Courtroom dramas are typically among the most tense and dramatic movies because of the inherent stakes of the genre. There are clearly defined sides, and lofty themes of justice, innocence, and law and order. Because of these elements, viewers are often kept on the edge of their seats as they watch the defendant’s fate be decided.
Oftentimes, the most powerful and dramatic courtroom movies are those that are inspired by real-life cases. These films are able to captivate audiences while shining a spotlight on oppression, prejudice, systemic issues, and legal precedents.
10 The Trial Of The Chicago 7
Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 tells the story of a group of Vietnam War protesters who are put on trial and accused of inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
The standout of The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the assemble cast that brings to life a roster full of colorful and memorable characters. The film was nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance as Abbie Hoffman.
Loving is a 2016 romantic drama starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. An interracial couple in the 1960s, they become the subject of a high-profile case that goes to trial in front of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding a Virginia law that prohibits interracial marriage.
As a result of the trial, the Supreme Court ruled that laws prohibiting interracial marriages were unconstitutional. The film is anchored by powerful and believable performances from the leads. It is a beautiful love story about hope and perseverance in the face of opposition.
The 2017 legal drama Marshall centers around an important case early in the career of Thurgood Marshall in which he successfully defends a black man accused of assaulting a white woman in the 1940s. The film depicts a defining moment in Thurgood Marshall’s path to becoming the first black Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
The movie tells an important story about prejudice and the fight for justice. The centerpiece of Marshall is Chadwick Boseman’s strong performance as Thurgood Marshall. The film’s supporting cast includes Sterling K. Brown, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, and Dan Stevens.
Chicago is a 2002 adaptation of a stage musical that centers around two women who are both being held in jail as they each await trial for murder. The film is a darkly comedic look at corruption in the system and sensationalization in the media. Chicago was a hit with audiences and critics alike, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The movie is a fictional version of the story of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, two women who were accused of murder in 1924 before ultimately being acquitted.
6 Judgment At Nuremberg
Released in 1961, Judgment at Nuremberg is a complex and compelling look at the Nuremberg Trials that followed World War II in which American-led military tribunals tried Germans accused of aiding the Nazi regime. The film explores different motivations that allowed atrocities to occur in Germany, with some of the defendants fearfully following orders, and others acting willingly.
The movie ambitiously attempts to understand this moment in history from multiple perspectives and explain the inexplicable. Judgment at Nuremberg features performances from Hollywood legends Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, and William Shatner.
5 The Social Network
The Social Network tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook at Harvard University and transforming it from a local novelty to an international juggernaut. Bolstered by a sharp script and a strong lead performance from Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network is a fascinating tale of the need for acceptance.
The film uses multiple lawsuit trials as a framing device, revealing to the audience that Mark Zukerberg is being sued by the other characters in the story and allowing the characters to provide meta-commentary on the events that the audience is seeing.
4 On The Basis Of Sex
On the Basis of Sex details an instrumental case in the early career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In 1970, the future Supreme Court Justice represents a man who was denied a tax deduction for nursing care because the law only provided that right to women.
The case led to the Court of Appeals ruling that discrimination on the basis of sex was not legal. Felicity Jones leads the cast as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the movie includes supporting performances from Justin Theroux and Kathy Bates. The film is well-acted and depicts a turning point in American history.
3 Just Mercy
Just Mercy follows lawyer Bryan Stevenson as he travels to Alabama in the 1980s in order to provide representation to those who cannot normally afford it. Bryan Stevenson defends Walter McMillian, a black man accused of killing a white woman.
Bryan Stevenson is able to rally support and gets the Alabama Supreme Court to dismiss the charges, setting Walter McMillian free. The movie is filled with moving performances from a cast that includes Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, and Tim Blake Nelson.
2 Dark Waters
Dark Waters tells the shocking true story of one lawyer’s battle for justice against a large corporation. Robert Bilott travels to a small town in West Virginia to investigate a surge of unexplained animal deaths. In the process, he discovers that chemicals manufacturer DuPont has dumped tons of hazardous toxic waste in a nearby landfill, potentially poisoning the entire town.
Through his refusal to give up, even at great personal cost, Robert Bilott is able to force the corporation into a payout of more than $670 million. Dark Waters stars Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins.
1 A Few Good Men
A Few Good Men follows Daniel Kaffee, an inexperienced and immature lawyer who is tasked with defending two Marines charged with murdering a fellow Marine. The defendants insist that they were following orders to carry out a “code red,” a form of self-policing.
Daniel Kaffee’s search for the truth eventually leads to Colonel Jessup incriminating himself on the stand and defending his decision to order the “code red.” The story was inspired by a similar real-life case screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s sister worked on after law school. The film has become an often-quoted classic and features outstanding performances from Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, and Kevin Bacon.
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