4 of the Most Iconic Legal Moments in Film History

The law has always been a fascination of filmmakers and the movie-loving public. Dramatic trials have high stakes and pitch-perfect moments that captivate audiences. Movies have been depicting important trials for nearly 100 years.

A Few Good Men

A Few Good Men is a legal drama centered on the military. The entire movie winds its way up to the climactic showdown between the characters of Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. When Cruise’s character finally reaches the climax, Jack Nicholson’s character pushes back. “You can’t handle the truth!” has been endlessly quoted in the past thirty years as an example of a character pushed in a corner and fighting back because his prior sins caught up in his devotion to his country.

…And Justice for All

…And Justice for All is a memorable movie due to its ensemble cast and negotiation of heavy topics. People need to know they can turn to a lawyer to help them in even the most stressful or hopeless of situations. It is mainly remembered for Al Pacino’s stirring performance. His indictment of the legal system (“The whole trial’s out of order!”) still resonates today…over forty years after the movie’s release. It is a testament to the importance of a single lawyer in shifting a case and the great lengths lawyers must go through to overcome incalculable odds.

In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood is famous as one of the founding books in the true crime genre, and the resulting movie is stirring and important as well. The moment when the two killers are sentenced to death by hanging is incredibly emotional. While it is clear that both men committed the heinous crime, it still feels a touch tragic to see more blood shed because of this senseless act. Robert Blake and Scott Wilson are stellar in their roles along with the prosecutor played by Will Greer.

To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird may be the most socially relevant legal drama of all time. Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, a morally respectable lawyer who commits to defending a man most attorneys in his region would not touch. Finch’s courtroom speech pushes the all-white jury to look deep in their hearts and find justice. Their refusal to do so is the central tragedy of the film.

All four of these films are important as legal moments, but they are also important human moments. A courtroom is a place where lives and futures are decided on a daily basis. Lawyers and the public come together to determine truth, access fairness, and see how and where the law should be applied. All of the films listed above are at least somewhat fictional and apply to larger-than-life characters over a span of several decades. Many of these legal moments have even inspired people to study law and enter the legal profession in some capacity. From defense attorneys to paralegals to court reporters, many of these legal professionals were heavily influenced in some way by these legal moments in the film industry.