During the 1990s, Hollywood capitalized on the legal profession's boom with plenty of blockbuster law movies. Could these films have influenced the subsequent increase in law school attendance by the generation who grew up watching them?
What follows are some of the best law movies from the 1990s, by date of release.
Presumed Innocent is based on Scott Turow's best-selling novel by the same name; it stars Harrison Ford as a prosecutor accused of the murder of a woman he worked with -- and had an affair with as well. Through various twists, turns, and carrying out of personal vendettas, Ford's character gets a different view of the justice system and of his own home life as well.
When two young Marines are court-martialed in the death of a fellow solider, Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is called to defend them. What starts out for Lt. Kaffee as a routine plea bargaining case becomes much more complex as he delves into the inner workings of military procedures, including the controversial "code red." Jack Nicholson puts in one of his best performances ever as Col. Nathan Jessup, and the whole cast is outstanding including Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Keifer Sutherland, and Cuba Gooding Jr.
When two "yutes" (young men) are brought up on murder charges while traveling through Alabama, one of them calls his cousin, Vincent “Vinny” Gambini (Joe Pesci) from Brooklyn, who recently passed the bar after five failed attempts, to defend them. Hilarity ensues in the courtroom of Judge Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne) with Marisa Tomei giving an Oscar-winning performance as Vinny's girlfriend.
Tom Cruise stars as Mitch McDeere, a young law graduate courted by a powerful law firm that has a less than legal side, namely close connections with organized crime. After two associates are killed, the FBI asks McDeere to be a mole. The choice before him is to spy on the firm and hope they don't find out or just keep working for the firm and be under its thumb for the rest of his life. But McDeere figures there is even another choice.
In this film based on a true story, Giuseppe (Pete Postlethwaite) and Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) are a father and son accused of orchestrating and carrying out an IRA London pub bombing in which there were several casualties. Under pressure, Gerry gives a false confession to the British police; he and his father were sent to prison but never stopped proclaiming their innocence through their attorney Gareth Peirce (Emma Thompson).
The Pelican Brief is based on a John Grisham novel by the same name; it stars Julia Roberts as Darby Shaw, a young law student who writes about her theory of who killed two SCOTUS justices and why; as her paper gets passed around, one person who has read it ends up killed by a car bomb. Shaw goes underground but not before contacting journalist Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) to spread the truth.
This Oscar-nominated epic film centers on a slave ship uprising in 1839 and stars Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, and Matthew McConaughey. Courtroom drama abounds as Hopkins recreating John Quincy Adams' emotional SCOTUS argument that the slaves were actually free citizens of another country; Justice Harry Blackmun makes a cameo appearance.
Keanu Reeves stars as Kevin Lomax opposite Al Pacino in this tale of good and evil. Reeves is a rising young attorney who gets an offer he can't refuse from Pacino's character, John Milton -- yes, the themes of Paradise Lost figure greatly into the film as Lomax slips deeper and deeper into the dark underworld of the law. Charlize Theron stars as Mary Ann, Lomax's wife.
A new law graduate takes the only job he can find: an associate position with one of the shadiest attorneys in town, J. Lyman "Bruiser" Stone (Mickey Rourke). As he tries to bring in clients literally chasing ambulances to the hospital, he happens upon an insurance case that is potentially worth millions of dollars. Matt Damon stars as Rudy Baylor and Danny DeVito is Deck Shifflet, a hapless law graduate who can't pass the bar. The film is based on John Grisham's novel by the same name.
A Civil Action is about a class action lawsuit against a tannery who Attorney Jan Schlictmann (John Travolta) maintains is responsible for a town's high rate of leukemia, which led to the deaths of eight children. Morality and the law collide as the tannery is fiercely defended by Jerome Facher (Robert Duvall). The film is based on a nonfiction book by the same name written by Jonathan Harr about a water contamination case in Woburn, Massachusetts.