Movies about the law can be great fun. They can entertain. They can be dramatic. They can make you laugh. Done right, legal movies can even inspire real-life change.
Below, Schwartzapfel Lawyers put together a list of our ten favorite lawyer movies. Whether or not you agree with our order, we hope you have fun going through it, as we definitely enjoyed sitting back, eating popcorn, and playing jury.
Of course, if you need help from real lawyers — and not the ones on your T.V. screen — contact Schwartzapfel Lawyers today online or at 1-516-342-2200 for a free consultation.
Without further ado, we give you our verdict on Hollywood’s best pictures about lawyers.
10. Legally Blonde (2001)
This blockbuster comedy hit the silver screen in 2001, and people still haven’t stopped talking about its protagonist, sorority girl Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon).
Elle is a 1L at Harvard Law School. Interestingly, the film is an adaptation of a novel of the same name, which draws in large part on author Amanda Brown’s experiences while studying at Stanford Law School in the 1990s.
9. The Paper Chase (1972)
The third oldest film on our list, The Paper Chase is a comedy-drama known to 1Ls all across America. Oddly enough, it tells the story of a Harvard Law student whose name is not Elle Woods.
8. The Firm (1993)
As with Legally Blonde and The Paper Chase, this legal thriller is an adaptation of a novel. Unlike the latter two, however, the author of the source novel is a household name: John Grisham.
The Firm became the highest-grossing R-rated film of 1993 and remains Grisham’s most financially successful adaptation to date. Plus, Tom Cruise makes his legal thriller debut in this engaging and dramatic tale.
7. Primal Fear (1996)
Another legal thriller, Primal Fear stars Richard Gere, Laura Linney, and Edward Norton in his film debut. Amazingly, Norton would earn his first Academy Award nomination for his work as a supporting actor in this ’90s classic, along with a Golden Globe win.
6. Philadelphia (1993)
Directed by Jonathan Demme, this legal drama starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington tells the story of Andrew Beckett (Hanks) and his attorney, Joe Miller (Washington), as they mount a case against Beckett’s former employer for wrongfully terminating him after discovering that he has AIDS.
Critically acclaimed for its screenplay and performances, the film also netted Bruce Springsteen an Academy Award for Best Original Song, “Streets of Philadelphia.”
5. The Rainmaker (1997)
Prior to making this film, director Francis Ford Coppola had been in a bit of a slump. On the heels of classics like The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), The Conversation (1974), and Apocalypse Now (1979), the 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s had not been overly kind to the acclaimed director. His last film, Jack (1996), was both a critical and commercial flop.
Just one year later, The Rainmaker, based on a Grisham book of the same name, put any doubts to rest that the director had lost speed on his fastball in this tale of love, loss, personal injury law, and bad-faith insurance company tactics.
4. Amistad (1997)
This historical gem came out the same year as The Rainmaker and was directed by Coppola’s friend, rival, and contemporary, Steven Spielberg. Based on the 1987 book Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy, the film garnered positive reviews as well as four (4) Academy Award nominations.
3. 12 Angry Men (1957)
The oldest film on our list, 12 Angry Men, was originally adapted from a 1954 teleplay of the same name by Reginald Rose. It tells the story of a jury in deliberation over the verdict of a teenager in a murder trial.
Regarded by many as one of the greatest movies of all time, it was inducted into the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2007. It stars Henry Fonda, Ed Begley, and several other iconic actors.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the movie and the book it’s based on are widely considered among the most culturally significant works ever made. Dealing with social issues like race, class, and justice, the story takes place in Maycomb, Alabama, where attorney Atticus Finch defends a man on trial for his life.
For his performance, actor Gregory Peck would top the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest movie heroes of the 20th century in 2003.
1. My Cousin Vinny (1992)
A movie about young men on trial for a murder they didn’t commit may not seem like great comedic fodder, but insert Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, and a script this accurate in its depiction of trial strategy, and it’s beyond a reasonable doubt that this cinematic masterpiece will have you laughing, thinking, and — when the credits roll — begging for more Vinny Gambini.
Why stop at the top ten lawyer movies of all time? Truth be told, there are dozens of other quality courtroom flicks we’d be remiss not to mention, especially if our clients haven’t seen them before!
Once you’ve viewed the above films, consider continuing your legal movie journey with a few more picks.
A Time To Kill (1996)
This Joel Schumacher-directed film stars Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey as a murder defendant and defense attorney, respectively. McConnaughhay plays Jake Brigance, who attempts to acquit Lee Hailey, Jackson’s character, on account of the latter shooting the man who assaulted his daughter.
A Time To Kill is a dramatic and oftentimes dark tale, but it’s also a story of solidarity and faith in the human spirit. Check it out if you’re a fan of Southern Gothic aesthetics and deep character drama.
The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
Matthew McConaughey stars in this 2011 flick, which is based on a novel of the same name by Michael Connelly. McConaughey plays a criminal defense attorney who works from a titular Lincoln Town Car.
The story is thematically compelling and questioning, as McConnaughhay is asked to solve as a part detective, part lawyer. Indeed, this lawyer movie has a lot of action (more than most other courtroom dramas).
Don’t take this one too seriously, but enjoy it for the entertaining ride that it is. The film also stars Ryan Phillippe as the accused, as well as Marisa Tomei William H. Macy.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
In Erin Brockovich, Julia Roberts gives us a Best Actress-worthy performance as she brings the real-life story of Brockovich to life. In this gripping tale, Brockovich does critical work in the case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which contaminated groundwater in the small California community of Hinkley.
Though she has no formal legal training, Brockovich has what it takes to succeed. If you’re a fan of underdog stories where the heroine wins, you owe it to yourself to see just how she does it.
… And Justice for All (1979)
Al Pacino plays good guys sometimes, such as in this great courtroom drama. … And Justice for All earned two Academy Award nominations for its story, in which Pacino plays a Baltimore defense attorney charged with defeating injustice in the legal system.
Pacino’s character represents clients who serve far too long in jail because of legal technicalities. The climax is particularly memorable, leading to a long monologue that hasn’t been beaten by lawyer movies made since.
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Anatomy of a Murder is one of the all-time greats, starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, and Ben Gazzara. In fact, it was responsible for setting many of the quality standards we now associate with courtroom dramas on the big screen.
This film features a twisting and compelling murder case, and each courtroom scene is shot with both style and substance. The soundtrack by Duke Ellington is itself worth the time it takes to fully absorb this masterful work.
The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
In this 1997 film, Kiana Reeves stars as Kevin Lomax, a newly recruited Florida defense attorney who works with Al Pacino’s John Milton (the head of a big New York law firm).
This unique lawyer movie is more about Kevin and his wife (Charlize Theron), as the latter has reality-altering mental episodes. Kevin must juggle this personal struggle with the nefarious activities of his boss, who isn’t all that he claims to be.
Inherit the Wind (1960)
Inherit the Wind is arguably one of the best courtroom films of all time; the popular movie critic Roger Ebert even gave it a perfect four out of four stars score.
Gene Kelly, Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, and Dick York lead this film about the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, which revolved around teaching evolution and Darwinism in American public schools. Since it fictionalizes a real-life case, the film benefits from being able to add extra dramatic punch to some of the most pivotal moments.
The Client (1994)
The Client is one of the most popular lawyer movies of all time, starring Susan Sarandon in an Oscar-nominated performance. In this gripping movie, Sarandon plays a lawyer hired to represent an 11-year-old boy.
It’s an emotionally intense film about how little folks can get caught up in the head-spinning intricacies of the legal system without adequate representatives on their side. Watch this movie to see what doing “the right thing” really means when it comes to law and order.
If these legal movies have got you thinking about an upcoming case or legal action, Schwartzapfel Lawyers can help when you contact us at 1-516-342-2200.
Contact Schwartzapfel Lawyers Today
Agree with our list? Write to us online or call 1-516-342-2200 and let us know why. Also, know that if you or a loved one has been injured due to someone else’s wrongdoing, we can help you recover the money and benefits you are entitled to.
But you shouldn’t wait, as your window to file a claim may soon close forever. To keep this from happening, you must act now.
Protect your financial future starting today by scheduling a free consultation with Schwartzapfel Lawyers. It will be our honor and privilege to fight for you every step of the way. Call now and move forward in your recovery!
DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this page should be considered legal advice. You should seek the appropriate counsel your situation requires. For more information, call 1-516-342-2200 now!
Schwartzapfel Lawyers, P.C. | Fighting For You
‘Legally Blonde’ Oral History: From Raunchy Script to Feminist Classic | The New York Times