Being an attorney, I have an attraction to movies that revolve around lawyers or courtrooms. It is often entertaining to watch how the realities of litigation and law are blurred, butchered and disregarded altogether in the name of entertainment or dramatic license.
Here is the list of my great courtroom movies. For a movie to be on my list, it has to be something I have seen within the last 5 years. If the movie predates that and I have not seen it in the last five years, then it was not entertaining enough for me to see it again. An example of a movie that would come under this exclusion is Twelve Angry Men. This movie is on every respectable top ten list out there and unquestionably a great movie. It is not one that has that pull for me to see over and over. I saw it in high school almost 30 years ago and have not seen it since. The same would be true of To Kill a Mockingbird and Inherit the Wind. These are all great classic courtroom movies on every top ten list. I have not seen any of them in the last five years so I am leaving them off. There are also movies that revolve around lawyers but I do not view as courtroom movies such as The Firm, The Client The Pelican Brief and Michael Clayton. If I say a movie is technically good from a courtroom perspective I am judging the overall portrayal to the layman and not passing judgment on every little evidentiary/trial fau paux.
Movies like Liar Liar, My Cousin Vinny and Legally Blonde are hilarious. I did not include comedies. The reason is that no matter how funny the movie may be, there is really no character or individuality. They all basically revolving around making courtroom dialogue humorous
9. Primal Fear This movie has absolutely absurd courtroom dialogue but the story line and performances by Edward Norton and Richard Gere are so good that you really don’t care.
10. Music Box This is one of the few movies dealing with the issues of aging former Nazis and Nazi sympathizers who committed war crimes living in the United States. Jessica Lange and Armin Mueller-Stah give great performances.
The movie is based on the true story of John Demjanjuk. While the premise of a daughter representing her father on trial for his life is a stretch, it works well here. Jessica’s emotional opening statement is also unrealistic and inadmissible. The movie is incredibly moving on all levels. You are torn between her father as a loving grandfather and a brutal murderer guilty of terrible war crimes. In an interesting twist of life imitating art, the father of Joe Eszterhas who write the screenplay, was accused of writing anti-Semitic propaganda before and during World War II. Like the character in Music Box, his father denied being the person who wrote these materials. Mr. Ezterhas denies knowing anything about his father’s past at the time her wrote the screenplay. There is a great article about this that can be read here.
Class Action This movie is based on the Ford Pinto Rear End End Explosion cases. Gene Hackman is great as the both idealistic and cynical plaintiff’s attorney going after the huge car maker. Once again a defense firm is portrayed as as unethical. They hide then destroy key evidence in the case. The conduct of the character played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, while portrayed as noble in the movie would have probably resulted in her disbarment in real life. She knows a partner in her firm has destroyed evidence. She tells the other side(who happens to be her father) about it. She also gives them a corroborating witness not previously known about. Noble maybe but career ending absolutely.
Presumed Innocent This is one of the great courtroom movies of the last 20 years both in style and drama. Great performances by both Harrison Ford and Brian Dennehy. A show stealing supporting performance is turned in by late actor Raul Julia. The movie also does fairly well on a courtroom technical basis. One dramatic license taken is the hammer which needed to be taken. The statement that the police wouldn’t look for it because if they dont find it , that would be brought up in court is just silly. They don’t look for something because they might not find it? Search warrants are executed to find evidence, not to leave it.
And Justice For All. Al Pacino’s great courtroom flick. (I refuse to put The Devil’s Advocate on there) The movie is technically ludicrous and it is supposed to be! That is the whole point. The point is that the legal system is ludicrous and often forces attorneys to choice between morality and victory. While the drama is exaggerated the message is right on. The below video says it all.
That’s my list. Are there other good courtroom movies? Of course. These were the ones that I can watch over and over. Some other courtroom movies I found entertaining but didn’t make my watch over and over list are,
Please feel free to comment and make your case for your favorite courtroom movies and why they are great. Please don’t say its great, because it’s on some list or because everyone else says it is great. Give us your own opinion. Example: I have no desire to see Twelve Angry Men again. It is a great movie on jury and group dynamics. It is also fairly boring. When was the last time you saw it?