Although the courtroom drama has been co-opted by TV, with the likes of The Good Wife and Law & Order, some of the finest moments in cinema have been set inside the halls of justice.

Courtroom dramas are the preserve of both screenwriters and actors. The courtroom turns into a pressure cooker, with no flash or special effects to weaken a scene. It's all in the writing and the performance.

Here's our ten best courtroom dramas, with hopefully no objections from the gallery.

 

10. FRACTURE (2007)

Although Anthony Hopkins is essentially playing a sanitised version of Hannibal Lecter, it's the interplay between he and Gosling that makes the film. Hopkins is an avionics genius who sets out to murder his wife. However, as Gosling investigates the crime as part of his prosecution, it's slowly revealed that the evidence isn't quite as airtight as first thought. Smartly scripted and lushly directed, it also featured great supporting turns by our own Fiona Shaw and Rosamund Pike. 

 

9. KRAMER Vs. KRAMER (1979)

Although the film is essentially about a father and son connecting and learning to cope with one another, Kramer Vs. Kramer builds to become a courtroom. Indeed, it's the core of the story - the custody battle between Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. Filled with understated, human performances by both of the leads, it's oftentimes a hard watch. Anyone's been through a divorce, either as a spouse or a child, can immediately to point to any scene in the film and say they've lived some variation of it. Don't watch it without a ready supply of tissues.

 

8. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

Edward Norton's blistering debut in Primal Fear earned him a Best Supporting Actor - and rightfully so. Richard Gere plays a publicity-hungry attorney who revels in his prowess in the courtroom. When he's landed with a pro-bono case involving the brutal murder of a Catholic bishop, he sees it as another opportunity to bolster his profile and client list. The accused, Edward Norton, is a Kentucky teenager who served as an altar boy to the murdered bishop. Much like director Gregory Hoblit's other courtroom piece, Fracture, the story unfolds that there is far more at play than a straightforward case. Sexual abuse, corrupt politicians and even the witness himself are skewed against Gere. Bleak, cynical and complex, Primal Fear is one of Gere's finest films.

 

 

7. THE FIRM (1993)

It's hard to imagine Tom Cruise as playing a wide-eyed young lawyer, yet he did it so convincingly in The Firm that you almost forgot he played the schmoozy lawyer in A Few Good Men. Based on John Grisham's novel of the same name, The Firm was expertly directed by Sydney Pollack and featured one of Gene Hackman's best performances. Playing the oily, cunning Avery Tolar, Hackman created one of cinema's finest lawyers - all wolf smiles and Brioni suits. Who didn't want to hang out with mobsters and scuba-dive in the Carribean after seeing this? Also, keep an eye out for a somewhat unrecognisable and bizarrely bald Ed Harris.

 

6. A TIME TO KILL (1996)

Another John Grisham entry, A Time To Kill was at the top of the Matthew McConaughey career valley, just before he descended into the rom-com trough. An idealistic Southern lawyer thrust into the heart of racial politics, McConaughey is charged with the defence of a father (Samuel L. Jackson) who shot dead the man who brutally raped his infant daughter. Aiding him is equally idealistic law student Sandra Bullock, who is determined to fight the death penalty in any case. Against McConaughey is Kevin Spacey, playing a prototype version of Frank Underwood from House of Cards. Joel Schumacher's reigned-in direction allows both the script and the performers to breathe and with a harrowing story charged with still-relevant themes, it's electric viewing.

 

5. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)

One of the greatest novels in American history, To Kill A Mockingbird is required viewing and required reading. Gregory Peck, in a career-best performance, plays Atticus Finch. A reasonable, educated widower who defends a black man against a rape charge placed against him by a white woman. A controversial book when first released and equally so when adapted into a film, it laid bare in simple terms the extent of racial discord and discrimination in America and how plain logic would win out against all.

  

4. THE VERDICT (1982)

Paul Newman's stunning career and breadth of work is hard to take in. A leading actor for over five decades, his body of work is nothing short of legendary. Directed by Sidney Lumet and working off a David Mamet script, Newman gave one of his most nuanced and vulnerable performances. A washed-up lawyer who's handed a simple case of medical malpractice, his old instincts begin to kick in when he realises just how much nobody wants to touch it. The 'it' being a litany of incompetence, corruption and conspiracy by a major hospital, backed by the powers that be. As always, the closing argument is a fantastically acted piece of film. Take a look. 

 

3. A FEW GOOD MEN (1992)

It might be reduced to the final shouting match between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise, but A Few Good Men is a perfect example of well-crafted, intelligent writing. Cruise plays a hot-shot Navy lawyer who's saddled with a case that the brass want pushed out and swept under the rug. A young Marine is murdered by two of his fellow comrades, allegedly on the orders of the authorial Col. Jessup (Nicholson). Aaron Sorkin's script and Rob Reiner's keen grasp of pacing means the story zips along with ease. Slickly made, A Few Good Men is a riveting watch. We could just about handle the truth.

 

2. PHILADELPHIA (1993)

As well as being a startlingly honest film about the ravages of HIV/AIDS and homophobia, Philadelphia was an incredible piece of courtroom drama. Hanks, a high-flying attorney who has HIV/AIDS is fired from his prestigious law firm when his illness becomes evident. The only lawyer who agrees to take on his wrongful termination case is an ambulance-chaser (Denzel Washington) that he fought in court before. Although Jonathan Demme's directorial flashes are a little overbearing in places, they're contrasted by the deeply human, stunningly intimate performance by Hanks. This scene, when Hanks leaves Washington's office after being rejected by almost every lawyer in the scene, is simple yet devastating.

  

1. 12 ANGRY MEN (1957)

It's regularly used as an example in legal training as consensus building, but more than anything, 12 Angry Men showed that a film could be set entirely in a single room and be just as taut, absorbing and fascinating as any other film. Twelve jurors are gathered to hear the case of a teenager who murdered his father. The initial findings suggest that the boy is guilty and that it's an open-and-shut case with death for the teenager being assured. One juror (Henry Fonda) has his doubts. From there, the film spirals into a pressure-cooker drama, with lines being drawn and prejudices and emotions laid bare. Just as riveting today as it was back in 1957, 12 Angry Men is a brilliantly simple tale with one of the finest screenplays and performances ever captured on film. Essential viewing.