What are the Top 10 Best Attorney Movies Ever?

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Top 10 Lawyer Movies of All Time

Top 10 Lawyer Movies of All Time

Mar 27, 2024

There’s no shortage of films depicting lawyers, trials, and the pursuit of justice on behalf of victims harmed by the system. Whether based on true events or fictional narratives, movies centered on the law can provide a glimpse into what it’s like to be a lawyer, what the legal process entails, and why fighting for justice is so important.

Top 10 Lawyer Movies of All Time

We’ve already covered some of the Top 10 Movies Examining Sexual Assault and the Top 10 Documentaries Featuring Stories of Sexual Violence. In this blog, we’ll review the Top 10 Movies Featuring Lawyer Characters (and include 10 additional films for honorable mention as well).

*The following descriptions may contain storyline spoilers for those who have not seen the films.

Top 10 Movies About Lawyers

I. My Cousin Vinny

“You graduated from law school six years ago. What have you been doing since?”

“Studying … for the Bar.”

Starring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei (who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role), My Cousin Vinny is a hilarious “fish out of water” look into an inexperienced lawyer’s fight for justice on behalf of his cousin accused of murder in rural Alabama. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Pesci’s character – Vincent “Vinny” LaGuardia Gambini – drives to the deep South to try the capital case despite being newly admitted to the Bar and having no courtroom experience. The two defendants – Bill Gambini and Stan Rothenstein, Vinny’s cousin – can’t afford another attorney. Accordingly, their fate lies in the untested hands of Pesci’s character.

*My Cousin Vinny also happens to be attorney Sam Dordulian’s favorite courtroom movie.

II. Michael Clayton

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, the 2007 film Michael Clayton centers on a “fixer” for a prominent New York City law firm played by George Clooney. Clooney’s character, Michael Clayton, has to provide the “fix” for a potential scandal that could impact the firm. Tom Wilkinson plays the role of the firm’s lead litigator, Arthur Edens, who has a manic episode in the middle of a deposition for a major corporate lawsuit. The plot is gripping from moment to end, with a corporate coverup scandal being exposed that could irreparably harm the mega firm.

III. A Few Good Men
Starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, and Kevin Bacon, A Few Good Men is a critically-acclaimed legal drama directed by Rob Reiner and based on the play by Aaron Sorkin. Tom Cruise plays a U.S. Navy JAG Corps lawyer who leads the legal team defending two U.S. Marines charged with killing Private William Santiago. Nicholson was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for playing the role of Base Commander Colonel Nathan Jessep – a dark and rugged character who is instantly recognizable by the famous quote from a classic witness cross-examination scene, “You can’t handle the truth!”

IV. To Kill a Mockingbird
Based on the 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird is considered one of the greatest legal stories of all time. Gregory Peck plays attorney Atticus Finch who defends Tom Robinson, a Black man accused of raping a white girl. Set in Maycomb, Alabama, in the early 1930s, the trial heightens racial tensions within the town which, in turn, impacts the Finch family. “All people deserve fair treatment, in turning the other cheek, and in defending what you believe,” Atticus Finch says in his pursuit of justice on behalf of Robinson.

V. Erin Brockovich

In her Academy Award-winning role, Julie Roberts plays the film’s eponymous main character – an unemployed single mother of three children who finds her calling investigating a massive corporate coverup that is eventually taken to court by a California law firm. Brockovich discovers that Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is knowingly contaminating the groundwater of residents in Hinckley, California. Her fight is based on a true story, and the landmark $333 million settlement is one of the largest class action damages awards ever recorded. Real-life Los Angeles attorney Tom Girardi – who has been embroiled in scandal recently – is depicted in the role of high-powered attorney Kurt Potter (played by Peter Coyote).

VI. Philadelphia

Featuring one lawyer – Denzel Washington – fighting on behalf of another lawyer – Tom Hanks – in a wrongful termination case, Philadelphia tells a David and Goliath-like tale of a personal injury attorney who begrudgingly decides to take on a powerful law firm. Hanks’ character, Andrew Beckett, is named a partner at the largest corporate law firm in Philadelphia. But he’s concealing his AIDS diagnosis – which was heavily-stigmatized in the early 1990s – to his coworkers. After being fired for supposedly misplacing files and potentially impacting a major case by missing the statute of limitations, Beckett has a hard time finding an attorney to take his discrimination case, deciding to initially represent himself. Eventually, however, Washington’s character – attorney Joe Miller – agrees to take the case after seeing parallels between the homophobia and ableism experienced by Hanks’ character and the racial discrimination he’s experienced. Philadelphia also features a killer eponymous tune by Bruce Springsteen which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

VII. Dark Waters

Based on a true story, Dark Waters chronicles the case and legal fight against DuPont after it’s discovered the company is contaminating a town’s water supply with unregulated chemicals. Starring Mark Ruffalo as attorney Robert Billot, Dark Waters follows an extensive legal battle over several years which takes some dramatic twists and turns. Combined settlements of over $670 million have been issued to victims in Ohio and West Virginia as a result of this real-life case, with potentially more damages to be awarded in the future. The film also stars Tim Robbins and Anne Hathaway.

VIII. A Time to Kill

Based on the John Grisham novel, A Time to Kill follows the trial involving a father after he murders the two men who abducted, beat, and raped his 10-year-old daughter. Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey – who plays the role of defense attorney Jake Brigance – the film examines the question of whether a vengeance killing is ever justified, specifically after a heinous act of sexual violence against a child. The film also features Sandra Bullock in a supporting role as a promising law student – Ellen Roark. But perhaps the best character in A Time to Kill is sleazy divorce attorney Harry Rex, played masterfully by Oliver Platt. While the film focuses on dark and dramatic subject matter, Platt’s character manages to lighten the mood occasionally with some much-needed levity.

IX. JFK

This may seem like an odd choice given that it focuses on the Kennedy assassination and whether or not a government coverup – commonly cited in a variety of conspiracy theories – ever occurred. But the film follows the story of actual New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison – played by Kevin Costner – and his dogged pursuit of justice after the John F. Kennedy assassination due to what he believes are inaccuracies in the infamous Warren Report. Directed by Oliver Stone, JFK features a star-studded cast which includes Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Lemmon, John Candy, Kevin Bacon, Donald Sutherland, Walter Matthau, Joe Pesci, Sissy Spacek, and more.

X. The Firm

Based on yet another John Grisham novel, The Firm is a legal thriller which chronicles what happens to a Harvard Law School graduate – played by Tom Cruise – who accepts a lucrative offer from a Memphis boutique firm that may be dealing in a number of illegal activities. After FBI agents inform Cruise’s character – attorney Mitch McDeere – that the firm’s top client is actually a Chicago crime family, a tax fraud and money laundering scheme involving his fellow attorneys forces him to consider cooperating as a government witness. The Firm features a number of A-List actors, including Gene Hackman, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Ed Harris.

Top 10 Very Good/Honorable Mention Lawyer Movies

We would be remiss if not to mention these other outstanding films featuring stories of lawyers in compelling legal dramas.

I. The Burial

Released last year, The Burial stars Jamie Foxx in the role based on real-life Florida personal injury lawyer Willie E. Gary. Co-starring Tommy Lee Jones as a funeral home director in a pickle when he’s forced into a shady business relationship to help keep him financially afloat, the film chronicles the actual courtroom battle which resulted in an historic $500 million damages award.

II. In the Name of the Father

Based on the true story of the Guildford Four, In the Name of the Father tells the tale of four people falsely convicted of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings in England which killed four off-duty British soldiers and a civilian. Starring Daniel Day Lewis as Gerry Conlon, the main character is taken into custody in Belfast after being mistaken as an Irish Republican Army (IRA) sniper. The film examines the defense team’s strategy in the landmark case.

III. Just Mercy

The film follows the actual story of Bryan Stevenson, a now-prominent attorney who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need due to financial hardships or lack of resources. Starring Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson, the film also features Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson.

IV. Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Starring Denzel Washington as an unorthodox but brilliant civil rights attorney who goes from making $500 per week at a small Los Angeles firm to suddenly representing a client arrested for murder, Roman J. Esq. is an entertaining look into the life of an attorney. The film also stars Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo.

V. On the Basis of Sex

Based on the true story of the late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, On the Basis of Sex features Felicity Jones in the starring role alongside Armie Hammer and Justin Theroux.

VI. Runaway Jury

An interesting look into the jury selection process (and based on yet another John Grisham novel), the film follows a case involving a mass shooting and whether or not a firearms manufacturer can be held liable. The two main attorney characters go at one another hard in a knock-down-drag out courtroom fight. Wendell Rohr (played by Dustin Hoffman) is the plaintiffs’ counsel going against underhanded jury consultant Rankin Fitch (played by Gene Hackman).

VII. 12 Angry Men

If not for the focus being almost entirely on the jury rather than attorneys, this film would have definitely made it into the Top 10. Regardless, 12 Angry Men is a fascinating look into how a jury tasked with deciding a murder case can be influenced by one lone dissenter. Starring Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb, this film is a must-watch.

VIII. Worth

Released in 2021, Worth is based on attorney Kenneth Feinberg’s memoir chronicling his role in the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Starring Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci, the film received positive reviews from critics and viewers.

IX. The Trial of the Chicago 7

This historical legal drama was adapted by Aaron Sorkin and looks at the high-profile 1960s trial against Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner, John Froines, and Bobby Seale – the seven individuals arrested at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago for crossing state lines to incite a riot. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne, the film received positive critical reviews for the most part.

X. The Verdict

Written by David Mamet and starring Paul Newman, this film tells the story of a once prominent attorney who falls on hard times and battles alcoholism. But the main character – “ambulance chaser” Frank Galvin – takes on a hard case that could resurrect his career and help get justice for a medical malpractice case leading to wrongful death.

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

Dordulian Law Group (DLawGroup) is a full-service Los Angeles-area sexual assault and personal injury firm representing victims in need of justice. Contact us today at 866-GO-SEE-SAM for your free and confidential attorney consultation.


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