Law-Related Movies – Updated

I have updated the Law-Related Movies page on my Legal Research and Writing website by adding 16 titles for an overall new total of 114 law-related movies listed on my site.

In addition, where available, I have added a link to the Netflix listing for 21 of the 114 titles that are available on Netflix for ease of viewing for those readers with Netflix subscriptions (note: I have no connection to Netflix other than being a subscriber).

Although I was aware of all of but one of the newly added 16 movies (and have seen most of them), I am embarrassed to have previously over-looked them. In addition, realize that I have tried to keep my list of law-related movies fairly conservative, excluding most purely political or crime dramas and some of these recent additions may be on the periphery of being law-related.

In updating my site, I came across the Fordham Law School Forum on Law, Culture & Society and see that they have an annual film festival that includes viewings and discussions on movies with law-related themes.

Of help in expanding my list was the ABA’s 25 Greatest Legal Movies (1 August 2008) article that I recently stumbled across. The only movies I was missing from their list were the following 6 of 16 titles I added to my site this past weekend, some of which seem obvious in hindsight:

  • Amistad (1997): A historical drama, directed by Stephen Spielberg, that tells the true story of African slaves who mutiny against their capture and transport aboard La Amistad, a slave ship. Focusing largely on the courtroom scenes in which the slaves are charged with mutiny, the story ends in a decision from the US Supreme Court ruling that the slaves were wrongfully kidnapped and in their rights to mutiny and ordered them freed (realize this summary does not do justice to the movie or the story).
  • Chicago (2002): This Rob Marshall-directed musical is on the periphery of being considered a law-related movie, but the character of Billy Flynn as a sleazy lawyer, played admirably by Richard Gere, puts it on the edge of falling within my definition (plus I liked it – not too many law-related movies can claim good dancing and music).
  • Compulsion (1959): This is one I was surprised I had never seen. Orson Welles stars as a defence lawyer in what IMDB describes as: “Two wealthy law-school students go on trial for murder in this version of the Leopold-Loeb case.”
  • In the Name of the Father (1993): Based (loosely, according to Roger Ebert) on the true story of the Guildford Four wrongfully accused of an IRA bombing of a British pub in 1974, this drama has Emma Thompson playing the hard-working defence lawyer and focuses on the trials and tribulations of Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his father (Pete Postlethwaite) wrongfully convicted for the crimes.
  • A Man for All Seasons (1966): Based on the play by Robert Bolt, this classic movie stars Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More, and tells the story of the Chancellor of England’s opposition to King Henry VIII’s attempts to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn.
  • Young Mr. Lincoln (1939): John Ford directs Henry Fonda as the young Abraham Lincoln in his early career as a lawyer, telling the tale of his defence of two men charged with murder.

In addition, the ABA also had a list of 25 Honorable Mentions, most of which I already had included in my list, except for the following 5 of 16 titles that I have since added:

  • Counsellor at Law (1933): Since I have not seen this movie, starring John Barrymore as the lawyer, I rely on the IMDB summary, in these terms, to describe the movie: “Successful attorney has his Jewish heritage and poverty-stricken background brought home to him when he learns his wife has been unfaithful.”
  • The Fortune Cookie (1966): It has been years since I saw this movie, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Walter Matthau as an ambulance-chasing lawyer who convinces his brother-in-law, played by Jack Lemmon, a cameraman injured by a football player during a game, to pretend to be injured.
  • Ghosts of Mississippi (1996): Rob Reiner directed this courtroom drama, based on a true story of the trial of a white supremacist (played by James Wood) accused of murdering civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1963. Alec Baldwin plays the prosecutor who brings charges years after the murder with the support of Evers’s spouse, played by Whoopi Goldberg.
  • Music Box (1989): I remember seeing this movie as a young lawyer being bothered by the improbability or inappropriateness of a daughter representing her father against charges of war crimes. That said, Jessica Lange plays the daughter/lawyer, with Armin Mueller-Stahl playing her father, a Hungarian immigrant, accused with war crimes based on recently released documents.
  • North Country (2005): For some reason, I was never a huge fan of Charlize Theron, but she does a good job in this story as a mistreated female employee in a male-dominated workforce in a mine in Minnesota, based on a true story, that resulted in the first class action sexual harassment lawsuit in the United States (the Wikipedia entry here has a nice overview of the real-life lawsuit).

In addition to the foregoing titles, additional law-related movies were mentioned in the “Comments” fields on the posts above. From those comments, I have also added the remaining 5 of 16 movies to my site this past weekend:

  • Body Heat (1981): Although not really law-related per se, this drama, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, tells the story of a not very reputable small town lawyer, played by William Hurt, and his affair with a married woman, played by Kathleen Turner, and their plot to murder her husband.
  • Fracture (2007): I saw this movie when it came out and thought it was a bit silly. It is a courtroom drama of a young prosecutor, played by Ryan Gosling, prosecuting his last murder case before jumping ship to become a plaintiff’s lawyer. The prosecution is of a wealthy businessman, played by Anthony Hopkins. It seems like an open-and-shut case, but is not. To avoid any spoiler alerts, I won’t say anything more.
  • Gideon’s Trumpet (1980): This is one I don’t recall seeing. It appears to have been a TV movie starring Henry Fonda playing Clarence Gideon based on the true story of a Florida convict who seeks the right to have counsel appointed. His claim for such a right ended up in a Supreme Court ruling in his favour in Gideon v Wainwright, 372 US 335 (1963).
  • The Winslow Boy (1999): For some reason, I never saw this David Mamet-directed movie, based on the play by Terence Rattigan that loosely tells the story of George Archer-Shee, a British naval cadet accused of stealing a postal order in 1910. In the movie – as in real life – the family defends the honour of the young lad who is eventually exonerated. However, in what was a first of its kind, the family then goes on to petition the U.K. Parliament for compensation for the wrongful prosecution.
  • The Young Philadelphians (1959): We of course have seen Paul Newman as a “veteran” lawyer in The Verdict. Here we see him some 20 years younger in a different role as he plays a young, rising lawyer in Philadelphia. This is another “older” movie I have not seen. From the plot summary from the Wikipedia entry, it seems like quite a soap opera, with lots of marital infidelities and social/class status issues, with Newman rising through the ranks in his law firm, ultimately defending a friend on a murder charge.

With these latest additions, I hope to have now included most existing “law-related movies” (narrowly defined), but I welcome suggestions for any more additions. I will also watch for newly released movies that fit the criteria for my site.


  1. Good list, but the George Clooney fans out there (and OLAP!) would have you found in contempt for omitting the film Michael Clayton.

  2. Yikes! Seems so obvious in hindsight. I am surprised that movie does not show up in other law-related movie lists. I appreciate the tip and will add it. Another colleague mentioned Hart’s War (Bruce Willis) for a military-justice-themed movie.