Our jobs always seem more exciting on the big screen. Journalists have “Almost Famous,” and archaeologists have “Indiana Jones” to make the day-to-day grind seem a little more glamorous.
We’ve compiled the 10 best movies featuring corporate lawyers, in no particular order. Although the companies aren’t always the good guys, the legal situations they find themselves embroiled in are certainly never boring. Take a break, watch the clips, then return to work with the knowledge that if you’re lucky (or very unlucky, could go either way), you might see yourself portrayed on the silver screen.
The Social Network (2010)
Mark Zuckerberg may not have been thrilled with seeing his (fictionalized) life story on screen, but “The Social Network” scored big with critics and at the box office. Propelled by a snappy script from Aaron Sorkin and a star-making performance from Jesse Eisenberg, the film is a witty, insightful exploration of the rise of social networking sites and the dilemmas that ensue when former friendships turn litigious.
North Country (2005)
Two years after winning an Academy Award for her performance in “Monster,” Charlize Theron snagged another Oscar nomination for this dramatization of the first class action sexual harassment case in U.S. history. Single mother Josey Aimes returns to her northern Minnesota hometown and starts work at a local mine, only to find herself the subject of widespread sexual harassment from male employees. When company management turns a blind eye to the abuse, Josey takes her case to court.
To be sure, the adaptation is more Hollywood than hardscrabble, but benefits from performances by the likes of Theron, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Richard Jenkins.
The Informant! (2009)
Matt Damon gained 30 pounds and a mustache to play hapless whistleblower Mark Whitacre, who exposed Archer Daniels Midland’s lysine price fixing scheme in the early 1990s. Initially a boon for his FBI handlers, who spoke at our SuperConference keynote panel this year, Whitacre soon reveals himself to be more complicated than comic, and the movie’s many twists cleverly upend any audience expectations about its heroes and villains.
The Verdict (1982)
Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture, “The Verdict’ features Paul Newman as washed-up attorney Frank Galvin, who has suffered from alcoholism, divorce, and the dissolution of his once-promising career. Galvin gets one last chance at redemption when he takes on the case of a young woman rendered comatose by medical malpractice. Newman convincingly traces Galvin’s transformation from weary failure to fiery crusader, who pursues the case despite the objections of opposing counsel, the presiding judge and the plaintiff’s own family,
Class Action (1991)
Talk about a family feud. In this legal thriller, plaintiff’s attorney Jedediah Ward (played by the always able Gene Hackman) finds himself going up against his estranged daughter Maggie (Mary Anne Mastrantonio) in a case involving a defective automobile. The tension between the idealistic father and pragmatic daughter only intensifies when corporate scheming on the part of the auto manufacturer comes into play.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Julia Roberts deftly blends comedy and pathos in this movie based on the true story of single-mom-turned-star-paralegal Erin Brockovich. While investigating the mysterious maladies of residents in Hinkley, Calif., Brokovich uncovers evidence of groundwater contamination perpetrated—and subsequently concealed—by the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. With the help of her lawyer boss (Albert Finney), Brockovich takes on the mammoth company in an effort to win a settlement for afflicted Hinkley residents.
A Civil Action (1998)
More than a decade before the Hinkley investigation, residents of Woburn, Ma. began falling ill when their water was allegedly polluted by food processing company Beatrice Foods and chemical conglomerate W.R. Grace and Co. In this dramatic retelling, John Travolta plays Jan Schlichtmann, a self-assured Boston attorney who brings a class action suit against the two companies. His courtroom foe is formidable laywer Jerome Facher (Robert Duvall), whose savvy defense of Beatrice threatens to derail Schlictmann’s hopes of success.
Michael Clayton (2007)
What happens when doing your job means protecting the guilty? That’s the question facing the title character (George Clooney) in this taut, engrossing thriller. Clayton is a “fixer” who helps to mend clients’ legal and ethical mistakes. But things take a turn for the sinister when one of the firm’s star litigators (a terrific Tom Wilkinson) suffers a mental breakdown, endangering a merger involving agricultural conglomerate U-North and threatening to unleash a torrent of corporate malice. As U-North’s general counsel, Tilda Swinton turns in an Oscar-winning performance, although she’s hardly a model of best practices.
The Insider (1999)
Featuring a star-studded cast, “The Insider” recounts the true story of one “60 Minutes” segment that turned into a lengthy battle over public health, government regulation and journalistic freedom. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), a former employee at tobacco company Brown & Williamson, breaks his confidentiality agreement to become a whistleblower about the health risks of smoking. CBS initially hesitated to air the interview because of corporate concerns over a potential multimillion-dollar lawsuit. When Wigand’s story does come to light, it leads to lawsuits against several large tobacco companies, and threats against Wigand and his family.
The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
Sex comes to the Supreme Court in this dramatization of the famed First Amendment case Hustler Magazine v. Falwell. Fundamentalist minister Jerry Falwell sued the pornographic magazine Hustler and its publisher, Larry Flynt, for running a parody ad in which Falwell purportedly admitted to having an incestuous relationship with his mother. Woody Harrelson brings energy and irreverence to his portrayal of self-described “scumbag” Flynt, whose lengthy legal battle turned him into the unwitting poster boy for free speech.