It’s no secret that during the late 1980s and 1990s, legal movies were popular in Hollywood. It was the golden age of law films. Although we live at a time where science fiction films have become popular, legal thrillers are still worth watching.
To help you decide, here are some of the best picks with exceptional writing and amazing performances from your favorite stars.
1. To Kill a Mocking Bird(1962)
The number one spot for the best of the best has to be ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’. This adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel was put on the big screen only two years after her novel’s debut. Gregory Peck plays the legendary dignified role of Atticus Finch, a small-town attorney that does everything in his power to prevent the wrongful prosecution of a crippled black man (played by Brock Peters) falsely accused of rape by a young white woman in a world enveloped in overt racism.
This film won three Academy Awards after being nominated for eight of them.
2. Philadelphia (1993)
This movie is centered on the life of a talented gay lawyer, Andrew Beckett (played by Tom Hanks), who was fired by his firm for having AIDS. This story is deeply moving and emphasizes the importance of doing the right thing in spite of your personal and political views. Beckett hires a homophobic small-town lawyer, Joe Miller (played by Denzel Washington) as his only hope for justice after his wrongful dismissal. Beckett’s lawyer grapples with his feelings about Beckett’s sexual orientation and eventually comes to terms with them.
The film won five Academy Awards and received three Golden Globe nominations.
3. 12 Angry Men (1957)
This masterpiece, produced and starred by Henry Fonda is an adaptation of Reginald Rose’s critically acclaimed stage play that records the discussions of a jury in a death penalty case. One of the jurors (Fonda) airs his doubts on the case in what seems like a straightforward case. The movie portrays the turmoil the jury faces as they struggle with evidentiary standards and witness believability.
The American Film Institute has praised the film and included it in its list of the best films many times.
4. Kramer Vs Kramer (1979)
Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in one film? What more could you ask for? This movie digs deep into the issues that come along with divorce and its rough impact on children. The film focuses on the life of an estranged couple that is fighting over custody of their son.
Ted Kramer (Hoffman) is faced with the reality of being a single father after his wife Joanna Kramer (Streep) leaves him. He also confronts his own shortcomings when Joanna reappears and demands custody of their son.
This thriller has won five Oscars. It was also the film that helped Meryl Streep get her first Oscar.
5. A Time to Kill (1996)
While this movie doesn’t have a critically acclaimed prize, it is definitely worth the mention. This film is laced with great talent, featuring Samuel L Jackson, Brenda Frick, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, and Chris Cooper.
The American courtroom crime drama centers on the rape of Carl Lee Hailey’s (played by Samuel) underage daughter and the arrest of the men responsible. Unable to control his anger, Carl kills the men while still in custody and is arrested. Jake Tyler Brigance (played by Matthew) is the defense attorney for Carl.
Jake does his best to defend a man who committed a crime in front of numerous witnesses. He receives threats from his community for defending a colored man, but he doesn’t stop. What follows is an amazing legal thriller.
6. Reasonable Doubt (2014)
The thing that makes law films great is the sudden plot twist. What you thought was the right thing to do turns out to be a big mistake. This film follows the story of a Chicago district attorney, Mitch Brockden (played by Dominic Cooper), who is involved in a hit and run incident. The police capture another man, Clinton Davis (played by Samuel L. Jackson), accused of the same crime. Brockden feels morally obligated to free Davis for a crime that he didn’t commit. This action leads to a series of unexpected events.
7. Reversal of Fortune (1990)
This film is based on the true story of Claus Von Bulow and Sunny Von Bulow. After Sunny Von Bulow (played by Glenn Close) falls in a coma, her husband, Claus Von Bulow (played by Jeremy Irons) is charged with attempted murder. Claus hires Alan Dershowitz (played by Ron Silver) to defend him in his appeal. Dershowitz, a Harvard professor, though reluctant at first agrees to represent Claus. What follows is an amazing law thriller that will leave you wanting more.
Jeremy Irons won an Oscar for his performance in this movie.