Which movie do you prefer: Young Abe Lincoln or The Lincoln Lawyer? A Few Good Men or A Man for All Seasons? Chicago or Philadelphia?
If there’s a silver lining to staying at home and maintaining social distance, it’s having lots of time to catch up on all the lawyer movies you’ve been wanting to watch or re-watch. And there are plenty to choose from.
“From the incisive Henry Drummond and the droll Mr. Lincoln to the callow Danny Kaffee and the regal Atticus Finch, lawyers have provided some of Hollywood’s most memorable cinematic heroes and some of its most honorable and thoughtful films,” writes Richard Brust in the ABA Journal. “[We] asked 12 prominent lawyers who teach film or are connected to the business to choose what they regard as the best movies ever made about lawyers and the law.”
Following are their Top 20 picks.
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Top 20 Lawyer Movies
(quotes are from Brust and the ABA Journal article)
20. And Justice For All (1979). “An angry Al Pacino plays Arthur Kirkland, the very best lawyer in Baltimore.”
19. Compulsion (1959). “In 1924, Chicago is rocked by a spectacular murder, apparently committed by two brilliant teenagers from wealthy families. An aging legendary lawyer, Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles), is hired to defend them.”
18. Reversal of Fortune (1990). “Before there was an O.J. to help confuse us about the difference between innocent and not guilty, there was Claus von Bulow.”
17. The Paper Chase (1973). “James T. Hart (Timothy Bottoms) is a first-year law student desperately seeking the approval of Harvard’s sternest professor, Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. (John Houseman).”
16. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). “Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep both won Oscars as Ted and Joanna Kramer, an estranged couple fighting over custody of their son.”
15. Chicago (2002). “Lawyers tap-dance all the time, but Richard Gere does so pretty darn well as sleazeball attorney Billy Flynn.”
14. A Few Good Men (1992). “Tom Cruise is high-octane as a reluctant Navy JAG litigator.”
13. A Man For All Seasons (1966). “Paul Scofield’s Oscar-winning performance as Sir Thomas More.”
12. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). “Stanley Kramer directed this searing portrayal of the Nazi war crimes trials.”
11. Presumed Innocent (1990). “Lawyer-novelist Scott Turow’s best-seller features Harrison Ford as Rusty Sabich, a top-notch prosecutor who finds himself accused of murder.”
10. The Verdict (1982). “Paul Newman is a washed-up, alcoholic lawyer who gets handed a medical-malpractice case and sees it as one last chance to get his career right.”
9. Erin Brockovich (2000). “Julia Roberts does an Academy Award-winning turn as the real-life paralegal and sassy single mom whose dogged investigation into a suspicious real estate case turns up … one of the heftiest class action suits in U.S. history.”
8. Philadelphia (1993). “Tom Hanks won an Oscar as an Ivy-educated gay attorney who claims his big-time law firm fired him after discovering he contracted AIDS.”
7. Breaker Morant (1980). “Australian director Bruce Beresford adapts the story of three fellow countrymen who fight for the British Empire in the colonial Boer War in South Africa and are tried and convicted of war crimes.”
6. Witness for the Prosecution (1957). “The legendary Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment) directs from a script by the legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie.”
5. Inherit the Wind (1960). “Two grand old lions of the screen, Spencer Tracy and Frederic March, play two grand old lions of the law, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, as they grapple in the historic 1925 Scopes ‘monkey trial.’”
4. Anatomy of a Murder (1959). “Otto Preminger directs this realistic study of an Army lieutenant accused of murdering a bartender.”
3. My Cousin Vinny (1992). “(Joe Pesci) is a brash Brooklyn lawyer who only recently managed to pass the bar exam on his sixth try.”
2. Twelve Angry Men (1957). “Henry Fonda produced and starred in this faithful adaptation of Reginald Rose’s critically acclaimed stage play chronicling the hostile deliberations of a jury in a death penalty case.”
1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). “Gregory Peck lends his legendary dignity to the role of Atticus Finch, Harper Lee’s iconic small-town attorney.”