Study Guide

12 Angry Men Summary

12 Angry Men Summary

We enter a courthouse and see twelve men sitting in a jury box. The judge gives them instructions to reach a ruling on a trial for first-degree murder. The accused is an eighteen year-old kid who's been charged with murdering his dad, and all of the jurors seem pretty convinced that he did it. It barely takes them any time to vote for Guilty when they enter the jury room. But one holds out for a Not Guilty verdict. In the U.S., juries usually need to reach a unanimous vote in order to decide a case, so it looks like the jurors aren't going anywhere until they can get Juror #8 (the naysayer) to play ball.

At first, Juror #8 says he just wants to talk for a while about the verdict. After all, they're about to send an eighteen year-old kid to the electric chair, and Juror #8 doesn't want to do that without having a conversation first. He brings up certain details of the case that have been bothering him, but the other jurors want him to stop stalling so they can get on with the Guilty verdict. Finally, Juror #8 asks the foreman to take a second vote, which he (#8) will stay out of. If everyone votes for Guilty again, he'll join them and end the whole thing.

But sure enough, one of the other jurors votes Not Guilty, and the conversation continues.

One of the biggest pieces of evidence against the young man on trial is the unique knife that was used to kill his father. A store owner reported selling this same type of knife to the kid earlier in the night. But Juror #8 proves that the knife isn't unique at all when he pulls out an exact replica and slams it down into the jury table. The others are amazed, and Juror #8 gets a little more support for his Not Guilty verdict.

The longer the discussion goes on, the more we realize that certain jurors (like #3 and #10) are just really vindictive dudes who want to send the kid to the electric chair for petty, personal reasons. However, Juror #8 continues his assault on the evidence by proving that it was impossible for one of the witnesses (an old man) to have been in the place he was when he allegedly saw the defendant fleeing the murder scene. Suddenly (and by suddenly we mean after long, arduous debate), there are just as many votes for Not Guilty as there are for Guilty.

One of the last pieces of evidence that stands in Juror #8's way is a woman who testified to seeing the defendant kill his father from across the street. But one of the other jurors brings up the fact that the woman wore glasses and wouldn't have had time to put them on before looking out her window. At this point, a few of the last remaining Guilty jurors give up and change their verdicts. One of the remaining ones (#10) goes on a rant about how they should kill the defendant because of his race, but the others quickly stop listening to him, and he caves on the "Not Guilty" verdict.

All of this leaves us with just one guy standing in the way of a Not Guilty verdict—the dreaded Juror #3. We know from earlier in the movie that this guy has it in for the defendant because he (#3) has issues with kids not respecting their fathers. He hasn't seen his own son in over two years, and he feels the need to punish someone for what's happened in his own life. And that someone is the kid on trial.

But after one last epic blowout, even this guy has to let go of his hate and find the kid Not Guilty. The foreman calls in the bailiff, and the men give their verdict.

After leaving the courthouse, Juror #8 runs into another one of the jurors, and they exchange their names. Then #8 walks off with a big smile on his face, feeling proud for having saved the life of an innocent young man. 

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    • We get a shot of the front of a courthouse before the shot cuts inside to show a bunch of people milling around. A dude with glasses walks through the hallways and passes a group of people celebrating a court victory. Said dude enters a courtroom, where someone is being tried for first-degree murder.
    • The judge explains to the twelve male jurors their responsibilities in voting on the fate of a man accused of murder. Overall, the judge seems pretty bored with the whole process, as if he's seen so many people sent to Death Row that he doesn't even care anymore.
    • We get a look at a young non-white man, who looks worried about what the jurors are going to decide. Then the title of the movie and the opening credits flash up while the jurors enter the decision room.
    • Some of the men joke about the weather, while one of them cuts up paper in case they want to vote by written ballots. In one corner, one of the jurors says that if he were in charge, he'd slap down all the tough kids in America before they ever had a chance to make trouble. In his mind, kids go bad because they haven't had enough discipline.
    • The 12 men seem eager to get going with their decision as they take their seats. Some of them seem to think they'll decide pretty quickly, because it's obvious the kid is guilty.
    • The foreman (Juror #1) reminds the men that if they vote guilty, they'll be sending the boy to the electric chair.
    • The jurors take a preliminary vote and find that 11 are voting "Guilty" and only one is voting "Not Guilty." So, obviously, all eyes turn to that guy, Juror #8, who happens to be played by the great Henry Fonda.
    • The guys want the one naysayer to change his vote to guilty, but he doesn't want to send a boy to his death without talking about it first.
    • Juror #8 talks about what a miserable life the accused kid has had. Apparently, the kid's father was really abusive, and it sounds like the kid stabbed him when he'd finally had enough of the abuse. Juror #8 thinks that the men owe the kid a few words, but Juror #10 thinks they don't owe the kid a thing.
    • As Juror #10 keeps talking, it becomes clear that he's pretty racist and just assumes that non-whites can't be trusted in general. Juror #9 (the old man) tries to tell him he's ignorant, but he gets talked back into his seat by the other jurors.
    • Finally, the men decide to go around the table and have each juror explain his reasons for why he voted guilty. Juror #2 goes first and says he thought it was obvious, because no one could prove the kid didn't do it. But Juror #9 reminds him that the burden of proof is on the prosecution and not the defendant.
    • Juror #3 pipes up and says that the facts clearly point to the kid being guilty. He was seen fleeing the scene just before his dad was found with a knife in his chest by police. The kid also claimed he was at the movies all night but couldn't name which movies he'd gone to. Finally, a female witness claims that she saw the killing take place.
    • When Juror #10 starts going on about the woman's story, Juror #8 (Fonda) asks him why he believes the woman's story, since she's non-white, too, and the guy has already said he doesn't trust non-whites.
    • Juror #5 passes on giving his reasons for his guilty verdict. Juror #6 says that for him, the motive for the murder is the most important thing for him. He thinks that the testimony about the argument that the boy had with his father is compelling evidence. But Juror #8 thinks this means nothing.
    • Juror #6 says the kid has such a long track record of antisocial behavior that it's easy to believe he committed murder. But Juror #8 insists that this still isn't a strong enough reason for sending someone to the chair.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    • Juror #3 pipes up and says he thinks the kid killed his father because kids these days don't have enough respect or discipline. He claims that he has his own son and tells the story of how embarrassed he was one time when his kid ran away from a fight. His son was only 9 years old, but #3 said he'd make a man out of him, and in his words, he did. But then when Juror #3's son was fifteen, they had a fight, and the boy hit him hard in the jaw. At the time of the story, it has been three years since Juror #3 has seen his son.
    • A couple of the jurors say the kid must be a criminal because he came from a slum, but Juror #5 takes exception to this because he came from a slum, and he turned out okay. The men say they're not talking about him and tell him not to take it personally.
    • A bunch of the men start arguing, and Juror #1 works to keep things in order.
    • Finally, Juror #8 talks about why he's given a "Not Guilty" verdict. He says that he's suspicious of the lawyer who was defending the kid on trial. He thinks that the lawyer let too many things go by in his cross-examination of the witnesses. For him, the defense attorney is either incompetent or corrupt. He reminds the jurors that there was only one witness and one person who heard what happened, and they were never properly cross-examined.
    • At this point, Juror #3 explains that the murder weapon was a very unique kind of knife that was purchased by the kid on the same day of the murder. The kid claims that the knife fell through a hole in his pocket while he was on his way to the movies.
    • The jurors insist that the uniqueness of the knife is reason enough to convict the kid. But at this point, Juror #8 pulls out a switchblade exactly like the one the boy used and places the two side by side. He bought it in the kid's home neighborhood for just 6 bucks. The other jurors are shocked, but they're still convinced it doesn't mean anything and that the boy still did it.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    • Juror #8 realizes that he might not be able to convince the other men of a "Not Guilty" verdict if they keep going around the room. So he risks everything by asking for a secret ballot and gets the men to vote again. He says if all eleven men vote for a "Guilty" verdict, he'll go with them and send the kid to the chair.
    • The votes come back to Juror #1, who reads them out loud. One by one, he reads the word "Guilty" until he arrives at one that says "Not Guilty."
    • We find out after some argument that it was the old man, Juror #9, who ended up changing his vote. While he tries to explain why, Juror #7 walks out of the room. So Juror #1 decides to have the whole group take a break, and they start to banter.
    • Juror #3 (the angry dude) tries to apologize to Juror #5 (the dude from the slums) about getting mad at him, but #5 just walks back to his chair.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    • Juror #8 walks into the bathroom, where Juror #7 is combing his hair. Juror #7 says that #8 should be a salesman based on how quickly he changed the dynamic in the jury room. He also wants to know why #8 is making such a mess of everything.
    • #7 leaves while #6 comes in to chat with #8. #6 tries to steer #8's opinion by talking about what a "murderous" day it is outside.
    • #6 asks #8 what it would feel like if they found the kid "Not Guilty" and later learned that he killed his father. This seems to make an impression on #8, but we'll have to wait and see if he changes his mind.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    • Back in the jury room, Juror #8 tries to explain why the testimony of the two witnesses doesn't count for much. But he realizes that some of the men are playing tic-tac-toe and angrily rips their game away from them. As he makes perfectly clear, a young man might die, and this is no game.
    • Once they've calmed down, Juror #8 explains why it's impossible for the old neighbor living below the kid to have heard the kid yell, "I'll kill you." A neighbor said a train was passing by at the time of the murder and the train would have been way too loud for the man downstairs to hear voices. Some of the men are actually swayed by this new angle on the case.
    • The men want to know why the old witness would lie, so the old Juror #9 explains that sometimes, old men with no one to talk to want to feel important and get attention. But the other jurors aren't buying it.
    • At this point, Juror #5 says he wants to change his vote to "Not Guilty," which just makes Juror #3 and #10 even angrier. That puts the vote at 9 to 3.
    • Juror #11 steps up and asks a basic question: Why did the boy come home three hours after his father had died? After all, he was immediately caught by police in the process. One juror says the kid probably came home to get his knife since he knew it could be identified. Juror #11 then wants to know why he left it there in the first place, but the obvious answer is that the kid ran off in a panic. But if that's the case, says Juror #11, then how was the kid calm enough to wipe his fingerprints off the knife before leaving? You'd figure he would take the thing if he were that calm.
    • Juror #10 (one of the angry ones) loses his temper again and says the others are just stalling. But Juror #1 calls for another vote to see where people now stand. They take another vote, and it looks like it's still 9 to 3. But then Juror #11 (the dude with an accent) changes his vote to "Not Guilty," making it 8 to 4.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    • Juror #3 flips out on Juror #7, saying that the whole room is descending into nonsense.
    • Juror #8 (Fonda) says he'd like to see a diagram of the boy's apartment to see if there are any cracks in the story of the old man who saw the boy flee the scene of the murder.
    • Apparently, the old man couldn't walk well because of a stroke he'd had the year before. Yet he would have had to get from his bed to his apartment building's hallway in 15 seconds to see what had happened. Juror #3 says they shouldn't take the 15-second time-frame too seriously, because the man was old and probably confused. But of course, this is the same reason why they shouldn't put too much stock in the old man's testimony.
    • Juror #8 recreates the same dimensions of the old man's bedroom and apartment hallway. The others think he's wasting their time, but he can only cover the distance in 41 seconds while the old man was supposed to have done it in 15. So the new story is that the old man heard the boy fighting with his dad earlier in the night, heard the body hit the floor above his apartment, rushed to the door and assumed the boy was running away.
    • At this point, Juror #3 flips out again and says they should send the boy to the electric chair. But Juror #8 accuses him of wanting the boy dead simply because he doesn't like the boy. Juror #3 goes after #8 and says he's going to kill him, but as #8 reminds us all, we say stuff like that all the time without meaning it, which is no doubt what the boy was doing when he said it to his father.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    • Juror #11 steps up and gives a speech about how the men shouldn't fight anymore. He finds it amazing that their democracy allows them to decide the fate of someone else in their community.
    • Juror #6 asks for another vote, and Juror #10 wants it to be an open vote. After the vote, the jurors are now tied 6 to 6.
    • Juror #10 is sick of discussing things, and he's sick of facts, because he thinks facts can be twisted whichever way someone wants. But for Juror #9, this is exactly the point. The facts of this case can be twisted, and that's why the boy needs to go free.
    • Juror #9 starts getting riled up, but he needs to sit down because of the heat. He is really old, after all.
    • At this point, the rain starts coming down really hard. Jurors #1 and #8 have a chat. Juror #1 tells a story about his coaching gig at one of the local high schools. Meanwhile, Juror #7 happily gets the fan working.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    • Juror #10 says he's sick of debating. He wants to go back into the courtroom to declare a hung jury and a mistrial. It's clear that the holdouts for the guilty verdict will never change their minds.
    • Juror #8 steps forward and addresses the point about the kid not knowing the names of the movies he went to. The kid did, however, remember the names of the movies in court. #8 thinks the boy was just under too much stress when the cops interviewed him at first because his father was dead. The others think the boy's lawyer coached him on what movies were playing on the night of the murder.
    • #8 interrogates Juror #4 about what he did every night of that week. On Monday, the guy went to the movies, and he's pretty shaky on some of the details—and this is for a guy whose father wasn't murdered. We also notice that for the first time, Juror #4 has started to sweat.
    • Juror #2 asks to see the knife again. He says that the stab wound in the dead man was a downward wound. But the father was 6'2 and the son was only 5'7, which means it would have been awkward for the kid to make a downward wound. Juror #3 takes the knife and pretends to be 5'7. Then he walks over to Juror #8 and pretends to stab him, although we have to wonder how much he wishes he could do it for real. He shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the kid could still make a downward wound if he brought the knife down from above.
    • Juror #5 (the dude from the slums) steps in and asks if anyone has ever seen a knife fight, since the kid on trial has a history of being in them. Anyone who's ever used a switchblade would never have used an overhand grip on it, since the knife can't even open if you're gripping it that way.
    • It seems like this new argument is starting to sway Juror #12. At this point, Juror # 7 comes out of nowhere and says he's changing his vote to "Not Guilty" just because he wants to go home. Juror #3 can't believe he'd change his vote for such a petty reason. After all, a man is dead. Even the ones who want a "Not Guilty" vote think this is completely immoral.
    • The room calls another vote and ends up with 9 votes for "Not Guilty" and 3 for "Guilty."
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    • After the most recent vote, Juror #10 flips out again and says that the kid and all the others like him (i.e. people of color) are born with dishonesty in their veins. They're also born killers. But the more this dude talks, the more people stand up and walk away from him. When he's finished ranting, Juror #4 tells him to sit down and not open his mouth again.
    • Juror #8 says that they need to overcome their prejudices if they want to come to a decent verdict. But he's still quite sure that they have a reasonable doubt about the boy's guilt.
    • The nine who have voted "Not Guilty" now need the three holdouts to explain their positions.
    • Juror #4 says he still says Guilty because of the testimony of the woman from across the street, who specifically says she saw the boy grip the knife overhanded and stab his father with a downwards motion. Juror #3 agrees with him. But now they want to know what Juror #8 says about all that. He doesn't answer, so they call another vote and one of them goes back to a "Guilty" vote. Now it's 8 to 4 for "Guilty."
    • Now the old Juror #9 starts in on Juror #4 for rubbing his nose all the time. His glasses pinch the sides of his nose and leave a couple of marks. Juror #9 mentions that the woman who gave eyewitness testimony of the murder also had these marks, and yet she didn't wear glasses to court. So now they're figuring out that the woman should have been wearing glasses when she saw the murder, but she wasn't. Unless they're all willing to believe that the woman sleeps with her glasses on.
    • The argument at this point is that the men can't convict a boy who was allegedly seen by a woman with visual impairment from sixty feet away through the windows of a passing train at night. At this point, Juror #12 goes back to a "Not Guilty" verdict. And Jurors #4 and #10 change to "Not Guilty." So now it's just Juror #3 who's holding out on the "Guilty" verdict.
    • Juror #3 goes off on a huge rant about how the kid must be guilty. But the men all just stare at him in silence. As the man finishes ranting, he glances down and sees a photo of his son. Then he tears up the photo and goes off on another story about how kids don't appreciate their fathers. So it's clear that his own feelings about his son are making him prejudiced against the boy on trial. In the end, he breaks down crying and gives a verdict of "Not Guilty."
    • Juror #1 goes to knock on the door and tells the bailiff that they're ready to give their verdict.
    • The men file out, but Juror #8 stays behind to hand #3 his jacket. They are the last two to leave.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    • Outside the courthouse, the men walk away. Juror #9 catches up with #8 and asks him his name. #8 calls himself Davis, and the other man introduces himself as McCardle. This reminds us that throughout the entire movie, we've never known the men's names. McCardle says so long and walks away.
    • Juror #8 (that's Davis) then walks down the courthouse steps and disappears from the screen. And that's a rap. The end. Finito.
    • Of course, the men came back with a guilty verdict and sent the kid to the electric chair.
    • (Just kidding.)