Great Courtroom Dramas

Greatest Courtroom Dramas


Greatest Courtroom (Legal) Dramas:
One of the best subject areas for dramatic films (or sometimes crime films) are suspenseful, law-related courtroom dramas, which include trials that pit lawyers against each other, and set up a tense one-on-one conflict between a prosecutor and a defendant. Sometimes, the protagonists are a "little" guy (an individual) against a "big" guy (or corporation), or the more abstract "good" vs. "evil," or they often involve wider issues, such as race, sex, capital punishment (life and death), and morality. It has to be said that not all legal (courtroom) dramas include a court of law sequence (although they are fairly mandatory), while still full of legal jargon and proceedings.

And of course, courtroom dramas usually contain some of the most fascinating thematic elements in film -- murder, betrayal, deception, perjury and sex, often presented with powerful monologues or speeches, thrilling scenes of the pursuit of evidence or suspects, or climactic cross-examinations. They also may feature unexpected twists and surprise testimony, unusual motives, moral dilemmas, crusading lawyers and wrongly-accused victims.

AFI defined the courtroom drama as:

"A genre of film in which a system of justice plays a critical role in the film's narrative."

Many courtroom film dramas are based on historical events, such as the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial (in Inherit the Wind (1960)), the war crimes tribunal (in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)), and Sir Thomas More's defense against treason (in A Man For All Seasons (1966)). However, for reasons of length, many non-fiction courtroom dramas are often shortened or compressed, and details are sometimes glossed over or changed.

The 'golden age' of feature film courtroom dramas lasted through the 1990s, but then a shift occurred with the rise and prominence of legal-courtroom-related TV shows, including Law & Order (1990-2010) and its spin-offs, Ally McBeal (1997-2002), The Practice (1997-2004), and other police procedurals (the NCIS franchise (2003- ) and JAG (1995-2005)). Most people fondly and nostalgically remember the earliest popular legal dramas on TV, such as Perry Mason (1957-1966) and Dragnet (1951-1959) and their many derivatives.

Greatest Courtroom Dramas
(chronological by film title)
Introduction | 1920s-1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s
| 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s

Selection of Greatest Courtroom Dramas
The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (1928, Fr.) (aka La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc)
M (1931, Germany)
Fury (1936)
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
They Won't Forget (1937)
On Trial (1939)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

The Letter (1940)
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) (aka All That Money Can Buy)
The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
A Matter of Life and Death (1946, UK)
Boomerang! (1947)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The Paradine Case (1947)
They Won't Believe Me (1947)
An Act of Murder (1948) (aka Live Today for Tomorrow, or I Stand Accused)
The Accused (1949)
Adam's Rib (1949)
Knock on Any Door (1949)

The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)
Rashomon (1950, Jp.)
A Place in the Sun (1951)
I Confess (1953)
The Caine Mutiny (1954)
The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)
Trial (1955)
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)
The Wrong Man (1956)
12 Angry Men (1957)
Paths of Glory (1957)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
I Want to Live! (1958)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Compulsion (1959)
Libel (1959, UK)
The Young Philadelphians (1959)

Inherit the Wind (1960)
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Town Without Pity (1961)
Billy Budd (1962, UK)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
A Man For All Seasons (1966, UK)
In Cold Blood (1967)

10 Rillington Place (1971, UK)
...And Justice For All (1979)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
The Onion Field (1979)

Breaker Morant (1980, Australia)
Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1981)
The Verdict (1982)
The Star Chamber (1983)
A Soldier's Story (1984)
Jagged Edge (1985)
Nuts (1987)
Suspect (1987)
The Accused (1988)
A Cry in the Dark (1988, Australia/US) (aka Evil Angels)
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Music Box (1989)
True Believer (1989)

Blood Oath (1990, Australia/UK) (aka Prisoners of the Sun)
Presumed Innocent (1990)
Reversal of Fortune (1990, US/Jp./UK)
Class Action (1991)
JFK (1991)
Let Him Have It (1991, Fr./UK)
A Few Good Men (1992)
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
The Firm (1993)
Guilty As Sin (1993)
In the Name of the Father (1993, Ire./UK/US)
Philadelphia (1993)
Sommersby (1993, Fr./US)
It Could Happen to You (1994)
Trial By Jury (1994)
Losing Isaiah (1995)
Murder in the First (1995)
Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)
The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
Primal Fear (1996)
A Time to Kill (1996)
Amistad (1997)
The Rainmaker (1997)
Red Corner (1997)
A Civil Action (1998)
Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)

Erin Brockovich (2000)
Rules of Engagement (2000)
High Crimes (2002)
Runaway Jury (2003)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
North Country (2005)
Find Me Guilty (2006)
Fracture (2007)
Michael Clayton (2007)
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (2009)

The Conspirator (2010)
The Social Network (2010)
The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
Devil's Knot (2013)
The Judge (2014)
Loving (2016)
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Just Mercy (2019)

Greatest Courtroom Dramas
(chronological by film title)
Introduction | 1920s-1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s
| 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s

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