Best Law Movies
Greatest Legal Movies selected by ABA Journal
In 2008, the ABA Journal had a jury of twelve prominent lawyers connected to the film business select the best movies featuring lawyers and/or the law. They selected the following 25 movies:
- 12 Angry Men, 1957, produced by first-time director Sidney Lumet based on the play of the same name by Reginald Rose. It is about a jury member who tries to persuade the other 11 members to acquit the suspect on trial on the basis of reasonable doubt. The film is notable for its almost exclusive use of one set: with the exception of three minutes of screen-time split between the beginning and the end and two short scenes in an adjoining washroom, the entire movie takes place in the jury room.
- A Civil Action, 1998, starring John Travolta (as plaintiff's attorney Jan Schlichtmann) and Robert Duvall, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Harr. Both the book and the film are based on the real-life case of Anderson v. Cryovac that took place in Woburn, Massachusetts in the 1980s.
- A Few Good Men, was originally a play by Aaron Sorkin, first produced on Broadway by David Brown in 1989. Sorkin adapted his work into a screenplay for a 1992 film directed by Rob Reiner, produced by Brown, and starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore. Tells the story of military lawyers at a court-martial who uncover a high-level conspiracy in the course of defending their clients, United States Marines accused of murder.
- A Man for All Seasons, originally a play by Robert Bolt, based on the true story of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Chancellor of England, who helps to endorse or denounce King Henry VIII's wish to divorce his aging wife Catherine of Aragon, who could not bear him a son, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, the sister of his former mistress. The play portrays More as a man of principle, envied by rivals such as Thomas Cromwell and loved by the common people and by his family.
- Anatomy of a Murder, 1959, trial court drama film directed by Otto Preminger and written by Wendell Mayes based on the best-selling novel of the same name written by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker under the pen name Robert Traver. Traver based the novel on a 1952 murder case in which he was the defense attorney. Stars Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott, and Lee Remick among others.
- And Justice for All
- Breaker Morant
- Erin Brockovich-Ellis, about a legal clerk who, despite the lack of a formal law school education, was instrumental in constructing a case against the $28 billion Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), of California in 1993.
- In the Name of the Father
- Inherit the Wind, 1960, Fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial, which resulted in John T. Scopes' conviction for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to a high school science class, contrary to a Tennessee state law that proscribed the teaching of anything besides creationism. The fictional characters Matthew Harrison Brady, Henry Drummond, Bertram Cates and E. K. Hornbeck correspond to the historical figures of William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, John Scopes, and H. L. Mencken, respectively. Based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee.
- Judgment at Nuremberg, 1961, fictionalized account of the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials, written by Abby Mann and directed by Stanley Kramer, starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Werner Klemperer, and William Shatner.
- Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979, adapted by Robert Benton from the novel by Avery Corman, and directed by Benton, tells the story of a married couple's divorce and its impact on everyone involved, including the couple's young son. It received the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1979. The movie was shot in Austin, Texas and the filmmakers even asked students in film school at the University of Texas for advice on the movie.
- Miracle on 34th Street, 1947, written by Valentine Davies, directed by George Seaton, and starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn, is the story of what takes place in New York City following Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, as people are left wondering whether or not a department store Santa might be the real thing.
- My Cousin Vinny, 1992, comedy directed by Jonathan Lynn, starring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei.
- Presumed Innocent, 1987, based on Scott Turow's first novel, tells the story of a prosecutor charged with the murder of his colleague. It is told in the first person by the accused, Rusty Sabich.
- Reversal of Fortune, 1990, is the cinematic adaptation of law professor Alan Dershowitz's 1985 book about true story of the unexplained coma of socialite Sunny von BĂĽlow, the subsequent attempted murder trial, and the eventual acquittal of her husband, Claus von Bulow.
- The Paper Chase, 1973, based on the 1970 novel, tells the story of a first-year law student at Harvard, and his experiences with a brilliant, demanding Contracts instructor whom he both idolizes and finds incredibly intimidating.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 novel by Harper Lee, based on the author's observations of her family and neighbors, as well as on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old.
- The Verdict, 1982, tells the story of a down-on-his-luck alcoholic lawyer who pushes a medical malpractice case in order to improve his own situation, but discovers along the way that he is doing the "right" thing. Since the lawsuit involves a woman in a persistent vegetative state, the movie is cast in the shadow of the Karen Ann Quinlan case. The movie stars Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason, Milo O'Shea and Lindsay Crouse. Adapted by David Mamet from the novel by Barry Reed.
- Witness for the Prosecution, 1957, crime film based on a short story (and later play) by Agatha Christie dealing with the trial of a man accused of murder.
- Young Mr. Lincoln, 1939, fictionalized biography/drama film about the early life of President Abraham Lincoln, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda.
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