The best John Grisham movie adaptations


Who doesn’t love a good legal thriller? And, when it comes to fictionalized stories of law and corruption, John Grisham is the go-to guy. Author and attorney Grisham first found success in 1989 with the release of his debut novel A Time to Kill. Since then he has penned over two dozen legal novels, as well as a couple of baseball novels too. This was a difficult list to compile, but we think we’ve finally narrowed down our top five John Grisham adaptations.

5. The Client (1994)

The principal strength of The Client lies in Susan Sarandon’s excellent performance, which carries the movie. Sure, there are great supporting turns from Tommy Lee Jones and Anthony LaPaglia, and a young Brad Renfro as Mark. The movie works on many levels, and Sarandon’s lawyer (formerly with a drinking problem) is a fascinating watch. Ultimately, The Client is one of the best Grisham adaptations but lacks the scope of some of the others – hence why it’s 5th on the list.

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4. The Pelican Brief (1993)

The second Grisham adaptation released in 1993 (the first was The Firm), The Pelican Brief stars Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts as young law students who uncover a government conspiracy. It’s well acted, wonderfully directed by Alan Pakula, and has an interesting a believable story. It’s a pretty light movie, certainly more family-friendly than some of the others, but it’s a solid sophomore effort and one that remains very watchable. Plus, who doesn’t love Denzel?!

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3. A Time to Kill (1996)

A Time to Kill may not be everybody’s cup of tea – with a story surrounding racial tensions, and one that seems pretty supportive of vigilante justice, the film remains controversial. Having said that, it does have some fantastic courtroom tension and a career-making performance from a young Matthew McConaughey. While Grisham’s first novel may not be his best adaptation, it is certainly up there, and well worth a look if you like courtroom dramas – especially those influenced by To Kill A Mockingbird.

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2. The Firm (1993)

This was the one that started the ball rolling in terms of Grisham adaptations, and it’s a slick tight thriller, with Tom Cruise at its center. Your feelings on the movie will largely depend on what you think of the T-man. His young, cocky, naive lawyer joins a law firm, only to find out it’s corrupt, leaving him with a moral dilemma. With a wonderful supporting cast, most notably Gene Hackman, The Firm is one of the best Grisham adaptations ever.

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1. The Rainmaker (1997)

A bold choice for the top spot, granted, but we feel it comes in just a nose ahead of The Firm for the underdog nature of the story, plus Coppola’s wonderful direction. The story of Matt Damon’s young lawyer taking on a corrupt insurance firm, with a side story featuring Claire Danes in an abusive relationship, is a triumph. It might not be the flashiest or slickest of the Grisham adaptations, but it’s certainly got the most heart, and that’s what brings it in at number one on the list.

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John Grisham is one of the best-selling authors in America, having sold more than 250 million copies of his books worldwide. His heyday was most definitely in the 1990s when no less than 7 of his books were adapted for the big screen. Though it has been a while since his work was adapted, these movies remain some of the best legal thrillers ever made.