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25 Best Lawyer Movies Of All Time Ranked

The courtroom drama is a standard of western cinema — a genre with numerous tropes and classic films to its name. While they may not be as widely popular as larger genres like science fiction, fantasy, and horror, movies about lawyers and all manner of legal dramas have been a proud tradition of Hollywood since the days of black and white films. Like any other, the legal drama genre has changed over the years, but many of the lovable clichés and structural standards of lawyer movies have remained consistent.

Of course, just because there's a narrative framework in place doesn't mean it's easy to make a good courtroom drama. If anything, the formulaic nature of the genre makes lazy copycat movies even easier to make. A down-and-out protagonist, a few impassioned monologues about justice, and a decent twist at the end may yield a decent film with the right cast delivering it all, but there's a big difference between a decent lawyer movie and a great one.

Before we get started, let's briefly discuss some criteria. Courtroom dramas have been around for a long time, and some of the genre's most prominent entries are quite old. Legacy and influence will of course factor into a film's placement, as will their overall critical reception, their success and longevity in pop culture, and their accorded awards and accolades. Freshness, originality, and novel manipulation of the genre can also win films points. Lastly, there are a number of great movies that feature trials and lawyers as part of the story, but which have been excluded because their legal components take a backseat. In other words, just because there's a trial in the climax doesn't mean it's a "lawyer movie" — "Marriage Story" and "Kramer vs. Kramer," for instance, can easily be categorized as relationship dramas instead. With all that out of the way, here are 25 of the best legal films and courtroom dramas ever made, ranked.

25. The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Brad Furman's "The Lincoln Lawyer" is a great way to kick off this list, as it's a good baseline example of the legal drama genre done well. Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Connelly, "The Lincoln Lawyer" stars Matthew McConaughey as criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller — a divorced, mildly disgruntled lawyer who works from the backseat of a mobile Lincoln Town Car instead of a normal legal office.

The story of "The Lincoln Lawyer" involves the casual cruelty of privileged men and the moral dilemma implicit in defending someone who is clearly guilty — two themes that show up frequently in the genre. McConaughey's Haller is tasked with defending a rich young man charged with assault, only to unearth that this crime is merely the latest in a pattern of violent behavior. How does he solve the situation? The only way Hollywood lawyers know how to solve anything: by acting more like a detective than a lawyer and bending the law in order to uphold its spirit. There is a fantastical amount of action in "The Lincoln Lawyer," but that's the kind of embellishment that makes for a fun, pulpy courtroom drama. Furman's film sticks very close to the genre blueprint, but it pulls all the beats off quite well.

24. Primal Fear (1996)

One of the reasons courtroom dramas can be so entertaining is that they naturally feature lots of opportunity for big, bold characters. Whether it's the defense attorney's closing statement or a moment of secret, off-the-record confession, this is a genre where characters are pushed to their emotional limits and then talk about it verbosely. In good movies, that often results in some stellar performances, and because of how most lawyer movies are structured, you sometimes only need one great performance to carry the entire film.

In 1996's "Primal Fear," that performance is delivered by Edward Norton, who plays a former Catholic altar boy named Aaron accused of murdering the archbishop of his diocese. His defense attorney, played by Richard Gere, quickly discerns what he believes to be dissociative identity disorder when Aaron takes on a far more confident and brutal persona who calls himself Roy. Revealing any more of the story details of the film would likely ruin it for those who haven't seen it, but suffice it to say that while most of the actual plotting is relatively generic, Norton's performance is absolutely masterful. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and won in the same category at the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, and several other venues — all in one of the most outstanding feature film debuts in Hollywood history.

23. Legally Blonde (2001)

Not every great lawyer movie has to be serious, right?

"Legally Blonde" has attained what few legal dramas ever have: the creation of a popular franchise. At this point, the film may be just as well known for the Broadway musical adaptation as for the movie that spawned it. But because this is a list of films, and not musicals, let's talk about Reese Witherspoon in the year 2001. "Legally Blonde" follows Harvard law student Elle Woods, an unlikely and seemingly ditzy girl with a lot of money and basically no respect. Over the course of the movie, Elle ends up playing a pivotal role in solving a murder case, proving the simple lesson that you should never judge a book by its cover.

Of course, "Legally Blonde" isn't so fondly remembered because of its gripping courtroom scenes. The movie is beloved because it's kooky, and fun, and it doesn't take itself too seriously. Witherspoon delivers the caliber of spotlight-demanding performance that made her a superstar in the early 2000s, and the supporting cast of Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber, and Jennifer Coolidge are all entertaining as well. It might not have the highest critical scores in the genre (per Metacritic), but "Legally Blonde" was a box office phenomenon that has remained remarkably popular over the years for its sheer fun factor.

22. Amistad (1997)

Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Morgan Freeman, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, and Anthony Hopkins, "Amistad" tells the true story of the eponymous slave ship, which was taken over by its African captives on the way to the U.S. in 1839. The mutineers are tried as criminals in America, but they ultimately win both the case and their freedom, moving the needle on many Americans' view of slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War.

Of course, in any sensationalized telling of this kind of story, there are bound to be missteps, and "Amistad" is no exception. While obviously one of the great masters of the directorial craft, Spielberg is still a non-Black director telling a story where Black people are saved by the capability and goodwill of white people (per The Atlantic). White saviorism runs a bit rampant in the film, but there's still a lot of power in this true story, which is elevated to occasional greatness by the exceptional performances of Hounsou and Freeman. There's all the style you'd expect of a Spielberg production, and the screenplay from David Franzoni is solid as well. Despite its occasional shortcomings, "Amistad" is still a well-crafted movie of genuine impact.

21. On the Basis of Sex (2018)

Sometimes, all you need to make a good movie is a strong story and a likable protagonist, and it's hard to find a better example of either in modern legal history than the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "On the Basis of Sex" stars Felicity Jones as Ginsburg in the years preceding her time on the U.S. Supreme Court, primarily focusing on the famous Moritz v. Commissioner case that established discrimination on the basis of sex as being unconstitutional.

"On the Basis of Sex" was reviewed well upon release (via Rotten Tomatoes), but as some critics noted, it succeeds more because of its source material than because of the cinematic execution. Make no mistake, Jones is great in the lead role, and the film has a solid script, but when working with a historical figure like RBG, it's sometimes better to just let history do the talking. The legal drama genre is full of murder cases and overly dramatic stories of justice. "On the Basis of Sex" provides a breath of fresh air by focusing instead on the ways in which case law and legal precedent can significantly change society for the better. It's an inspiring story well told, and one that avoids some of the more soapy tropes of popular courtroom dramas.

20. Marshall (2017)

Speaking of legal dramas about the real-life cases of future Supreme Court justices, 2017's "Marshall" easily makes a spot for itself on this list. The film stars Chadwick Boseman as a young Thurgood Marshall working as an attorney for the NAACP in the early 1940s. "Marshall" also features a star-studded supporting cast that includes Sterling K. Brown, Josh Gad, and Kate Hudson.

As is the case with "On the Basis of Sex," "Marshall" gets a lots of narrative momentum off its source material. Marshall was a brilliant, fearless civil rights attorney who made huge strides for racial equity and justice in America, and the film focuses on one of his most important early cases, State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell. Marshall is sent by the NAACP to defend a Black chauffeur wrongfully accused of sexually assaulting his white employer. Despite the odds and the community all stacked against the defendant, Marshall manages to maneuver the case expertly, securing a verdict of not guilty.

Some critics have taken issue with Marshall receiving little character development of his own (per The Chicago Reader), but Boseman's performance is so compelling any shortcomings in the screenplay can be easily ignored. Brown is also powerfully dynamic as defendant Joseph Spell, showing an affinity for the legal drama genre that would continue in "The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story." By the end, "Marshall" delivers an inspiring story led by a commanding performance from its late, great main star.

19. The Client (1994)

Starring Susan Sarandon in an Oscar-nominated performance, "The Client" is a movie about the people who get caught up against their will in the occasionally violent throes of the American legal system. Based on the novel of the same name by John Grisham, Sarandon plays lawyer Regina Love, hired to represent an 11-year-old boy (Brad Renfro) after he witnesses the death of a mob affiliate. A different attorney, played by Tommy Lee Jones, tries to pressure the boy into revealing sensitive information confessed to him by the dead man, endangering him and his family in the process.

"The Client" is a story that struggles with the question of what doing the right thing really means. Sarandon, Jones, and the young Renfro are all exceptional, and the film earned significant critical praise upon its release, with Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calling it "A high-voltage charge of suspense, action and humor." Out of all the feature film adaptations of Grisham's books that have been made, "The Client" might just be the best.

18. Liar Liar (1997)

If you're looking for a bit more humor and satire in your legal fiction, 1997's "Liar Liar" may be exactly what you're looking for. The film stars Jim Carrey as rising star defense lawyer Fletcher Reede, whose ethically-questionable rise to the top of his field is interrupted when a birthday wish from his young son compels him to only tell the truth for a full day. That necessity for honesty ends up causing a number of problems for Fletcher, but in the end, he becomes a better person for it. It's a simple story, but Carrey is more than entertaining enough to make it a success. The 1990s were a golden era for the comedian, and he was coming fresh off of the "Ace Ventura" films and his turn as the Riddler in "Batman Forever" when "Liar Liar" premiered.

"Liar Liar" was a huge success in its day, both critically and at the box office, where it grossed over $300 million worldwide. Even critics like Roger Ebert, who previously had been a fierce critic of Carrey's films, praised "Liar Liar," with Ebert himself giving the movie three out of four stars. This is not a gripping courtroom drama or a particularly sophisticated takedown of the legal system, but it is a wholly entertaining film, even decades after it first premiered in theaters.

17. Presumed Innocent (1990)

Based on the novel by Scott Turrow, 1990's "Presumed Innocent" is a classic example of the courtroom drama genre executed with style, precision and high craft. The film stars Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, Paul Winfield, and Greta Scacchi, with a tight screenplay from Frank Pierson and director Alan J. Pakula. And while it may not have been nominated for any Academy Awards, "Presumed Innocent" did earn high critical praise across the board and grossed over $220 million worldwide on a budget of just $20 million.

The story of "Presumed Innocent" follows prosecutor Rusty Sabich (Ford), who is accused of murdering a work colleague with whom he once had a brief extramarital affair. The case takes several twists and turns over the course of the film's two-hour runtime, with plenty of hidden agendas and big twists to keep viewers on their toes until the final moments. It's not the most original story or the most groundbreaking film thematically, but "Presumed Innocent" succeeds by pulling off all the touchstones of the genre with exceptional execution. Every performance is grounded, nuanced, and intriguing, the script is tight and taut with tension, and the direction keeps the pace high and the mystery riveting until the credits finally roll. If you're a diehard fan of courtroom dramas, there's a good chance you've already seen "Presumed Innocent," but if you haven't, now is the time.

16. Just Mercy (2019)

As previously discussed on this list, some of the most compelling lawyer movies are the ones that pull directly from real people and the cases they actually argued in court. 2019's "Just Mercy" is just such a film, starring Michael B. Jordan as Equal Justice Initiative founder and defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, alongside Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, O'Shea Jackson Jr., and Rafe Spall. The story follows Stevenson's early work defending wrongfully convicted death row inmates, focusing on the case of Walter McMillian (Foxx) in particular.

Jordan and Foxx are both exceptional here, with Foxx earning numerous award nominations for his performance, including one from the Screen Actors Guild. Both stars also won at the 2020 NAACP Image Awards and led "Just Mercy" to an impressive 85% "certified fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The direction from Destin Daniel Cretton is equally strong, balancing the severity and earnestness of the film's true story with a dramatic flair and visual style that keeps things riveting from start to finish. "Just Mercy" shines a light on the many injustices still perpetuated in the legal system and the barriers that exist to undoing them, and it's absolutely one of the best courtroom dramas of the 21st century.

15. Philadelphia (1993)

Jonathan Demme's "Philadelphia" is one of the most lauded lawyer movies of the past few decades, earning Tom Hanks his first Oscar win for Best Actor and accruing numerous other nominations from the Writers Guild of America, the Golden Globes, and more. The film stars Hanks as Andrew Beckett, a hotshot lawyer who is quickly and mysteriously dismissed from his firm after showing up to work with visible signs of AIDS, having previously kept the fact that he is gay a secret from his coworkers. He seeks legal recompense and compensation for his dismissal on the grounds that it was openly discriminatory, with fellow lawyer Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) representing him.

When "Philadelphia" premiered in theaters in 1993, the AIDS crisis was still running rampant. Death tolls were holding strong, misinformation about the disease and homophobic propaganda were everywhere, and most of the stories that had attempted to explore the epidemic previously were centered on straight characters (via Smithsonian Magazine). The strong critical reception and impressive box office performance of "Philadelphia" turned it into a conversation starter, prompting discussion of discrimination and forcing viewers to look hard at how the LGBTQ+ community was being ravaged and ignored at the same time.

Today, the film holds up quite well, though its straight star and relatively limited view of LGBTQ+ identities stand out a bit. Hanks is great, Washington is great, and the whole story is told with an elegant blend of dramatic style and unshakeable emotional weight.

14. Erin Brockovich (2000)

"Erin Brockovich" has an impressive list of accolades and accomplishments to its name. The 2000 film was nominated for five Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director (Steven Soderbergh), Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Albert Finney), and Best Actress, which Julia Roberts won. She also took home the same award at the Golden Globes. The film holds an impressive 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calling it "outrageously, even shamelessly, entertaining."

The story of "Erin Brockovich" is a true one, about a woman with no formal legal training who nonetheless did instrumental work in holding the Pacific Gas and Electric Company legally accountable for fatally contaminating groundwater in the California community of Hinkley. On the surface, it's an inspiring tale about how seemingly ordinary people can be catalysts for change and accountability. As a film, it's at times both powerful and hilarious, with Roberts leading the charge in one of the best performances of her long career. She's spectacular from start to finish as Erin Brockovich, bringing both sharp wit and the great monologue moments the legal drama genre is known for. This is definitely a star vehicle for Roberts first and foremost, and she truly shines in it.

13. A Few Good Men (1992)

Aaron Sorkin rose to prominence in Hollywood with his screenplay for 1992's "A Few Good Men," which still stands as one of the best courtroom dramas from arguably the genre's greatest decade ever. Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Bacon, and more turn in great performances under Rob Reiner's direction, resulting in a film that earned four Academy Award nominations, including a nod for Best Picture. The film received similar honors at the Golden Globe Awards, and it holds a strong 83% "certified fresh" rating across all reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

"A Few Good Men" follows Cruise and Moore as two United States Navy JAG officers investigating the killing of a Marine recruit at the hands of his fellow boot camp trainees. The film touches on themes of toxic military culture and mob mentality, culminating in arguably the most famous courtroom showdown in the history of cinema. Cruise and Moore deliver powerful and entertaining performances as the case's lead investigators, and Nicholson packs one of his most memorable villainous performances into a relatively small amount of screen time, earning himself an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the process.

Of course, the real star of the show here is Sorkin's script, which features the same sharp, larger-than-life dialogue that he'd soon be famous for. There may be other legal dramas better than "A Few Good Men," but there may never be as good of a courtroom line as "You can't handle the truth!".

12. ...And Justice for All (1979)

Nothing defines a great courtroom drama like the closing monologue, and Al Pacino might have one of the greatest ever in 1975's "...And Justice for All." The iconic status of the film's final scene is represented well by its two Academy Award nominations: one for Best Original Screenplay, and one for Best Actor. Pacino plays Baltimore defense attorney Arthur Kirkland, who experiences repeated frustration at the injustice of the legal system. He consistently represents clients who have been forced to serve extended jail time due to legal technicalities, causing him to have a pretty pessimistic view of justice. To make things even more egregious, Kirkland is blackmailed into defending a judge — who he despises — on a sexual assault charge.

Throughout its two hours, "...And Justice for All" lambasts the hypocrisy of the American legal system. Pacino is great from the first moment forward, and the script is compelling and entertaining across the board. More than anything, though, "...And Justice for All" is a momentum-based film. It's a steady buildup of exasperation and rage for its lead protagonist, ultimately leading to an explosive monologue in the final courtroom scene. The film set a standard for several of the genre's biggest hallmarks, and there are still few films who've pulled them off better.

11. The Accused (1988)

Some legal dramas are made to be entertaining. They may deal with violent crimes, but they play into a style and form that are meant to be a little pulpy, transporting the viewer into a courtroom world that isn't quite real. If that's what you're looking for — a fun, light, trope-filled legal romp — definitely don't watch 1988's "The Accused." If you want a tightly-scripted, brilliantly-acted, and challengingly-powerful story of justice, however, you should strongly consider it.

Starring Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis, "The Accused" tells the story of a young woman (Foster) who is sexually assaulted and fights back legally against the men responsible. In the late '80s, it was a bold and somewhat controversial plot for a major motion picture, but with massive support from Paramount President of Production Dawn Steel and producer Sherry Lansing, "The Accused" became a major critical and commercial success (via THR). Foster won multiple awards for her lead performance, including at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.

Even 35 years later, "The Accused" is still not a film to be watched lightly. While public discourse surrounding sexual harassment and assault has certainly heightened in recent years with the rise of the #MeToo movement and other similar efforts at progress, the problem hasn't gone anywhere. "The Accused" is just as relevant now as it was in 1988, and the performances from Foster and McGillis are every bit as impactful.

10. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Clearly, the courtroom drama genre is a natural fit for Aaron Sorkin, as two of his films earn spots in the upper echelon of this list. On "The Trial of the Chicago 7," Sorkin served as both writer and director, aided in his efforts by a spectacular ensemble cast featuring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Frank Langella, and Eddie Redmayne, among others. The result is a brilliantly-scripted, riveting film that earned six Oscar nominations and five nods at the Golden Globes, including a win for Sorkin's screenplay.

The film tells the story of a group of disparate activists and unlikely co-defendants, arrested for their efforts protesting the Vietnam War at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. While most of the characters and core story beats are accurate to history, Sorkin does make a number of changes for the sake of dramatic elegance (via Current Affairs). Despite those flights of fancy, however, the Netflix film remains a fascinating look at how the legal system frequently stands in the way of justice, and how freedoms that many take for granted must be fought for when they're used to challenge the status quo. "The Trial of the Chicago 7" is masterfully made and brilliantly acted, even if it might require some supplementary reading to get the full true story.

9. Inherit the Wind (1960)

The 1990s may have been a golden era for courtroom dramas, but the films of that decade owe a lot to the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the genre first rose to true prominence in Hollywood. One of the most acclaimed lawyer movies of that era is 1960's "Inherit the Wind" — a dramatization of the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial that addressed the teaching of evolution and Darwinism in schools. "Inherit the Wind" fictionalizes the real-life court case and adds an extra thematic layer of anti-McCarthyism for good measure.

With Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly and a young Dick York in the lead roles, four Academy Award nominations, two nods at the Golden Globes, and a spectacular 93% rating across all recorded reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, "Inherit the Wind" stands as one of the most acclaimed legal dramas ever produced. And while several remakes have been produced in the decades since, including one starring Kirk Douglas and another with Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott, the original film has never been surpassed.

Even today, "Inherit the Wind" still stands as a titan of its genre, with Roger Ebert giving it a perfect four stars in a 2006 retrospective review. Part of that enduring appeal is due to the film's stylish direction and cinematography, which have only become more striking with age. Perhaps it is the eternally relevant story of societal resistance to change and the fear of new ideas that has given the film a lasting legacy that can still be enjoyed by contemporary fans of the genre.

8. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Didn't expect to see a Christmas movie on this list, did you?

And yet, "Miracle on 34th Street" is undeniably a lawyer movie. It tells a story where a court of law attempts to prove that Santa Claus isn't real, and is ultimately unable to do so. Obviously, that isn't the kind of story that most of the movies on this list try to tell, but that's part of why it's so good, even 75 years after its 1947 release. Yes, it's primarily a Christmas movie, and no, the courtroom scenes aren't terribly serious. But come on — using legal procedure to protect the possibility for children that Santa might be real? That's just gold.

"Miracle on 34th Street" isn't just a silly movie for kids, either. It holds a near-perfect 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and won three Academy Awards with an extra nomination for best Picture. Admittedly, the competition may not have been quite as stiff in the late '40s, but the fact that the film is still a holiday classic so many decades later speaks to the timeless nature of its encouraging, family-friendly story. For generations, Edmund Gwenn's Kris Kringle has defined the pop culture image of Santa Claus, and going back to "Miracle on 34th Street" today, it's easy to see why.

7. A Cry in the Dark (1988)

Of all the films discussed here that are based on true stories, 1988's "A Cry in the Dark" (known as "Evil Angels" in its native Australia and New Zealand) is one of the most fascinating and bizarre. The case in question is the trial, conviction, and eventual acquittal of Michael and Lindy Chamberlain — played by Sam Neill and Meryl Streep — for the alleged murder of their infant daughter Azaria during a camping trip near Uluru. Though the child was actually taken and killed by a wild dingo, media fervor around the couple's public image and religious practices turned the country against them, leading to a false conviction that was later overturned.

"A Cry in the Dark" is a fascinating look at how news coverage and public opinion can tilt the scales of justice, even against the victims of tragedy. Both stars do an excellent job, but as Roger Ebert said in his own review of the film, Streep is the main attraction. Watching her here is observing a master at work, and it's incredible just how much nuance and power she packs into a character whose entire persona revolves around being non-emotive. The film took home five wins from the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards, including Best Picture, along with four Golden Globe nominations and an Oscar nod for Streep's commanding performance.

6. Mangrove (2020)

Steve McQueen's "Mangrove" is not a theatrical film. It's the first in the "12 Years a Slave" director's "Small Axe" anthology series for BBC One, which aired in November and December of 2020. But make no mistake — this is far from your typical made-for-TV movie. It is an exquisite portrait of oppression, resistance, and community, starring the likes of Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, and Malachi Kirby.

Set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, "Mangrove" tells the true story of the eponymous London restaurant, a hub for the local Black Caribbean community. After a number of violent, targeted police raids push the Mangrove to the brink of financial collapse, community members rally in protest. Their confrontations with police result in several arrests and numerous riot charges. The rest of the film follows the Mangrove Nine through their trial, which is fraught with its own forms of discrimination.

The story and performances alone would be enough to rank "Mangrove" high on this list, but the actual courtroom components of the film are equally masterful in their execution. McQueen paces every aspect of the trial with tension, momentum, and emotional weight, gluing viewers to the screen through all the legal proceedings. "Mangrove" holds an absurd 99% "certified fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an equally impressive 90% rated average on Metacritic. The only problem surrounding the film is that more people haven't seen it.

5. 12 Angry Men (1957)

If you're a diehard fan of legal dramas, you probably expected to see "12 Angry Men" significantly higher on this list, possibly even at the number one spot. Given that the film earned three Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture), four Golden Globe nominations, and holds a perfect 100% critical approval on Rotten Tomatoes, those expectations are more than fair. Even in the modern era, "12 Angry Men" is a masterpiece — an example of what can be accomplished on a single set with a small cast of actors and the right script. Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, and Jack Warden are all great in the lead roles, and the film earned the silver medal spot on the American Film Institute's list of the ten best courtroom dramas ever, second only to another prestigious classic that we'll get to in just a moment.

So how come "12 Angry Men" doesn't place higher here? The main reason is that it's not really a courtroom drama, or a lawyer movie for that matter. There are no lawyers in it, and the courtroom isn't really seen on screen. The plot of the film still follows some of the genre's main beats, with the different jury members playing both detective and lawyer for the murder case at hand, but "12 Angry Men" is more a film about human nature and morality than it is a film about the legal system. There's an argument to be made that it's the best film on this list, but that doesn't make it the best lawyer movie. Ultimately, though, ranking films this great is a game of millimeters, so a top five placement here shouldn't be seen as a snub.

4. The Verdict (1982)

1982's "The Verdict" is arguably the best pure trial lawyer movie available. Directed by Sydney Lumet, who made a name for himself in this genre decades prior with "12 Angry Men" and starring Paul Newman in one of the best performances of his esteemed career, "The Verdict" earned five Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and Best Adapted Screenplay (from the novel of the same name by Barry Reed). Famed playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet penned the script, and the film holds a strong 89% aggregate rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Every beat and trope of the legal drama genre is played to perfection in "The Verdict." Newman stars as Frank Galvin, an alcoholic attorney whose reputation in his field has faded significantly over the years. In a last-ditch effort to fulfill his once promising commitment to justice, Frank takes on a medical malpractice case in which improper anesthesia resulted in the death of a young woman during childbirth. There are twists, revelations, and bold monologues about justice, all executed with stylish direction and a sharp script. It may not be the most famous film in the genre, but "The Verdict" is what most lawyer movies want to be. There's a good reason the American Film Institute ranked it as the fourth best courtroom drama ever.

3. Anatomy of a Murder

When we talk about legal dramas, there are a few old classics that always have to be discussed — a list that includes "12 Angry Men," "To Kill a Mockingbird," and 1959's "Anatomy of a Murder." Starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, and George C. Scott, "Anatomy of a Murder" set the early standard for how to craft a courtroom drama for the big screen. It may not impress quite as much now as it did in its own era, but that's largely because so many of the expectations it set have become ingrained into the genre itself.

As far as accolades go, "Anatomy of a Murder" is nearly unmatched: seven Academy Award nominations, four Golden Globe nominations, recognition by the AFI, preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry, and a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The murder case at the heart of the story is compelling and full of twists, the courtroom scenes are shot with tension and style, Wendell Mayes' screenplay still hits hard, and Stewart leads the way with one of his many spotlight-grabbing performances. And that's all without even mentioning Duke Ellington's incredible soundtrack, which won three Grammy Awards and is arguably the best part of the entire film. It certainly shows its age in places, but "Anatomy of a Murder" is arguably the most influential legal drama ever produced.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

What could beat out a classic like "Anatomy of a Murder?" The film that topped the AFI's own list of the greatest courtroom dramas ever — the 1962 big screen adaptation of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." Let's cut to the chase here: This is a ranking of lawyer movies, and Atticus Finch, played impeccably in the film version by Gregory Peck, is arguably the most famous lawyer in English-language fiction. Lee's story, adapted by Horton Foote, is a stark reminder that laws and pre-existing systems of justice often aren't enough to defend the innocent. It's a story of bigotry, innocence, and the human capacity for both cruelty and kindness.

Today, some parts of the story admittedly feel a bit dated. As some critics have noted, there's a moral complexity to Atticus' character in the novel that is deferred in favor of more overt white saviorism in the film. And to be fair, a good portion of the movie doesn't have anything to do with the trial of Tom Robinson. The modern merit of "To Kill a Mockingbird" relies a good deal on its legacy, but that legacy is still massive in the genre: eight Oscar nominations with 3 wins, five Golden Globe nominations with three wins, a number-one spot on the AFI's own courtroom drama top ten list, and an enduring performance from Peck in the lead role.

1. My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Given some of the other films present in this top ten, "My Cousin Vinny" might seem like an odd pick for the gold medal spot. It didn't get quite as much critical praise in its day as some of the older classics preceding it here, nor as many award nominations. Plus, it's largely a comedy, which is far from the norm for the courtroom drama genre. But there are several reasons to argue this quirky 1992 film as the best lawyer movie ever made.

First, let's talk about the cast: Marisa Tomei, Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Fred Gwynne, and Mitchell Whitfield. It's an eclectic ensemble that captures both the comedy and the tension of the film's absurdist story, led by Tomei's powerhouse Oscar-winning performance. She is as good here as any actor in any movie on this list, and she quickly establishes the film's delicate balance of situational comedy and fascination with the law. The film was also a huge critical and box office hit, with a tight and fiercely witty script from Dale Launer and expert direction from Jonathan Lynn.

What really puts "My Cousin Vinny" above the competition when it comes to being a movie about lawyers and legal procedure, however, is that it's widely viewed as one of the most accurate depictions of a courtroom trial ever put to film. Lynn graduated with a law degree from Cambridge University before starting his career in film, and "My Cousin Vinny" has received praise for its legal accuracy from a variety of prominent figures in the field, from U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The movie has frequently been used as a training tool in law classes and is still held up as an accessible example of basic court procedure. "My Cousin Vinny" does all that while still delivering one of the most entertaining lawyer movies to date, giving it a strong case as the best to ever grace the genre.