‘Tis the season for switching off, chilling out, eating and drinking loads, and, of course, watching movies. But that doesn’t mean that you have to completely forget about your love of the law. There are plenty of great legal movies to choose from, some so well-renowned that you could almost call watching them “homework”, and many that are nearly guaranteed to be on over the holidays. Here’s a list of some of ULaw’s top choices if you want to get your legal fix in front of the telly this festive season.
To Kill a Mockingbird
It’s an obvious choice that’s going to top most people’s lists of excellent legal movies (and books), but we can’t not include it here. To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic tale that hardly needs introducing, partly thanks to it being on the GCSE reading list since the beginning of time, but here goes: Atticus Finch is a lawyer in the Deep South during the 1930s, and takes on the defence of a black man accused of raping a white girl. It’s particularly Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Finch that keeps this otherwise somewhat dated movie on most lawyers’ must-watch lists.
A Few Good Men
The 90s was certainly a time of gripping legal dramas in Hollywood, but not many are quite as memorable as A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise’s lazy navy lawyer has to step into a courtroom for the first time when he’s tasked with defending two Marines accused of murdering a colleague. There are cover-ups and twists galore; everything you’d expect from a courtroom drama starring Tom Cruise. If only for that one line from Jack Nicholson (you know the one), this is a must see for anyone interested in military law… Just don’t expect the real thing to be quite this theatrical.
12 Angry Men
After the prosecution and defence have rested, it’s time for the jury to determine whether the accused is innocent or guilty. Those twelve citizens are our angry men, locked in a debate over the facts and their interpretation of reasonable doubt. Based on the play of the same name, the whole film takes place in a single room and delves into how individuals’ life experiences and prejudices can seriously sway the scales of justice after one man (Henry Fonda’s Juror No. 8) refuses to kowtow to an impatient majority.
As resonant today as when it was released in 1993, Philadelphia is a poignant tale of homophobia and discrimination in the workplace. After HIV positive lawyer, Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is fired from his law firm he takes up a personal injury case against his former employer. He engages homophobic personal injury lawyer Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) to represent him, making for emotionally-charged cinematic gold. This multi-award winning film perfectly captures how much the law can make a huge difference to the masses and the life of an individual.
My Cousin Vinny
After all that serious drama you’ll be in need of a good laugh, and My Cousin Vinny will definitely do its best to get you chuckling. Joe Pesci’s rookie litigator, Vinny Gambini, makes a mockery of the US legal system when he arrives in Alabama to defend his cousin Billy and Billy’s friend Stan in a case of mistaken identity. It’s not your conventional courtroom drama, but the dialogue and mishaps are very entertaining.
Miracle on 34th Street
Alright, it’s not really much of a law film, but hey, it’s Christmas. And it does include a trial, so hooray for technicalities; the lawyer’s ace in the hole. Whether you prefer the 1947 original starring Natalie Wood or the 1994 remake with Richard Attenborough is a case of personal preference, but they’re both great feel good movies (involving some courtroom drama, of course) that are suitable for the whole family.
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