Some of the most popular films since the beginning of cinema feature courtroom dramas and judicial proceedings. LKG has compiled a list of the “most essential” courtroom films, despite the fact that there are many other lists out there. Disagree? Let us know if there is anything we can do.
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1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Based on Harper Lee’s father’s law firm, this film has inspired generations of people to pursue a career in law. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch, set in the segregated South, shows the potential of a lawyer prepared to take on an unpopular, unprofitable, and unsuccessful cause that makes one proud to be an attorney. The courtroom scenes in this film are full of witnesses being cross-examined by Peck in the style of Lincoln in a courtroom. Most critics and audiences agree that this is the best courtroom drama ever made.
2. Philadelphia (1993)
Infected with Bruce Springsteen’s eerie Academy Award-winning score, Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks provide great acting in a courtroom drama involving an aids-infected attorney. For a film like To Kill a Mockingbird, this one touches on problems of legal firm politics, workplace discrimination, LGBT rights, the AIDS pandemic and a Don Quixote lawyer eager to take on a strong law practice. To Kill a Mockingbird’s Brock Eli and Tom Hanks’ former law company are both suing for money damages after being wrongly accused of raping white women. Washington, on the other hand, is the anti-hero to Peck’s classic hero. Every generation of lawyers has the opportunity to resist injustice….
3. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Out of the shackles Ben Gazarra, a veteran, is accused of murder and is being represented by smarmy Michigan lawyer James Stewart. Otto Preminger, one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation, based the film on a novel written by a Michigan supreme court justice about a murder case he handled before he became a judge. A lawyer who opposed Joseph McCarthy in the Army McCarthy hearings, Joseph Welch, is the judge in the movie. Throughout the last half-century, there has never been a more accurate depiction of courtroom proceedings in movies. Unvarnished depiction of the legal system’s underbelly. As a substitute for a courtroom appearance with a well-known backstory, this is the best that can be accomplished.
4. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Director Stanley Kramer presents a dramatized account of the Nuremberg trial of four Nazi judges and their moral, if not legal, responsibility for the crimes committed by the Nazis. This film has been called a “political drama.” Richard Widmark portrays the American commander in charge of the prosecution, while Robert Jackson, an American supreme court justice, prosecuted the first and most important Nuremberg trials at the behest of Franklin Roosevelt. Widmark, Spencer Tracey, Marlene Deitrich and Judy Garland star in what is probably the greatest cast ever assembled for a single film. They judge judges who follow laws that have been legislated by a sovereign government, a troubling scenario that has repeated itself since in the Middle East, Africa and other parts of the world. Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner plays Captain Kirk. Both the idea of judges implementing laws they knew to be unfair and Shell’s forceful cross-examination of Holocaust victims advocate for the morally immoral judges are disturbing in this film.
5. Twelve Angry Men (1957)
However, this film by Sidney Lumet examines America’s jury system and deliberate process more than half a century after it was first implemented in the United States of America. One of the most well-known classics of all time features an all-star cast led by Henry Fonda and included Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, E.g. Marshall, and Jack Warden. In the United States, “beyond a reasonable doubt” is a phrase that has been preserved by the Library of Congress, and the audience can feel the tension of personality conflicts, molecular evidence analysis, and a discussion of concepts and people without ever naming those people- “the boy,” “the lady across the street,” and the “older man” are metaphors for the democratic process that is virtually unheard of except in the United States. This film will be relevant in 100 years.
6. The Verdict (1982)
This movie is based on a real medical malpractice case, and it teaches by negative example; no plaintiffs attorney should aspire to be Paul Newman and no defense attorney should aspire to be James Mason. Lawyers’ despicability runs from basic lying to mail fraud to perjury, and that doesn’t even touch on the ineptitude that goes on. Jack Warden, the referral lawyer for the malpractice case that Newman butchers and Marshall unethically defends, should be the sole attorney left with a law license in the end. A down and out attorney who comes up at funerals pretending to know the deceased to promote his firm fails to adequately prosecute the case and then rejects a settlement offer without consulting his clients because he doesn’t want to be “purchased.” It is in the best interest of reality to point out that the way things are set up, Warden continues. When they give you money, you win.” With a dishonest judge, an unfavorable perspective of the plaintiff’s case, and entertaining courtroom scenes, the film has the feel of an actual trial. This film is essential because, despite the widespread dishonesty of the attorneys, the judge, and the overall system, the jury manages to come to a fair conclusion. There will be a climax where you’ll want to shed a tear of joy.
7. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Because this picture is the only one that takes place in England under the authority of English Common Law, which is the foundation of the American court system, Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, and Charles Laughton star in this film. Billy Wilder directs. Leonard Vole (Power), a suave, manipulative manipulator, is accused of stabbing a wealthy elderly widow who had bequeathed her inheritance to Vole. Laughton, an old master trial attorney, is confident of Vole’s innocence, but against the advice of his physician, he accepts the case. After World War II, Vole’s German wife (Dietrich) in post-war England not only fails to give her husband the alibi she claims in pretrial meetings that support his innocence, but swears that he confessed to her when called as a witness for the prosecution! How can a wife be made to testify against her husband in the event of his infidelity? How may hearsay letters containing devastating statements be admissible in court? Laughton’s robed sleeve conceals what? What do you think about Power? What’s the real deal?? The tension is as high as you’ll find in a courtroom drama. On our list, you may see how it’s done in a British courtroom and in an American courthouse.
8. Presumed Innocent (1990)
Scott Turow, a former practicing attorney turned novelist who penned the book that served as the inspiration for the film, came after Vincent Bugliosi and before John Grishom. “Presumed Innocent” is a complex tale of a prosecutor (Harrison Ford) accused of murdering one of his colleagues at the office (Greta Scacchi). The District Attorney (Brian Dennehy) asks Ford to investigate the death and then charges him with the death after overwhelming evidence is uncovered: Ford’s prints are on glasses in the victim’s house, blood of Ford’s type and his semen are found at the scene. Dennehy is unaware that Ford and Dennehy had a brief sex relationship. Fortunately for Ford, he’s represented by the best in the business in Raul Julia, and the moments in front of Judge Winfield (Paul Winfield) are as authentic as any you’ll see during any trial. With a more up-to-date tone and setting, the courtroom sequences are as realistic as those in Anatomy of a Murder. For what reasons does this film rank among the best of all time? Despite the excellent acting, directing, and storyline, the film portrays a legal system that has been exploited to its utmost by people with great talent who seek justice but are unconcerned with the procedures required to ensure the rule of law. Evidence destruction is no problem for the thief. Interested parties? There’s nothing to worry about. What are the rules of evidence? What are those? The film is compelling, exciting, and constantly interesting despite the fact that it lacks any resemblance to what would happen in a real courtroom; nonetheless, it never flirts with the unbelievable. What a treat!
9. Inherit the Wind (1960)
Since Clarence Darrow lost in the Scopes “Monkey” Trial because of his heroic portrayal of Clarence Darrow, this film’s historical significance and poignancy are overshadowed by its Hollywood star power. A remarkable (and impossible) cross examination by Clarence Darrow, when he invites William Jennings Bryant to the witness stand, is overshadowed by Spenser Tracy and Frederic March as Darrow and Bryant, respectively. Is there a reason why this film is so important? Courtroom presence is defined by Darrow and Bryant. It’s worth noting that most cases based on a constitutional violation don’t make it to the jury. This isn’t really a movie about a courtroom, and Gene Kelly plays a wise cracking newspaper reporter in a cartoonish role.
10. The Caine Mutiny (1954) / A Few Good Men (1992) / Breaker Morant (1980)
In reality, this is a collection of three movies, all of which have excellent courtroom scenes in the framework of a military tribunal. You can’t take the truth.
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