Courting Justice: My Five Favorite Trial Lawyer Movies of all Time

October 3, 2013

By Robert N. Hunn


I’ve always found it interesting that the tort reform movement has successfully portrayed trial lawyers as money-hungry bottom feeders when movies actually show that, at times, we can bring justice to a situation. Over the years, courtroom sequences in movies have made for some of the best entertainment in Hollywood. Here, a list of my five all time favorite trial lawyer movies.

5. The Caine Mutiny (1954)

If you haven’t seen “The Caine Mutiny”, it’s a must see. A ship officer is tried for mutiny. The question is whether his actions were heroic or criminal. It contains one the best direct examinations ever. The performance of José Ferrer as Lt. Barney Greenwald is as intense as it gets.

4. 12 Angry Men (1957)

A look at how a jury deliberates a verdict in a murder trial that carries the death penalty. The cast is phenomenal. Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, E. J. Marshall and Henry Fonda.

3. A Few Good Men (1992)

While the line, “You can’t handle the truth!” will be heard forever, it is the speech that Jack Nicholson gives after that line that makes this one of his best performances. (I actually think his performance as the Joker in the first Batman movie was also excellent.) I think this movie captures well how a trial lawyer approaches proving his case before a jury.

2. My Cousin Vinny (1992)

“Two Youts.” Need I say more?

1. The Verdict (1983)

A down and out plaintiff’s trial lawyer who has been beaten up by the system. A doctor who changes an important medical record. A defense lawyer who hires a mole to spy on the trial lawyer. A client who is in a coma and needs to win her case to pay for her medical care.

This is a classic David and Goliath movie. Paul Newman gives one of the best closing arguments I’ve ever heard (and yes, I’ve thought about using it during my trials). The next time you watch it, notice how the closing argument is one long take with one camera. Incredible.