By on May 16th, 2012

In a special series of films which looks to examine the justice and legal system, Belfast’s High Court will host screenings of four classic courtroom dramas as part of the 13th annual Belfast Film Festival later this month. But what makes a good Courtroom Drama? Filmplicity indentifies 5 key ingredients and the films which showcase them.

1. Ingredient: Quotable one-liners. Film: A Few Good Men (1992) – In possession of what is perhaps one of the most iconic courtroom scenes, A Few Good Men is memorable essentially for Jack Nicholson’s shouty one-liner: “You can’t handle the truth!”

A Few Good Men (1992)

2. Ingredient: A tense and sweaty jury. Film: 12 Angry Men (1957) 12 Angry Men is unique in that (with the exception of one scene) it was shot exclusively in one room and relies entirely on the tension between the jurors as they struggle to agree on a verdict. Excruciating to watch but utterly compelling.

12 Angry Men (1957)

3. Ingredient: Moral dilemma. Film: To Kill a Mocking Bird (1962) – The archetypal courtroom drama, To Kill a Mocking Bird immortalised the character of Atticus Finch (embodied superbly by Gregory Peck) as a bastion of moral integrity, putting his reputation on the line to defend an innocent black man from prejudice in small town depression-era America.

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

4. Ingredient: Contentious issue. Film: Philadelphia (1993) – Every good courtroom drama has, at its heart, at least one contentious issue, it’s what makes it dramatic. Philadelphia sees lawyer Denzel Washington struggle to overcome his own prejudices in order to represent Tom Hanks’ Andrew Beckett when he is fired because he has AIDS. Read our review here.

Philadelphia (1993)

5. Ingredient: Human interest. Film: The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) – An unconventional courtroom drama which pitches the familiarity of reason against the uncompromising nature of faith. Based on actual events (a popular attribute of the genre) this is a horror movie for people who prefer courtroom dramas.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

What do you think? What are the key ingredients that make a courtroom drama really cook? Share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. 1 le0pard13
    May 16th, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Wonderful list of ingredients and film examples, Ronan. Which, of course, reminds me that I HAVE to screen ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’, and soon. Well done.

  2. 2 ruth
    May 17th, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ is a courtroom drama??

    I agree with the three I have seen and though I have yet to see ’12 Angry Men,’ no doubt it deserves to be included. Oh and naturally any mention of Peck or Atticus Finch gets a thumbs up from moi 😀

  3. 3 iluvcinema
    May 18th, 2012 at 5:19 am

    Great mix of ingredients.

    Another film that I respect on some level is The Verdict, although the pace is rather trying at times.

  4. 4 Ronan Wright
    May 27th, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Haven’t seen The Verdict but I do enjoy my courtroom dramas. I think out of this list The Exorcism of Emily Rose was the most original idea, even if the plot apparently bears little relation to the story it’s based on.

  5. 5 Ronan Wright
    May 27th, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    Technically Emily Rose is a courtroom drama as it is based (loosely) on a real court case. The exorcism part (and the other horror movie bits) are shown in flashback. 12 Angry Men is a classic, up there with the best of the best. I haven’t seen the movie of Mockingbird but we read the book at school and I was captivated by Atticus’ moral integrity.

  6. 6 Ronan Wright
    May 27th, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks Michael,you can’t beat a good courtroom drama. Emily Rose is well worth your time and an intriguing variant to the more traditional offerings on the list.

  7. 7 Paragraph Film Reviews
    June 23rd, 2012 at 12:57 am

    Whilst it’s not a film, I’d like to throw The Good Wife into the ring here. Week after week Tony and Ridley Scott produce some of the most tense and engaging stories based on recent real-life, high-profile, court cases. 3 series’ on and it’s still going strong.

    Well worth a watch if you like courtrooms and lots of OBJECTIONS!

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