A good legal dispute is the stuff great dramas are made of, with all their rebuttals, arguments and surprise witnesses. That’s why it’s so easy to name 25 absolutely stellar courtroom drama movies, complete with all that good stuff. There’s something intrinsically cinematic about a courtroom after all: there’s tension, strong characters, powerful words and usually some good, old-fashioned up-staging too.
Actually, we’d argue that pretty much any movie can be made better with a touch of courtroom drama, judge wigs and all. Therefore, is it any wonder that many actors turn in some of their most powerful performances when they have to play wrongly-accused victims or crusading lawyers?
25. The Hurricane (1999)
The Case: Boxer Rubin Hurricane Carter (Denzel Washington) is convicted of triple-homicide and sentenced to three life terms. Can he fight back against a racist system?
Only In The Movies: The Hurricane met with much controversy upon release for its meddling with the facts surrounding the real case. A New Yorker critic branded it false, evasive and factually very thin a liberal fairytale. Still great, though.
24. Erin Brockovich (2000)
The Case: Very little time spent in the courtroom here, but its still a film that builds a compelling case, as Ms. Brockovich (Julia Roberts) attempts to bring justice to a California power company.
Only In The Movies: Its based on the true story of a real woman, but theres no denying it relies on some serious star wattage from Roberts and Albert Finney.
23. My Cousin Vinny (1992)
The Case: Inexperienced law-practitioner Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) is called in when his young cousin (Ralph Macchio) is charged with murder in suburban Alabama.
Only In The Movies: A confession for stealing tuna turns into a massive homicide case? Yep, only in Hollywood.
22. Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
The Case: A lawyer attempts to free an old man who believes he is Santa Claus from the asylum that he's been confined to.
Only In The Movies: This happened for real in the 1800s, but the twee premise combined with no-nonsense courtroom procedure provides the kind of drama that could only exist in the movies.
21. The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
The Case: Slick-as-crude-oil lawyer Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is hired by rich kid Louis (Ryan Phillippe) when he's charged with sexual assault.
Only In The Movies: Would a defence attorney and a prosecutor have a child together in reality? And would they really be unable to make their relationship work because of their morally opposite standings?
20. In The Bedroom (2001)
The Case: Richard Strout (William Mapother) kills Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl) after seeing him with his wife. When it looks likely that hell get off scot-free, others take matters into their own hands.
Only In The Movies: Though the case is one soaked in blood and guilt, director Todd Field plays everything with an under-stated eye that makes it truly devastating.
19. Sleepers (1996)
The Case: Four boys are sentenced to a year in the Wilkenson Centre after a prank gone wrong results in an old man being injured.
Only In The Movies: Here, the court case is simply the beginning for these four boys, whose lives are changed irredeemably by the verdict. A great look at what happens after the courtrooms gone quiet.
18. Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979)
The Case: A career man (Dustin Hoffman) who has little time for his young son finds himself lumbered with the child when his wife (Meryl Streep) disappears. When the boy's mother returns, his father fights for full custody.
Only In The Movies: Plot-wise, the relationship between Ted Kramer and his son smacks of Hollywood heart-string pluckage. Meanwhile, the idea that the boy would have to testify, as championed by Howard Duff, is absolute movie rubbish.
17. Fury (1936)
The Case: Joe Wilson (Spencer Tracy) is arrested for kidnapping a child. When a mob burns down the jail, the district attorney (Walter Abel) takes the perpetrators to court for murder.
Only In The Movies: A classic in its own right, but director Fritz Lang was restricted by MGM who demanded that he make his protagonist innocent and bolt on a happy ending. Not at all like modern movies, then
16. Primal Fear (1996)
The Case: Lawyer Martin Vail (Richard Gere) defends an altar boy who is accused of murdering a priest in cold blood, but is it as clear cut as all that?
Only In The Movies: The film's giant plot twist is almost too far-fetched to be realistic, but it packs one hell of a wallop dramatically.