12 Angry Men (1957)
Lumet's first film almost exclusively takes place in a jury's room when, over the course of a murder trial, one juror, played by Henry Fonda, painstakingly convinces the others that the defendant is innocent. While there have been many iterations of 12 Angry Men, Lumet's became an instant classic and earned him his first of four Oscar nominations for best director.
Lumet's satire about a network TV station not only won four Oscars—and received 10 nominations—but also sealed the line "I'm as mad as hell" into cinematic history. Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway both took home Oscar hardware for their respective roles of an anchor and executive at a network struggling to stay afloat, though Lumet didn't have the same fortune. The director didn't receive an Oscar until 2005, when he received an honorary award for his fifty years of exceptional filmmaking.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Several of Lumet's films centered on criminal justice themes, and Dog Day Afternoon is no exception. Al Pacino stars as Sonny, a rookie robber who has a police standoff in Brooklyn following a bank hold-up gone wrong. Lumet's film, which was based on a real 1972 crime, was nominated for six Oscars, including Pacino for best actor, and won for original screenplay.
Lumet was known for shooting in New York rather than on sets, and in 1973's Serpico, Pacino returns to the city on the other side of the law. The actor again received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of another true story based on the life of Frank Serpico, a real-life New York City cop who went undercover to expose the corruption of the police department.
The Verdict (1982)
Lumet returned to the courtroom for 1982's The Verdict, about an alcoholic lawyer who files a malpractice lawsuit on behalf of a comatose woman. Lumet scored another Oscar nomination for best director, and the film nabbed four others, including Paul Newman for his portrayal of lawyer Frank Galvin, whose inspiring closing argument explains why.