A legal drama, or a courtroom drama, is a genre of film and television that generally focuses on narratives regarding legal practice and the justice system. The American Film Institute (AFI) defines "courtroom drama" as a genre of film in which a system of justice plays a critical role in the film's narrative. Legal dramas have also followed the lives of the fictional attorneys, defendants, plaintiffs, or other persons related to the practice of law present in television show or film. Legal drama is distinct from police crime drama or detective fiction, which typically focus on police officers or detectives investigating and solving crimes. The focal point of legal dramas, more often, are events occurring within a courtroom, but may include any phases of legal procedure, such as jury deliberations or work done at law firms. Some legal dramas fictionalize real cases that have been litigated, such as the play-turned-movie, Inherit the Wind, which fictionalized the Scopes Monkey Trial. As a genre, the term "legal drama" is typically applied to television shows and films, whereas legal thrillers typically refer to novels and plays.
Legal dramas typical portray moral dilemmas that occur with the practice of the law or participating in the justice system, many of which mirrors dilemmas in real life. The American Bar Association Journal has interpreted the public's enjoyment of legal dramas occur because "stories about the legal system are laced with human vulnerability." Indeed, even though "there are no car chases [and]... [g]uns are never drawn", legal dramas retain strong followings because of their presentation of moral intrigue in a setting that actually reflects what occurs in the world.
Legal dramas may present stories of the miscarriages of justice, such as persons wrongly convicted of a crime they did not commit. At times, stories may involve the moral implications of police misconduct, such as placing or tampering with evidence, such as in the 1993 film, In the Name of the Father. More often, legal dramas focus on the attorneys' point of view when faced with these difficulties. For instance, in The Practice, a television legal drama series revolving around a firm of criminal defense attorneys, a common theme presented is the difficulty of defending clients known or believed to be guilty.
Finally, many legal dramas present themes that reflect politicized issues. In the 1960 film, Inherit the Wind, the politicized issue portrayed was the legality of a Tennessee statute that made it unlawful to teach the theory of evolution in a public school. As laws and public policy opinions change, so do the themes presented in legal dramas. The 1992 film, A Few Good Men, explored the psychology of superior orders, e.g. excusing criminal actions because they were only committed from 'following orders'. The film Philadelphia (1993) addressed homophobia, and the discrimination and public fear of HIV/AIDs carriers. In 1996, The People vs. Larry Flynt portrays the early years of Hustler Magazine and issues of obscenity and freedom of speech. You Don't Know Jack (2010) is a fictional biographic film about Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the legal actions he faced as a result of providing euthanasia services to terminal patients. Racial injustice remains a common theme from as far back as To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962 to the 2017 film Marshall.
Legal dramas in American film has an extensive history stemming from as early as the 1908 film, Falsely Accused! The 1950s and 1960s presented a number of legal drama films including, 12 Angry Men (1957), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), I Want to Live! (1958), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), The Young Philadelphians (1959), Compulsion (1959), Inherit the Wind (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961),and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Arguably, 12 Angry Men and To Kill a Mockingbird stand as the cornerstones of early legal dramas, garnering extensive acclaim, recognition, and awards. Despite underwhelming box office performance, 12 Angry Men was nominated in three different categories at the 30th Academy Awards and appears on half of the AFI 100 Years... series lists of films, which celebrate the greatest films in American cinema. Likewise, To Kill a Mockingbird received even more acclaim, garnering three academy awards out of eight total nominations at the 35th Academy Awards, appears on seven of the AFI's ten lists celebrating the greatest films, including ranking as the best courtroom drama, and selected for preservation United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Other countries also premiered legal dramas or courtrooms dramas in the early 1900s, such as the French silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).
Early American television programs considered legal dramas include Perry Mason, The Defenders, JUDD for the Defense, Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, Petrocelli, and Matlock. More recent examples of serious legal dramas are The Practice and Law & Order.
Legal dramas are becoming more in demand from the public, more popular for many people to watch, and beginning to feature stronger female leads.
It is widely believed by most practicing lawyers that legal dramas result in the general public having misconceptions about the legal process. Many of these misconceptions result from the desire to create an interesting story. For example, because conflict between parties make for an interesting story, legal dramas emphasize the trial and ignore the fact that the vast majority of civil and criminal cases in the United States are settled out of court. Trials in legal dramas are often shown to be more emphatic by disregarding actual rules in trials that prevent prejudicing defendants from juries.
Besides the actual practice of law, legal dramas may also misrepresent the character of lawyers in general. Some fictional lawyers may be portrayed as ambulance chasers, breaching rules of professional conduct by seeking out potential personal injury plaintiffs. Lawyers may also be portrayed as amoral, seeking only to win or financial gain, rather than do what is "morally" right. These negative portrayals reflect a long-standing cultural perception of lawyers since time immemorial. Another misrepresented character trait of attorneys portrayed by legal dramas is their sexual appetite. Characters such as Bobby Donnell and Ally McBeal portray lawyers who seemingly cannot keep from having sex with clients, colleagues, opposing counsel, or judges. Although attorneys appear a top preferred occupation for potential dating partners according to Bumble and Tinder, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct preclude lawyers from many of the relations portrayed in television.
Speaking at a screening of 12 Angry Men during the 2010 Fordham University Law School Film festival, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that seeing 12 Angry Men while she was in college influenced her decision to pursue a career in law. She was particularly inspired by immigrant Juror 11's monologue on his reverence for the American justice system. She also told the audience of law students that, as a lower-court judge, she would sometimes instruct juries to not follow the film's example, because most of the jurors' conclusions are based on speculation, not fact. Sotomayor noted that events from the film such as entering a similar knife into the proceeding; performing outside research into the case matter in the first place; and ultimately the jury as a whole making broad, wide-ranging assumptions far beyond the scope of reasonable doubt would not be allowed in a real-life jury situation, and would in fact have yielded a mistrial (assuming, of course, that applicable law permitted the content of jury deliberations to be revealed).
A Civil Action is a 1998 American legal drama film directed by Steven Zaillian and starring John Travolta (as plaintiff's attorney Jan Schlichtmann) and Robert Duvall, that is based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Harr. Both the book and the film are based on a true story of a court case about environmental pollution that took place in Woburn, Massachusetts, in the 1980s. The film and court case revolve around the issue of trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent, and its contamination of a local aquifer. A lawsuit was filed over industrial operations that appeared to have caused fatal cases of leukemia and cancer, as well as a wide variety of other health problems, among the citizens of the city. The case involved is Anne Anderson, et al., v. Cryovac, Inc., et al.. The first reported decision in the case is at 96 F.R.D. 431 (denial of defendants' motion to dismiss). Duvall was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.A Time to Kill (1996 film)
A Time to Kill is a 1996 American crime drama film based on John Grisham's 1989 eponymous novel. Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, and Kevin Spacey star, with Oliver Platt, Ashley Judd, Kiefer and Donald Sutherland, and Patrick McGoohan appearing in supporting roles. Set in Mississippi, the film involves the rape of a young girl, the arrest of the rapists, their subsequent murder by the girl's father, and the father's trial for murder. The film was a critical and commercial success, making $152 million at the worldwide box office. It is the second of two films based on Grisham's novels directed by Joel Schumacher, with the other being The Client released two years prior.Changing Lanes
Changing Lanes is a 2002 American drama thriller film directed by Roger Michell and starring Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson. The film follows a successful, young Wall Street lawyer (Affleck) who accidentally crashes his car into a vehicle driven by a middle-aged, recovering alcoholic insurance salesman (Jackson). After the lawyer leaves the scene of the accident, the two men try to get back at each other, engaging in a variety of immoral and illegal actions that end up having a major impact on each man's life.
The film was released on April 12, 2002 in North America by Paramount Pictures. The film was favourably reviewed by critics and it was a box office success, earning almost $95 million against a $45 million budget. Writers Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin were nominated for the WAFCA Award for Best Original Screenplay for their work.Crime film
Crime films, in the broadest sense, are a cinematic genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre. Films of this genre generally involve various aspects of crime and its detection. Stylistically, the genre may overlap and combine with many other genres, such as drama or gangster film, but also include comedy, and, in turn, is divided into many sub-genres, such as mystery, suspense or noir.Cross-Examination (film)
Cross-Examination is a 1932 American drama film directed by Richard Thorpe and starring H. B. Warner, Sally Blane and Natalie Moorhead.Danielle Panabaker
Danielle Nicole Panabaker (born September 19, 1987) is an American actress. She began acting as a teenager and came to prominence for her roles in the Disney films Stuck in the Suburbs (2004), Sky High (2005) and Read It and Weep (2006), the latter alongside her younger sister Kay Panabaker, and in the HBO miniseries Empire Falls (2005). She won three Young Artist Awards: for guest-starring in an episode of the legal drama television series The Guardian (2004), for her lead role in the TV film Searching for David's Heart (2005) and for her ensemble performance in the family comedy film Yours, Mine & Ours (2005).
She came to wider attention as a cast member alongside James Woods in the CBS legal drama series Shark (2006–08) and is also noted as a scream queen, having starred in the psychological thriller Mr. Brooks (2007) and the horror films Friday the 13th (2009), The Crazies (2010), John Carpenter's The Ward (2010) and Piranha 3DD (2012).
After recurring roles on the drama series Necessary Roughness (2011–13), the crime series Bones (2012–13) and the crime drama Justified (2014), Panabaker guest-starred as Dr. Caitlin Snow on The CW television series Arrow in April 2014. The character was spun off into the main cast of The Flash which premiered that October, and in season 2, Panabaker began playing the character's alter ego Killer Frost in different capacities in conjunction with her role as Snow. The role has led to subsequent guest appearances on Arrow and other Arrowverse series Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.Drama (film and television)
In film and television, drama is a genre of narrative fiction (or semi-fiction) intended to be more serious than humorous in tone. Drama of this kind is usually qualified with additional terms that specify its particular subgenre, such as "police crime drama", "political drama", "legal drama", "historical period drama", "domestic drama", or "comedy-drama". These terms tend to indicate a particular setting or subject-matter, or else they qualify the otherwise serious tone of a drama with elements that encourage a broader range of moods.
All forms of cinema or television that involve fictional stories are forms of drama in the broader sense if their storytelling is achieved by means of actors who represent (mimesis) characters. In this broader sense, drama is a mode distinct from novels, short stories, and narrative poetry or songs. In the modern era before the birth of cinema or television, "drama" within theatre was a type of play that was neither a comedy nor a tragedy. It is this narrower sense that the film and television industries, along with film studies, adopted. "Radio drama" has been used in both senses—originally transmitted in a live performance, it has also been used to describe the more high-brow and serious end of the dramatic output of radio.Gifted (2017 film)
Gifted is a 2017 American drama film directed by Marc Webb and written by Tom Flynn. It stars Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate and Octavia Spencer. The plot follows an intellectually gifted 7-year-old who becomes the subject of a custody battle between her uncle and grandmother. The film was released on April 7, 2017, by Fox Searchlight Pictures, and grossed $43 million worldwide.Kramer vs. Kramer
Kramer vs. Kramer is a 1979 American family legal drama film written and directed by Robert Benton, based on Avery Corman's novel. The film stars Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Jane Alexander and Justin Henry.
It tells the story of a couple's divorce, its impact on their young son, and the subsequent evolution of their relationship and views on parenting.
The film explores themes of major social issues such as the psychology and fallout of divorce, gender roles, women's rights, fathers' rights, work versus home, and the single parent experience.
Kramer vs. Kramer was theatrically released on December 19, 1979 by Columbia Pictures. It was a major critical and commercial success, grossing $106.3 million on a $8 million budget, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1979 and received a leading nine nominations at the 52nd Academy Awards, winning five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (for Streep), and Best Adapted Screenplay.Merrin Dungey
Merrin Melissa Dungey (born August 6, 1971) is an American film and television actress, known for her roles on the television series The King of Queens, Alias, Malcolm in the Middle, and Summerland. Dungey also appeared as Ursula on Once Upon a Time, and starred in the legal drama Conviction. Most recently, she appeared on the medical drama The Resident, and costars in the 2019 legal drama The Fix.My Sister's Keeper (film)
My Sister's Keeper is a 2009 American drama film directed by Nick Cassavetes and starring Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Sofia Vassilieva, Jason Patric, and Alec Baldwin. Based on Jodi Picoult's 2004 novel of the same name, on June 26, 2009 the film was released to cinemas in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.On the Basis of Sex
On the Basis of Sex is a 2018 American biographical legal drama film based on the life and early cases of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Directed by Mimi Leder and written by Daniel Stiepleman, it stars Felicity Jones as Ginsburg, with Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Jack Reynor, Cailee Spaeny, Sam Waterston, and Kathy Bates in supporting roles.
The film had its world premiere at the AFI Fest on November 8, 2018, and was theatrically released in the United States on December 25, 2018, by Focus Features. The film received generally favorable reviews from critics, who acknowledged it as "well-intentioned but flawed", and praised Jones' performance.Philadelphia (film)
Philadelphia is a 1993 American drama film and one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to acknowledge HIV/AIDS, homosexuality, and homophobia. It was written by Ron Nyswaner, directed by Jonathan Demme and stars Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 66th Academy Awards for his role as Andrew Beckett in the film, while the song "Streets of Philadelphia" by Bruce Springsteen won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Nyswaner was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, but lost to Jane Campion for The Piano.Proven Innocent
Proven Innocent is an American legal drama television series created by David Elliot, which premiered on February 15, 2019, on Fox. The series follows the employees of a wrongful conviction law firm and it stars Rachelle Lefevre, Russell Hornsby, Nikki M. James, Vincent Kartheiser, Riley Smith, Kelsey Grammer and Clare O'Connor.Runaway Jury
Runaway Jury is a 2003 American legal thriller film directed by Gary Fleder and starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, and Rachel Weisz. It is an adaptation of John Grisham's 1996 novel The Runaway Jury.The Client (1994 film)
The Client is a 1994 American legal thriller film directed by Joel Schumacher, and starring Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Renfro, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony LaPaglia, Anthony Edwards, and Ossie Davis. It is based on the eponymous novel by John Grisham. The film was released in the United States on July 20, 1994.The Judge (2014 film)
The Judge is a 2014 American legal drama film directed by David Dobkin. The film stars Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard and Billy Bob Thornton. The film was released in the United States on October 10, 2014. It received mixed reviews; critics praised the performances of Duvall and Downey as well as Thomas Newman's score, but criticized the formulaic nature of its script and the lack of development for its supporting characters.
Duvall received multiple award nominations for his performance as Judge Joseph Palmer, including the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor. Thomas Newman also received a Satellite Award nomination for Best Original Score.The Rainmaker (1997 film)
The Rainmaker is a 1997 American legal drama film based on John Grisham's 1995 novel of the same name, and written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It stars Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Claire Danes, Jon Voight, Roy Scheider, Mickey Rourke, Virginia Madsen, Mary Kay Place and Teresa Wright in her final film role.The Verdict
The Verdict is a 1982 American legal drama film directed by Sidney Lumet and written by David Mamet from Barry Reed's novel of the same name. It stars Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason, Milo O'Shea, and Lindsay Crouse. In the story, a down-on-his-luck alcoholic lawyer accepts a medical malpractice case to improve his own situation, but discovers along the way that he is doing the right thing.
The Verdict garnered critical acclaim and box office success. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actor in a Leading Role (Paul Newman), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (James Mason), Best Director (Sidney Lumet), Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay (David Mamet).
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