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What to Watch: Top Four Movies for Criminal Justice Majors

There have been a number of films produced with real-life depictions of criminals and the criminal justice system. Check out these top four movies for criminal justice majors that are both thrilling and offer some unique insight into this rewarding career field.

A photo showing a group of people sitting together in a movie theater eating popcorn while watching a movie for criminal justice majorsThe criminal justice field is different from many others in that sometimes you are witness to an event that makes you shake your head or tasked with investigating a truly bizarre happening. Oftentimes, these events and happenings involve details that you could never imagine would occur in real life, belonging only on the big screen.

That’s why it’s sometimes nice to take a break and simply watch a film, safe in the knowledge that it isn’t up to you to dig through the evidence to figure out “who did it.” Nor is it your responsibility to “fix the system” or turn an offender around in the hopes that he or she never victimizes anyone again.

Which movies satisfy that itch to somehow be involved without actually having an active role in the judicial process, therefore becoming extremely appealing to criminal justice majors? Here are a few movies for criminal justice majors to consider.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

If you’re new to the criminal justice field, you may feel like you need to prove yourself. Being a rookie or newcomer on the scene, you might think that you must show that you’re able to take the most complex crimes and unravel them like a loosely knit sweater, earning the respect of your colleagues along the way. That’s the same type of pressure Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) faces as an FBI cadet in the 1991 film Silence of the Lambs.

Though Starling wants nothing more than to prove that she can hold her own, she quickly learns that she’s met her match when, as a trainee, she is assigned to question Dr. Hannibal Lector (Sir Anthony Hopkins), a psychiatrist who is also a serial killer known for eating his victims. Her goal? To get this cannibalizing doctor to help the FBI solve an open serial killer case where more and more women are going missing by the day.

Perhaps one of the reasons this movie is a must-see for criminal justice majors is that it really makes you think about not only how cunning some criminals can be, but also of how far you’d be willing to go to prove your worth in this field.

For instance, would you answer the questions that Dr. Lector poses to Clarice “quid pro quo,” agreeing to provide insight into the current killer’s mind only if she reveals personal information about herself?

Not sure? Watching this movie may just help you figure that out.

Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Another movie for criminal justice majors that is older, yet still relevant today—especially if you’re interested in working in corrections—is Shawshank Redemption.

This 1994 film is about a man by the name of Andy Dufresne (Timothy Robbins) who is wrongly convicted of killing his wife and her lover, earning him a lengthy prison sentence. While incarcerated, Dufresne befriends other prisoners like a man known as “Red” (Morgan Freeman), who help him learn how to navigate his new life behind bars. What these fellow prisoners don’t know is that, although Andy is acting like the model prisoner, he is also planning to escape in the hopes of finding his way to the freedom he deserves.

Criminal justice majors tend to like this film because it opens your eyes to the way some prisoner’s minds work. Additionally, even though they may seem one way, it may all be a mirage with an attempt at manipulating you to play right into their plan. It also exposes some of the injustices that sometimes occur in the criminal justice system, increasing your motivation to become one of the “good ones.”

Does Dufresne ever successfully make his escape? You have to watch the movie to know for sure.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Working in the criminal justice system can often feel like a game of cat and mouse. Just when you think you have the upper hand, you learn that you’ve been outwitted by someone who seems to always be one step ahead. That’s the premise behind Catch Me If You Can.

In this movie—which is based on real life—Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) sets out to help his father (Christopher Walken) who is in trouble with the IRS and facing marital issues with Abagnale’s mom. Through his efforts, Abagnale finds himself in positions that require him to act as a doctor, airline pilot, and more.

What makes so many criminal justice majors fascinated with this film is, in addition to being based on the journey of a real-life conman, it’s easy to understand how the detective pursuing him (Tom Hanks) must feel. So many times, he gets within reach of Abagnale, only to lose sight of him yet again.

In the end…well, we won’t tell you how it wound up. All we can say is this one is well worth the watch.

Pain & Gain (2013)

If you are a criminal justice major who prefers movies that are more comedy than drama, Pain & Gain is one to watch. Not only is this piece loaded with scenes designed to make you laugh, what’s most intriguing about this film is, like Catch Me If You Can, it is also based on a real-life event.

Pain & Gain is the story about how a group of bodybuilders kidnapped a rich and successful businessman in order to steal all of his money. Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is the ringleader, compelling his fellow bodybuilders Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) to join him in his scheme. However, things don’t go quite as they planned as the members in the group begin to take actions that make their kidnap and extortion attempt more difficult (and dangerous) to pull off.

Though the movie is intended to be somewhat humorous, it serves as a great reminder that, when working in criminal justice, nothing is out of the question. There are people in this world who feel that they are entitled to certain things, and they’re willing to do just about anything to get them.

Admittedly, in an interview with the real-life victim Marc Schiller, Schiller does indicate that the character’s personalities were somewhat askew from how they were in reality. Specifically, the three bodybuilders were much more manipulative and dangerous than depicted in the film. But it’s still a good movie for criminal justice majors to watch if you prefer your criminal justice films to be a bit on the lighter side and not quite so intense.

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