Trial film

Trial films is a film genre, also commonly referred to as courtroom drama.[1]

The American Bar Association's list

In 1989, the American Bar Association rated the twelve best trial films of all time, and provided a detailed and reasoned legal evaluation for its choices.[2] Ten of them are in English; M is in German and The Passion of Joan of Arc is a French silent film. The films on the ABA Journal list are here:

Title Release Year Notes
12 Angry Men 1957 Nominated for 3 Academy Awards. (AFI)
A Man for All Seasons 1966 Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 6. (AFI)[3] Based on a real trial.
Anatomy of a Murder 1959 Nominated for 7 Academy Awards. Based on a real trial. (AFI)
Inherit the Wind 1960 Nominated for 4 Academy Awards. Based on a real trial.
Judgment at Nuremberg 1961 Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning 2. Based on a real trial.
M 1931
Paths of Glory 1957 Based on a real trial (court martial).
The Passion of Joan of Arc 1928 Based on a real trial.
The Trial 1962
The Wrong Man 1957 Based on a real trial.
To Kill a Mockingbird 1962 Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning 3. (AFI)
The Verdict 1982 Nominated for 5 Academy Awards. (AFI)

Ten of the movies take place (at least in part) in courtrooms.

The American Bar Association also published a list of the 12 best trial plays, noting that the transition from film to the stage is sometimes difficult. It also has an extensive honorable mention list.[4]


The trial in M is not in a legal courtroom. Instead, the city's crime syndicate leaders and underground elements hold proceedings in a warehouse. Despite the lack of legal trappings, "it is one of the most effective trials ever filmed, questioning our notions of justice and revenge, mob rule and order, power and responsibility. Our social orientation is flip-flopped." Wearing long leather coats instead of robes, criminals become judges. The murderer is cast as the victim, while the forces of law and order must rely on luck. Peter Lorre strikingly raises the issue of his culpability due to alleged insanity, and the imposition of ultimate retributive justice is depicted as being unsatisfying for society and the survivors of the murdered victims.[2]

Outside of the first few minutes of the film, Twelve Angry Men never enters a court room at all. It views the particular case and the system of justice through the prism of a jury's deliberations. The film explains practical explications of legal concepts basic to the American system of justice, and their effect on a particular trial and defendant. Those include the presumption of innocence, burden of proof and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.[2]

American Film Institute

In 2008, the American Film Institute compiled its own "courtroom drama" ten best list. It includes five of the films on the ABA list — 12 Angry Men, Anatomy of a Murder, Judgment at Nuremberg, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Verdict — and adds A Cry in the Dark, A Few Good Men, In Cold Blood, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Witness for the Prosecution.[1]

Indian trial films

Following is a list of notable Indian trial films:[5]

Title Release Year Language Description
Kaydyacha Bola 2005 Marathi A Marathi courtroom movie.
Court 2014 Marathi A national Award-winning Marathi film. Inspired by a case against activist-ballad singer Jeetan Marandi (of Jharkhand) for his alleged links with Left wing extremists.
Damini 1993 Bollywood The story of a woman's fight against society for justice.
Jolly LLB 2013 Bollywood A film about a lawyer's attempt to earn six innocent wage earners their rights and his journey against the monopolistic behavior of the rich and judicial corruption.
OMG – Oh My God! 2012 Bollywood A film about a man who takes the God to court.

Military trial films

Military trial films typically include conflicting questions of loyalty, command responsibility, ethical rules and rules of engagement, obedience to superior authority, politics and class conflict. War and trials are good foils for one another. The struggles are perennial and engaging. A partial list includes:

Title Release Year Description
The Caine Mutiny[6] 1954 Climaxes in a strongly contested court martial, and a particularly dynamic cross examination, in which Captain Queeg, played by Humphrey Bogart, acts out one of film's most dramatic meltdowns.[7] The movie was nominated for 7 Academy Awards.
Paths of Glory 1957 Black and white depiction of a corrupt World War I French court martial leading to a firing squad, and a futility of war conclusion. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, and starred Kirk Douglas as the failed defense attorney.
Town Without Pity 1961 Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington were nominated for an Academy Award for the theme song, Town Without Pity, which was sung by Gene Pitney
King and Country 1964 Directed by Joseph Losey. In the trenches in France during World War I, British captain Dirk Bogarde has to defend shell-shocked private Tom Courtenay, who is charged with desertion.
Breaker Morant 1980 A court martial of Australian soldiers (nominated for an Academy Award), including Harry Breaker Morant by their British commanders in the aftermath of the Boer War in South Africa. Breaker Morant details the trials and tribulations of the defense counsel and the defendants, as they try to throw a wrench into the administrative gears of the court martial. Anticipating the Nuremberg trials and the "defense of superior orders", the soldiers' main defense is that they were doing their duty as they understood it, and following orders and policy from above. Nevertheless, this "Kangaroo court" moves to its inevitable conclusion. As one review notes, it features one of the finest (and most succinct) closing arguments in film.[8]
A Few Good Men 1992 Released after the ABA's list was compiled, contains the famous "You can't handle the truth" exchange.[9] The film was adapted from the Broadway play written by Aaron Sorkin, and acted by Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson.
Rules of Engagement 2000 Marine Colonel Terry Childers, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is brought to court-martial on charges of disobeying the rules of engagement in a military incident at an American embassy in Yemen, with flashbacks to Vietnam.
Shaurya 2008 An Indian film directed by Samar Khan starring Rahul Bose and Kay Kay Menon in lead roles. The film is based on the backdrop of Kashmir conflict.
Melvilasom 2011 An Indian film based on Soorya Krishna Moorthy's stage play of the same name, which itself was based on the play Court Martial by Swadesh Deepak.

Religious trial films

Other films


  1. ^ a b "American Film Institute, Court Room drama top ten". 2008. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Verone, Patric M. "The 12 Best Trial Movies" from the ABA Journal. November 1989 reprinted in Nebraska Law Journal".
  3. ^ Also on the American Film Institute list. American Film Institute, Court Room drama top ten.
  4. ^ Chanen, Jill Schachner (August 1, 2012). "The Theater's 12 Greatest Courtroom Dramas". ABA Journal. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  5. ^ "Jolly LLB, Damini, Pink, Court and more: Bollywood's 10 best courtroom dramas". 9 February 2017. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  6. ^ From the 1951 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk, ISBN 0-89577-414-3
  7. ^ "Review noting Captain Queeg cross examination".
  8. ^ "'Breaker' Morant, A film review by Christopher Null".
  9. ^ Excerpt of cross examination in A Few Good Men.
  10. ^ "Kemal Sunal all films" (in Turkish). Retrieved October 25, 2014.
  11. ^ "Apollo Guide Review "And Justice for All" by Norman Webster".

Further reading

External links

Amistad (film)

Amistad is a 1997 American historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the true story of the events in 1839 aboard the slave ship La Amistad, during which Mende tribesmen abducted for the slave trade managed to gain control of their captors' ship off the coast of Cuba, and the international legal battle that followed their capture by the Washington, a U.S. revenue cutter. The case was ultimately resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841.

Morgan Freeman, Nigel Hawthorne, Anthony Hopkins, Djimon Hounsou, and Matthew McConaughey had starring roles. David Franzoni's screenplay was based on the book Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy (1987), by the historian Howard Jones.

Knock on Any Door

Knock on Any Door is a 1949 American courtroom trial film noir directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart. The picture gave actor John Derek a break in developing his film career and was based on the 1947 novel of the same name by Willard Motley.

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.

My Cousin Vinny

My Cousin Vinny is a 1992 American comedy film directed by Jonathan Lynn, from a screenplay written by Dale Launer. The film stars Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Lane Smith, Bruce McGill, and Fred Gwynne (in his final film appearance).

The film deals with two young New Yorkers traveling through rural Alabama who are arrested and put on trial for a murder they did not commit and the comical attempts of a cousin, Vincent Gambini, a lawyer who had only recently passed the bar exam after several unsuccessful attempts, to defend them. Much of the humor comes from the fish out of water interaction between the brash Italian-American New Yorkers (Vinny and his fiancée, Mona Lisa) and the more reserved Southern townspeople.

A critical and financial success, Pesci, Gwynne, and Tomei all received praise for their performances, and Tomei won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The film has also been lauded by attorneys for its accurate depiction of court procedure and trial strategy.

New Trial (film)

New Trial (Hangul: 재심; Hanja: 再審; RR: Jaesim) is a 2017 South Korean film written and directed by Kim Tae-yoon, starring Jung Woo and Kang Ha-neul. The film is based on the 2000 "Iksan murder case" where a teenage boy was falsely accused of the murder of a taxi driver and spends ten years in prison. Best

Overland Adventure

Overland Adventure: The Story of the 1954 Redex Reliability Trial is a 1954 documentary directed by Ken G. Hall about the 1954 Redex Reliability Trial.It appears to have also been known as Tough Assignment.

Public Trial (film)

Public Trial (Spanish: Audiencia pública) is a 1946 Spanish drama film directed by Florián Rey and starring Paola Barbara.The film's sets were designed by the art director Francisco Canet.

Remember the Night

Remember the Night is a 1940 American Christmas romantic comedy trial film directed by Mitchell Leisen, and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. The film was written by Preston Sturges, and it was the last of his scripts shot by another director, as Sturges began his own directorial career the same year with The Great McGinty.

The Andersonville Trial

The Andersonville Trial is a television adaptation of a 1959 hit Broadway play by Saul Levitt, presented as an episode of PBS's on May 17, 1970 as part of the anthology series Hollywood Television Theatre.

The movie was based on the actual 1865 trial of Henry Wirz, played by Richard Basehart, commander of the infamous Confederate Andersonville prison, where thousands of Union prisoners died of exposure, malnutrition, and disease. A notable cast included William Shatner as the Chief JAG Prosecutor Norton Parker Chipman, Jack Cassidy (who was nominated for an Emmy) as Wirz's defense counsel, Cameron Mitchell as Lew Wallace, a Union general and the future author of Ben-Hur, and Buddy Ebsen as a Georgia physician called in to testify about the fate of many of the Union prisoners.

The television adaptation was directed by actor George C. Scott, who had played Chipman in the original stage version.

In Leonard Probst's 1978 compilation of celebrity interviews, Off Camera, Scott explained that what he found most difficult about playing Chipman onstage was that Henry Wirz, the defendant, came across as a tragic, sympathetic victim, although his negligence, according to the verdict, had a great deal to do with the deplorable conditions at Andersonville, and Scott found it very difficult to deal with the fact that the audience was compelled to dislike Chipman, who was, essentially, the hero of the piece, due to his efforts to obtain justice for all the men who suffered and died at the camp.The TV production of the play won 1971 Emmy Awards for "Outstanding Single Program", for "Technical Direction and Electronic Camerawork", and for Levitt's adaptation. It was also honored with a Peabody Award.

The City Stands Trial

The City Stands Trial (Italian: Processo alla città) is a 1952 Italian drama film directed by Luigi Zampa and starring Amedeo Nazzari, is based on a revisiting of the Cuocolo murders and the struggle for control of Naples by the Camorra in the early 1900s. It is considered to be Zampa's most accomplished film. It was entered into the 3rd Berlin International Film Festival.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a 2005 American supernatural horror trial film directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson. The film is loosely based on the story of Anneliese Michel and follows a self-proclaimed agnostic (Linney) who acts as defense counsel representing a parish priest (Wilkinson), accused by the state of negligent homicide after he performed an exorcism.

The Tokyo Trial (film)

The Tokyo Trial (simplified Chinese: 东京审判; traditional Chinese: 東京審判; pinyin: Dōngjīng Shěnpàn) is a Chinese film released in 2006.

The Trial (1948 film)

The Trial (German: Der Prozeß) is a 1948 Austrian drama film directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst. At the 9th Venice International Film Festival, Pabst won the Award for Best Director; Ernst Deutsch won the award for Best Actor and the Volpi Cup. The story is based on the events of the Tiszaeszlár affair.

The Trial (1962 film)

The Trial (1962) is a dream-logic black comedy drama film directed by Orson Welles, who also wrote the screenplay based on the novel of the same name by Franz Kafka. Filmed in Europe, Welles stated immediately after completing the film: "The Trial is the best film I have ever made". The film begins with Welles narrating Kafka's parable "Before the Law" to pinscreen scenes created by the artist Alexandre Alexeieff. Anthony Perkins stars as Josef K., a bureaucrat who is accused of a never-specified crime, and Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, and Elsa Martinelli play women who become involved in various ways in Josef's trial and life. Welles plays the Advocate, Josef's lawyer and the film's principal antagonist.

The Trial has grown in reputation over the years, and some critics, including Roger Ebert, have called it a masterpiece. It is often praised for its scenic design and cinematography, the latter of which includes disorienting camera angles and unconventional use of focus.

The Truth (1988 film)

The Truth is a 1988 Hong Kong trial film directed by Taylor Wong and starring Andy Lau and Deanie Ip. This film is a sequel to the 1985 film The Unwritten Law. It is followed by a sequel The Truth Final Episode released the following year and is the last film of the film series.

The Verona Trial

Il processo di Verona (internationally released as The Verona Trial) is a 1963 Italian historical drama film directed by Carlo Lizzani. The film tells of the final phases of the Italian fascist regime, in particular the affair of the 1944 Verona trial, in which Galeazzo Ciano, Emilio De Bono, Giovanni Marinelli and other eminent Fascist officials (Carlo Pareschi and Luciano Gottardi) were sentenced to death and almost immediately executed by a shooting detachment, while Tullio Cianetti was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.For her portrayal of Edda Mussolini-Ciano, Silvana Mangano won the two major Italian film awards, the David di Donatello for Best Actress and the Silver Ribbon in the same category.

Time Trial (film)

Time Trial is a 2017 British documentary film directed by Finlay Pretsell. The film focuses on the final season of David Millar's professional cycling career. The film covers events including the 2014 Tour de France, the 2014 Giro d'Italia and the 2014 Milan–San Remo.

Trial (1955 film)

Trial is a 1955 American film directed by Mark Robson and starring Glenn Ford, Dorothy McGuire, Arthur Kennedy, and Juano Hernandez. Based on the novel written by Don Mankiewicz, it is about a Mexican boy accused of rape and murder; originally victimized by prejudiced accusers, he becomes a pawn of his communist defender, whose propaganda purposes would be best served by a verdict of guilty.

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