Movies That Make Lawyers Think "Wait a Minute…"

Lawyers always see the world through code sections and case law.

For anyone related to a lawyer, married to a lawyer, or dating a lawyer, their beloved attorney is constantly analyzing their surroundings. This can make a simple night of watching a movie a challenge.

Take these seemingly harmless movies and what lawyers think of while watching them:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

Harry Potter spent the first 10 years of his life living in the cupboard under the stairs. Where was child protective services?  While the Charles Dickens style child suffrage built character for a later hero, how was that even legal in modern Great Britain?

Wizard Costume Halloween Boy
Wait a minute….they can’t make me live under the stairs…

At this point, the lawyer’s mind starts thinking about the specific language of the relevant code sections.

For example, a California attorney may stop watching the movie 10 minutes into the film to look up “child abuse” under the California Penal Code.

The attorney may focus on Cal Pen Code § 273a(a) and wonder if Harry living under the stairs meet the language of “willfully causes or permits any child to suffer.”

Would the the verbal treatment by the uncle be enough to prove unjustifiable mental suffering?

As the series continues, lawyers start thinking about other issues.

For example, whether there was any class action litigation against potion manufacturers is never addressed in the films. Would the litigation be similar to a pharmaceutical case? Lawyers start thinking about that as soon as one student falls in “love” with another due to Amortentia, Cupid Crystals, Kissing Concoction, Beguiling Bubbles or Twilight Moonbeams. On a fundamental level, how were any of those remotely legal and commercially available?

Toy Story 3 & Torture:

Did Toy Story 3 inadvertently sanction torture?

Barbie breaks Ken into disclosing how Buzz Lightyear was re-set by 1) knocking Ken out; 2) tying Ken up; and 2) ripping up his vintage clothes until Ken betrayed the dictatorial Lotso.

The lawyer who starts thinking about this might grab their iPad and look up Torture in their West Black’s Law Dictionary App. This is what they would find:

torture, n. (16c) The infliction of intense pain to the body or mind to punish, to extract a confession or information, or to obtain sadistic pleasure. — torture, vb.

The question remains, is destroying vintage clothes enough to cause intense pain to the mind to extract information to be torture?

What do jury instructions say on torture?

Is there any case law on emotional torture by destroying property?

How do I explain this fact pattern to the research attorney on the phone?

Captain America and Back-Pay?

E-Pruribus-UnumCaptain America: The First Avengers ends with Steve Rodgers waking up in New York City after spending nearly 70 years in ice.

Would Captain America be entitled to Army back-pay for nearly 70 years, adjusted for interest, inflation and cost of living increases since World War 2 under the Missing Persons Act, 37 U.S.C. §§ 551-558?


The true Geek Lawyer (and a few JAG Officers) would spend a lot of time researching case law dating back to World War 2 for the answer.

Cash-EnvelopeIt’s a Wonderful Life

Henry F. Potter kept the Building & Loans’ money that Uncle Billy lost.

Does Potter cover up the extra $8,000 somehow?

Does the bank notice an $8,000 deposit days after the town rallied to save George Bailey?

Is Mr. Potter later tried and convicted for grand larceny?

Think Like a Lawyer

Attorneys are taught in law school to “think like a lawyer.”  A side effect of such training is dissecting scenes of movies for their legal issues. Many of us have learned not spoil a perfectly good evening by asking these questions to non-attorney friends and family.