Our culture is endlessly fascinated with courtroom drama. Our legal justice system is the subject of countless great television shows and films. Full of intensity and intrigue, these scenarios wrestle with some our deepest questions: Can the truth ever really be known? Does our system unfailingly uphold justice? Whether or not the legal proceedings are strictly accurate (and there are typically some inaccuracies), these films certainly make for great entertainment. We’ve compiled 5 of our favorite movie courtroom scenes for your viewing pleasure. Perhaps these will inspire your next movie night.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Let’s start with a classic. Atticus Finch is one of the most inspiring legal figures in literature and film. He argues for racial equality in the eyes of the law, he calmly picks apart the false testimony of Bob and Mayella Ewell and he endures abuse without ever once losing his composure, his politeness or his kindness. Even though he knows he will lose, he gives the innocent Tom Robinson the best defense he possibly can. Gregory Peck gives a faultless performance in this film.
A Few Good Men (1992)
Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) defends two marines accused of killing a fellow private. In terms of legal accuracy, Kaffee’s cross-examination with the terrifying colonel (Jack Nicholson) is a bit ridiculous. However, the intensity of the conflict and Nicholson’s famous line—“You can’t handle the truth!”—make for quite a memorable scene.
Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) believes he was fired from his legal firm because of his AIDS diagnosis and sues for discrimination. He is represented by Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), the only lawyer willing to take his case. Both Hanks and Washington give excellent performances; Hanks, in fact, won his first Academy Award for Best Actor. This film deals with the essence of discrimination and the pursuit of justice, and it is well worth the watch.
A Time to Kill (1996)
Based on the John Grisham legal thriller, in this film, Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson) avenges the monstrous rape of his ten year-old daughter, Tonya, by killing the two white supremacists responsible. He is represented by Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), but the outlook is grim given the highly segregated climate. Brigance gives a brutal, emotional and captivating closing statement. Don’t miss this one.
Twelve Angry Men (1957)
Technically, this film doesn’t take place in the courtroom, but the entire film is one long legal scene. It covers twelve jurors sequestered in one room trying to reach a unanimous decision after the closing arguments of a murder trial. One juror (Henry Fonda) casts considerable doubt on aspects of the case. Intense conflict arises. The concept of this film is brilliant and offers a behind-closed-doors look at the legal system.