Hollywood and lawyers have gone together like two peas in a pod since the very inception of motion pictures. In an industry built on fantasy and unlimited imagination, playing an attorney in a well-written film can be the direct route to big recognition in an actor’s career. From Atticus Finch to Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, those portraying legal advocates have given us some of the most memorable characters in Hollywood history. Among all the many examples, these top seven thespians provided us with some of the most unforgettable performances in the courtroom.
1. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch
No one can forget Gregory Peck’s portrayal of attorney Atticus Finch in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Admirable father to Scout and Jem, Atticus Finch uses his legal prowess to fight against racial injustice in Depression-era Alabama. His defense of African-American Tom Robinson, who was wrongfully accused of rape, stands the test of time as one of the top courtroom performances ever.
2. Joe Pesci as Vinny Gambini
As an unsuccessful and frustrated attorney in “My Cousin Vinny,” Joe Pesci’s comical portrayal of Vincent “Vinny” Gambini earned this film a cult following. Vinny pulls off an unimaginable courtroom victory when he successfully represents his cousin after he and his friend are arrested for murder during a brief stop at a convenience store in a rural Alabama town.
3. Tom Hanks as Andrew Beckett
As one of the first top-tier Hollywood films to acknowledge HIV/AIDS and homosexuality, “Philadelphia” features Tom Hanks as Andrew Beckett, an Ivy-League graduate and gay attorney who claims his law firm fired him after finding out he had AIDS. As an honorable mention in this film, Denzel Washington plays a solo personal injury practitioner who takes the case when no one else will.
4. Harrison Ford as Rusty Sabich
Harrison Ford knocks it out of the park with his portrayal of Rusty Sabich, a top prosecutor in “Presumed Innocent.” Sabich is accused of murder after his colleague and lover is found dead. The film is well-known for its surprising dark twist that shouldn’t be spoiled for any potential first-time viewers.
5. Tom Cruise as Lt. Daniel Kaffee
You’ve probably seen “A Few Good Men” countless times, but somehow it never gets old watching Jack Nicholson yell at Tom Cruise about how well he can handle the truth. Cruise stars as inexperienced, yet impressive U.S. Navy litigator Lt. Daniel Kaffee in this flick with its gripping final courtroom scene.
6. Richard Gere as Billy Flynn
A movie generally thought of for its tap dancing rather than its courtroom drama, “Chicago” nonetheless highlights Richard Gere’s impressive performance as a less than reputable attorney. This film, based on the Broadway play, revolves around murderous celebrities who turn their notoriety into a successful vaudeville act.
7. John Travolta as Jan Schlichtmann
In “A Civil Action,” based on real-life events, John Travolta brings a complex legal battle to the silver screen with his role as Jan Schlichtmann, a small-firm plaintiffs lawyer. Schlichtmann embarks on a David vs. Goliath quest by going after two big corporations that he believes are at fault for the deaths of eight neighborhood kids who were all diagnosed with leukemia.