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15 Iconic Courtroom Dramas To Teach You About the Law
Courtroom dramas can be thrilling, incisive and hugely informative. Here are the best courtroom dramas you need to watch.
In 1963, “To Kill a Mockingbird” got nominated for an astonishing 8 academy awards including Best Picture. That incredible film is one of the hundreds of courtroom inspired dramas that have flooded our movie theaters.
And guess what?
If you’re anything like us, you can’t get enough of them!
From watching Matthew McConaughey slickly navigate cases in “The Lincoln Lawyer” to listening to Jack Nicholson scream, “You can’t handle the truth!”, there is no shortage of incredible moments the best courtroom dramas have provided cinematic history with over the years.
To celebrate courtroom dramas, our team has put together this article outlining our 15 favorites!
To Kill a Mockingbird
Opening up our list is the 1963 hit, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” To Kill a Mockingbird got based on Harper Lee’s iconic novel of the same name and follows a lawyer (played by Gregory Peck) as he defends the rights of a wrongly accused African American man.
The film is set against the backdrop of a racially contentious Alabama.
What stood out to us the most about this film was the title character’s (Atticus Finch) undying purist to defend what is right. He does this even though it means going against the grain of his predominately white town.
If you love Tom Hanks (and who doesn’t), you’ll love his academy award winning performance in “Philadelphia.”
In Philadelphia, Tom Hanks plays a recently fired employee of a law firm who suspects he got let go due to his being openly gay and infected with the aids virus.
Tom Hanks takes his employer to court and is defended by one of the best US Attorneys for anti-harassment, Denzel Washington.
This film secures its place on our best courtroom dramas list because of the iconic performances it showcases and the deeply emotional story it shares.
A Few Good Men
If you’ve never heard the famous saying, “You can’t handle the truth!” you’ve probably been living under a rock for the last couple of decades.
While most people have heard the line we’ve just referenced, few know where that line came from.
The line is written by Aaron Sorkin, spoken by Jack Nicholson, and featured in the film, “A Few Good Men.”
A Few Good Men follows the story of two marines who are under investigation for the murder of another marine. As the case unfolds, we find out the chilling circumstances around the murder and how broken military culture is.
My Cousin Vinny
“My Cousin Vinny” showcases actors Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci’s most exceptional work. This film unfolds as two men are wrongfully accused of the murder of a convenience store clerk.
Shortly after going on trial, one of the two men find out they have a family member who is a cut-rate personal injury attorney from Brooklyn (Vinny).
Vinny is eventually brought on to defend his cousin and beyond all odds, does an incredible job at pleading his case.
While My Cousin Vinny gets billed as a comedy, it has a lot of heartwarming and dramatic elements to it which is why it earns a spot on our best courtroom dramas list.
A Time to Kill
This courtroom drama boasts a top-notch cast that includes Sandra Bullock, Mathew McConaughey, and Morgan Freeman.
“A Time to Kill” follows the story of a young girl who was raped and the subsequent arrest and trial of the rape suspects.
The story gets even heavier when the father of the rape victim kills the suspects and is then made to be the focal point of the film’s legal proceedings.
A Time to Kill grossed over 150 million dollars.
Tom Cruise stars in this courtroom thriller about morality and personal preservation. In “The Firm” a lawyer who is just starting out gets scooped up by a prestigious law firm only to find that the firm is on the wrong side of the law.
When the firm’s new hire Mitch Mcdeere (Tom Crusie) realizes what his employer is up to, he’s caught between a rock and a hard place.
He has to decide whether to go along with practices that violate his values or blow the whistle on the shady dealings he’s witnessing.
The firm was a critical and box office success and was the largest grossing rated R film of 1993.
The Lincoln Lawyer
While “The Lincoln Lawyer” didn’t garner the critical success you’d expect from a movie that’s on a list of the best courtroom dramas, we love it and felt compelled to tip our hat.
This 2011 American courtroom drama stars Mathew McConaughey as Mick Haller who made a name for himself defending petty criminals by tip-toeing around the law.
When he gets wrapped up in a murder investigation, however, Mick becomes personally vested in his case and starts using his legal talent for more than just making a quick dollar.
In Cold Blood
“In Cold Blood” is a 1967 and 2005 film that’s centered around a novel by the same name written by Truman Capote.
The 1967 version of the film is the movie we’re referencing on this list as its events follow Perry Smith and Richard Hickock’s murder of a Kansas family and subsequent trial.
In the end, the murderers get sentenced to death and face justice for the crimes they’ve committed.
The 2005 version of In Cold Blood focuses more on Truman Capote writing his book than on the actual events that transpire within it.
I Am Sam
“I Am Sam” is a heartwarming story that follows the relationship between a mentally challenged father and his seven-year-old daughter.
In the film, Sam (who’s played by Sean Penn) is at risk of losing his daughter after a social worker recommends that he is mentally unable to be a competent parent.
The film then watches Sam as he prepares for and defends his case to retain custody.
Sean Penn, Dakota Fanning, and Michelle Peiffer turn in performances that are some of the most incredible amongst our best courtroom dramas.
Still, despite their efforts, the film itself got mixed reviews upon its 2001 release.
12 Angry Men
The film “12 Angry Men” is not only considered one of the best courtroom dramas, but it is also considered one of the best American films of all time.
This 1957 film stars Henry Fonda as one of 12 jurors who is trying to convince the people he’s sitting with that a murder trial they’re ruling on is not as clear-cut as it seems.
The film gives us an interesting look into the jury deliberation process. It also comes off as frightening in the way it presents how haphazardly jurors are willing to decide the fate of another person.
“The Verdict” has been lauded by the Writer’s Guild of America as one of the best screenplays written in the last century.
This courtroom drama stars Paul Newman as lawyer Frank Galvin.
Frank was once a promising lawyer but is now regarded as a washed-up alcoholic.
In the midst of settling a medical malpractice suit, however, Frank returns to form and decides to take the case to court against a powerful attorney to get his client the compensation and justice they deserve.
…And Justice For All
In 1979, the courtroom drama “…And Justice For All” showcased some of Al Pacino’s best work as attorney Arthur Kirkland, a man forced to work an uncomfortable case as he struggles through corruption in the legal system.
…And Justice For All follows a powerful judge who gets charged with rape and Pacino who is forced to defend him despite the two’s rocky past.
There is no shortage of high-tension scenes present in this film, one of which produced one of film’s most iconic rants where Pacino screams, “You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!”
Witness for the Prosecution
The American legal system isn’t the only place to find the best courtroom dramas.
As it turns out, British courts also have their fair share of drama that makes for cinematic excellence!
One of the most notable examples of that is in the film, “Witness for the Prosecution.”
This film got based on a story penned by Agatha Christie and follows a barrister who takes on a murder case while in failing health.
Witness for the Prosecution stars Charles Laughton and Tyrone Power who died a year after the film’s release.
Inherit the Wind
“Inherit the Wind” shares the moving story of a teacher who gets put on trial for teaching evolution as opposed to the widely held belief of Creationism.
In it, Henry Drummond must convince an extremely conservative town in the state of Tennessee of the merits of separation of church and state.
The film is based on the true story of the Scopes Monkey Trial which took place in 1925.
Judgment at Nuremberg
Rounding out our list of the best courtroom dramas is a film by Stanley Kramer – Judgment at Nuremberg.
In the film, four judges who were closely involved in the creation and support of the Nazi regime get put on trial for the crimes they’ve committed against humanity.
The movie stars Spencer Tracy and Burt Lancaster.
Wrapping Up 15 of the Best Courtroom Dramas That Will Teach You About the Law
There you have it! 15 of the best courtroom dramas that inspire and in many cases showcase hyper-realistic presentations of legal proceedings and the law.
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