Ten of the movies take place (at least in part) in courtrooms.
The American Bar Association also published a list of the 12 best trial plays, noting that the transition from film to the stage is sometimes difficult. It also has an extensive honorable mention list.
The trial in M is not in a legal courtroom. Instead, the city's crime syndicate leaders and underground elements hold proceedings in a warehouse. Despite the lack of legal trappings, "it is one of the most effective trials ever filmed, questioning our notions of justice and revenge, mob rule and order, power and responsibility. Our social orientation is flip-flopped." Wearing long leather coats instead of robes, criminals become judges. The murderer is cast as the victim, while the forces of law and order must rely on luck. Peter Lorre strikingly raises the issue of his culpability due to alleged insanity, and the imposition of ultimate retributive justice is depicted as being unsatisfying for society and the survivors of the murdered victims.
Outside of the first few minutes of the film, Twelve Angry Men never enters a court room at all. It views the particular case and the system of justice through the prism of a jury's deliberations. The film explains practical explications of legal concepts basic to the American system of justice, and their effect on a particular trial and defendant. Those include the presumption of innocence, burden of proof and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Military trial films typically include conflicting questions of loyalty, command responsibility, ethical rules and rules of engagement, obedience to superior authority, politics and class conflict. War and trials are good foils for one another. The struggles are perennial and engaging. A partial list includes:
A court martial of Australian soldiers (nominated for an Academy Award), including Harry Breaker Morant by their British commanders in the aftermath of the Boer War in South Africa. Breaker Morant details the trials and tribulations of the defense counsel and the defendants, as they try to throw a wrench into the administrative gears of the court martial. Anticipating the Nuremberg trials and the "defense of superior orders", the soldiers' main defense is that they were doing their duty as they understood it, and following orders and policy from above. Nevertheless, this "kangaroo court" moves to its inevitable conclusion. As one review notes, it features one of the finest (and most succinct) closing arguments in film.
Marine Colonel Terry Childers, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is brought to court-martial on charges of disobeying the rules of engagement in a military incident at an American embassy in Yemen, with flashbacks to Vietnam.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a 2005 American courtroom drama horror film directed by Scott Derrickson. The film is loosely based on the story of Anneliese Michel and follows a self-proclaimed agnostic defense lawyer representing a parish priest who is accused by the state of negligent homicide after he performed an exorcism. The film, which largely takes place in a courtroom, depicts the events leading up to and including the exorcism through flashbacks.
In Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) has his sanity examined at a hearing. The film won 4 Academy Awards, with Gwenn winning for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film was also nominated for Best Picture.
Norman Jewison's ...And Justice for All, nominated for 2 Academy Awards, examines the flawed and human, venal and immoral side of justice, focusing on all-too-human judges. As Norman Webster wrote: "...And Justice For All is a sweeping - and somewhat simple-minded - indictment of the American justice system." The film can be seen from the perspective of Judicial Qualifications Commissions (also known as Judicial Tenure Commissions), which are judicial agencies charged with overseeing judicial performance and conduct. From that end of the telescope, the indictment of the courts and judicial system (and the examples) are not so outlandish as might be supposed. Starred Al Pacino, Jack Warden, and John Forsythe.
From the Hip (1987) is a Comedy Drama starring Judd Nelson, Elizabeth Perkins, John Hurt, and Ray Walston about a first year lawyer manipulating his way into trying a case much earlier in his career than is normal. Much of the humor took place in the first case, a simple assault case in which he garnered significant media attention and developed a high profile for himself and attention to his firm. The more dramatic second case was a murder case which tested the young attorney's ethics.
Amistad is a 1997 historical drama directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the true story of an uprising in 1839 by newly captured African slaves that took place aboard the ship La Amistad off the coast of Cuba, the subsequent voyage to the northeastern United States, and the legal battle that followed their capture by a U.S. revenue cutter. It was nominated for four Academy Awards.
Bernie (2011) is a black comedy film based on the real-life murder in 1996 of an 81-year-old millionaire Marjorie Nugent in Carthage, Texas by her companion Bernhardt "Bernie" Tiede. Bernie was extremely well-liked in the local community, and the film explores the trial process and the popular support he received, which caused great difficulties for the prosecution.
Vesper, Thomas J. (2012). Uncle Anthony's Unabridged Analogies, Quotes, Proverbs, Blessings & Toasts for Lawyers, Lecturers & Laypeople (3rd ed.). St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing, Thomson Reuters. ISBN9780314283214. (includes a section on movies about lawyers)