Prison movies revolve around the confines of a penitentiary which satisfies our curiosity for the encapsulated world within the walls. They can also be about escape attempts which can put us on the edge of our seats. No matter the genre, movies about prison life can give us a renewed appreciation of our oft-neglected regard for freedom.
Check out our list below for the best prison movies:
- Get The Gringo
- Midnight Express
- A Prophet
- Down By Law
- Birdman Of Alcatraz
- In The Name Of The Father
- Dead Man Walking
- The Great Escape
- The Count Of Monte Cristo
- The Rock
- Celda 211
- O Brother, Where Art Thou?
- The Longest Yard
- American History X
- Animal Factory
- Cool Hand Luke
- Escape From Alcatraz
- The Green Mile
- The Shawshank Redemption
Undisputed is an America drama sports film starring Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames. Rhames stars as undisputed heavyweight boxing champion George “The Iceman” Chambers. Chambers is convicted of rape and sent to a high-security prison filled with hardened criminals. To Chambers’ surprise, the inmates at the prison compete in tough boxing matches controlled by a betting syndicate. The best fighter at the prison is Monroe Hutchens, who soon gets the attention of Chambers. Chambers and Hutchens battle to find out who is the true undisputed champion. Undisputed received a score of 48% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 5.5/10
Get The Gringo
Get The Gringo is a neo-noir crime thriller film starring Mel Gibson. Gibson plays a getaway driver and career criminal who ends up getting arrested and sent to prison. As of the only American inmates, Gibson quickly becomes known as The Gringo. While The Gringo settles into the prison, he meets a boy who is protected by the prison’s criminals. After learning the boy’s story, The Gringo sets out to help the boy and his mother while getting his freedom back. Get The Gringo received a score of 81% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.3/10.
Bronson is a biographical crime drama film starring Tom Hardy. Hardy portrays the controversial criminal Michael Peterson, who soon becomes famous for his alter-ego: Charles Bronson. Bronson has been referred to as the most violent prisoner in Britain by many members of The British Press. Bronson initially started as a petty criminal. He was sentenced to several years in prison for armed robbery. However, thanks to Bronson’s increasingly violent and erratic behavior, he would eventually earn a life sentence in prison, with most of it spent in solitary confinement. Bronson received a score of 77% from Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 6.5/10.
Midnight Express is a prison drama film that stars Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins, and Randy Quaid. Davis portrays Billy Hayes, who is visiting Turkey with his girlfriend. After getting caught trying to smuggle a large amount of hashish out of the country, Hayes is sentenced to 30 years in prison, as his legal counsel argues that the sentence is too harsh. Hayes soon finds himself in a cruel world of violence, rape, unimaginable health conditions. Hayes is able to make a few friends while incarcerated. Ultimately, with his friend’s help, Hayes makes plans to take The Midnight Express and secure his freedom. The film won multiple Academy Awards and received a score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 7.7/10.
A Prophet is a French prison drama crime film. Tahar Rahim stars as an imprisoned Algerian criminal who rises through the ranks of a tough prison. Malik El Djebena is a young man who is sentenced to six years in prison for attacking police officers. Once he arrives at the prison, Malik is an easy target because he cannot read or write. He’s also younger than most of the inmates and has a slight frame. Malik is forcefully coerced into working for The Corsican mob as a drug trafficker and an assassin. As Malik rises through the ranks and gains power, he develops a plan to live his life on his own terms. The film received a score of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 8.3/10.
Down By Law
Down By Law is an independent film. The movie stars John Lurie, Tom Waits, and Roberto Benigni. The movie takes place in New Orleans and centers around 3 prison inmates with unique stories. Zack is an unemployed DJ who is accused of murder when a dead body is found in the trunk of a car that he was asked to drive. Jack is a pimp who was framed by a rival. Roberto is an Italian immigrant who speaks very little English and was imprisoned for manslaughter. As Zack, Jack, and Roberto get to know each other while sharing a cell, they make the decision to escape from the jail and head out into the Lousiana bayou. Down By Law received a score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 7.6/10.
Birdman Of Alcatraz
Birdman Of Alcatraz is a biographical drama film starring Burt Lancaster, Thelma Ritter, and Telly Savalas. Birdman Of Alcatraz tells the story of prison inmate Robert Stroud. Stroud became one of the most notorious criminals in the United States. As Stroud becomes more withdrawn, an injured bird flies through the bars of his cell. Stroud uses homemade medicines to cure the bird. Curious at his discovery, Stroud starts studying Ornithology. Birdman Of Alcatraz received a score of 84% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 7.1/10.
In The Name Of The Father
In The Name Of The Father is a biographical courtroom drama film. The movie is based on the true story of The Guildford Four, four people who were wrongly accused of organizing the Guildford Pub Bombings, which killed four off duty British soldiers. The movie stars Daniel Day Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite and Emma Thompson. The Guildford Four Pub Bombings occurred in 1974 when a group of Provisional Irish Republican Army men set off two six-pound bombs at two separate pubs in Guildford, Surrey, England. The IRA targeted those pubs because they were popular with British Army personnel. Thanks to The Prevention of Terrorism Act, four people: Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon, Paddy Armstrong, and Carole Richardson, were forcibly interrogated by police to confess to being the ones behind the bombings. All four people were sentenced to life in prison. The movie focused on Gerry Conlon’s plan to prove his innocence while enduring the harsh realities of prison life. In The Name Of Father received a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 7.8/10.
Dead Man Walking
Dead Man Walking is a crime drama film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. The movie is based on the book Dead Man Walking, which chronicles Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic Nun. Sister Prejean served as a spiritual adviser to two convicted murderers on Death Row: Robert Lee Willie and Elmo Patrick Sonnier. In the movie Sarandon stars as Sister Prejean, while Sean Penn plays Matthew Poncelet, a character based on Willie and Sonnier. Poncelet maintains his innocence, claiming that his partner in crime committed the murders. Sister Prejean visits Poncelet and notices that he lacks remorse for his actions. Eventually, Sister Prejean develops a relationship with Poncelet, which helps a new understanding about convicted murderers and executions. Dean Man Walking received a score of 95% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 8.2/10.
The Great Escape
The Great Escape is a World War II epic film. The film is about an escape by British Commonwealth prisoners of war from a German POW camp. The film stars Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough. The film is based on the novel account, which is written from the perspective of a prisoner trying to escape from Stalag Luft III in Sagan. The British officer Bartlett organized the escape. More than 200 prisoners plan to escape while trying to evade through Nazi-occupied territory. The Great Escape received a score of 93% from Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 8.3/10.
Sleepers is a legal crime drama film starring Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, and Jason Patric. The plot revolves around four childhood friends: Michael Sullivan, John Reilly, Tommy Marcano, and Lorenzo Carcaterra. The four boys start running errands for a neighborhood gangster. Eventually they find themselves in trouble for hurting a man during a prank. The boys are sentenced to the Wilkinson Home for Boys In Upstate New York. While they are at the home, the four boys are continuously raped and abused. As the boys reach adulthood, their pasts will be made public after two of the abused boys’ murder one of the guards who abused them. Sleepers received a score of 73% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.6/10.
The Count Of Monte Cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo is an adventure drama film. The movie stars Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, and Richard Harris. The film adaptation is based on the popular novel written by French author Alexandre Dumas. Caviezel stars as Edmond Dantes, The Count Of Monte Cristo. Dantes is a sailor who plans to marry his girlfriend. However, Dantes is unaware that his best friend Fernand Mondego secretly desires his girlfriend. Fernand has Dantes framed for a crime that he did not commit. Dantes gets sentenced to life in prison while Fernand eventually marries Mercedes. While in exile, Dantes plans his revenge. The Count of Monte Cristo received a score of 75% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.7/10.
The Rock is an action thriller film. The film stars Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris. Stanley Goodspeed is an FBI Chemical weapons expert who must stop Francis Hummel, an insane Marine Corps general who has taken hostages on Alcatraz. Hummel plans to bomb San Francisco unless millions of dollars are paid in war reparations. Godspeed joins forces with John Patrick Mason, the only man to escape from the Rock. In a race against time, it’s up to Goodspeed and Mason to stop Hummel. The Rock received a score of 66% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.6/10.
Hunger is a historical drama film. The films stars Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands, a member of The Provisional Irish Republican Army who participated in the second IRA hunger strike as well as the No Wash Protest. Sands was one of many Irish republican prisoners who sought to regain political status after it was taken away by the British government. The controversial impact of Sands’s hunger strike, as well as his final days, are chronicled. Hunger received a score of 90% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 7.8/10.
Celda 211 is a Spanish prison film starring Luis Tosar, Alberto Ammann, and Antonio Resines. Juan has recently accepted a job as a prison guard. He heads to the prison for an orientation session. Juan soon finds himself in the middle of a riot, as the inmates take control of the prison. Fearful of his life, Juan plays along and pretends to be a prisoner. Juan faces a difficult choice: how far into the criminal world is Juan willing to go to save his life? Celda 211 received a score of 97% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 7.5/10.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a crime comedy film starring George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson. The movie takes place in 1937 rural Mississippi. Three men escape from a prison chain gang and set out to get their freedom and return home. The mysterious lawman Cooley is determined to bring them back to prison. O Brother, Where Art Thou? received a score of 77% from Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 7.1/10.
The Longest Yard
The Longest Yard is a sports comedy film starring Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert. Former NFL star quarterback Paul Crewe walks out on his girlfriend. He takes her Citroen SM without her permission and leads police on a car chase. Crewe is eventually caught and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Crewe is sent to a prison run by Warden Hazen, a crazed sports fan. Crewe is forced to organize a football team to play against the guards with everything on the line. The Longest Yard received a score of 81% from Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 7.1/10.
Brubaker is a prison drama film that stars Robert Redford, Jane Alexander, and Yaphet Kotto. Redford stars as Henry Brubaker, the new inmate at a Southern prison that is well known for its violence and corruption. As an inmate, Bruker witnesses abuse, corruption, torture, diseased food, and sexual assault. Brubaker eventually reveals that he is a not actually a prisoner, and that he is really the new warden assigned by the governor to infiltrate the facility. Brubaker beings implementing new procedures, but is met with resistance when his innovative ideas threaten the prison’s bottom line. Brubaker received a score of 75% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.7/10.
Papillon is a historical drama film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. McQueen stars as the French criminal Henri Charriere, also known as Papillon because of the butterfly tattoo on his chest. Charriere is sentenced to life in prison within the penal system in French Guiana for murdering a pimp. However, Papillon claims his innocence. Despite the adversity thrown his way, Charriere is determined to break out. Papillon received a score of 83% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 7.6/10.
American History X
American History X is a crime drama film starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong. Danny and Derek Vinyard lost their father as he was murdered by black drug dealers while fighting a fire in a drug den. Driven by anger, Derek eventually forms a gang called The Disciples of Christ. Derek is eventually sent to prison for voluntary manslaughter. While Derek is in prison, Danny shaves his head and reaffirms his brother’s racist views. After Danny faces expulsion, Danny is asked to write a paper about his incarcerated older brother. Derek goes through many trials and tribulations during his time in prison and eventually sees the error of his ways. Derek seems determined to get through to his younger brother before the hate consumes him. American History X received a score of 83% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 7.3/10.
Animal Factory is a crime drama film. The film stars Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, and Tom Arnold. The movie is set in San Quentin, where Ron Decker has just arrived after being arrested for drug trafficking. Decker immediately becomes a target at the prison. Eventually, Decker leans on veteran inmate Earl Copen for advice and protection. The two men form a special bond. Animal Factory received a score of 82% with an average rating of 6.8/10.
Cool Hand Luke
Cool Hand Luke is a prison drama film starring Paul Newman and George Kennedy. It is widely considered one of the best prison movies of all time. Luke Jackson is sentenced to serve on a Southern chain gang after he is arrested for decapitating parking meters while intoxicated. Once Luke arrives at the prison, he gets the attention of the Captain, who wants each prisoner to get their minds right. However, Luke is not interested in any type of rehabilitation. Luke is subjected to physical punishment and psychological cruelty. Despite everything that has happened to him, Luke continues to persevere. Cool Hand Luke received a score of 100% from Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 8.8/10.
Escape From Alcatraz
Escape From Alcatraz is a thriller film starring Clint Eastwood, Fred Ward, and Jack Thibeau as prisoners Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin. The three men are incarcerated at The Maximum Security prison on Alcatraz Island. The warden tells Morris that no inmate has ever successfully escaped from Alcatraz. Morris speaks with bank robbers John and Clarence Anglin, who are his old friends from another prison sentence. Together, the three men set out to do what no one has been able to do before: Escape from Alcatraz received a score of 95% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.9/10.
The Green Mile
The Green Mile is a fantasy crime drama film that stars Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan. Inmates at The Cold Mountain Correctional Facility call Death Row “The Green Mile ” because of The Green linoleum that tiles the floor. Paul Edgecomb is the head guard of The Green Mile. He receives a new inmate in John Coffey who was convicted of murdering two young girls. Edgecomb notes that Coffey’s able to perform amazing miracles of healing among his inmates. Soon, Edgecomb begins to wonder if Coffey is innocent of the charges that he is charged with. The Green Mile received a score of 80% with an average rating of 6.9/10.
The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption is a drama film starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Banker Andy Dufresne is convicted of a double murder, even though he claims that he is innocent. Dufresne is sentenced to a life sentence at Shawshank State Prison. Dufresne quickly forms a bond with Ellis Redding. The early days of prison life are rough for Dufrense, as he has to deal with a corrupt warden, sadistic guards, and inmates who rape and assault him. Through it all, Dufresne maintains that he is innocent. Dufresne uses his banking skills to earn the favor of the guards, which earns him protection. Dufrense begins managing the books for the warden’s illegal business schemes, while also managing the investments for many of the other prison workers. When another inmate tells Dufresne a shocking secret, he begins his plan to prove his innocence and become a free man. The Shawshank Redemption received a score of 91% from Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 8.2/10.