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The American Film Institute defines “courtroom drama” as a genre of film in which a system of justice plays a critical role in the film’s narrative. Again, AFI needs to work on their genre definitions and make them more specific because their current definition would include the Pauly Shore movie Jury Duty.

AFI Top 10 Top 10

AFI's Top 10 Courtroom Dramas Films

To Kill A Mockingbird

1. To Kill a Mockingbird

An adaptation of one of the great American novels, this movie features one of Gregory Peck’s classic performances as widowed lawyer Atticus Finch and a young Robert Duvall as Boo Radley. AFI has previously honored this movie as #34 on its 100 Years…100 Movies list, #1 on its 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains, #17 on its 100 Years of Film Scores, #2 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers and #25 on its 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition list.

12 Angry Men

2. 12 Angry Men

This tense drama from director Sidney Lumet will have you going back and forth with the jurors on whether or not the defendant is guilty and deserves to die. Suspenseful and gripping and it takes place almost all in one room. AFI has previously honored this movie as #88 on its 100 Years…100 Thrills, #28 on its 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains, #42 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers and #87 on its 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition.

Kramer vs. Kramer

3. Kramer vs. Kramer

This Dustin Hoffman starring drama captured the attention of the nation in 1979 and won five Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman and Best Supporting Actress for Meryl Streep. Yet AFI has never previously recognized this movie. Go figure.

The Verdict

4. The Verdict

This David Mamet scripted drama stars Paul Newman as an alcoholic lawyer pushing a medical malpractice case for his own gain but discovers along the way that he is doing “the right thing”. AFI has previously honored this movie as #75 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers list.

A Few Good Men

5. A Few Good Men

“You can’t handle the truth!” The truth is that this is a very good movie featuring a powerhouse performance from Jack Nicholson. AFI has previously recognized this movie as #29 on its 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes list.

Witness For The Prosecution

6. Witness For the Prosecution

This tense movie directed by Billy Wilder is adapted from a play by Agatha Christie. AFI has never previously recognized this movie.

Anatomy Of A Murder

7. Anatomy of a Murder

This courtroom drama stars James Stewart as a small-town lawyer who takes on a murder case against a high powered big city prosecutor played by George C. Scott. Check it out, it’s good. AFI has never previously honored this movie.

In Cold Blood

8. In Cold Blood

The Moose has never seen this adaptation of the book by Truman Capote. AFI has never previously honored this movie.

A Cry In The Dark

9. A Cry in the Dark

The Moose has never seen this movie. AFI has never previously recognized this movie.

Judgement At Nuremberg

10. Judgment at Nuremberg

A big trial on one of the biggest stages, this movie tackles difficult issues as it recreates the trial of German war criminals after World War II. Featuring a powerful cast featuring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and a young Denny Crane (William Shatner). AFI has never previously honored this movie.

COMMENTS

As you can see by the list, most of the movies on here have never been recognized by the American Film Institute. That’s why this is one of the better lists from an underrated genre that has been replaced at the American cinema by endless reruns of Law & Order on television.

Courtroom dramas are a writer’s genre. At their best, they’re part gripping suspense thrillers and part morality plays. For once, The American Film Institute has done a respectable job with this list. Sure, there are movies that the Moose would trade out, but, in general, it’s a good list.

Some other great courtroom dramas that you might want to check out: Inherit the Wind, The Insider, The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Accused, Reversal of Fortune, The Talk of the Town and Indictment – The McMartin Trial.

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