The plot concerns a supposedly straightforward murder trial. An eyewitness, forensic evidence, and the accused himself all seem to clearly point to an adolescent boy having murdered his father. In the deliberation room, most of the jurors push for a quick guilty verdict, but a single juror, known only as Juror #8, holds out and insists that they examine the evidence thoroughly to make damn sure that the accused deserves his punishment: a mandatory death sentence.
This work is best known as the film that popularized the Rogue Juror trope. Though it was not the first work to use it, it was the first to receive widespread critical acclaim. It's a classic of American cinema and recommended watching — especially because most of the other works on the Rogue Juror page reference it either directly or indirectly. There is even a redirect to the trope in reference to this film: One Angry Juror.
In 1997, it was adapted yet again, this time as a Made-for-TV movie on Showtime, starring Jack Lemmon as Juror #8 and George C. Scott as the main antagonist, Juror #3. This adaptation race lifted several jurors, gender flipped the judge, and added more cussing. In 2007, a Russian version titled simply 12 was released.
Tropes used include:
- Abusive Parents: Its revealed that the murder victim was an abusive dad.
- Ambiguously Brown: The defendant seems to have a slightly darker skin color than the rest of the cast, and is referred to as being part of an unnamed ethnicity that lives in a New York slum. The actor, John Savoca, is of southern Italian descent (his surname is a toponym that ties his family origin to Savoca, Sicily).
- Ambiguous Situation: The killing itself. The audience is never shown if the defendant did murder the victim or if he's innocent. But that's the entire point of the movie, which leads to the Aesop below.
- An Aesop: Jury duty should never be taken lightly, and a man should never be convicted of a crime unless his guilt can be proven without a reasonable doubt.
- Armor-Piercing Question:
- Juror #8 catches #10 in a bit of a contradiction early on, which earns him a cold, sarcastic reply.Juror #8: I'd like to ask you something: you don't believe the boy's story, how come you believe the woman's? She's one of "them", too, isn't she?
Juror #10: You're a pretty smart fellow, aren't you?
- A very intense one happens after #8 baits #3 into lashing out at him.Juror #3: I'll kill you! I'll kill you!!
Juror #8: You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?
- Juror #8 catches #10 in a bit of a contradiction early on, which earns him a cold, sarcastic reply.
- Asshole Victim: The murder victim was an abusive father.
- Awesomeness by Analysis: Juror #9, who provides great insights on the eyewitnesses based on their appearances at court, and in turn gives fairly logical reasons for why their testimonies might not be truthful. Also leads to the Wham Line, below.
- Believing Their Own Lies:
- At the start of the deliberations, Juror #3 opens by claiming to have no personal bias towards the case. It quickly becomes apparent that this is far from the truth, and #3 himself is the last one to realize it.
- Juror #9 also suggests that this trope could explain why the old man testified that he saw the defendant fleeing the murder scene, when his ability to have done so was in doubt. He was so eager for the chance to be part of a murder investigation and trial that it overrode his good sense.
- Also, for the bespectacled woman who claims to have witnessed the murder itself. At no point does anyone allege that any witnesses deliberately lied, only that they thought they heard or saw something near that time, or heard/saw something that was obscure, and convinced themselves it was the murder.
- Blind Without Them: One of the witnesses is thought to be this. This is what puts her testimony into question.
- Break Them by Talking:
- Played straight initially when Juror #8 baits #3 into lashing out in a rage (thus proving his point about Ineffectual Death Threats).
- Inverted when Juror #10 goes on a bigoted diatribe, is ignored by everyone, and spends the rest of the film in defeated silence.
- Inverted again when Juror #3 breaks himself by going on a similar rant, only to find that the room has gone dead silent over the pitiable wreck he has made of himself.
- Character Filibuster:
- Juror #10 has a particularly nasty, racism-filled rant against "the likes of him [the accused]" that causes the other jurors to turn away from him one by one, until #4 shuts him up:Juror #10: Listen to me!
Juror #4: I have. Now sit down and don't open your mouth again.
- Juror #3 has a smaller one, but in his case he breaks down all by himself afterwards.
- Juror #10 has a particularly nasty, racism-filled rant against "the likes of him [the accused]" that causes the other jurors to turn away from him one by one, until #4 shuts him up:
- The Charmer: Juror #12, a smartly-dressed Motor Mouth adman, presents this way early on. He is very friendly to the other jurors and tries to defuse the tension when they fight. He loses this trait and turns hesitant and unsure later on, flip-flopping his vote according to who cowed him last.
- Chromosome Casting: All of the jurors are male. It's right in the title. Theatrical adaptations, however, sometimes avert this.
- Cool Old Guy: Juror #9, the oldest member of the cast and the first to support #8.
- Corner of Woe: Juror #10 retreats to one when, after one of his racist rants goes too far, Juror #4 shuts him up. From that point on, #10 rarely participates in any of the deliberations, only weakly showing an acknowledgement that his vote is "not guilty" when a poll is taken (ironically, after #4 changes his vote upon the woman's testimony about clearly seeing the killing is discredited).
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Juror #4, who is known to use this to quip back at some of the apparently less-than-logical theories.
- #7 is a less subtle version, whose hostile wisecracks contribute little to the proceedings except an added sense of tension in the room.
- Dissonant Serenity: Juror #8 when Juror #3 is pretending to stab him (the other jurors are standing up, worried that #3 is actually going to stab him).
- Dude, Not Funny!: The other jurors' reaction to #3 pretending to raise the knife to stab #8, considering the tensions between them.
- Empathic Environment: The rainstorm. And to a lesser extent, the fan, which finally starts up when the votes start to swing in favor of acquittal.
- Establishing Character Moment: Juror #8 is first seen pondering at the window of the jury room before being called over to begin deliberations. Notably, he isn't shown speaking and chattering excitedly like most of the jurors, hinting that the majority sentiment won't go through as easily as previously thought.
- Everyone Has Standards:
- Juror #3 may be vicious and want to see the defendant executed, but even he is unwilling to listen to #10's bigoted tirades. Even Juror #4, who comes off as a Jerkass at times, and is strongly convinced of the defendant's guilt, has had enough of #10's bigotry, and tells him as such in no uncertain terms.
- Juror #10 doesn't look too impressed when #3 and #12 are playing a game rather than listening to the evidence.
- Extremely Short Timespan: It's not established exactly at what time deliberations started, but it's implied they started no later than noon, through a rainstorm that started late in the afternoon, and finally winding down sometime after 6 pm, of the same day. The editing makes it feel like it's happening in real time, but the outside lighting and weather reminds us that it's actually taking a bit longer.
- Foreshadowing: #3's breakdown is set up very early in the movie, when he first goes to the cooler and stares at the photo of his son.
- Freudian Excuse: Juror #3 — he spends the movie continuously trying to convict a young man where there is more and more reasonable doubt for his guilt because his relationship with his son appeared to have gone very sour. It's a classic case of Psychological Projection. He realizes this at the end, though, and does not continue his stance.
- Fulton Street Folly: The film is set in a New York City courtroom, and the opening and closing scenes were shot on location at the New York State Supreme Court Building in Lower Manhattan.
- The Ghost: The witnesses mentioned are never shown.
- Grey and Gray Morality: Though the pro-acquittal side is painted A Lighter Shade of Grey.
- Guile Hero: Juror #8. His smarts kick-start the plot.
- Heat Wave: One of the jurors remarks that it's supposed to be the hottest day of the year, and most of them are sweaty and agitated in the poorly-ventilated deliberation room. Things get a little better once they manage to get the wall fan running.
- Heel Realization:
- When, in the middle of his furious insistence that the defendant is guilty, Juror #3 sees the picture of his estranged son and rips it to pieces, you can see in his face that he has just figured out what he was really doing.
- Vaguely implied for Juror #10. When he rants at length about how "they" (the unspecified ethnic group the defendant belongs to) are by nature nothing but a bunch of hotheaded liars and killers, the way all eleven of the other jurors respond with silent open contempt for his views, followed by #4's command to sit down and not say another word causes him to go practically catatonic. He spends the remainder of the deliberation silently staring at nothing, and after #4 changes his vote to not guilty, #10 soon follows. It is left ambiguous, if this means he was actually rethinking his views, or if he just felt defeated. The original telepay and the Showtime version aren't as ambiguous; when the final vote is taken, #10 flat out says he believes the defendant is guilty, he's just voting "not guilty" cause he's done butting heads with the others.
- Hollywood Law:
- Juror #8 states that he went walking in the defendant's neighborhood, and found a copy of the supposedly unique switchblade knife in a local store. He presents it to the jury to prove his point. In a real jury proceding, the term for this is "juror misconduct." Jurors are not permitted to perform their own investigations, or admit their own evidence (the second knife), and they're really not supposed to consider evidence not presented in court. If it were to come out that #8 did all this, it's possible (though unlikely, given the double jeopardy prohibition) the verdict could be set aside, and #8 could be charged for his actions. There is at least an acknowledgement that #8 broke the law by buying the knife, but nobody brings up that searching for a knife is misconduct. Of course, none of the jurors are lawyers, so it's possible that they didn't recognize the acts as such.
- In addition to considering evidence not introduced in court, the jurors outright disregard many of the witness testimonies that were introduced in court, for reasons that the prosecutor and defense attorney never actually brought up as possible issues (like the fact that one of the witnesses may or may not have been nearsighted). In Real Life, only a judge has the final say on whether or not statements in court can be considered credible, and jurors aren't supposed to disregard witness testimonies unless a judge instructs them to disregard them. That said, this doesn't always stop it from happening since once someone has witnessed something it can't just be erased from their mind. This is why both prosecution and defense have to be careful not to cause situation or statements that could influence the minds of the jury to give their side a disadvantage.
- Hypocritical Humor: This exchange, which is even funnier when considering that Juror #11 is an immigrant to the US from Europe.Juror #10: He's a common, ignorant slob. He don't even speak good English.
Juror #11: He doesn't even speak good English.
- I'll Kill You!: Said by the defendant and later Juror #3, which gets thrown back in his face because he'd earlier claimed that people don't say something like that unless they mean it.
- Immigrant Patriotism: Juror #11 takes a moment to gush about the jury trial system, and how it could only happen in a democracy like the United States. They never say where he came from, but the implication is that the country he was from is not a democracy. He also berates #7 for refusing to take the process seriously, and makes a point to make sure he is speaking English more properly than the bigoted natural-born #10.
- Ineffectual Death Threats: One point of discussion is whether the defendant was serious when he allegedly shouted "I'll Kill You!" prior to the murder. Juror #3 insists that anyone who says that in anger means it, but Juror #8 later throws this back at him after provoking him into doing the same.
- Juror #3 is argumentative, dismissive of others, and voraciously adamant in seeing the defendant get executed.
- Juror #10 doesn't have any logical reason for his guilty vote; he's just extremely racist, to the point where he eventually drops all pretenses and goes on a lengthy bigoted tirade to which the other jurors refuse to listen.
- Juror #7. Aside from constantly insulting the other jurors with his constant pithy remarks, he doesn't care what the decision of the jury is. He's only concerned with catching a baseball game. At least the most vicious jurors voted guilty because they believed in it. That said, when called out on this, he does say that he doesn't believe the accused is guilty. Fortunately, the game is rained out during the deliberation, so he can relax and pay attention for once.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Juror #4 initially comes like a bit of an aloof jerk, but by the end he proves to be one of the more reasonable jurors, changing his verdict when given sensible reason to do so and calling out #10 for his bigoted rant.
- The Judge: Shown issuing instructions to the jury in the opening scene. Many stage productions (and the 1997 TV version) cast a woman in the role as a way of bringing at least some token gender diversity to the play without having to change its title.
- Jury Duty: Well, yeah. The characters run the whole gamut of taking the duty very seriously (Juror #8's stance on this drives the whole plot, and Juror #11 later claims the responsibility to be one of the greatest things about American democracy) to being almost entirely dismissive of it (Juror #12 is more concerned with doodling and talking about his work than he is with the deliberations, and Juror #7 is mostly upset that he's missing a baseball game; both get called out for this). Notably, Jurors #3 and #10 are taking it seriously, but are too hung up on their own emotional baggage to approach it objectively.
- Karma Houdini: All the Jurors in the end give the same verdict: "not guilty". If the kid is actually guilty, he gets away with murdering his father. If he is genuinely innocent, the real killer is still at large and unsuspected. Of course, within the realm of the movie, the investigation would be considered ongoing, so it's more of a matter of them not covering the part where someone actually gets caught and convicted as guilty, since that's not the focus.
- The Lancer:
- Juror #9 acts as this, to some extent, to Juror #8. #9 is the first person to side with #8, and helps him out when he's arguing with the others.
- As does #4 to #3. #4 provides logical reasoning for all of #3's passionate arguments, and is one of the last people to change his mind.
- Lampshade Hanging: "You know, it's interesting he'd find a knife exactly like the one the boy bought!" Double lampshaded by #3's response asking what's so interesting about it.
- Let Me at Him!: Juror #3, after being provoked by Juror #8, lunges at him out of rage, only to be held back by Jurors #5, #6 and #7.
- Locked in a Room: A deliberation room. Lampshaded by #5 and #10.Juror #5: I never knew they locked the door.
Juror #10: Sure they lock the door. What'd you think?
Juror #5: I don't know. It just never occurred to me.
- Man in White: Juror #8 traditionally wears a white coat or shirt. He's the first one to believe the boy could be innocent.
- Minimalism: Apart from a very short prologue and epilogue, the entire play/film takes place in the jury room (and an adjacent bathroom).
- Minimalist Cast: At the beginning of the film, other people (such as the defendant and the judge) are briefly shown, but for the rest of the film, we only see the twelve jurors (and the bailiff, briefly). The play doesn't show anyone but the jurors and the bailiff, with the judge's voice only being heard from off-stage.
- Monochrome Casting: Perhaps unsurprisingly for a film made in The '50s, the jury is all-white (although one is an immigrant with a noticeable accent). Later productions often avert it.
- Nameless Narrative: No names are used for any of the jurors, and not even for the victim or defendant. The film added an epilogue not in the play that gives last names for Juror #8 (Davis) and Juror #9 (McCardle).
- Nice Hat: Juror #7 wears a straw fedora throughout the film. Some of the other jurors wear hats as well, but they remove them at the start of the story.
- Notably Quick Deliberation: If not for Juror #8, the jurors would have declared the kid guilty in about five minutes, tops.
- Oh, Crap!: Juror #3's face when he realizes that he's just contradicted his own argument subtly, but wonderfully, evokes this sentiment.
- The Oner: The film is full of them, especially the scene where the jurors get settled in the room, the bathroom scene, and Juror #10's rant scene.
- Psychological Projection: It becomes clear by the end that the real reason Juror #3 is so insistent on a guilty conviction is because he's projecting his own problems with his son onto the case.
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: While there are plenty of impassioned speeches, the trope is less severe than most examples since the characters often stutter or pause at key points.
- Reality Has No Soundtrack: The music plays four times.
- Real Time: Fully in the play; broken briefly at the beginning and end of the film.
- The Reason You Suck Speech: Juror #11 to Juror #7, after the latter changes his vote just to break the deadlock:Juror #11: What kind of a man are you? You have sat here and voted guilty with everyone else, because there are some baseball tickets burning a hole in your pocket? And now you've changed your vote because you say you're sick of all the talking here?
Juror #7: Now listen, buddy!
Juror #11: Who tells you that you have the right to play like this with a man's life? Don't you care?
Juror #7: Now, wait a minute! You can't talk like that to me!
Juror #11: I can talk like that to you! If you want to vote not guilty, then do it because you are convinced the man is not guilty, not because you've had enough. And if you think he is guilty, then vote that way. Or don't you have the guts to do what you think is right?
- Reverse Grip: An important plot point is how unlikely it is for any experienced knife fighter to use a switchblade this way.
- Rogue Juror: If not the Trope Maker, definitely the Trope Codifier. In this case, however, the rogue juror isn't actually convinced of the defendant's innocence at first. He just wants to forestall an overly hasty deliberation.
- Sadist: Juror #8 deliberately calls Juror #3 one to rile him up to make a point, that people don't always mean what they say.
- Secondhand Storytelling: We never see the murder, the investigation, or even the trial — all we learn about them is what comes up during the deliberation by the jurors.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Juror #10 digs his own grave when he starts shooting his mouth off about how inferior the lower classes are. By the time he's finished, when everyone has clearly stopped listening, this trope — delivered by #4 — is all it takes to shut him up for the rest of the movie.Juror #10: Listen to me! Listen!
Juror #4: I have. Now sit down and don't open your mouth again.
- Silence, You Fool!: In 1957 film, Juror #3 impolitely orders Juror #2 to be quiet, when he interrupts him:Juror #3: Okay, let-let's get to the point. What about the switch knife, they found in the old man's chest?
Juror #2: Uh, wai-wait a minute, there's some people who haven't talked yet. Shouldn't we go in order?
Juror #3: They'll get their chance to talk — BE quiet a second, will ya?
Juror #2: (sags his head a bit)
- Silent Treatment: How everyone reacts when Juror #10 flies off the handle about the inferiority of the lower classes. Even the ones who were still in favor of conviction. It shames him enough that he sulks quietly in the corner for the rest of the film.
- Sinister Switchblade: Someone used a switchblade to kill the boy's father.
- Speech-Centric Work: The film consists of the twelve jurors debating whether or not the defendant is guilty.
- The Spock: Juror #4 is certainly the most rational of the group, concerning himself purely with the facts. Despite being one of the last holdouts in favor of conviction, he listens to all of his opponents' arguments with an open mind. Once all of his objections have been rebutted, he changes his vote without complaint.
- The Stoic: Similar to the above, Juror #4 is also the most calm and collected of the jurors, never raising his voice or showing strong emotions of any kind. He's not completely stoic, though, as a few scenes evidence. He becomes visibly unnerved while being interrogated by Juror #8, and towards the end, expresses annoyance towards Juror #3 (for his obnoxiousness), Juror #9 (for badgering him with seemingly-inane questions instead of getting to the point), and Juror #10 (for being obviously prejudiced against the defendant, instead of arriving at that conclusion by the exercise of logic).
- Title by Number: 12 Angry Men.
- Thunder Equals Downpour: One clap of thunder, cue rainstorm.
- The Un-Reveal: Did the boy really kill his father? If he didn't, who did? Since the play and film only see the case from the jurors' perspective (not the police's), it is never discovered. All that is known is that there is reasonable doubt as to the boy's guilt — which, under the laws of the United States, is enough to keep him from being convicted. Truth in Television, of course — jurors not working on an obvious open and shut case rarely get "closure" as to whether or not they were right.
- Unwanted Assistance: Near the conclusion, when jurors #3 and #4 are the last ones still arguing for conviction, #4 is clearly annoyed at having his rational arguments undermined by #3's not-so-rational cheering from over his shoulder.
- Verbal Tic: Juror #10 seems to have one of these, you know what I mean? *sniff*
- Video Credits: Although the jurors each have a number, and they sit in order, these are used to help distinguish the names of actors with their faces.
- Villainous Breakdown:
- When Juror #10 delivers his famous rant. "Listen... listen to me...."
- And Juror #3 shortly afterward. Made somewhat more poignant by the reactions of the other jurors; where they reacted to #10's breakdown with silent anger, they watch #3's meltdown with something closer to pity, as most of them realise why he is really pushing for a guilty verdict even as he denies the true reason, not just to the other jurors but to himself.
- Wham Line: Each time a piece of evidence is found to be wanting, a Wham Line usually reveals the flaw, i.e. "No one who had used one of these knives would hold it like that." "What movie did you see that night?" etc. One especially notable one (for how thoroughly it demolishes a key piece of evidence):Juror #8: The old man according to his own testimony — "I'm gonna kill you", body hitting the floor a split second later — would have had to hear the boy make this statement with the L roaring past his nose! It's not possible he could have heard it!
- Wham Shot: Juror #8 pulls out a switchblade and sticks it into the table right next to the "unique" murder weapon, showing that they are identical.
- Worthy Opponent: Both Juror #8 and #4 debate their points without getting too personal, each seems to be just as factual as the other, and #4 certainly seems to view #8 this way.
- You Are Number 6: The jurors are only ever referred to by their numbers, though Jurors #8 and #9 introduce their names to each other at the end of the film adaptations.
- You Wouldn't Shoot Me:
- Juror #3 is asked to re-enact the stabbing process on Juror #8. Given the tension between the two men, and #3's almost maniacal bloodthirstiness, there's a definite tension as to how "real" #3 will make the re-enactment. Lampshaded by the alarmed reactions of most of the other ten jurors as he draws back the knife.
- Referring back to the I'll Kill You! example above, Juror #8 afterwards remarks, "You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?"