Why law / legal movies and shows can be so engaging
The Law might seem a dry topic to some people but is a very fertile ground to make some of the most engaging movies and TV shows. Law is an absolute ingredient of any civilization. It’s painfully easy to overlook the importance of law as we go about our daily lives, especially in a safe, comfortable country like Singapore.
It gets interesting when things go wrong (sometimes because of the law) and how the protagonist of the story resolves his plight (typically with the law as well). Law movies are stories about real people put in extraordinary situations and how they hold up in these scenarios. They say the best way to measure a person’s mettle is under pressure and stress, and so law movies offer an interesting lens to the human condition when they have their rights threatened.
Law can also be a compelling subject for television shows, and not just movies. Law & Order ran for 20 years, won numerous awards and was ranked 14th on TV Guide’s 60 Greatest Shows of All Time. Other familiar names include Suits and The Practice. Netflix has recently created several law-related documentaries and TV shows which have seen lots of viewership.
Show me the data
Never thought you’d see a data-driven view to reviewing movies? Now you’ve seen it all!
I’m data-driven because I’ve worked in management consulting and data analytics. I also believe in the wisdom of the crowds (blended with some healthy skepticism to avoid groupthink) and the data that comes from it.
What I did:
- Gathered the Top 10 legal movies from the Top 10 results Google suggested for the keyword “Top 10 legal movies” (yes, very meta)
- Pulled data from IMDB.com on the movie rating and # of reviews
- Visualized it in a 2X2 space
How to read the chart:
- Color — the color represents the year the movie was made — the red crosses are early movies made in the 1950s, the yellow crosses were made in the 1980s and the green ones in the 2000s
- Must watch — top right quadrant with high ratings and a lot of reviews
- Very decent — bottom right quadrant; decent ratings but a ton of reviews which is another great metric since it must be a really good or bad (good in this case) to compel so many people to rate the movie; don’t forget, the more ratings a movie has the more likely it will drag the rating down so a slightly lower rated movie with a huge number of ratings is likely “better” than one with a higher rating but a fraction of the number of ratings
- Old classics — the top left quadrant shows movies that have very good ratings, but not that many ratings; a similarity for all of them is that they tend to be older movies that might have escaped the attention of the bulk of the younger and more internet-savvy crowd and so received fewer ratings
- 12 Angry Men (1957) — IMDB Rating 8.9
- To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) — IMDB Rating 8.3
- Philadelphia (1993) — IMDB Rating 7.7
- The Insider (1999) — IMDB Rating 7.9
- A Few Good Men (1992) — IMDB Rating 7.6
- The Devil’s Advocate (1997) — IMDB Rating 7.5
- The Social Network (2010) — IMDB Rating 7.1
- Michael Clayton (2007) — IMDB Rating 7.3
- Erin Brokovich (2000) — IMDB Rating 7.3
Here’s a short review for two of my favorite movies on this list:
12 ANGRY MEN
The movie was released in 1957 and received a whopping 450,000 ratings on IMDB, on par with the very popular and modern “The Social Network” and getting an incredible IMDB rating of 8.9. To put this into perspective, 12 Angry Men is the #6 Top Rated movie on IMDB of all time (as of September 2016) behind Shawshank Redemption, Godfather I, II, Dark Knight and Schindler’s List.
In this classic that was adapted from a stage play, a jury of 12 men are tasked to determine the innocence of guilt of a young man accused of murdering his father. It is an absolutely riveting watch, even though it’s a classic in black and white.
A pre-vote appears to condemns the young man to the electric chair until the last voter (Henry Fonda, who is elegantly turned out in an understated white suit and the hero of the movie) votes not-guilty. One man against everyone else. His vote against is met with outcry from his peers but his defence is compelling. When another juror asks “You think he’s not guilty?” in indignation, his response is a quiet “I don’t know.”. He continues “There were eleven votes for guilty. It’s not so easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.”.
Over the remaining 70ish minutes of the movie, Juror 8 (Henry Fonda — none of the jurors give their real names) slowly turns the tide of the movie. He coaxes the jury to re-examine the evidence carefully, from different perspectives and lenses. Juror 8 doesn’t champion the accused murderer’s innocence, but rather attacks the lack of certainty given the evidence, attacks pre-conceived prejudice. He doesn’t bully his fellow jurors into agreement, but methodically exposes chinks to their strongly-held beliefs to the boy’s guilt. As the movie builds to its conclusion, the bigots in the group slowly break down as their arguments on the boy’s guilt are torn down and their prejudice and biases exposed.
I had to rewatch this while doing my MBA as a case study on how Juror 8 is able to subtly but powerfully influence people around him. This is one of my favorite law movies, and I’ve rewatched it at least 8X. Don’t let the age of the movie, or the fact that we don’t use a Jury in Singapore discourage you from watching this amazing classic. Take a deeper look at the film with this review from Roger Ebert here.
Social Network was released in 2010 and garnered 485,000 reviews with an IMDB rating of 7.1. The movie retells the story of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. It is a dramatization of the events that started in a dorm room in Harvard and led to the creation of what is one of the most valuable companies in the world. The movie’s retelling has exhilarating moments that captures the “hacky” start and excitement of the development of Facebook. The scenes where Jesse Eisenberg (who portrays Mark) suddenly goes introspective as he stumbles on insights that would guide the development of Facebook still send shivers down my spine and make me want to jump up, run out and build something to change the world.
The legal part of the movie is also very fascinating and centres around Mark’s disagreements with the Winklevoss twins and who owned the idea for Facebook, and his disagreements with Eduardo Saverin. Mark’s success with Facemash attracted the interest of two upperclassmen (the Winklevoss twins) and their business partner and they invited Zuckerberg to work on Harvard Connection, a social network featuring the exclusive nature of Harvard students and aimed at dating. Mark then adapted this idea to start thefaceboook which quickly became a success which would leave to the Winklevoss twins claiming theft of intellectual property.
It is thrilling to watch because, well, it’s Facebook. It has 1.59 billion monthly active users (MAU) and >70% of Singaporeans access FB daily on their mobile phones. One of the characters in the movie, Brazilian entrepreneur Eduardo Saverin also now lives in Singapore (we see him at tech conferences and events from time to time). (I also have a particular interest in this movie as a former Facebook employee.). The backstory and legal wrangling makes for an education and fascinating watch for any startup. Read more about the movie here.
We hope you enjoyed the list and end up catching a few of these movies over your weekend curled up with a pizza. Let us know what you think of the article and if you have any suggestions! Comment on this article or on our Facebook page.