "Lethal Weapon 4" opens, Riggs and Murtaugh take down a random criminal wielding a flame thrower, a machine gun, and a heavy suit of body armor. During the mission, they reveal important secrets to each other. Murtaugh tells Riggs that Lorna is pregnant, making him a father, while Riggs tells Murtaugh that Rianne is pregnant, making him a grandfather.

Months later, while fishing on Murtaugh's boat, the pair unwittingly tumble into the plot when they run into a vessel smuggling Chinese laborers. Murtaugh manages to sneak one of the families back to his home and incurs the wrath of Triad bigwig Wah Sing Ku. The Triad comes looking for his laborers and a fight breaks out in Murtaugh's home that leaves our heroes and their wives and children gagged, bound, and surrounded by flames. Nonetheless, our heroes manage to break free and, after more chase scenes and rudimentary investigating, take on the Triad at a nearby pier. 

Butters, Rianne's secret husband, gets shot, but Murtaugh manages to drag him to safety and seemingly comes to grips with his new son-in-law. Moments later, Riggs and Murtaugh battle and eventually kill Wah Sing Ku before narrowly escaping with their lives. Days later, Lorna goes into labor. Riggs meets her at the hospital where they perform a quick wedding ceremony. The entire cast of characters come together for a family photo and ... that marks the end of the "Lethal Weapon" series, for better or worse.