Everybody likes movies, even lawyers. Lawyers especially adore movies about the law. But you don’t have to be a lawyer to love a good courtroom drama with a twisting plot and impassioned dialogue. Here are Adolph Legal’s list of the top 5 legal movies of all time. And please feel free to critique this list without reservations.
5) A Civil Action (1998)
This movie, starring John Travolta and Robert Duvall, is based on a true story and is about a brash attorney (Jan Schlichtmann) who represents a group of families that believe their tap water is being contaminated by surrounding industries in Woburn, Massachusetts. Schlichtmann sacrifices everything in his odyssey to provide justice for families who tragically lost loved ones due to the local industry’s negligent handling of waste. The courtroom scenes in this movie are great, and Travolta and Duvall deliver memorable performances.
4) To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Based on Harper Lee’s the classic novel, this movie is a poignant tale about prejudice and the courage required to overcome it. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, has been cemented as one of the best theatrical performances in the history of film. The film won three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Peck, and was nominated for eight, including Best Picture. Watch this movie with a box of Kleenex, because it is a tear-jerker. Favorite quote from the movie–“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
3) A Few Good Men (1992)
You can’t handle the truth!” Perhaps the most often quoted line from a movie ever. The courtroom dialogue from this movie is stuff of legend. The final courtroom scene when Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson spar in a battle of egos makes for captivating cinema. Tom Cruise plays a JAG military attorney who has a panache for settling cases without going to trial, but then is given the task of representing two Marines being charged with murdering a fellow Marine. Was it murder in cold blood, or a case of just following orders? Watch this movie to find out, but only if you can handle the truth.
2) The Verdict (1982)
Paul Newman plays a washed up, alcoholic attorney, who takes a medical malpractice suit against a Catholic Hospital. Paul Newman is brilliant as always in this movie, and his character oozes with hopelessness until he is reminded of why he became an attorney. Faced with the difficult decision of either taking a lucrative settlement or taking the case to trial, Newman’s character is embattled with a moral dilemma that leads to a personal and professional resurrection.
- 12 Angry Men (1957)
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of our criminal justice system is a defendant’s right to be judged by a jury of his or her peers. In a trial, it is the jury who decides innocence or guilt, and thus attorneys and defendants are at the mercy of a group of people who may come from all walks of life, bringing with them a diverse perspective of what the truth is. Henry Fonda plays the protagonist in this film, and is the lone member of a jury who has reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt. Fonda’s character’s reluctance to find the defendant guilty stems from his ability to be objective and view facts without prejudicial distortion. He is then given the task to persuade his fellow jury members to set aside their prejudicial views to ensure that the defendant in the case is given a fair trial. This movie presents itself much like a play—all of the action in this movie takes place in a small jury room and is driven by masterfully crafted dialogue. “12 Angry Men,” was nominated for three Academy Awards, and today is highly regarded as a classic film.