Even the four best courtroom movies can't make the real-life cut

Courtrooms often are great backdrops for dramatic movie scenes and Oscar-worthy performances. The environment naturally pits adversaries against each other and, typically, they represent good versus evil. While they’re highly entertaining, few, if any, come close to accurately depicting what really happens in courtrooms.

Here’s our top four list of those that come close, along with why they wouldn’t make the final cut in real-life.

A Few Good Men

The characters in a Few Good Men are what put this movie on our list, and Jack Nicholson’s intense portrayal of Colonel Nathan Jessup is about as good as it gets. But while this movie may best be known for “You can’t handle the truth!” that kind of exchange would never be allowed in an actual courtroom; you’d have objections before things became that intense and a judge would have shut it down. In real life, the drama is within the rules of the courtroom, not between the participants.

Real-life rating: 2

Kramer vs. Kramer

This movie did a great job of capturing the raw emotions and drama that come with a custody battle. The anxiety, anger and heartbreak were right on the mark. As with others on the list, however, it falls short in accurately portraying courtroom proceedings. In real life, people don’t get up and start making speeches. The rules of the court are very strict—even more so in jury trials. Outside of opening and closing arguments, you’re restricted in what you can say.

Real-life rating: 2

Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a classic David and Goliath tale where one of the main characters takes on a big corporation and demonstrates the power of the law in protecting the little guy. Making it even more powerful is the fact that it addressed discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, an issue that was just coming to the forefront when the movie debuted. Of those on our list, this one probably comes closest to depicting a real court case, but cases this dramatic are rarely seen in real courtrooms. Then again, if they were, we wouldn’t go watch the movies.

Real-life rating: 3

The Verdict

Another movie with a David-and-Goliath theme, The Verdict centers on medical malpractice with Paul Newman as the washed-up attorney facing the big-time polished defense lawyer. Newman, as always, was excellent as Frank Galvin, and we like him in the role of underdog. As viewers, we’re glad the case went to court, but in real life, Newman’s character would have agreed to settle well before the case went to trial.

Real-life rating: 3

By Brent Smith, Partner, Johns, Flaherty & Collins. For an insurance lawyer in La Crosse, Wisconsin, contact him at 608-784-5678.  

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