Here at Courtroom View Network we spend all day watching video of real trials in real courtrooms across the country. For a quick break, here are our Top 10 favorite fictional (or re-enacted) courtroom scenes, some of them more realistic than others…
1. Ghostbusters II – 1989
Sadly cameras aren’t allowed at trials in New York state courts, so if Peter Venkman, et al., really were on trial we wouldn’t be able to watch, but that’s hardly the craziest thing that happens in this scene. Renowned character actor Harris Yulin steals the show as Judge Stephen “The Hammer” Wexler.
2. Inherit the Wind – 1999 (remake)
The original version of this Spencer Tracy classic often appears on similar lists, and rightly so, but the overlooked 1999 remake with Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott (who both passed away shortly afterwards) holds up on its own. The Scopes Monkey Trial obviously holds a special place in our hearts here at CVN, being one of the first trials broadcast live over the radio.
3. Anatomy of a Murder – 1959
After seeing George C. Scott in a courtroom scene at the very end of his career, here he is 40 years earlier at the beginning, across from opposing counsel Jimmy Stewart. The original best-selling novel was written under a pseudonym by a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, and starting a movie tradition of interesting cameos on the bench in courtroom scenes, the judge is played by actual attorney Joseph Welch, an active participant in the McCarthy Hearings.
4. The People vs. Larry Flynt – 1996
Yep, that’s the real Larry Flynt playing former Ohio state judge William J. Morrissey, who presided over Flynt’s criminal obscenity trial in the early 1980′s. And no, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you, that’s actually Democratic strategist James Carville, still with some hair, playing the prosecutor.
5. My Cousin Vinny – 1992
Believe it or not, this is one of the most realistic courtroom movies out there in terms of criminal procedure. Strip away the comic performance, and the actual attorney arguments aren’t (that) different from what you’d find at a real trial. On the bench is of course Fred Gwynne, known for playing Herman Munster, as Judge Chamberlain Haller.
6. Bananas – 1971
In this Woody Allen classic we find Fielding Melish, a nebbishy New Yorker who accidentally becomes president of a small fictional South American county, on trial for fraud. The scene features very memorable testimony from “J. Edgar Hoover” and in a preview of courts increasingly adopting alternative sentencing, all charges are dropped on the condition Melish doesn’t move into the judge’s neighborhood.
7. Amistad – 1997
Sir Anthony Hopkins portrays John Quincy Adams arguing before the United States Supreme Court in the famous 1841 “freedom suit” of United States v. The Amistad Africans, 40 U.S. (15 Pet.) 518 (1841). Adams, who won the case for his clients, was at the time of the oral arguments both a former President of the United States and current member of the House of Representatives.
8. Monty Python – “Court Charades” – 1970
For anyone who’s ever sat through the lengthy reading of a complex, multi-count verdict, this comedy sketch set in London’s Central Criminal Court shows how it could always be much, much worse.
9. A Few Good Men – 1992
You can’t make a list of awesome courtroom scenes without including this one, because if you don’t then everyone will ask, “What about the scene from ‘A Few Good Men’ with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson?” So here it is.
10. To Kill A Mockingbird – 1962
Gregory Peck gives a seminal performance as Atticus Finch, arguably the most famous fictional lawyer in American history. This dramatic scene from closing arguments, with Finch begging the jury to do their duty, has likely been the inspiration for countless future attorneys to go to law school.