Top five legal dramas

I think I partly decided to study law due to the influence of all the legal films I watched growing up, which typically feature thrilling courtroom scenes, witty banter between lawyers, and the dramatic uncovering of evidence that blows the case wide open. With those guide posts in mind, here's a list of what I consider to be the five best legal dramas.

5. Erin Brockovich

Based on a true story, Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 classic Erin Brockovich follows the film's namesake (played by Julia Roberts), a divorced mother of three with a knockout wardrobe who has run into a bout of bad luck. When Erin lands a low-paying job at a law firm, she winds up embarking on a lengthy legal battle to help the residents of a small town in Southern California who have been impacted by a toxic chemical leak. Amidst a sea of legal dramas which centre male protagonists, Roberts is masterful as the film’s heroine, as she effectively conveys all the unrelenting ambition, reluctant fragility, and growing desperation that catapulted Erin Brockovich to enduring critical and commercial success.

4. The Rainmaker 

The key to the success of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker lies in its simplicity. The film capitalises on the broad appeal of the underdog, as it follows struggling new attorney Rudy Baylor who resorts to working for a crooked firm where he ultimately fights to take down a corrupt corporation that is cheating the sick and the elderly. Simply put, The Rainmaker ticks so many of the boxes of what I think a good legal drama should be: the good guy vs The Man, justice vs corruption, and so on. It’s also got a young Matt Damon, which doesn’t hurt either.

3. The Social Network

Okay, so it’s not exactly a traditional legal drama, but David Fincher’s The Social Network is underpinned by complex ideas about the intersection of morality and the law and provides a nuanced and exciting perspective on lawsuits, the function of contracts, and intellectual property. The film paints a picture of Mark Zuckerberg and the rise of Facebook, as he changed the way we perceive and use the internet. It’s deeply troubling in many ways, but it’s also just a thrilling film, bolstered by an impeccable Aaron Sorkin screenplay that marries perfectly with Fincher’s direction. Ultimately, the film provides an insight into the rise of Facebook, the man at its helm, and the consequences (both legal and ethical) of the ruthless pursuit of success.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird

I was young when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, and it quickly became one of my most beloved books. The 1962 film, adapted from Harper Lee’s original text and directed by Robert Mulligan, had a similar impact on me. It beautifully chronicles the story of Scout and Jem Finch as they navigate the world under the guidance of their father, a lawyer named Atticus Finch, in the racially divided town of Maycomb, Alabama. This Hollywood masterpiece explores racial hatred as an affliction that riddles an entire town, and seeing Atticus through his children’s eyes, we learn the importance of integrity, compassion, fairness, humility, and justice. It sounds simple, and in many ways, it is; but the themes that the film explores are deeply complex and enduring. This story inspired me when I was twelve and continues to inspire me today, and Atticus Finch remains one of my favourite characters in film history.

1. A Few Good Men

Between the 90s power music, montages of the gang eating takeaway and pulling all-nighters, a young Tom Cruise and Kevin Bacon riffing both inside the courtroom and on the basketball court, and Jack Nicholson infamous declaring "You can’t handle the truth!", A Few Good Men ticks all the right boxes. It’s got the young hotshot lawyer (Tom Cruise), the uptight superior who doesn’t believe the hotshot has what it takes (Demi Moore), and a myriad of supporting characters, some fun and some genuinely menacing (Jack Nicholson). Tied together by Rob Reiner’s seasoned directing and another flawless Aaron Sorkin screenplay, the film has twists, turns, memorable quotes, and perhaps the most gripping courtroom scene of any film to date.

Tagged in What messes with your head, movies