Must-Watch Courtroom Dramas You Should Watch At Least Once

The legal drama is a long-standing staple in the world of entertainment. This popular type of dramatic film involves one trial and draws attention to the tension and emotion within the court of law. These days, Hollywood devotes all its resources to superhero movies, sci-fi fantasies, not to mention disaster flicks. Does this mean that the courtroom drama is dead? No. It’s just that production companies focus on other types of content right now. Anyhow, if you want to watch something different, here are a few choices to consider. Watch these films and give a verdict. 


The events in the film Philadelphia are much like the events in the lives of Geoffrey Bowers and Clarence Cain. Bowers was a lawyer who sued the firm Baker McKenzie for wrongful termination in one of the first AIDS discrimination cases. He died before turning 33, right after having testified in his employment discrimination case. Don’t let the movie fool you; the case took 7 years to be resolved. A producer met with Bower’s relatives and discussed writing a script based on the case. Nonetheless, the deal fell through, as they couldn’t agree on the terms. In the movie, Tom Hanks plays the role of the AIDS victim and Denzel Washington is his lawyer. 

In Philadelphia, Tom Hanks gives one of his best performances ever, supplying humanity and vibrancy to the victim. Viewers empathize with Andrew Becket because he’s a genuine human being, a victim of disease in the real world. Denzel Washington plays the role of a homophobic lawyer (Joe Miller) who decides to help out his fellow colleague. He doesn’t manage to get over his homophobia, but he respects Andrew’s fight and respects his wish of dying with dignity. While Denzel Washington didn’t receive as much appreciation as his costar, it was still a killer performance.  

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird is based on Harper Lee’s award-winning novel with the same name. If you haven’t read the book, the book tells the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer who defends Tom Robinson, a black man who is wrongly accused of rape. Tom Robinson faces criminal charges, not to mention hate, as those who live in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama are racist. The novel was adapted by Robert Mulligan. The film stars Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and debuts Robert Duvall, Alice Ghostley, and William Windom. To Kill a Mockingbird is an example of a message movie done right. 

Many courtroom scenes are celebrated in the movie. Atticus’ closing arguments make the best scene, but, unfortunately, the jury finds Tom Robinson guilty. In the real world, the verdict would most likely be the same. The screenwriter takes creative liberty. Besides the fact that all the witnesses are sitting in the front row, the girls’ father testifies first, immediately followed by the complainant. As a rule, witnesses aren’t allowed to hear each other’s testimonies. Let’s not forget about the fact that the examinations are almost perfect. In the real world, the trial wouldn’t be as interesting. If you have time, enjoy this masterpiece. 

A Civil Action 

A Civil Action is based on a real case about environmental pollution that occurred in Woburn, Massachusetts in the 1980s. Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta) is a personal injury lawyer who discovers an environmental issue when investigating an apparently non-profiting case. The local tanneries dumped industrial solvents into the local water supply, resulting in all sorts of health issues, including leukemia. Not only is the leather production company forced to clean the water, but it’s also sued for compensation. The clients are too poor, so they can’t afford the legal fees. Schlichtmann’s firm covers the costs, hoping for a rich settlement

The legal term for compensation is damages. It’s easier for groups of consumers to seek compensation from firms. It’s a right originating in English law that we can still rely upon today. As pointed out by the experts at, not many know that legal systems in the U.S. and U.K. share the same law roots. 

As the case lingers on for years, Jan Schlichtmann becomes a better man, although he loses everything. The evolution of the character is vividly portrayed by John Travolta. The film is ultimately about the gap between what lawyers and the court system are able/willing to do for the victims of great tragedy. The lack of a happy ending is a pleasant surprise. Victims don’t go home with a big payoff, but at least justice is served. If you don’t like the movie, go ahead and read the book. It will give you more insight into the characters and depth into the plot. 

The Devil’s Advocate 

The Devil’s Advocate is anything but subtle. The movie puts forward the idea that Satan walks among us and is smarter than the rest. John Milton is the main antagonist, superbly interpreted by Al Pacino. The character’s name is a direct homage to John Milton – you know, the one who wrote Paradise Lost, the epic poem in blank verse that deals with the original sin and the temptation and fall of man from heaven. John Milton is Kevin Lomax’s boss and mentor, a morally ambiguous lawyer. Eventually, Lomax, portrayed by Keanu Reeves, becomes obsessed with his job, starts ignoring his wife, and gets dangerously close to a work colleague. 

In the Devil’s Advocate, you get the chance to see an exquisite portrayal of evil. Pacino’s character is satanic but not Satan. Many argue that it’s his finest performance since Scarface. The film addresses the old question: Is a lawyer doing the right thing by defending a criminal? Lawyers are supposed to defend people regardless of guilt. It’s a legal obligation. However, is it morally correct? No. Something that is obviously immoral from a personal perspective can be justified from a legal standpoint. There are many lessons to be learned from the movie. Whether Satan is real or not, he doesn’t force us to do bad things. Also, anyone can be bad and corrupt. 

All in all, if you’re looking for an accurate representation of the law, you won’t find it in courtroom dramas. These movies are good entertainment, as long as you’re comfortable ignoring the inaccuracies. No matter if you’re still watching network television or using streaming services, these films are the best to watch.