The 10 greatest legal movies of all time

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The 10 greatest legal movies of all time

Fri Mar 05, 2010 @ 11:27AM PST

By Eriq Gardner

12angry In honor of the Oscars on Sunday, we humbly nominate these films as the greatest legal movies of all-time:

Drama Division:

  1. "12 Angry Men" (1957) directed by Sidney Lumet. Great because: It blew open the door on jury deliberations, helping moviegoers understand how personal relationships influence deliberations and how a first glance at a fact pattern can lead to the wrong conclusions.
  2. "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962) directed by Robert Mulligan. Great because: It introduced a small-town defense lawyer as a hero and explored the way the law can provide social justice in the face of cultural prejudice. 
  3. "The Thin Blue Line" (1988) directed by Errol Morris. Great because: It exposed major problems with our justice system, particularly the pressures facing law enforcement. Ranks up there with "Rashomon" in its explorations of how truth can be in the eye of the beholder.
  4. "A Few Good Men" (1992) directed by Rob Reiner. Great because: The highly quotable Aaron Sorkin script, the performance by Jack Nicholson, and its look into military jurisprudence.
  5. "The Insider" (1999) directed by Michael Mann. Great because: Nobody would have expected that a topic like "tortious interference" would yield such edge-of-your-seat drama. One of the best films ever to properly highlight the positives and negatives of legal procedure. 

Runners-up: "Anatomy of a Murder" (1959), "Inherit the Wind" (1960), "Judgment at Nurmeberg" (1961), "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979), "And Justice for All" (1979), "Breaker Morant" (1980), "The Verdict" (1982), "Philadelphia" (1993), "The People vs. Larry Flynt" (1996), "Erin Brockovich" (2000)

MyCousinVinnyQuestioningComedy Division:

  1. "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) directed by George Seaton. Great because: It cleverly uses a sly plot device — whether a man who believes he's Santa Claus is insane or not — to test notions on what's a triable fact.
  2. "Defending Your Life" (1991) directed by Albert Brooks. Great because: It poses some existential questions about life through the vantage point of a court of law. 
  3. "My Cousin Vinny" (1992) directed by Jonathan Lynn. Great because: It raises the hopes that we could all become lawyers pursuing criminal justice with only a great wife and access to a legal dictionary. 
  4. "Legally Blond" (2001) directed by Robert Luketic. Great because: Harvard Law School is accurately portrayed as the middle ground between being dumped and finding one's calling in life.
  5. "Intolerable Cruelty" (2003) directed by Joel Coen. Great because of the Coen brothers' underrated script, George Clooney's charming performance and the hilariously accurate portrayal of what goes through the minds of lawyers as they craft a contract between warring parties.

Runners-up: "Adam's Rib" (1949), "Trial and Error" (1962), "Legal Eagles" (1986), "Liar Liar" (1997), "Devil's Advocate" (1997), "Chicago" (2002)

What did we miss? 

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to

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