Today’s post is totally for fun – and I hope you have as much fun with it as I had creating it. Below are the 25 best lawyer movies of all times (in my opinion), complete with clips from some of the best scenes. Did I leave anything out? If so, let me know in the comments.
I like to imagine this conversation took place after Vinny won his big case:
“Mona, we won! I’m gonna go back to NYC, take advantage of Biglaw Investor’s student loan refinancing bonuses and pay off my student loans. Debt free baby!”
1. My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Directed by Jonathan Lynn and written by Dale Launer, My Cousin Vinny follows two young New Yorkers, Bill Gambini and Stan Rothenstein, who are arrested and put on trial for murder while traveling in rural Alabama. The fate of these men rests in the hands of Vincent Gambini (Vinny) a cousin of Bill’s and a lawyer who’s just barely passed the bar exam.
Gambini, played by Joe Pesci, does his best to defend his cousin and his cousin’s friend but makes a number of missteps along the way. Gambini’s fiancee, Mona Lisa, who is played by Marisa Tomei, is instrumental in helping him with his defense.
Trivia: Marisa Tomei received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role.
2. 12 Angry Men (1957)
This classic courtroom drama was directed by Sidney Lumet and details the deliberations of 12 men, all of whom are part of the jury deciding the fate of a poor young man who’s been accused of murder. If found guilty, he will face the death penalty.
The film begins with all jurors except for Juror 8 agreeing that the young man is guilty. Juror 8, played by Henry Fonda, encourages his fellow jurors to discuss the defendant’s case before sentencing him to death. Throughout the discussions, many of the jurors go back and forth, changing their votes as their forced to confront certain aspects of the case that they initially dismissed.
Trivia: The film was shot in less than three weeks.
3. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Deemed one of the greatest courtroom dramas of all time and based on the novel with the same title, Anatomy of a Murder follows Michigan lawyer Paul Biegler (played by James Stewart), who has his work cut out for him after agreeing to defend Lt. Manion (played by Ben Gazzarra), who murdered a local bar owner after learning he’s been accused of rape.
Biegler, who is encouraged to take the case by his mentor, Parnell McCarthy, played by Arthur O’Connell, must go up against big-city prosecutor Claude Dancer (played by George C. Scott) in order to help his client.
Trivia: The novel upon which the film is based was written by John D. Voelker (under the pseudonym Robert Traver), a Michigan Supreme Court justice.
4. The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
Directed by Brad Furman, The Lincoln Lawyer stars Matthew McConaughey as Mick Haller, a defense attorney who runs his law practice out of a Lincoln Continental. Mick’s clientele is comprised mainly of petty criminals, but he’s surprisingly presented with an opportunity to defend a wealthy Beverly Hills playboy by the name of Louis Ross Roulet, played by Ryan Phillippe, who’s been accused of attempted murder.
At first, Mick assumes that the case will be an easy, open-and-shut affair. He soon learns, though, that there’s more to it than meets the eye and that it’s connected with a previous case of his.
Trivia: After starring in the film, McConaughey went on to become a spokesman for the Lincoln brand in 2014.
5. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
In this film, Tyrone Power plays Leonard Vole, who has been accused of murdering a wealthy woman. Vole is represented by the legendary Sir Wilfrid Robarts (played by Charles Laughton) and, in order to win his case, must have his alibi corroborated by his wife, Christine (played by Marlene Dietrich).
In a shocking turn of events, Christine decides to appear in court and testify against him. Several other twists and turns occur throughout the award-winning film as Sir Wilfrid does his best to defend his client and close the case.
Trivia: Witness for the Prosecution was the last film that Power completed before he died of a heart attack in November of 1958.
6. Legally Blonde (2001)
Based on the novel by Amanda Brown, Legally Blonde is a courtroom comedy that stars Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, a sorority girl from California. Elle follows her ex, Warner Huntington III (played by Matthew Davis), to Harvard law school after he breaks up with her on the night when she expects him to propose.
While her initial goal is to win back Warner, Elle soon falls in love with the legal profession as she works to overcome the challenges of being a first-year law student. She goes on to realize that she has the potential to become a great lawyer in her own right.
Trivia: Reese Witherspoon’s contract allowed her to keep all of the costumes she wore in the movie after filming ended.
7. Philadelphia (1993)
Directed by Jonathan Demme, Philadelphia tells the story of lawyer Andrew Beckett, who struggles to hide his homosexuality, as well as his HIV status, for fear that they will have a negative impact on his career at a prestigious Philadelphia law firm. Eventually, his secrets are exposed by a colleague.
After losing his job at the firm, Beckett decides he must sue on the grounds of discrimination. The only lawyer who will help him with his case is Joe Miller, played by Denzel Washington. The two men work together as they face down Belinda Conine, one of the firm’s top litigators, who is played by Mary Steenburgen.
Trivia: Initially, Demme planned to cast a comedic actor in the role of Joe Miller, but he changed his mind after Washington showed an interest in the part.
8. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Erin Brockovich tells the true story of a woman who fought hard against the giant energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric after learning about a cover-up that was exposing a local community to contaminated water and contributing to serious illnesses.
In the film, directed by Steven Soderbergh, Brockovich is played by Julia Roberts. Her attorney, Ed Masry, who eventually hires her at his firm, is played by Albert Finney. It is when she starts working at Masry’s firm that Brockovich discovers medical records related to the case and kicks off her investigation.
Trivia: Julia Roberts’ salary for her role as Erin Brockovich made her the first actress in Hollywood to earn more than $20 million.
9. The Verdict (1982)
The Verdict follows Frank Galvin, played by Paul Newman, a once-promising attorney who’s down on his luck after being fired from a Boston law firm for accusations of jury tampering. At the beginning of the film, directed by Sidney Lumet, as a favor to his friend Mickey (played by Jack Warden), Galvin agrees to take on a medical malpractice case.
Galvin initially plans to settle the case, but declines the offer from the hospital and decides to take it to trial instead, much to the surprise of the judge and the relatives of the victim.
Trivia: Two of the film’s cast members, Jack Warden and Edward Binns, starred in 12 Angry Men, which Lumet also directed.
10. Presumed Innocent (1990)
Directed by Alan J. Pakula, Presumed Innocent tells the story of Rusty Sabich, a chief deputy played by Harrison Ford, who is assigned by prosecuting attorney Raymond Horgan (played by Brian Dennehy) to investigate the rape and murder of his colleague, Carolyn Polhemus (played by Greta Scacchi).
At the time of the assignment, Horgan doesn’t know that Polhemus and Sabich are involved in an affair. Eventually, though, evidence implicates Sabich and causes Horgan’s enemies to demand his arrest. Sabich must call on defense attorney Sandy Stern (played by Raul Julia) to help him with his defense.
Trivia: Before Harrison Ford was cast as Rusty Sabich, both Robert Redford and Kevin Costner turned down the role.
11. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Set in the late 1940s post-World War II, this political drama follows nazis who are tried in an American court in Germany. In the film, directed by Stanley Kramer, these individuals must face a military tribunal and address charges of crimes against humanity.
Chief Justice Haywood, played by Spencer Tracy, must hear from the lead defendant Ernst Janning (played by Burt Lancaster) as well as his defense attorney (played by Maximillian Schell), the widow of a Nazi general, a US army captain (played by William Shatner), and a witness named Irene Wallner (played by Judy Garland).
Trivia: Maximillian Schell’s Academy Award for Best Actor made him the lowest-billed winner in history (he was billed fifth on the film’s cast list).
12. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Directed by Fred Zinnemann, A Man for All Seasons is set in 16th Century England and tells the story of Sir Thomas More, played by Paul Scofield.
More is known for standing up to King Henry VIII (played by Robert Shaw) and refusing to pressure the Pope into allowing the king to have his marriage annulled so he could remarry. More, who was a devout Catholic, stood by his convictions to not allow the king to divorce, despite intense pressure to do otherwise. The king and his loyalists responded by charging More with treason.
Trivia: Fred Zinneman describes A Man for All Seasons as the easiest film he’s ever made, thanks to the talent and cooperation of the cast and crew.
13. A Few Good Men (1992)
Directed by Rob Reiner and written by Aaron Sorkin, A Few Good Men tells the story of military lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise) as he defends two Marines who have been charged with killing another Marine at Guantanamo Bay.
Kaffee is convinced by another lawyer, played by Demi Moore, that he should not seek a plea bargain for these Marines. Instead, she convinces him that they were acting on the orders of a commanding officer, Col. Nathan Jessep, who is played by Jack Nicholson.
Trivia: The American Film Association named the film’s famous line “You can’t handle the truth!” as one of the top movie quotes of all time (it ranks #29 on the list).
14. The Rainmaker (1997)
The Rainmaker, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, follows a new attorney by the name of Rudy Baylor, who, struggling to find work, is forced to take a job under another lawyer of questionable morals, played by Mickey Rourke.
While working for this lawyer, Baylor meets Deck Shifflet, a paralegal played by Danny DeVito and Dot Black (played by Mary Kay Place), whose insurance provider will not provide coverage for her dying son. When he learns of this information, Baylor decides to team up with Shifflet to take on Black’s insurance company and its formidable attorney (played by Jon Voight).
Trivia: Danny DeVito wore fake teeth for his role in the film.
15. Kramer vs Kramer (1979)
Written and directed by Robert Benton, Kramer vs Kramer follows advertising executive Ted Kramer (played by Dustin Hoffman) after he finds out that his wife (played by Meryl Streep) is abandoning him and his young son.
Despite losing his advertising job, Ted goes on to develop a much stronger relationship with his son, helped along by a fellow single parent named Margaret, played by Jane Alexander. This causes problems later when his wife returns to try and win back custody. An arduous courtroom battle ensues as a result and has serious implications for all who are involved in the case.
Trivia: Meryl Streep wrote her own courtroom speech when she was unhappy with the original speech she was given.
16. The Paper Chase (1973)
In The Paper Chase, written and directed by James Bridges, a first-year Harvard law student named James Hart (played by Timothy Bottoms) who faces a series of academic challenges. His load becomes even heavier, though, when he has a run-in with an intimidating contracts professor, Charles W. Kingsfield (played by John Houseman).
Despite Kingsfield’s intensity in the classroom and the harsh demands he places upon his students, which cause many to abandon their pursuits and drop out altogether, James perseveres and even begins to date his professor’s daughter, Susan, who is played by Lindsay Wagner.
Trivia: The film received three Academy Award nominations and received one for Best Supporting Actor.
17. The Firm (1993)
In The Firm, directed by Sydney Pollack and based on the legal thriller by John Grisham, a young lawyer by the name of Mitch McDeere (played by Tom Cruise) joins the ranks of a small and prestigious firm. Although at first honored to be part of the firm, McDeere soon learns, with the help of a receptionist played by Holly Hunter, that there’s more than meets the eye and that the firm is involved in laundering money for the mob.
McDeere finds himself in a jam when the FBI contacts him to gather evidence about the actions of his colleagues. As a result, he must decide between doing what’s best in the eyes of the law and making the decision that will keep him alive.
Trivia: Holly Hunter’s performance lasts five minutes and 59 seconds, making it one of the shortest Oscar-nominated performances of all time.
18. Compulsion (1959)
This crime drama, directed by Richard Fleischer, tells the story of two sociopathic students, Artie Straus (played by Bradford Dillman) and Judd Steiner (played by Dean Stockwell). Artie and Judd find themselves in serious trouble after they commit a murder in an attempt to pull off a flawless crime. They leave behind a crucial piece of evidence and end up arrested for what they’ve done.
Their lawyer, played by Orson Welles, must then work hard to defend the two young men and save them from execution. The film is based on the well-known and often-cited Leopold and Loeb case of 1924.
Trivia: Despite his top-billed status, Welles does not appear in the film until an hour and five minutes in.
19. And Justice for All (1979)
Directed by Norman Jewison, follows Arthur Kirkland, a Baltimore defense attorney played by Al Pacino, who finds himself in jail after punching Judge Henry T. Fleming (played by John Forsythe) while arguing in defense of his client, Jeff McCullaugh (played by Thomas G. Waites). McCullaugh, after being stopped for a minor traffic defense, was mistaken for a murderer with the same name.
Kirkland eventually gets out of jail and later finds himself hired to defend Judge Fleming, who has been accused of the brutal assault and rape of a young woman. Fleming wants Kirkland as his lawyer because he believes it will work in his favor to have someone who openly hates him defending him.
Trivia: And Justice for All marks the theatrical film debut of acclaimed actor Jeffrey Tambor.
20. A Time to Kill (1996)
In this film, directed by Joel Schumacher, Samuel L. Jackson Carl Lee Hailey, a man who shoots the bigoted men who brutally raped his daughter when they are on their way to being tried for their crime. Hailey must then rely on the help of defense lawyer Jake Brigance, played by Matthew McConaughey, to help him get acquitted.
Brigance feels that the chances of an acquittal are slim, due in part to the fact that Hailey resides in a small and segregated town in the South, but he takes on the man’s case regardless when he shows unshakable faith in his abilities.
Trivia: Woody Harrelson had an interest in playing Jake Brigance, but John Grisham objected.
21. A Civil Action (1998)
In this film, written and directed by Steven Zaillian and based on a true story, John Travolta stars as personal injury attorney Jan Schlichtmann. Schlichtmann finds himself involved in a case that, while seemingly straightforward at first, ends up being incredibly difficult and appears to have the potential to be his undoing.
The case involves a major company responsible for contaminating a town’s water supply and causing several of its residents to develop leukemia. At the risk of bankrupting his firm and ending his career, Schlichtmann goes up against a powerhouse attorney played by Robert Duval in an attempt to make things right and hold the company accountable.
Trivia: This was the only non-Best Picture nominee for the year to receive a nomination for Best Cinematography.
22. The Conspirator (2010)
Directed by Robert Redford, The Conspirator tells the story of the aftermath of the assassination of President Lincoln. After the President is assassinated, seven men and one woman are arrested and charged with conspiring to murder him, the vice president, and the secretary of state.
The lone woman, Mary Surratt (played by Robin Wright), is represented by the reluctant lawyer Frederick Aiken (played by James McAvoy). Surratt owns the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and the other men planned their crimes. Convinced that Surratt may be innocent, Aiken works hard to defend her throughout the film and prove that she’s being used to try and capture her son, another suspect who is still at large.
Trivia: This was the American Film Association’s first film.
23. Amistad (1997)
Set in 1839, Amistad tells the story of a slave ship sailing from Cuba to the United States. In the film, directed by Steven Spielberg, Cinque (played by Djimon Hounsou) leads the slaves in an uprising, which results in them being held as prisoners in Connecticut.
Theodore Joadson, a freed slave played by Morgan Freeman, learns of the plight of these individuals and recruits the help of property lawyer Roger Baldwin (played by Matthew McCaughnehey) to defend and exonerate them. Their pursuit later wins the support of John Quincy Adams, who is played by Anthony Hopkins.
Trivia: This was the theatrical film debut of Chiwetel Ejiofor.
24. The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
Keanu Reeves stars in the film as Kevin Lomax, a Florida defense attorney who takes a position at a New York law firm headed by John Milton (played by Al Pacino).
As Kevin moves up the ranks within the firm, his mentally ill wife, Mary Ann (played by Charlize Theron), has a series of progressively more severe frightening and mystical experiences that alter her perception of reality. While dealing with the strain of his wife’s illness, Kevin also learns that his boss is involved in some nefarious activities and is not who he claims to be.
Trivia: Charlize Theron spent an hour per day working with a psychotherapist to learn how to play a schizophrenic in an accurate way.
25. RBG (2018)
RBG chronicles the career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which spans several decades, and how she developed a legal legacy while becoming a pop culture icon.
After frankly answering questions about abortion and discrimination at her Senate confirmation hearings, Ginsburg was confirmed by a vote of 96 to 3, which President Clinton notes was astounding given the partisan political environment of the 1990s.
Trivia: The nickname is inspired by the “Notorious” honorific from the name of rap artist Notorious B.I.G. Ginsburg shows a good-natured embrace of her nickname, noting that she and the rapper have much in common: they were both born in Brooklyn.
Joshua Holt A practicing private equity M&A lawyer and the creator of Biglaw Investor, Josh couldn’t find a place where lawyers were talking about money, so he created it himself. He spends 10 minutes a month on Personal Capital keeping track of his money and is always negotiating better student loan refinancing bonuses for readers of the site.