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The Top 10 Legal Movies of All Time
There is something inherently dramatic about being a lawyer, which is maybe why Hollywood loves to tell stories about the profession. Nearly every aspect of a lawyer’s professional or personal life has been depicted on screen.
There are movies about applying to law school and movies about studying for the bar. There are movies about landmark cases and movies about unfair rulings. There are movies that are completely fictionalized and movies that tell true stories.
With so many different types of legal movies available, it can be hard to decide on which ones to watch. But there are some movies that stand out from the crowd are always worth your time.
Below, we’ve put together a guide on the 10 best legal movies ever made. The next time you need to choose for movie night or a friend wants a recommendation, this list will help. Read on to learn more!
1. To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most classic legal movies of all time, based on the equally classic novel by the same name. The movie tells the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer in Maycomb, Alabama, in the early 1930s, and his children Scout and Jem.
When Atticus takes the case of a black man accused of rape, it turns Scout and Jem’s lives upside down. Their father’s work opens their ideas to the ideas of racism and inequality, and how it exists in their world.
To Kill a Mockingbird was a critical success when it premiered–winning numerous Academy Awards–and remains a favorite legal movie today.
2. Erin Brockovich
Erin Brockovich is a bit of an untraditional legal movie, in that the main character isn’t a lawyer at all. She does work at a law firm, though, and through her research, she uncovers an unusual situation that ends up bringing the firm more success and notoriety than they could have ever imagined.
The movie is based on the true story of Erin Brockovich, who discovered that a local community’s illnesses were related to contaminated water and worked tirelessly to ensure that the water company responsible was held accountable. Brockovich’s work resulted in a case with more than 600 plaintiffs, and the largest settlement for a direct-action lawsuit.
3. Kramer vs. Kramer
Kramer vs. Kramer makes the list of top 10 legal movies primarily because the courtroom itself plays such a central role in the movie’s plot. The movie shows what happens when a happy marriage ends in the courtroom, as two divorced co-parents sue each other for custody of their son.
A full range of human emotion is put on display in this movie–which includes masterful performances from Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep–making it one of the most watchable legal movies of all time.
4. Legally Blonde
Legally Blonde is proof that not all lawyers–or all movies about them–have to be serious. This lighthearted look on one woman’s journey to win back her ex-boyfriend proves that some people take very unconventional paths to their law careers.
The movie’s central character, Elle Woods, enrolls in Harvard Law because she think it will make her ex-boyfriend see her as better marriage material. Instead, she realizes she has a real passion and talent for the law–so long as she can practice it on her own terms and in her chosen wardrobe.
Besides being a great legal film, Philadelphia is also remembered as being one of the first major Hollywood movies to depict homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, and homophobia. It tells the story of Andrew Beckett, a senior associate who believes he was fired by his law firm because of his homosexuality and his HIV/AIDS status.
After finally finding a lawyer who will take his case, a trial ensues. Though Beckett ultimately wins, his illness claims his life soon after. The emotional plot line is intermixed with legal drama, and the movie won Tom Hanks an Oscar for Best Actor.
6. The Firm
The Firm is one of several movies to be adapted from a John Grisham novel, which often focus on the law.
In The Firm, Tom Cruise plays a young, promising lawyer from a poor background who graduates from Harvard Law School and goes to work at a law firm in Memphis. He soon learns that at this law firm, things aren’t exactly what they seem.
Cruise’s character gets caught up in a situation that seems to have no solution, and his true skills as a lawyer are all he has to rely on.
7. A Few Good Men
A Few Good Men gave American cinema one of its most iconic lines ever, when Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Nathan R. Jessup bellows at Tom Cruise’s Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, “You can’t handle the truth!”
The movie’s plot tells the story of a court-martial of two U.S. Marines who are charged with murdering one of their fellow marines. It centers on the rigorous prep the marine’s lawyers go through as they are preparing for trial and ultimately how they win their case.
8. Runaway Jury
The legal process is complicated, and Runaway Jury is one of the best movies to peel back some of the layers. Part legal film and part thriller, the movie focuses on the jury selection of a particular trial, in which a widow is bringing a case against her dead husband’s former employer.
The movie is full of twists and turns–much like the actual trial process–and includes an ending few see coming.
9. Double Jeopardy
Like Runaway Jury, Double Jeopardy is a crime thriller that focuses on the nuances of one particular law. The film follows the story of Libby Parsons, who is wrongfully accused of murdering her husband.
After she is released from jail, Libby finds that her husband is, in fact, still alive and sets out on a quest to prove he framed her.
10. Inherit the Wind
The 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial was a landmark case in its time, and Inherit the Wind dramatizes it in a way that continues to feel modern and fresh.
The 1960 movie is based on the 1955 play of the same name, and dramatizes the trial of a teacher who violates a state law by teaching his students that humans descended from other life forms.
Ready to Watch These Best Legal Movies?
The next time you’re ready to unwind after a long day or want to watch a move on a Saturday night, turn to this list. Whether you want comedy, drama, or a thriller, there’s a legal movie for you.
For more ideas on your next movie night, contact us at any time.