Primal Fear (1996): Horror Legal Thriller, Starring Edward Norton in Oscar-Nominated Performance

Primal fear is the horror movie that launched the career of Edward Norton, garnering him an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor.

Norton delivers a powerful performance that brilliantly mixes shyness and rage, playing the 19-year-old altar boy Aaron Stampler, who is accused of brutally murdering the beloved archbishop of Chicago.  

Directed by Greg Hoblit, Primal Fear boasts a distinguished cast that includes Richard Gere, Laura Linney,  Alfre Woodard, Frances McDormand, and John Mahoney.  An unsettling drama, Primal Fear brims with dark secrets twists and turns. 


The plot of this legal thriller, based on the novel by William Diehl, centers on a high profile murder, which is assigned to an ambitious attorney’s career, Martin Vail (Richard Gere), a famed defense lawyer who volunteers his services to Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton), a Kentucky teenager charged with the slaying of a Chicago archbishop.  Vail uncovers evidence that the archbishop was involved in a corrupt land scheme and may have molested young parishioners.  The story gets further complicated by a psychologist’s diagnosis that Stampler suffers from multiple personality disorder.  As a result, the cynical, opportunistic attorney is faced with a daunting challenge, a client who may need and deserve his best work. 


Oscar Nominations: 1


Supporting Actor: Edward Norton


Oscar Awards: None