NOTE: Beneath the end of the list, you can find the posters and details of each film/show selected.
1) "12 Angry Men" (1957)/ "12" (2007)
I can't help but begin this list with Sidney Lumet's 1957 classic, a film that also inspired an iconic remake which was released in 2007 by the Russian auteur Nikita Mikhalkov (12), a production that altered the directorial perception and choice of tone, the final result being an elegiac motion picture that the audience will never forget. Both the original, starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb and Martin Balsam, and the remake share an identical story setting: 12 jurors are in recess in order for them to reach a verdict in a case of murder. The 11 are convinced that the defendant, a young unprivileged man, is guilty, however it is Henry Fonda's character who starts to spread some serious doubts by using reasonable arguments. The tension and the quality of dialogue make both films irresistible.
2) "The Verdict" (1982)
Another acknowledged milestone for the genre of courtroom drama is The Verdict, also directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Paul Neman as the alcoholic, ambulance-chasing Boston lawyer, Frank Galvin, who searches for redemption through his refusal to settle in a case of medical malpractice that involves big industrial players. Charlotte Rampling and Jack Warden are great in their respective supporting roles and the whole production oozes high production values and quality. Newman delivers an excellent portrayal of the troubled protagonist in a different role than the audience is used to by the popular actor. The plot is well-woven and the pacing is slow, without ever becoming tiresome, while the top-notch performances complete the picture of a classic courtroom drama.
3) "Het Vonnis" (2013)
This is a relatively little-known gem from Belgium, a rich country in terms of multifaceted cinematic productions, starring one of the most prominent European actors of our time, Koen de Bouw. He incarnates the protagonist, Luc Segers, a middle-aged man who watches his life crumble after the brutal murder of his wife, Ella, who is beaten to death by a mugger. Initially, Luc puts his trust on the Belgian judicial system, however the culprit is soon set free due to a bureaucratic mix-up. It is at that stage that the protagonist takes the law into his own hands and punish the assailant all by himself. Luc shoots the man who robbed him of his serene life and he is arrested by the authorities. A trial commences and from then on, the film chiefly takes place in the inside of a courtroom where Luc and his lawyer fight for their right. Het Vonnis (in English: The Verdict) is a touching film that raises critical questions regarding the effectiveness of justice and the pointlessness of vigilantism. If you haven't already watched it, it is a prime choice for the fans of the genre.
4) "Presumed Innocent" (1990)
Alan J. Pakula's Presumed Innocent is one of the most well-known and popular movies of the genre, not least because it features a shiny cast, led by the veteran Harrison Ford, and features a twisty story of murder which will certainly enthrall even the most fussy members of the audience. Ford plays Rusty Sabich, the Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for Kindle County, Illinois, who finds himself facing a dire predicament when he is accused of the murder of one of his colleagues, Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi). The two of them had an affair and Rusty quickly becomes the prime suspect. His lawyer, Sandy Stern (Raul Julia), is one of the most cunning legal professionals and he will be on Rusty's side throughout the process. The finale is unanticipated and stunned me when I watched the movie for the first time.
5) "Argentina, 1985" (2022)
This is a film dramatizing the events of the "Trial of the Juntas" that took place in Argentina in 1985 and lasted for five months. In 1983, the democracy in the country was restored after a seven-year military dictatorship that overthrew Isabel Perón, widow of former President Juan Perón, during the March 1976 coup d'état. The coup was organized by the National Reorganization Process (in Spanish: Proceso de Reorganización Nacional, or simply el Proceso) and established Argentina's last military dictatorship in a country that is crammed with similar analogous regimes throughout its history. The conspirators reigned tyrannically, and their years of power were marked with gross violations of human rights, war crimes, and the murder of thousands of political dissidents, thus earning a special name for that period of incessant atrocities, the so-called "Dirty War" that the dictators declared against peronists and leftists. Ricardo Darin's performance as Julio Strassera is excellent as always and ditto for Peter Lanzani who excels in his potrayal of Luis Moreno Ocampo, the two men leading the legal team that prosecuted the dictators. The director, Santiago Mitre, was the man behind the camera in films such as The Summit and 15 Ways to Kill Your Neighbor, nevertheless Argentina, 1985 is definitely his magnum opus so far.
6) "Perry Mason" (TV SERIES/2020-)
Narrating The origin story of a beloved character from the 1950s, the first season of HBO's Perry Mason has forced the audience to take a trip down memory lane and recall the adventures of a beloved protagonist. The creators of the show chose to show us the beginnings of the character, from the time that he was a broke private investigators thriving in spying cheating husbands in order to survive. Of course, we all know Perry as an eminent lawyer, but the creators of the series show us the protagonist taking his legal oath during the final episodes of the first cycle. The story is thrilling and the plot dense, both revolving around the disturbing case of an infant's abduction and subsequent murder. The witty, uncontrived dialogue and the shiny -in its accuracy and vivacity- representation of an old era deem Perry Mason an optimal choice for both crime fiction and courtroom drama aficionados. Matthew Rhys is great in his act as Perry and the rest of the cast does an equally commendable job in both the first and supporting roles. The second season season of the show is currently aired and the final episode will be screened on April 24, 2023.
7) "Janet King" (TV SERIES/2014-2017)
The Australian heavy-hitter as far as courtroom dramas are concerned, Janet King, is a team-effort as the show lists several directors and screenwriters who contributed in the scenario during the three seasons that the series have aired. The protagonist, Janet King (Marta Dusseldorp), is a young and upcoming Senior Prosecutor who returns after a year's maternity leave, stronger and determined to prove her worth among her peers and superiors in the Department of Public Prosecutions. She will delve into some murky criminal cases and each season tells a separate story, linked with the previous ones through the characters, which remain the same, and a flimsy story arc that permeates all three cycles. The audience also get a glimpse into Janet's personal life where she also has to face serious challenges, thus making the character all the more relatable and easy to identify with. The first season, which is the best in my humble opinion, is a rollercoaster of twists and turns with the audience wondering who is to trust and who not. The finale of each season always reserves stunning surprises and, overall, I would claim that Janet King is one of the most appealing English-speaking courtroom TV series of the last decade.
8) "Seven Seconds" (TV SERIES/2018)
America has always been torn apart by racial tension between the, mostly white, authorities and the Black and Latino minorities. The events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and the more recent unrest caused by the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020 gave prominence to a heated debate concerning the discriminative behavior of the police force against the Black community. This is the core theme of Seven Seconds: the systemic racism that besets America since the nation's beginnings and the arbitrariness of the authorities when it comes to dealing with criminal cases involving African-Americans. The show begins with young police officer Peter Jablonski (Beau Knapp) driving in a remote area when, in a split second, hits a pedestrian who is later proved to be nothing more than a black teenage boy who is critically injured by the collision. The show's plot is centered on the attempts by the police to cover-up Jablonski's involvement and the burning rage that the accident causes in the city's streets. A masterfully told story that can be also watched as a study on the ills of the contemporary American society, Seven Seconds is one of my all-time favorite series of the genre.