Which Movie Best Makes Legal History?

by urbanemovies | created - 13 Oct 2018 | updated - 7 months ago | Public

Which movie inspired by a real-life courtroom case or actual litigation that forever changed history* is the most compelling legal story?

* Answer pool options made history both as landmark, influential and precedent setting cases, as well as, more infamous and sensational cases. Regardless, all are well-known, influential and had a historical impact.

Cast your vote here or Discuss the topic here.

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1. On the Basis of Sex (2018)

PG-13 | 120 min | Biography, Drama

59 Metascore

The true story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her struggles for equal rights, and the early cases of a historic career that lead to her nomination and confirmation as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice.

Director: Mimi Leder | Stars: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston

Votes: 16,320 | Gross: $24.62M

A biographical legal drama inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg's work in advancing gender equality and women's rights by winning multiple legal victories arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court.

2. Amistad (1997)

R | 155 min | Drama, History

63 Metascore

In 1839, the revolt of Mende captives aboard a Spanish owned ship causes a major controversy in the United States when the ship is captured off the coast of Long Island. The courts must decide whether the Mende are slaves or legally free.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman

Votes: 67,305 | Gross: $44.18M

A historical drama inspired by the 1841 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Schooner Amistad, which upheld the liberation of kidnapped native Africans brought to the United States after the importation of slaves had been prohibited.

3. Erin Brockovich (2000)

R | 131 min | Biography, Drama

73 Metascore

An unemployed single mother becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply.

Director: Steven Soderbergh | Stars: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, David Brisbin, Dawn Didawick

Votes: 162,741 | Gross: $125.60M

A biographical drama inspired by a Hinkley, CA groundwater contamination class action lawsuit against P.G. & E settled in 1996. It led to a US$333 million settlement, a record at the time.

4. The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

R | 129 min | Biography, Drama

79 Metascore

The story of a controversial pornography publisher and how he became a defender of free speech.

Director: Milos Forman | Stars: Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love, Edward Norton, Brett Harrelson

Votes: 83,951 | Gross: $20.19M

A courtroom drama inspired by Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, in which the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruled the First Amendment protected Hustler Magazine's right to parody public figures.

5. Inherit the Wind (1960)

Passed | 128 min | Biography, Drama, History

75 Metascore

Based on a real-life case in 1925, two great lawyers argue the case for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution.

Director: Stanley Kramer | Stars: Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly, Dick York

Votes: 25,345

A courtroom drama inspired by the Scopes Monkey Trial over the teaching of human evolution in 1925.

6. Bridge of Spies (2015)

PG-13 | 142 min | Drama, History, Thriller

81 Metascore

During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan

Votes: 269,444 | Gross: $72.31M

A fictionalized historical drama of the U. S. espionage trial of Soviet KGB spy Rudolf Abel. A case that is appealed to the Supreme Court in Abel v. United States for the lack of a search warrant for the seizure of Abel's ciphers and photography equipment.

7. Philadelphia (1993)

PG-13 | 125 min | Drama

66 Metascore

When a man with HIV is fired by his law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small time lawyer as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit.

Director: Jonathan Demme | Stars: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Roberta Maxwell, Buzz Kilman

Votes: 210,852 | Gross: $77.32M

A fictionalized drama inspired by two different real-life attorneys with AIDS who had sued their respective employers for wrongful termination in 1987 and 1990.

8. A Few Good Men (1992)

R | 138 min | Drama, Thriller

62 Metascore

Military lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee defends Marines accused of murder. They contend they were acting under orders.

Director: Rob Reiner | Stars: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon

Votes: 219,610 | Gross: $141.34M

A fictionalized drama inspired by a Guantanamo Bay Naval Base hazing incident by Marines and their subsequent attempted murder trial in 1986.

9. Loving (2016)

PG-13 | 123 min | Biography, Drama, Romance

79 Metascore

The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose arrest for interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia began a legal battle that would end with the Supreme Court's historic 1967 decision.

Director: Jeff Nichols | Stars: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton, Dean Mumford

Votes: 29,064 | Gross: $7.70M

A biographical romantic drama inspired by Loving v. Virginia class action suit that invalidated all race-based prohibitions on marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.

10. Chicago (2002)

PG-13 | 113 min | Comedy, Crime, Musical

82 Metascore

Two death-row murderesses develop a fierce rivalry while competing for publicity, celebrity, and a sleazy lawyer's attention.

Director: Rob Marshall | Stars: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Taye Diggs

Votes: 204,921 | Gross: $170.69M

A fictionalized drama adapted from 1926 play which was inspired by two unrelated actual 1924 court cases involving two women, Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, who were both suspected and later acquitted for murder.

11. North Country (2005)

R | 126 min | Drama

68 Metascore

A fictionalized account of the first major successful sexual harassment case in the United States, Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, where a woman who endured a range of abuse while working as a miner filed and won the landmark 1984 lawsuit.

Director: Niki Caro | Stars: Charlize Theron, Jeremy Renner, Frances McDormand, Thomas Curtis

Votes: 37,834 | Gross: $18.32M

A fictionalized drama inspired by the filing, Lois E. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. in 1988, the seminal case was the nation's first class-action lawsuit over sexual harassment.

12. The Post (2017)

PG-13 | 116 min | Biography, Drama, History

83 Metascore

A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country's first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk

Votes: 114,697 | Gross: $81.90M

A historical political thriller inspired by United States v. Washington Post Co. and New York Times Co. v. United States and the 1971 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Post's and Times' right to publish the Pentagon Papers.

13. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Not Rated | 179 min | Drama, War

60 Metascore

In 1948, an American court in occupied Germany tries four Nazis judged for war crimes.

Director: Stanley Kramer | Stars: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich

Votes: 63,734

A fictionalized historical drama inspired by the Judges' Trial of 1947, one of the twelve U.S. military tribunals held in Nuremberg in 1947, the most famous war crimes trials in world history.

14. The Accused (1988)

R | 111 min | Crime, Drama

65 Metascore

After a young woman suffers a brutal gang rape in a bar one night, a prosecutor assists in bringing the perpetrators to justice, including the ones who encouraged and cheered on the attack.

Director: Jonathan Kaplan | Stars: Kelly McGillis, Jodie Foster, Bernie Coulson, Leo Rossi

Votes: 29,639 | Gross: $32.07M

A legal drama inspired by victim Cheryl Araujo treatment during trial. It sparked national outrage over how prosecutors treat victims in court and victim's privacy rights in 1983.

15. Recount (2008 TV Movie)

TV-MA | 116 min | Drama, History

A chronicle of the weeks after the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, and the subsequent recounts in Florida.

Director: Jay Roach | Stars: Kevin Spacey, Bob Balaban, Denis Leary, Ed Begley Jr.

Votes: 11,493

A fictionalized historical drama inspired by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore case and preceding events that settled a recount dispute in Florida's 2000 presidential election.

16. Woman in Gold (2015)

PG-13 | 109 min | Biography, Drama, History

51 Metascore

Maria Altmann (Dame Helen Mirren), an octogenarian Jewish refugee, takes on the Austrian government to recover artwork she believes rightfully belongs to her family.

Director: Simon Curtis | Stars: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes

Votes: 49,871 | Gross: $33.31M

A fictionalized drama inspired by Republic of Austria v. Altmann case, the 2004 U. S. Supreme Court ruling secured her the right to sue a foreign government. She sought recovery of five paintings stolen by the Nazis during World War 2 from the collection of the Austrian National Gallery.

17. Murder in the First (1995)

R | 122 min | Drama, Thriller

An eager and idealistic young attorney defends an Alcatraz prisoner accused of murdering a fellow inmate. The extenuating circumstances: his client had just spent over three years in solitary confinement.

Director: Marc Rocco | Stars: Christian Slater, Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman, Embeth Davidtz

Votes: 25,218 | Gross: $17.38M

A fictionalized drama inspired by Henri Young murder trial in 1941. His case highlighted inmate treatment and led to national prison reform and the closing of Alcatraz.

18. JFK (1991)

R | 189 min | Drama, History, Thriller

72 Metascore

New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison discovers there's more to the Kennedy assassination than the official story.

Director: Oliver Stone | Stars: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau

Votes: 133,433 | Gross: $70.41M

A fictionalized historical drama inspired by the 1969 Clay Shaw conspiracy trial over his role in the Kennedy assassination.

19. Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)

PG-13 | 130 min | Drama, History

A Mississippi district attorney and the widow of Medgar Evers struggle to finally bring a white racist to justice for the 1963 murder of the civil rights leader.

Director: Rob Reiner | Stars: Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Whoopi Goldberg, Virginia Madsen

Votes: 9,659 | Gross: $13.05M

A biographical courtroom drama of the 1994 trial of the white supremacist, Byron De La Beckwith accused of the 1963 assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers. The twice prosecuted De La Beckwith previous trials both ended with all male and all white hung juries. His lawyers opposed the trial on the grounds that it violated his rights to a speedy trial, due process and protection from double jeopardy. Later, calling for a United States Supreme Court judicial review of his upheld Mississippi Supreme Court conviction.

20. In the Name of the Father (1993)

R | 133 min | Biography, Drama

84 Metascore

A man's coerced confession to an IRA bombing he did not commit results in the imprisonment of his father as well. An English lawyer fights to free them.

Director: Jim Sheridan | Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Alison Crosbie, Philip King

Votes: 145,322 | Gross: $25.01M

A fictionalized biographical drama inspired by the falsely convicted Guildford Four of a 1974 pub bombing and their subsequent exoneration and release from prison.

21. Separate But Equal (1991)

PG | 190 min | Drama, History

A dramatization of the American court case that destroyed the legal validity of racial segregation.

Stars: Sidney Poitier, Burt Lancaster, Richard Kiley, Cleavon Little

Votes: 608

A historical drama depicting the landmark Supreme Court desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education and its companion case, Briggs v. Elliott. United States Supreme Court mandated individual states to desegregate public schools, based on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

22. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Not Rated | 114 min | Biography, Drama, History

In 1431, Jeanne d'Arc is placed on trial on charges of heresy. The ecclesiastical jurists attempt to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions.

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer | Stars: Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, André Berley, Maurice Schutz

Votes: 42,412 | Gross: $0.02M

A historical drama inspired by the events leading up to and including to her ecclesiastical trial for the crime of heresy, based on her claim of visions and signs from God.

23. Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight (2013)

Not Rated | 97 min | Biography, Drama

Ali's biggest match, his fight with the US government. A film about the politics and hubris surrounding the Vietnam War and the revenge exacted on America's greatest sportsman of the 20th century because he refused to fight in that war.

Director: Stephen Frears | Stars: Christopher Plummer, Frank Langella, Ed Begley Jr., Peter Gerety

Votes: 2,217

A fictionalized drama inspired by the Clay v. United States case, in which the 1971 U.S. Supreme Court overturned Muhammad Ali's criminal conviction for refusing to report for induction into the United States military during the Vietnam War.

24. A Man for All Seasons (1966)

G | 120 min | Biography, Drama, History

72 Metascore

The story of Sir Thomas More, who stood up to King Henry VIII when the King rejected the Roman Catholic Church to obtain a divorce and remarry.

Director: Fred Zinnemann | Stars: Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Robert Shaw, Leo McKern

Votes: 28,884 | Gross: $28.35M

A biographical drama about Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England who refused to sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul King Henry VIII of England's marriage to Catherine of Aragon and refused to take an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church of England. His subsequent trial and manufactured evidence led to More's conviction for treason and forever changed the course of English history.

25. Gideon's Trumpet (1980 TV Movie)

Not Rated | 104 min | Biography, Drama, History

The story of Clarence Earl Gideon and his fight for the right to have publicly funded legal counsel for the needy.

Director: Robert L. Collins | Stars: Henry Fonda, José Ferrer, John Houseman, Fay Wray

Votes: 926

A historical drama film depicting the events surrounding Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that criminal defendants have the right to an attorney even if they cannot afford one.

26. Compulsion (1959)

Approved | 103 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

Two wealthy law-school students go on trial for murder in this version of the Leopold-Loeb case.

Director: Richard Fleischer | Stars: Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell, Diane Varsi, Bradford Dillman

Votes: 5,413

A fictionalized historical drama of the Leopold and Loeb kidnapping and murder trial characterized at the time as "the crime of the century. The famous duo were saved from the electric chair by an impassioned summation railing against capital punishment by lawyer Clarence Darrow. This despite their perceived intellectual superiority, believed absolution of responsibility and the heinousness of the act they thought was the perfect crime.

27. The Crucible (1996)

PG-13 | 124 min | Drama, History

A Salem resident attempts to frame her ex-lover's wife for being a witch in the middle of the 1692 witchcraft trials.

Director: Nicholas Hytner | Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen

Votes: 33,705 | Gross: $7.34M

A historical drama inspired by the Salem witchcraft trials.

28. A Cry in the Dark (1988)

PG-13 | 120 min | Biography, Drama

A mother whose child was killed in a dingo attack in the Australian Outback fights to prove her innocence when she is accused of murder.

Director: Fred Schepisi | Stars: Meryl Streep, Sam Neill, Dale Reeves, David Hoflin

Votes: 8,611 | Gross: $6.91M

A fictionalized drama inspired by Azaria Chamberlain 1980 trial, her wrongfully imprisonment highlighted the issue of ‘trial by media’, after her nine-week-old baby was abducted and killed by a dingo.

29. The Conspirator (2010)

PG-13 | 122 min | Crime, Drama, History

55 Metascore

Mary Surratt is the lone female charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination trial of Abraham Lincoln. As the whole nation turns against her, she is forced to rely on her reluctant lawyer to uncover the truth and save her life.

Director: Robert Redford | Stars: Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline

Votes: 26,687 | Gross: $11.54M

A historical drama of the trial and execution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. The movie focuses on a likely innocent Mary Surratt caught up in the blood thirst of a nation clamoring for justice. Her execution helped to strengthen the presumption of innocence principle and further the elimination of the use of the death-penalty.

30. Marshall (2017)

PG-13 | 118 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

66 Metascore

The story of Thurgood Marshall, the crusading lawyer who would become the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, as he battles through one of his career-defining cases.

Director: Reginald Hudlin | Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Sterling K. Brown

Votes: 15,830 | Gross: $10.05M

A biographical courtroom drama depicting the defense of Joseph Spell by attorneys, Samuel Friedman and Thurgood Marshall. Spell, an African-American chauffeur stood accused of raping his employer, a wealthy white woman in The State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell.

31. Tennessee Johnson (1942)

Passed | 103 min | Biography, Drama

A chronicle of the life of Andrew Johnson from his first arrival in Tennessee to his time as President of the United States.

Director: William Dieterle | Stars: Van Heflin, Lionel Barrymore, Ruth Hussey, Marjorie Main

Votes: 467

A biographical historical drama based on the life of Andrew Johnson including his presidential impeachment trial. The trial and acquittal were among the most dramatic events during the Reconstruction Era and forever defined the scope of presidential powers in this battle with U.S. Congress.

32. Luther (2003)

PG-13 | 123 min | Biography, Drama, History

47 Metascore

During the early sixteenth century, idealistic German monk Martin Luther, disgusted by the materialism in the Catholic Church, begins the dialogue that will lead to the Protestant Reformation.

Director: Eric Till | Stars: Joseph Fiennes, Bruno Ganz, Peter Ustinov, Alfred Molina

Votes: 14,290 | Gross: $5.79M

A historical drama loosely based on the life of Martin Luther and a series of trials by the Holy Roman Empire to recant his teachings. His refusal opened the door of religious freedom, as well as, led to today's 540 million worshipers in churches inspired by his Reformation.

33. Roe v. Wade

Drama, History | Post-production

Dr. Bernard Nathanson and Dr. Mildred Jefferson square off in a national battle in this untold conspiracy that led to the most famous and controversial court case in history.

Directors: Cathy Allyn, Nick Loeb | Stars: Jon Voight, Nick Loeb, Robert Davi, Stacey Dash

An upcoming courtroom drama about the events surrounding the landmark 1973 United States Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. Alternate Current Movie: Roe vs. Wade (1989)

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