Ten Great Lawyer Movies

American Film Institute's Picks ... and mine

 

The American Film Institute's recent television special listed it's Top Ten Courtroom Drama movies. Nine of their ten made perfect sense for the category, but one of their choices for top "Courtroom Drama" was Kramer vs. Kramer. Now, KvK is a great film, and one I've already covered in another column (click here to see more on KvK). But categorized as a "courtroom drama"? That AFI decision sparked my interest to highlight a selection of lawyer plots, characters, etc.

Movies about lawyers, about lawsuits, the good and the bad...which is which, sitting at tables parallel and equal before a judge, a jury ... is there anything more patriotic, more totally USA, than getting all engrossed in a lawyer flick? Our court system, the concepts of justice, due process, protecting-the-rights-of-society prosecutors, the filled-with-hope valor parallel to the creeps-slipping -through-loopholes of USA's innocent-until-proven-guilty code, a viable defense, the most ethical and upright of judges, indisputable evidence, reliable witnesses -- or not ... corruption within any of these elements brings down the delicate system and makes for great plots, great characters, great suspense, great faith in our system! Hope all movie buffs enjoy!

First, here are AFI's selected Top Ten Courtroom Dramas. Just a list here, as you can get all the details you want at http://www.afi.com/10top10/.

10. Judgement at Nuremberg, 1961

9. A Cry in the Dark, 1988

8. In Cold Blood, 1967

7. Anatomy of a Murder, 1959

6. Witness for the Prosecution, 1957

5. A Few Good Men, 1992

4. The Verdict, 1992

3. Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979

2. 12 Angry Men, 1957

1. To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962

 

 

Military Lawyer, Tom Cruise, grilling a witness in 'A Few Good Men' from 1992

Kevin Bacon, background, just one of great supporting cast.
Kevin Bacon, background, just one of great supporting cast.

Great films about lawyers, lawsuits, the whole legal side of life

Now, AFI has had it's say...but I say...if Kramer vs. Kramer is one of their picks..then that opens up the doors to a whole lot of movies where court decisions are crucial, but truly account for minimal moments on film. For that case, The Verdict starring Paul Newman would also fall into this category, oh, yeah....so would To Kill a Mockingbird, so would A Few Good Men, ...so, what gives?...how many minutes of a two hour film need to be literally in the courtroom to qualify as a "courtroom drama"? Maybe AFI's label of "courtroom drama" is where they went wrong...that's why this hub is titled "legal movies."

"A Few Good Men" airs on TBS on Friday, Oct. 1, 2010, at 9PM and again at Midnight.


Paul Newman stars in The 'Verdict'

Vulnerable victims, passionate prosecutors, determined defenders

So, in no order of great, good, mediocre...all ten have wonderful legal moments, most are dramas...but there is one romantic/comedy legal movie included. Two are based on true events. All are 'legal' films that shouldn't go forgotten:

10. The Rain Maker. 1997 (Same year as Damon's Good Will Hunting).Based on a John Grisham novel, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and a stunning achievement for Matt Damon. According to imdb.com, the movie's tag line was "They were totally unqualified to try the case of a lifetime... but every underdog has his day." Imagine every family's worst financial/emotional nightmare when a huge health insurance company decides your son's life is not worth the expense. Claire Dane's and (Oklahoma's own) Mary Kay Place were great female additions to this strong male cast.

Matt Damon as determined but doubting young attorney

A totally different side of Damon than 1997's 'Good Will Hunting'
A totally different side of Damon than 1997's 'Good Will Hunting'

A look at 'The Rainmaker'

Oil profits, corrupt corporations ... and Julia Roberts

9. The Pelican Brief. 1993. Another gripping legal movie based on a John Grisham novel. Great roles for Denzel Washington (as journalist) and Julia Roberts (as law student). No courtroom scenes but centers around truly evil capitalists (oil gazillionaires) who believe they can manipulate the President (Robert Culp) and the appointment of Supreme Court justices. Anyone that gets in their way... Trivia: Small role for Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon.

8. Erin Brokovich. 2000. Another vehicle for Julia Roberts. Seven years after "Pelican Brief" she's playing a single mom with three kids. Lots of reasons to be on a great lawyer movie list. Julia Roberts as a diligent but somewhat renegade-tactics legal researcher, Albert Finney as the stressed out, by-the-book litigator. One reason this movie intrigues is that it's based on the true events when a small town (Hinkley, CA) took on a huge utility corporation. Roberts earned Best Actress Academy Award for this one.

Julia Roberts and Albert Finney in 'Erin Brokovich'

7. Legal Eagles. 1986. Romantic-comedy legal movie. With cute casting of Robert Redford and Debra Winger, a sensual doe-eyed blond-to-the-max Darryl Hannah, barrel-chested Brian Dennehy, great location shots of New York City, fun flashbacks to the late 60s plus the glittery milieu of art galleries, and you've got a pretty decent suspense-comedy legal movie. Worth remembering if only because not that many legal flicks qualify as romantic-comedy...and, hello? ...it stars Robert Redford!

Debra Winger, Robert Redford, Darryl Hannah
Debra Winger, Robert Redford, Darryl Hannah

Irons as suave but suspicious husband

'Suspect'...Cher and Quaid

Attorneys for the defense, quite an assortment

6. Reversal of Fortune. 1990. Another true story and one that had made lots of society headlines. Sunny Von Bulow (Glenn Close), a hugely wealthy heiress, winds up in a coma and her husband, Claus Von Bulow (Jeremy Irons) winds up looking very suspicious. So suspicious that he's convicted of attempted murder and tracks down the best attorney he can find for his appeal. Cue Ron Silver as Alan Dershowitz, playing the polar opposite of the full-out WASP, Hamptons mansions, international jet-set kavorting, Upper East Side Manhattan Von Bulows. Great look at the massive preparation involved to research "the law" and fascinating portrayal of a defensive attorneys' focus on "the law" rather than on his client's guilt or innocence. Based on Dershowitz's own book about this case. Trivia: Christine Baranski in full-out 80s attire in small role. And Felicity Huffman as law student clerking for Dershowitz.

(Trivia. Irons was approached to star as Hannibal Lector in "Silence of the Lambs" but chose not to because he didn't want two bad-guy roles back to back. Who knows? Maybe he'd have Anthony Hopkins' Oscar?  Or have the career that Hopkins has had since 'Lambs')

5. Suspect. 1987. Cher as a over-worked federal employee. Is there such a thing? But she pulls it off looking stressed, and worn out, but dedicated to yet another "gotta be guilty" indigent client. Trivia: Liam Neeson like you've never seen him...the client. Dennis Quaid plays a juror who's far too curious and starts investigating the case on his own after hours. Great Washington DC shots and lots of insider tidbits about senators, lobbyists, the halls of power. More Trivia: John Mahoney (the dad on 'Fraser') as the judge.

Four more selections...

Be watching for part two of this hub....with four more selections and lots of trivia and runners-up for 'lawyer movies.' Teasers: Steve Martin, Harrison Ford, Michael Douglas, George Clooney and John Travolta will be included.

It's here!... Part Two....follow link at bottom of this hub to check out the rest of my Top Legal Movies.

And more courtroom selections and upcoming TV showings

Wanted to acknowledge fellow-hubber, JamesRay, who has written a courtroom hub he calls "Top 5 Courtroom Dramas"...his selections are Anatomy of a Murder, The Verdict, 12 Angry Men, Primal Fear, and And Justice For All. His runners-up include My Cousin Vinny, A Few Good Men, Philadelphia, Witness for the Prosecution and Judgement at Nuremberg.

Join in and vote for your favorite

Which is your favorite legal movie here?

See results without voting

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Comments 50 comments

captain video 8 years ago

Great hub..can't wait to read about the rest of these movies. I loved the courtroom scenes in "A Few Good Men" and think Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise performed their roles so well, I lost the actors and saw the characters...a trait too often missed in "big name" movies.

Good work, Desert Blondie.


mdtabish profile image

mdtabish 8 years ago

Very interesting hub. A thumb up from me. Few Good Men was a simply awesome lawyer movie. I also liked Sleepers and wondering if it would secure a place among the rest of your four picks.


danielpyle profile image

danielpyle 8 years ago from USA

I always look to see if Murder in the First ever makes it to any list. I enjoyed the movie and I must have been the only one ever to do so....Thanks for the hub


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Fascinating topic, desert blondie. There were so many great lawyer movies that it's almost impossible to pick just 10, but they don't come much better than "12 Angry Men" with Henry Fonda and a fantastic cast. I only wish there were movie theaters around that would play the great old movies.


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 8 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

To Torpey...head out to Palo Alto, CA, the home of Stanford University. It has the most wonderful restored movie theater, complete with a fantastic organ that audiences hear before the movie begins and all they play are old movies!


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

What? No mention of Legally Blonde? I'm shocked you wouldn't at least try to slip that one in!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

I'm delighted to hear there's a theater in Palo Alto that features the old movies, desert blondie, even though I may never be able to get there. I haven't heard such great news since December when the "Bing Crosby Theatre" opened in downtown Spokane, Wash., at a landmark previously known as the Met, and where Bing performed in the 1920's when it was called the Clemmer Theater.


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 8 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

Shadesbreath...wait for Part Two...

Torpey, I hope it's nice to know these places exist, even if you can't get to them. My hubby saw Lawrence of Arabia there, for the very first time, in 2000. I was such a film buff, couoldn't comprehend that he hadn't seen it when we married in 1997. Besst to you and Shadie. Part Two will be up soon!


sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 8 years ago from South Africa

Great Hub1 Challenging Topic. And we won't even get into the great lawyer TV series that do the rounds.

Look forward to part 2


Gregorythompson profile image

Gregorythompson 8 years ago from Illinois

Awww, poor Liar, Liar :)


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 8 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

Gregory...wait for part two!!! It'll have more fun moments, get it? FUN moments...chuckle.


marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

Great reviews...siskel and eibert eat yo' heart out! I'm a courtroom movie buff from way back...but it seems I've missed a few. I better head to the movie store... good thing to do this weekend, I already purchase 4 good dvd's at a local garage sale...now I've got more to add to the list of must sees' for Saturday night! thanks db!! I like that "db" too cute.


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 8 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

Marisue...glad you had a moment to stop by...think you'll like Part Two.

To Daniel, missed Murder In the First, but looks like you have same "only one to see it" relationship to that movie as I have with BlowOut...see my Scary Movie hub column.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 8 years ago

Good reviews. I don't really like Tom Cruise, but I've got to admit he was pretty good in "A Few Good Men." :-)


hglick profile image

hglick 8 years ago from Ronkonkoma, NY

Excellent choices Desert

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite films of all time!!

It's Gregory Peck at his best


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 8 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

To hglick, I agree about Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird. Glad that AFI listed this as their #1 Courtroom Drama...I've included this film in my 'fabulous fathers' hub column http://hubpages.com/holidays/Fabulous-Film-Fathers Hope you enjoyed seeing AFI's choices and mine. BEST!


gjcody profile image

gjcody 8 years ago

Desert blondie ...this is a great hub. I will keep it on my list of sites to read again. I have not seen all of the movies. I really like Cher ....I did not see that one. But "A Few Good Men" ...is one of the greats.

I do like court room movies. But like to laugh more ...then sometimes I just have to settle down and get serious.

My best to you!


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 8 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

Wish I could claim A Few Good Men...but that's one of AFI's picks. Hope between AFI's selections and mine...you find some great movie choices.  All AFI selections are great ... hope you think mine great choices too. Thanks for your comment!


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

I cannot believe that AFI left off the most amazing lawyer movie I have ever seen- and also my teenaged kid's favorite, "Runaway Jury!" This movie depicts the best and the worst about lawyers and stars my two all time favorite actors, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman, as well as John Cusack. Please add this one to the list!!!!!!!!! Great hub, as usual, desert blondie!


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 8 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

Included Runaway Jury on part two, but despite excellent cast and acting...I gave it a sort of "lame" vote. Not because of the movie per se, but because the book was so much better! The movie-folks really messed with Grisham's novel, in my opinion. But your right...fantastic actors!


mulder profile image

mulder 8 years ago from Warnbro Western Australia

I loved a few good men it was a great movie . great hub


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 8 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

Thanks for stopping by and enjoying!


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

Great hub desert blondie, im a big fan of lawerr movies, and they are one of my fav genres of film....I have to add Liar, Liar to the list!:)


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 8 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

Compu...I couldn't leave out Liar Liar...it's in part two!


issues veritas 7 years ago

desert blondie --

If these were the best, what would be the worse?


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 7 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

to Issues, What a thought provoking question! I'll have to think of bad lawyer movies I've seen. I know I didn't care for "The Firm" thought it painfully "duh" obvious what was going on. And, to stick with the John Grisham series, "The Jury" was much altered and weakened as a movie from the power of the novel. Just off the top of my head, those two come to mind. I'll think on it some more. Do you have any contenders for 'bad' lawyer movie films?


issues veritas 7 years ago

desert blondie,

To answer your question, I would have to understand the definition of lawyer movies. Not so deep, but only to know the limitations of the lawyer involvement.

For example, I just re-watched "Laws of Attraction" and I liked it once again. The movie was about two lawyers and their involvement in case against each other. It is certainly on the light side of the law. 

Or can the definition go to any movie where the law is important to the plot?

Then that would bring in "body Heat" and "War of the Roses" both with Kathleen Turner.

I can't think of a bad film because I tend to make the decision to go or not to go to see a movie usually based on very little information. So that pre-filters the movies, mind you the process is spotty and not very accurate.

I did remember a good one though, "Adams Rib" with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn 1949.

I can think of a bad one right now, they say you can block out bad memories that are too painful. They could be right.

 


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

I feel ashamed - I am a lawyer, and I've not seen a single one of these!


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 7 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

To Issues, I started asking myself the same "how much does 'lawyer' need to be part of the plot?" when the AFI included Kramer v. Kramer...as a one of their top ten. The actual courtroom scenes are soooo minimal. Adam's Rib I included on part 2 if you'd like to take a look.

To LondonGirl, My father was a lawyer, and my sister is one now...and both like lawyer movies if only to get a kick out of how unrealistic they usually are! But whether a comedy like "Liar Liar" and "All of Me" or drama like "Rainmaker" or mystery/thriller like "Suspect" or "Pelican Brief" I hope you'll decide to watch one of my picks one day.


issues veritas 7 years ago

desert blondie,

Thanks for the clarification.

The search for bad lawyer movies continues.


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 7 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

Oh! I know two....Intolerable Cruelty...a lame comedy with beautiful cast, George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Clayton, I know it won academy award for best supporting actress, and I know the time-line handling of the plot was intriguing...but just didn't think it was all that great...and again, starred George Clooney. He's gorgeous, but didn't like these movies.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

My mother used to get a bit irritated when she came home from choir every THursday to find my Dad shouting at "Judge John Deeds" on the telly. She reckoned if it annoyed him that much, he could try not watching it....


issues veritas 7 years ago

deset blondie,

I didn't see "Intolerable Cruelty" but IMDB voters gave it a 6.4 out of 10 and this was by over 30,000 voters.

"Michael Clayton" received a 7.5 with 46,000 votes. I saw this one and I didn't think it was bad and I am not a real fan of George Clooney.

The common denominator of popularity must be George Clooney.


Jimmy Fuentes profile image

Jimmy Fuentes 7 years ago from Rancho Cucamonga

A movie fan.. Nice.. Did anyone enjoy "The Client" or perhaps "Runaway Jury" . Grisham has had some nice courtroom dramas. There was another movie with Gene Hackman that was pretty fair "Class Action". Good hub


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 7 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

Hi, Jimmy...thanks for liking the columns! Nope, didn't like The Client or Runaway Jury...although RJ was a really good book! They changed movie way too much!


scheng1 6 years ago

To Kill A Mockingbird is definitely before our times, hardly anyone will list it as one of the legal movies


ipodmovies 6 years ago

The Firm was a great movie!


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 6 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

To Scheng1..."Mockingbird" wasn't one of my choices, but a choice by the American Film Institute.

To Ipodmovies...If you think "Firm" was a great movie...you'll think most on this list are absolutely fantastic!


accident_lawyer 6 years ago from US

The Anatomy of a Murder is my fav movie.


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 6 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

To Accident...'Anatomy' is a great one! And what a cast! Seven Acad. Award Noms, Four Golden Globe Noms, Grammy for best original soundtrack!


ipod movies 6 years ago

Jim Carey was great in Liar Liar movie.


Personal Injury Lawyer 6 years ago

The Rain Maker was a very real portrayal of what happens when big business loses touch with humanity and the defense a financially crushed family has is a determined and compassionate lawyer.

one of my favorites!!! excellent choice


hotelsinsolan 6 years ago

That is really the nice movie.........i liked that on too


personal injury law firm nyc 6 years ago

Very interesting hub. A thumb up from me. Few Good Men was a simply awesome lawyer movie. I also liked Sleepers and wondering if it would secure a place among the rest of your four picks.


lawfan 6 years ago

How about Tele serials Boston Legal, Practice ? They really outshine many of the acclaimed law movies


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 6 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

I'm a huge fan of Boston Legal! But I sincerely hope that if I ever need the services of a lawyer, I won't have to see such behind the scene bizarre-ness!


iris 6 years ago

hey...sorry can i ask a question? there is a movie wih two lawyers...a man and a woman...the were always arguing and in the end they fell in love etc...what was the name of this movie:(? please remind me...


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 6 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen Author

Are you thinking of "Adam's Rib" with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy?


lawfan 6 years ago

There was this movie 'Music Box' with Jessica Lange and 'High Crimes' with Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman. Another highly under rated movie 'Breaker Morant' with Edward Woodward; a court martial movie. Ranks a notch above A Few Good Men


lawfan 6 years ago

Objection Your Honour - Did we miss 'Inherit the Wind' ?...a rendition of 1925 'Scopes Monkey Trial'. A fitting response to the threat to intellectual freedom starring my all time favorite Spencer Tracy. Surely you would like to re-consider Your Honour ?

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