For decades, legal dramas have been a prominent theme in film and television. According to IMDb, these are the best courtroom films.
In both cinema and television, legal thrillers are a prevalent theme. If you’re a fan of procedural dramas, you’ll find an entire channel dedicated solely to them. There have also been many courtroom dramas, both fictional and based on real-life cases, in the realm of cinema.
According to IMDb ratings, this list will feature the top courtroom films of all time. All of these films, from well-known classics to lesser-known international releases, are worth a look.
Kristen Palamara will update this page on December 22nd, 2020.
Even though there are new courtroom dramas published every year, there are still several classic and successful movies from the 90s and even earlier that are still highly regarded in the field. The majority of courtroom films are serious, but there are a few that are lighthearted and delightful. When it comes to dramatic courtroom movies with emotional undertones, you can never go wrong with one of these.
1. My Cousin Vinny (1992) – 7.6
While trying to rescue his cousin (Ralph Macchio) when he and his companion are wrongfully accused of murdering a local store clerk, Joe Pesci stars as a misguided lawyer who fails miserably. As Pesci’s lawyer, he has no trial expertise, but with the help of his long-term lover, makes light of the court appearances (Marisa Tomei).
Since its premiere, it has become a famous courtroom film and a lighter alternative to traditional courtroom dramas.
2. Primal Fear (1996) – 7.7
In Primal Fear, Richard Gere’s lawyer takes on a fresh case defending Edward Norton’s character on a murder accusation, and the film explores the confluence between crime and mental illness.
When Gere’s lawyer agrees to represent the altar boy accused of brutally killing an archbishop, he gets more than he bargained for in terms of prestige and success.
3. A Few Good Men (1992) – 7.7
One or Two Good Men
Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, and Kevin Bacon star in the film, which takes place primarily in the courtroom as Cruise’s military lawyer defends two Marines accused of killing a fellow Marine on their base in Guantanamo Bay.
The defense team wonders if the Marines were ordered to kill the Marine by a senior officer, and they begin to investigate. There is a lot to be learned from this film on how law and military intersect.
4. Philadelphia (1993) – 7.7
A lawyer who hides his sexual orientation and recent HIV-positive diagnosis for fear of being dismissed won an Academy Award for Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the lawyer.
In the end, a coworker discovered the truth, and he was sacked from a top Philadelphia legal company. Denzel Washington (Denzel Washington) is the only attorney who is willing to represent him in his wrongful dismissal lawsuit against his former employer.
5. Inherit the Wind (1960) – 8.1
It is a dramatized portrayal of a genuine court case in which a schoolteacher was put on trial for teaching evolution instead of creationism, which violated a Tennessee state statute, in Inherit the Wind
As a local reporter (Gene Kelly) begins writing about the case, as well as two prominent defense and prosecution attorneys (Fredric March), the case gains national interest (Spencer Tracy).
6. In The Name Of The Father (1993) – 8.1
One of the Guildford pub bombs perpetrators is played by Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrays Gerry Conlon, an Irishman who was falsely convicted for being a Provisional IRA bomber. Conlon’s father, Patrick, is the focus of the film’s courtroom drama, as well as the story of Conlon’s mother (Pete Postlethwaite).
As always, one of the best method actors in the business does an outstanding job here, fully embodying the traits of the real-life Conlon and the terrifying ordeal he endured.
7. Once A Moth (1976) – 8.2
It’s about a Filipino nurse who dreams of moving to the United States, Cora de la Cruz, played by Nora Aunor. However, during her harassment case and in her quest for justice for her brother’s death at the hands of an American soldier, she became dissatisfied with the country’s legal system.
Aunor’s powerful performance in this film serves as both a critique of the American justice system and a statement on America’s military presence in the Philippines.
8. Shahid (2012) – 8.2
Shahid, a 2012 legal thriller based on the real-life story of an Indian lawyer and human rights activist, tells the story of Shahid Azmi as he rises through the ranks to bring justice to the downtrodden. While living in India, Shahid and his family witnessed the rioting in Bombay, pushing him to pursue a law degree and fight for justice.
Rajkummar Rao does an excellent job as the eponymous character, and his life story is a fantastic one to tell through the medium of film.
9. Judgment At Nuremberg (1961) – 8.2
In 1947, the U.S. Army staged military courts for seven arrested Nazi war criminals, and Nuremberg is partially modeled on their trial. The film centers on Chief Trial Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) as he tries to convict four Nazis of war crimes during the Third Reich in Allied-occupied Nuremberg.
Based on cultural beliefs, civic control and political repercussions, the film examines what constitutes an absolute crime. This post-World War II picture has a strong ensemble cast and is well worth seeing.
10. Miracle In Cell No. 7 (2013) – 8.2
Iconic Korean family drama Miracle in Cell No. 7 is about a mentally handicapped dad wrongly accused of murder and his clever daughter.
Ye-Sung, the daughter of Lee Yong-gu, sneaks into his cell and has a profound effect on him and his cellmates. When Ye-Sung grows up, she goes on to become a lawyer who represents her father in court. Based on an actual incident. There are four foreign remakes of the film as a result of its universal appeal (so far).
11. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) – 8.2
To Kill a Mockingbird is based on Harper Lee’s breakthrough novel about a lawyer appointed to represent a black man accused of rape, Tom Robinson, in court. According to the facts, Finch must deal with the persecution of his community in Alabama, which includes teaching his children (particularly Scout) about racism.
Gregory Peck’s performance as Finch propelled him to the status of one of cinema’s greatest heroes. As a courtroom drama, the film is as relevant today as it was when it originally premiered.
12. Close-Up (1990) – 8.3
a man named Hossain Sabzian impersonated well-known arthouse filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and fooled a family into being featured in his new film, Close-Up, which was released in 1990 in Iran. After being caught and brought to trial, his sentence will be decided.
Filmed in a cinema-verite style, Sabzian’s portrayal of Makhmalbaf as accurate as possible is one of the film’s most distinctive features. That’s what makes this a very excellent picture, because it shows the character’s struggle between his humanity and his artistic integrity.
13. Witness For The Prosecution (1957) – 8.4
Witness for the Prosecution is a film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s short tale Witness for the Prosecution (Tyrone Powers). It’s up to British mental health specialist Sir Wilfrid Roberts (Charles Laughton) to defend Vole despite his private nurse’s misgivings. In true Agatha Christie form, further surprises are revealed as the case progresses.
Billy Wilder, the legendary director, injects the film with a much-needed dose of film noir panache. In the end, the outcome is a gripping courtroom/mystery thriller.”
14. Capernaum (2018) – 8.4
As he prepared to prosecute his parents for child negligence, Capernaum is a Lebanese drama about a 12-year-old kid who has flashbacks to his childhood in the Beirut ghetto. There are several flashbacks in this film that show him growing up with an estranged family, culminating in his eventual arrest for stabbing a stranger.
To see the hardships of poverty as seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy is distressing for director Nadine Labaki. This film is deserving of an Oscar nomination.
15. 12 Angry Men (1957) – 9.0
Finally, one of the most popular courtroom dramas that doesn’t take place entirely in a courthouse has been found. Sidney Lumet’s directorial debut, 12 Angry Men, revolves around a 12-person jury deliberating on the punishment of an impoverished 18-year-old. Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) fights for the idea that the child is innocent at first, even though the majority of the jury designates the youth as “guilty”.
The guys in 12 Angry Men had to confront their own moral prejudices when analyzing the case of the young man. This is an excellent courtroom drama, thanks to a stellar ensemble.