Recently, I found an old ABA article that listed the Greatest 25 Law Movies of All Time and thought it was a great list… But which movies would be on my list if I had one? Which movies would be on your list?
Here’s the top 25, by the ABA. Choose your favorite – and let us know if you have a favorite not listed. We are always open to suggestions and love to expand our legal film collection.
And here’s the list of Honorable Mentions, if you’re interested in some additional write-in contenders.
- THE ACCUSED (1988) Jodie Foster is a woman who is gang-raped in a bar and, when the rapists go free, goads a reluctant prosecutor to pursue the patrons who urged them on.
- ADAM’S RIB (1949) George Cukor’s mannered comedy, with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as married lawyers who oppose each other in court.
- BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956) Dana Andrews is a writer who sets himself up on a murder rap to reveal the shortcomings of circumstantial evidence.
- THE CAINE MUTINY (1954) Humphrey Bogart is riveting in this adaptation of Herman Wouk’s complex novel about military authority and moral duty.
- CLASS ACTION (1991) A father and daughter clash in and outside the courtroom as they square off in a volatile product liability case.
- THE CLIENT (1994) Susan Sarandon is an underwhelming lawyer who finds herself representing a young boy who has witnessed a Mafia hit.
- COUNSELLOR AT LAW (1933) John Barrymore is a workaholic lawyer who is in danger of losing his family in this William Wyler film.
- THE COURT-MARTIAL OF BILLY MITCHELL (1955) Otto Preminger directs Gary Cooper in this tale of the real-life maverick general who thinks an airplane can sink a ship—and is court-martialed for proving it.
- THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE (1997) A new attorney introduced into the world’s most powerful law firm discovers that its managing partner is morally challenged.
- THE FIRM (1993) Tom Cruise is recruited by a prestigious law firm that he gradually learns has a very sinister background.
- THE FORTUNE COOKIE (1966) Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon romp in this Billy Wilder comedy about a sleazy lawyer who talks a relative into feigning injury for the sake of a lawsuit.
- GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI (1996) The true story of efforts to bring to justice Byron De La Beckwith for the 30-year-old murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers.
- INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003) The Coen brothers reveal their take on divorce law. George Clooney is at his toothy best.
- JAGGED EDGE (1985) Defense attorney Glenn Close gets close to a client, played by Jeff Bridges, who is on trial for the murder of his heiress wife.
- JFK (1991) Oliver Stone takes on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s efforts to solve the Kennedy assassination. History yields to riveting storytelling.
- LEGALLY BLONDE (2001) Reese Witherspoon became one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood after ridiculing the elitism of Harvard Law.
- LIAR, LIAR (1997) A hilarious vehicle for Jim Carrey, who plays a lawyer who finds he is physically incapable of telling a fib.
- MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007) George Clooney shines in this look at the dark underbelly of big-firm law.
- MUSIC BOX (1989) Hungarian immigrant Mike Laszlo, accused of being a war criminal, asks his daughter (Jessica Lange) to defend him in court. She learns more about him than she wants to know.
- NORTH COUNTRY (2005) It’s one woman against the system: The extraordinary Charlize Theron plays a miner who sues the company.
- THE PELICAN BRIEF (1993) A law student discovers a plot to assassinate U.S. Supreme Court justices in this John Grisham adaptation.
- THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996) Cameos abound in this portrayal of the trial of the renowned porn publisher.
- PRIMAL FEAR (1996) Richard Gere is the attorney and Edward Norton a young altar boy accused of killing a priest in a story whose plot twists and turns.
- THE RAINMAKER (1997) Another John Grisham lawyer fights the system, this time with Matt Damon starring and Francis Ford Coppola directing.
- A TIME TO KILL (1996) An earnest retelling of the Grisham novel about a racially charged killing in the Deep South. Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock spark
I also discovered that a book was about to be published entitled Lawyering Skills From Classic Films, by Professor Kelly Lynn Anders. The author is the director of communications and diversity at Creighton University of Law. The movies reviewed in Professor Anders’ book were all produced before the 1960s, which is when the modern rating system was established. Anders only wanted to use wholesome movies, those that did not include graphic violence, offensive language, or nudity. The movies included were chosen because they offered useful insights into skills needed to be a successful lawyer.
Here is a link to the National Law Journal article which reviewed the book entitled Lawyering Skills From Classic Films: http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202537122970&slreturn=1
Some of the movies listed in Anders’ book illustrate these lawyering skills:
- To Kill a Mockingbird-Compassion
- 12 Angry Men-Negotiation Skills
- Witness for the Prosecution- Negotiation Skills
- Judgement at Nuremberg
- Inherit the Wind
- The Paradine Case
- The Talk of The Town-Flexibility
- Legally Blonde
- My Cousin Vinny
So what do you think?