Legal dramas are a common theme in both film and TV. There is an entire genre of lawyer shows on television, particularly procedural dramas, somany, in fact, that an entire channel could exist just to cover them all. In the world of movies, there have also been plenty of courtroom dramas that attempt to represent the judicial system and courtroom cases, both fictional and based on real-life cases.
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With this in mind,this list will cover the best courtroom films of all time, ranked according to their IMDb ratings. These films include well-known classics and other foreign titles that slipped under the radar, all worth a look.
Updated on December 22nd, 2020 by Kristen Palamara:Courtroom movies are a popular genre and although there are new courtroom dramas being released every year, there are still some classic and popular movies released in the 90s or even earlier that rank highly in the genre. Most courtroom movies are dramas, but there are some that take a lighter and funnier lookthanthe typical drama and are just as enjoyable. Courtroommoviesare always dramatic, full of plot twists, delve into emotional responses to tense situations, and are always worth a watch.
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My Cousin Vinny(1992) - 7.6
Joe Pesci stars as a hapless lawyer who tries to help hiscousin (Ralph Macchio) when he and his friend are wrongly accused of murdering a local store clerk. Pesci's lawyer has no trial experience and hilariously fumbles his way through the court appearances with the help of his longtime girlfriend (Marisa Tomei).
It's become a classic courtroom movie since its release and is a lighter option to most courtroom dramas.
Primal Fear(1996) - 7.7
Primal Fearis a surprising courtroom drama that delves into the intersection of crime and mental illness as Richard Gere's lawyer takes on a new case defending Edward Norton's character on a murder charge.
Gere's lawyer typically takes high profile cases where he's guaranteed the prestige and typically wins and he gets more than he bargains for when he agrees to represent the altar boy who is accused of brutally killing an archbishop.
A Few Good Men (1992) - 7.7
A Few Good Menhas a great cast of recognizable actors including Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, and Kevin Bacon, and mostly takes place in the courtroom as Cruise's military lawyer defends two Marines accused of killing a fellow Marine on their base Guantanamo Bay.
The defense team wonders if the Marines were ordered by a commanding officer to murder the Marine and began investigating. The movie takes an interesting look at the intersection of law, trials, and armed forces.
Philadelphia(1993) - 7.7
Tom Hanks won an Academy Award for hisportrayal of a lawyer whohides his sexual orientation and recent HIV-positive diagnosis fearing that he'll be fired if anyone finds out.
Eventually, a co-worker finds out and he is fired from theprestigious law firm in Philadelphia. After getting fired, he decides to sue for wrongful termination and has a difficult time finding a lawyer (Denzel Washington) to represent him against his old firm.
Inherit the Wind(1960) - 8.1
Inherit the Windis a fictionalized account of a real court case thatsaw a school teacher on trial for teaching evolution in the classroom instead of creationism, whichviolated a Tennessee state law.
The case gets national attention as a local reporter (Gene Kelly) starts writing about the case and two high-powered lawyers take on the side of the prosecution (Fredric March) and the defense (Spencer Tracy).
In The Name Of The Father (1993) - 8.1
Daniel Day-Lewis plays Gerry Conlon, an Irish man who was one of four people wrongly convicted for being Provisional IRA bombers and one of the perpetrators of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings. The movierevolves around their court case to free them, as well as around Conlon’s father, Patrick (Pete Postlethwaite).
As usual, one of the finest method actors is as excellent as ever here, going to lengths to internalize the characteristics of the real-life Conlon and his harrowing experience.
Once A Moth (1976) - 8.2
Once a Moth is a drama from the Philippines about a Filipino nurse, Cora de la Cruz (Nora Aunor), who dreams of migrating to America. However, sheexperienced disenchantment with the country’s justice system during her harassment case and in seeking justice for her brother’s murder at the hands of an American soldier.
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Thismovie serves as both a commentary on the failure of the American judicial system and a critique of America’s military presence in the Philippines, as seen through Aunor’s powerhouse performance.
Shahid (2012) - 8.2
Based on the real-life account of an Indian lawyer and human rights activist, the 2012 legal drama Shahid recounts the works of Shahid Azmi as he climbs through the ranks to bring justice to those oppressed. Shahid and his family are witnesses of the Bombay riots, prompting him to take a law degree andfight for the cause, despite the oppression he experiences.
Rajkummar Rao plays the titular role effectively and with gravitas and empathy, and his life story is aperfect one to interpret via film.
Judgment At Nuremberg (1961) - 8.2
Judgment at Nuremberg is loosely based on the Trial of 1947, wherein the U.S. Army held military tribunals for several captured Nazi war criminals. Set in Allied-occupied Nuremberg, this film focuses on Chief Trial Judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) as he handles the case of four Nazis charged with war crimes during the Third Reich.
The film explores the complexities of what constitutes an absolute crime, based on cultural philosophies, civilian control, and political implications. With a dedicated ensemble cast, this is a post-World War IIfilm worth watching.
Miracle In Cell No. 7 (2013) - 8.2
One of the most popular Korean movies internationally, Miracle in Cell No. 7 is a family drama about a mentally challenged man wrongfully accused of murder and his precocious daughter.
Once the man, Lee Yong-gu, was incarcerated, his daughter Ye-Sung smuggles her way inside his cell and touches the lives of him and his Yong-gu’s cellmates. Eventually, Ye-Sung becomes a lawyer who defends her father.The story is based on a real-life case. Thus, it touched the hearts of many viewers, so much so that there are four foreign remakes (so far).
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) - 8.2
A classic on its own right, To Kill a Mockingbird is based on Harper Lee’s groundbreaking novel about lawyer Atticus Finch who is assigned as a defendant of a Black man, Tom Robinson, who is accused of rape. As the case goes, Finch has to deal with the oppression in his Alabama hometown, which includes educating his children, especially Scout, about prejudice.
As Finch, Gregory Peck delivers a powerful performance that elevated him as one of the greatest heroes in cinema. The film is just as relevant as a courtroom drama today as it was when it first came out.
Close-Up (1990) - 8.3
Close-Up is a 1990 Iranian film about a man named Hossain Sabzian, who impersonated well-known arthouse filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and deceived a family into being featured in his new film. However, he was caught, and a trial was set for his eventual sentence.
One of the most unique aspects of this film is that it is presented in the cinema-verite style, which helps craft the fictional account of Sabzian impersonating Makhmalbaf in an authentic way. This is essential in illustrating the character's dilemma between human identity and artistic integrity, making it a truly wonderful film.
Witness For The Prosecution (1957) - 8.4
Based on the Agatha Christie short story, Witness for the Prosecution centers around the murder case of a man named Leonard Vole (Tyrone Powers). British barrister Sir Wilfrid Roberts (Charles Laughton), who specializes in mental health, has to defend Vole, despite objections by his private nurse. However, as the case progresses, more surprises are revealed, in true Agatha Christie fashion.
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Legendary director Billy Wilder takes on the source material with wit and grace, giving it the needed film noir flair. The result is a genuinely thrilling courtroom/mystery saga.
Capernaum (2018) - 8.4
Capernaum is a 2018 Lebanese drama about a 12-year-old boy who plans to sue his parents for child neglect, all the while, flashbacks are shown with glimpses of his past life in the slums of Beirut. These flashbacks illustrate his estranged relationship with his mother and father that leads up to his eventual imprisonment for stabbing a stranger.
Director Nadine Labaki neverholds back when depicting the hardships of poverty and presenting them from the perspective of an impoverished 12-year-old is heartbreaking. This film deserves its Oscar nomination.
12 Angry Men (1957) - 9.0
Finally - one of the most popular courtroom dramas that is not fully in a courthouse. As the directorial debut of Sidney Lumet, 12 Angry Mencenters on a jury of 12 who evaluate the sentence of an 18-year-old impoverished youth. Initially, most of the jury designate the youth as “guilty,” but juror #8 (Henry Fonda) fights for the notion that the youth is innocent.
The legacy of 12 Angry Men is built on the focusof the men confronting their moral biases when evaluating the youth’s case. With an impeccable cast, this is an outstanding courtroom drama.
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What movie takes place in a courtroom? ›
Part courtroom drama, part thriller, The Lincoln Lawyer stars Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller, a criminal defense attorney based in Los Angeles County, California.What is the most accurate legal drama? ›
- Bull (2016 - 2022) - 7.0. ...
- Reasonable Doubt (2017 - Present) - 7.3. ...
- Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001 - 2011) - 7.5. ...
- Fearless (2017) - 7.6. ...
- Your Honor (2020) - 7.6. ...
- The Practice (1997 - 2004) - 7.7. ...
- Eli Stone (2008 - 2009) - 7.7.
Legal drama in American film has an extensive history stemming from as early as the 1908 film, Falsely Accused!Are courtroom dramas real? ›
Dramatized court show
In the same way as some films are based on true stories, some featured cases on courtroom dramas are based on real-life cases. On the other hand, some are altogether made up, though often drawing on details from actual cases.
- 8 Judgment at Nuremberg.
- 7 A Few Good Men.
- 6 The Verdict.
- 5 Kramer vs. Kramer.
- 4 Anatomy of a Murder.
- 3 Witness for the Prosecution.
- 2 12 Angry Men.
- 1 To Kill a Mockingbird.
1997: Crime and Punishment in America, 1997 US film directed by David Rabinovitch. 1998: Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, 1998 TV movie starring Patrick Dempsey, Ben Kingsley and Julie Delpy. 2000: Crime and Punishment in Suburbia, 2000 adaptation, set in modern America and "loosely based" on the novel.