Courtroom dramas rank among some of the greatest movies of all time. Sometimes even a courtroom comedy sneaks its way onto the list. We’re fascinated by law movies because we are all hoping for justice to prevail. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s what makes watching these movies so compelling. Here is my list of the top five law movies of all time.
1. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Fifty-four years ago, Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, was a runaway best seller. In 1961, it won the Pulitzer Prize and in 1962, it was made into an Academy Award-winning movie. The film, starring Gregory Peck as the small town lawyer, Atticus Finch, is consistently ranked at the top of the AFI’s list of 100 best movies of all time.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a powerful movie about blacks and racism in the American south. The reason why the movie still resonates today is that the issues it raised in the 1960s are still with us today.
2. 12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Angry Men is a 1957 movie drama adapted from a teleplay of the same name by Reginald Rose. It is a gripping, engrossing examination of 12 jurors (all white men, mostly middle-aged and middle class) who are brought together to deliberate the “facts” and decide the fate of an uneducated, teenaged Puerto Rican boy. But while the movie is seemingly about the boy on trial, it is more about the trial of the jury and the American justice system with is lauded sense of infallibility and fairness.
The movie is unique in that almost the entire movie takes place on one set, the jury room. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It lost to the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai in all three categories.
3. Inherit The Wind (1960)
Based on a real-life case in 1925, Inherit The Wind deals with two great lawyers arguing for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution. It’s easy to see why this 1960 film holds its relevancy today as some states, amazingly, still struggle between science and religion in the classroom.
Inherit The Wind is a fictionalized version of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, which resulted in John Scope’s conviction in Tennessee for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to a high school science class. Nearly ninety years since that famous trial, the debate between evolution and the Garden of Eden continues.
The movie was lauded by critics and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best actor, Spencer Tracy.
4. Judgment At Nuremberg (1961)
This 1961 movie drama deals with the Holocaust and the role of certain German judges who served before and during the Nazi regime in Germany. While the movie touches on the persecution and genocide of European Jews, the film’s focus is mainly on the actions committed by the German state against it own racial, religious and eugenic groupings within its borders.
The movie was nominated for eleven Academy Awards. Maximillian Schell won for Best Actor and Abby Mann won in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. Unfortunately the film went up against West Side Story, which basically swept the Oscars that year.
5. My Cousin Vinny (1992)
The only comedy to make my list, My Cousin Vinny deals with two young New Yorkers falsely arrested for murder while driving through rural, redneck Alabama. The story centers on the comical attempts by one of the victims’ cousin, Vincent Gambini, fresh out of law school, to defend them.
Lawyers have praised the comedy’s realistic depiction of courtroom dynamics and trial strategy. Joe Pesci, as “Vinny,” and Marisa Tomei, as Vinny’s fiancée, “Mona Lisa Vito,” received critical praise for their performances, with Tomei winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
The trial judge is superbly played by Fred Gwynne,. This was Gwynne’s last film appearance before his death in 1993. While this lighthearted movie doesn’t have the heft of the other movies selected, it’s good to laugh once in a while!
Anatomy Of a Murder (1959)
Witness For The Prosecution (1957)
Erin Brokovich (2000)
The Verdict (1982)
Presumed Innocent (1990)
A Few Good Men (1992)
Kramer v. Kramer (1979)
Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
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