12 Angry Men isn't just a bad Monday for the local psychiatrist, it's also arguably the gold standard for courtroom drama films. Sidney Lumet's 1957 classic paved the way for later films that thrive on nothing more than an elite script (packed with whiplash-inducing dialogue) and elite performances. These 15 movies took a page from the book of Lumet, admirably recreating the 12 Angry Men vibes for modern audiences.
1 – The Verdict (1982)
It's going to be hard to find any film more similar to 12 Angry Men than The Verdict. For one, Sidney Lumet directs both films. Secondly, writer David Mamet's style is clearly inspired by plays such as 12 Angry Men (see: Glengarry Glen Ross).
Thirdly, both movies make the minutiae of court cases into high suspense, proving that you don't need superheroes or CGI to capture an audience.
2 – Reversal of Fortune (1990)
Before Americans were enthralled by the biographical series The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, they were sucked into the drama of Claus von Bulow. The wealthy businessman was convicted twice of attempting to murder his wife, but Claus hires high-profile criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz to appeal the convictions. Reversal of Fortune documents the events that follow.
3 – Dark Waters (2019)
Rather than 12 Angry Men, Dark Waters features one angry man who is steamed to discover that DuPont has been disposing of forever chemicals (which aren't biodegradable and are highly toxic) in a reckless manner, leading to the poisoning of a West Virginia town.
One of those educational films that gets your heart pumping, Dark Waters will have you ordering a reverse osmosis water filter by the time the credits roll.
4 – And Justice for All (1979)
You've seen Al Pacino as a criminal mastermind, football coach, bank robber, and virtually every other role known to man. So why not see Al Pacino as a Cochrane-level defense attorney tasked with defending a judge accused of a heinous crime?
5 – Inherit The Wind (1999)
We chose the 1999 remake of Inherit the Wind because it stars two actors who know their way around a verbose script. George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon play dueling attorneys, one of whom is defending a teacher who taught the theory of evolution in a time and place where it was (apparently) criminal to do so.
6 – Philadelphia (1993)
Tom Hanks has starred in so many massive hits that movies like Philadelphia slip under some viewers' radar. Hanks is a successful lawyer with a big secret and is terminated without grace or mercy when the partners realize he has contracted HIV.
This leads to a heavyweight court battle with Denzel Washington playing the only lawyer with the moral fortitude and legal grit to take on the case.
7 – The Firm (1993)
You could pick any number of John Grisham-inspired films for this list and call it a day. The Firm, though, features a stellar cast (including Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, and Ed Harris) and the inimitable Sydney Pollack behind the camera. There's something fishy about this law firm…
8 – The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
While nobody will mistake the rims of a 1964 Lincoln Continental on a cracked California freeway as the intro to 12 Angry Men, director Brad Furman delivered a riveting legal thriller when The Lincoln Lawyer hit theaters in 2011. You can't go wrong basing your movie off a Michael Connelly novel, and casting Matthew McConaughey as mobile attorney Mickey Haller was the right decision.
9 – Witness for The Prosecution (1957)
There are certain types of films that hold up well over the course of half a century. Movies like Witness for the Prosecution, which rely more on timeless source material and verbal jousting than fancy camerawork, tend to fare the test of time.
10 – A Few Good Men (1992)
Do you want the truth about A Few Good Men? Are you sure you can handle it?
The truth is, the Aaron Sorkin-penned military murder mystery is campy at times but ultimately holds up as a quality courtroom tete-a-tete anchored by a hurricane of a performance by Jack Nicholson.
Turns out, you can handle the truth.
11 – A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Paul Scofield won the 1967 Oscar for portraying Sir Thomas More, the judge who stood between King Henry VIII and the divorce he so coveted. This film also won the Oscar for Best Picture, making it a must-see for anyone who enjoys a good bit of cinematic legal jousting.
12 – Erin Brockovich (2000)
Julia Roberts' turn as Erin Brockovich won her the 2001 Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, an honor matched in size only by her spray-supported hair in the movie. An unlikely paralegal who becomes an even more unlikely muckraker, Brockovich becomes the thorn in the side of a power company engaged in questionable waste disposal practices.
Did you know Steven Soderbergh directed this one? I didn't, which is why it's leapfrogged to the top of the to-watch list.
13 – Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Also known as Meryl Streep vs. Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs. Kramer is arguably the most realistic film about the pains of divorce. When two parents reach an impasse, a young boy is thrown in the middle of increasingly contentious legal proceedings. While it is not necessarily a thriller, Kramer vs. Kramer is undoubtedly a legal heartbreaker.
14 – In The Name of The Father (1993)
A film nominated for seven Oscars, In the Name of the Father tells the true story of a father and son (and others) imprisoned for an IRA bombing in Troubles-era Northern Ireland. Daniel Day-Lewis gives an impassioned performance as a young lad whose carelessness gets him into serious trouble and who must rely on an English lawyer to get him (and his father) out of the clink.
15 – Amistad (1997)
One of Steven Spielberg's lesser-seen epics, Amistad is a 155-minute tour de force that documents a revolt upon a Spanish ship with enslaved persons in 1839. When the ship is intercepted in American waters, the question becomes whether the men aboard should be deemed free or returned. A historical legal film with a maritime twist, Amistad received four Oscar nominations and features several real-life giants of history.