There are a lot of films and TV shows set within the prison. They fit in a lot of genres from drama and comedy to horror and sci-fi. Here are the top 25 best prison or jail movies and television series shows of all time listed in random order.
1. Papillon (1973)
People often hear about different prison escape plans but not when it comes to the Devil’s Island penal colony. However, Henri Charriere, played by Steve McQueen proved that it is possible with the right partner in crime, ingenuity, and luck. With a prominent Papillon butterfly tattoo on his chest which may have fooled others to believe that he is a gentle fellow, he was actually convicted for the murder of a pimp. He denies the allegation but had no choice but to accept his sentence and device a plan to escape no matter what it takes.
With the hard life in prison, he formed an alliance with Louis Dega, played by Dustin Hoffman. Charriere saved Dega’s life which in turn planted seeds of gratitude in the latter’s heart. A convicted counterfeiter – the best that France has to offer, Dega, agreed to join Charriere in his escape plans in exchange for Charriere playing the role of Dega’s bodyguard inside the colony.
Most of the escape plans did not work with one which ended up in a leper colony, another escape plan which ended with Charriere in solitary confinement for a couple of years and another which ended in a five year solitary confinement for Charriere. Here, Dega proved to be a real asset as he smuggled food for Charriere. Even with many failures at the escape attempts, Papillon shows how an unquenchable spirit and a true friend can lead man to success. It also shows how men value freedom over mere survival.
An interesting point of Papillon, which got 82% at the Tomatometer with an average score of 7.6/10, is the ironic chemistry between Charriere and Dega. Dega is a laid-back, gentle man. This was given emphasis when he got the position as a trustee and became contented with his life in the colony. On the other hand, Charriere is a persistent, driven man of action who just would not give up with his plan to escape. Even though they were as different as night and day, they worked together until they attained their common goal. Both Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman delivered commendable acting which contributed to the success of this underrated film.
2. Shawshank Redemption (1994)
While most people would think that a prison movie will be all about the horrific experiences of the inmates, injustice, and bloodbaths, The Shawshank Redemption proved that a prison movie can also be uplifting. Lauded for its exceptional direction and heartfelt performances, it has all the makings of a box-office hit.
In The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a banker who was falsely convicted of double murder. Dufresne was sentenced to life imprisonment in Shawshank, a state prison located in Maine.
The audience are treated to a harsh reality of what is happening inside the prison. They witnessed corruption through the actions of the warden, the inhumane acts of guards, and the absence of the inmates’ conscience as they show how they would do everything just to earn a reputation that would place them higher in the prison’s food chain.
Dufrense proved Ellis Redding, also known as “Red” and played by Morgan Freeman wrong when Red predicted that Dufrense will crack under pressure. In this movie, Morgan Freeman reminded the audience why he is known as one of the best actors in Hollywood.
While there are numerous films about falsely convicted inmates, The Shawshank Redemption emphasizes on how the hope inside such inmate will remain burning until the truth prevails. This is exactly what made Dufrense hold on and survive the miserable condition inside the Shawshank State Prison.
The turning point was when Dufrense used his skills to turn his life inside the prison around. He worked for the warden’s illegal businesses as he took care of the financial activities, doing the same thing for the prison staff’s investments, and more. As a result, he was able to make the prison library more functional and boost the morale and restore the dignity of his fellow inmates especially Redding’s.
The Shawshank Redemption got 91% at the Tomatometer with an average score of 8.2/10. It is a beautiful irony wherein the fire of hope in the midst of all the heart-breaking events in the life inside the prison brings about a positive change to the inmates. While it shows immorality and animal-like behaviour, it also shows a lot more than what is expected of a prison film. The Shawshank Redemption inspires people to invest in friendships, relationships, and to identify the special skills that they have and how they can share it to make this world a better place.
3. The Escapist (2008)
This 2008 film will keep you at the edge of your seat with its smart plot and direction. It will make you think, anticipate, and wonder. The Escapist features Brian Cox who plays the role of Frank Perry who was sentenced to life imprisonment without any chance of parole. Perry has accepted his fate when he pleaded guilty of the crime and embraced his life inside the prison. However, when he learned that his daughter, who was six when he was imprisoned, overdosed on drugs and became seriously ill, he decided to escape. He recruited team members for this endeavor and the team included Viv who is a drug dealer, the quiet Lenny, and the out-of-place white collared new inmate named Lacey. However, more members were needed for the escape plan to succeed. Despite his doubts, Perry unwillingly included more members including the corrupt and brutal brothers named Tony and Rizza, played by Damian Lewis and Steven Mackintosh respectively.
The character of Frank Perry seems to be tailor-made for Brian Cox. The audience is left in awe as he transformed into Perry, leaving no traces of Brian Cox at all. It is also a wonderful debut for its director, Rupert Wyatt. Another notable aspect of The Escapist is the musical scoring, invoking the right emotions with perfect timing.
The Escapist, which got 67% at the Tomatometer and an average score of 6.2/10, gives a whole new meaning to prison movies in the silver screen. While most prison movies are packed with violence and self-motivated reasons for escape, this film shows how someone who has accepted his fate can have a change of heart when the family needs him or her. It shows the strong ties that no distance or steel bars can ever break. It is a refreshing break from the numerous jail movies with the usual kind of plot. Its fantastic cast did not hurt, too. It is a definite game-changer, breaking the rules and the monotony of your usual prison films with its refreshing approach and style of direction and storytelling. The Escapist is a perfect combination of escape action and psychological drama that everyone should not miss out watching.
4. The Longest Yard (1974)
If Burt Reynold’s stare will not convince you to watch this prison movie, then the storyline would. It was about Paul “Wrecking” Crewe who was a professional football player. Reynolds played this role. Crewe was sentenced to 18 months in jail when he walked out on his affluent girlfriend and took her car when he left. In the prison, he met Warden Rudolph Hazen played by Eddie Albert. Warden Hazen was another sports enthusiast who formed a football team of jail guards. With a stellar history in football, which ended because of point shaving and an unrelenting passion for sport, Crewe decided to form a football team with his fellow inmates as members. His line-up included a martial arts expert who was also a serial killer and a former weight lifter. With them, Crewe completed the line-up and named the team “Mean Machine”.
Paul Crewe surprised his teammates with professional uniforms, which boosted their morale. Conflict started when Hazen threatened to pin Crewe as an accessory to another prisoner’s death nicknamed Caretaker. Caretaker used to be a part of the Mean Machine until he was murdered mistakenly with Crewe as the actual target. The warden asked Crewe to make sure that Mean Machine loses. Although reluctant, Crewe agreed as long as none of his teammates get hurt. Then, the prison guards played dirty, hurting the inmates every chance they get. When they were about to lose, Crewe changed his mind and led his team to victory.
The movie played with the viewers’ emotions effectively, thanks to excellent acting and smart dialogues. With 81% in the Tomatometer, viewers loved its combination of drama, comedy, and action. With sports as a central theme set in violent prison situations, it was a refreshing take on the prison life. It was the perfect movie for sports enthusiasts and action movie aficionados. It also subtly touched on social issues such as corruption. It was a star-studded cast that included Ray Nitschke of Green Bay Pinclude and was set in Georgia State Prison. Robert Aldrich experienced filming delays due to several incidences of uprising in the said prison.
5. The Longest Yard (2005)
The Longest Yard (2005) is a remake of the 1970’s box office hit. With Adam Sandler on the lead, it is expected that the film will get a humorous makeover that will make it perfect for the audience who love light and funny moments coupled with serious themes.
In this movie, Adam Sandler plays the part of Paul “Wrecking” Crew. Crew was a famous professional football player who got drunk both with alcohol and his fame, and ended up causing a tragic accident because of drunk driving. He had to serve his sentence in Allenville.
In the penitentiary, he met the Warden Hazen who also happened to be a football fan played by James Cromwell. The Warden organized football teams to make money on betting during their free time. When the warden and Crew met, the former challenged Crew to organize his own football team to make the betting even more exciting. Another guaranteed character to make the audience laugh was the caretaker played by Chris Rock who helped Crew with his football team. The players included Nate Scarborough who was an NFL coach who was played by Burt Reynolds.
The humor in the Longest Yard is much needed what with the setting of prison being bleak, lifeless, and filled with negativity. This humor sets this version apart from the original 1970’s The Longest Yard and its loose remake in 2001 entitled Mean Machine. It is a whole new approach without losing the social relevance and the excitement of the original film, getting 31% at the Tomatometer with an average rating of 4.8/10.
The Longest Yard is a perfectly fast-paced movie that will leave you light-hearted. The cast delivered a wonderful performance with their comedic timing and entertaining scenes. It also delivers an inspirational message for the racial underdogs lightly masked with humor. It is as every bit respectable as the original film in its own right. The combination of the prison life story and the action of football as sports will satisfy the hunger of the audience for a nice, light film plus a dessert of laughter sprinkled with insider humor served on a shining tray well-portrayed by the glittering stars.
6. A Prophet (2009)
If a movie-goer likes foreign films with a prison backdrop, A Prophet (2009) film is a must see. It is a French gangster movie that has a look inside and outside the prison walls. It will give viewers a thrill taste of hardship fought by a young inmate as he tries to survive his stay inside the walls and learn what he can to get to the top after experiencing the life of crime he was introduced to.
The movie stars French actor Tahar Rahim as Malik El Djebena, the young French-Arab young protagonist condemned to be imprisoned for six years because of violence against police officers. Being young and new to the prison world, he just wants to lower his head and live out his sentence in peace but it was not to be so. He attracted the attention of a Corsican gangster named Ces Luciani (played by Cesar Awards winner Niels Arestrup) who is still a boss even while imprisoned. He has the prison guards in his pocket and is able to get his men out of prison for a one day-release excursion to continue his criminal activities. Luciani told Malik what he needed to do to get protection from his men during his stay inside. This started the protagonist’s struggle on his morality and self-preservation. Should he not take someone else life at the risk of losing his, or follow the new path he has been offered. This will engross the viewers on what will become of Malik.
After succeeding in killing his first victim, Reyeb (portrayed by Hichem Yacoubi), he becomes a valuable asset to Luciani doing various crime errands. But from then on the movie will showcase that that success comes at a price with his victim haunting him giving a lesson on taking someone’s life. During his stay, he is befriended by another Muslim, Ryad (played by Adel Bencherif) and is taught to read and write. He was also introduced to Jordi, a drug dealer in prison whom they join to start their own drug dealing business. Despite the movie having violent and morbid scenes and little hope for redemption from sins, it still shows that not everybody inside the crime world should be enemies, that there can be friendships formed and opportunities are still present, even if the opportunity being crime-related again. When things get heated with Malik and some of Luciani’s associates and dealings, Malik uses his knowledge to work his way into being the new boss from other muslim prisoners and releasing himself from Luciani’s grip.
A Prophet (2009) movie garnered 97% freshness score from Rotten Tomatoes. It reached €20 million in the box office perhaps because of its gripping sense of questioning morality, testing loyalty, viciousness of crime.
7. Dead Man Walking (1995)
BAFTA Award-winner Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn stars in this gripping, powerful, emotional movie based on a true story. The movie was directed by Tim Robbins and adapted from a book written by Sarandon’s character, Sister Helen Prejean on her relationship with death row inmates. In contrast to her book, the Dead Man Walking (1995) movie featured only one convicted prisoner sentenced to execution via lethal injection.
Sean Penn is Matthew Poncelet, an inmate in Louisiana State Penitentiary convicted of murdering two teeanagers with another man, Carl Vitello (played by Michael Cullen). Poncelet had requested Sister Prejean to help him with his appeal and to be his spiritual adviser days before his execution. Her request for appeal is denied but it does not stop her from forging a relationship to help him be open to admitting his crime for a chance of redemption. She also connects with both the victims’ families and the Poncelet’s mother thus creating an issue with views of whether she support the ‘evil’ acts the convict did to the victims or if she sympathizes with the victims and their families. In these scenes, it allows the movie to be something worth talking about with the concept of forgiveness and attaining justice. Is having the convict die by lethal injection morally and spiritually correct to attain justice? Would life imprisonment like Vitello’s sentence be enough payment for the crimes they did? Which will attain justice for the victims of the heinous crime? These are issues that can be discussed in different angles both in old and current society whether it is on a political or religious standpoint.
Both Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn gave such amazingly superb performance in Dead Man Walking (1995) movie that the film was nominated for four Academy Awards. Such was the life given to Sister Prejean’s character by Sarandon that she won the Best Actress award for it. Neither actor exaggerated their performance with theatricality but was dramatically complex and interesting.
The Dead Man Walking (1995) movie was given Freshness score of 95% by Rotten Tomatoes. With its mix of suspense and spiritual and emotional drama, it is an enthralling movie with though-provoking scenes that makes the audience think about the political, moral, spiritual aspects involved with inmates sentenced to death penalty and the effect of the sentence to the grieving families.
8. In The Name Of The Father (1993)
With director Jim Sheridan and Academy Award winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis as the lead star, we are presented with powerful, thrilling, dramatic, emotional movie about innocent men wrongfully imprisoned by the government.
In the Name of the Father (1993) film was based on the true story of titular character Gerry Colton, portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis. Proved Innocent: The Story of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four was written about the false conviction about him and three others regarding the IRA’s Guildford pub bombings. Gerry was a charming care-free guy before being arrested and accused of the crime. While Gerry’s father tried to help his son to be acquitted, he was also charged with conspiracy to the bombing as well as the rest of his family. All four accused had alibis but the material witnesses were not presented to the court. This was not realized until near the end when the lawyer helping them found vital documents that were kept from appearing in court by the prosecution. Several investigators conspired to keep the Four from being released.
The movie shows the transformation of the relationship between son and father and how they endure the hardships of prison life and reconnect on a higher emotional level due to their circumstances. It also boasts one woman’s unending fight for justice for people she believes to be innocent. The support the accused inmates have has a gripping hold to the truth that the justice system cannot fully be trusted because of the people behind the justice system that choose to turn the other way despite the actual perpetrator of crime admitting it as long as they pursue the ‘truth’ the presented.
Other notable stars in In the Name of the Father (1993) film include Pete Postlethwaite as Gerry’s father Giuseppe Conlon, Emma Thompson as their lawyer Gareth Peirce, John Lynch as Paul Hill, Mark Sheppard as Paddy Armstrong, and Beatie Edney as Carole Richardson. The latter three were all part of Guildford Four, accused and coerced by police to admitting to the Guildford pub bombings and were all sentenced to life imprisonment.
Rotten Tomatoes gave In the Name of the Father (1993) movie a passing freshness of 94%. This movie earned $65 million in the box office from its $13 million budget.
9. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Cool Hand Luke is a slow paced prison drama film made in 1967, which stars Paul Newman and George Kennedy, and directed by Stuart Rosenberg. Newman plays the role of Lucas “Luke” Jackson, a Korean war veteran who, later on, became a prisoner in the Florida prison camp, who refuses to give in to the system.
The main character in the story, Luke, starts off as a likable guy in the movie, and ends up being the anti-hero. He is the kind of anti-hero that viewers would actually admire and sympathize with.
George Kennedy won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dragline. Newman’s acting stood out as well, which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award as Best Actor, but Kennedy outdoes him in this film. Cool Hand Luke is considered one of Newman’s best films and one of the best roles that he ever played. It’s an honest film that refuses to conform to standard film setting where movies are supposed to have happy endings. Cool Hand Luke depicts cruelty in prison and sadistic oppression at its finest, and it is as fresh and timely now, as it was in 1967. No wonder that the United States Library of Congress selected Cool Hand Luke for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2005, as it was deemed culturally, historically, and aesthetically important.
Cool Hand Luke is actually a box-office success receiving a number of favorable reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 100% rating based on 47 reviews with an average score of 8.8/10. This film gave a strong presentation of brutality, sadistic discipline, hopelessness, psychological cruelty, physical torture, and punishment that’s comparable to that of Jesus’ suffering. It has its shares of unforgettable moments, from the opening up to its end. Cinematography by Conrad Hall was superb, as well as the scoring by Lalo Schifrin.
All in all, Rosenberg’s mastery with the camera, his sense of cinematic pacing, and his ability to show graphic imagery with such vividness, are the things that made this film a stellar classic, aside from the brilliant performances given by its actors.
10. Hunger (2008)
Hunger is a film made in 2008, starring Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, and Liam MacMahon, and directed by British director, Steve McQueen. The film revolves around the story behind the 1981 Irish hunger strike led by Provisional Irish Republican Army volunteer, Bobby Sands, played by Fassbender. The film reenacts what happened in the Maze Prison, and the events leading to the hunger strike and Sands’ death.
Hunger doesn’t have any conventional plots in it. It actually presents the inhumane prison conditions in Northern Ireland, and Sands’ determined spirit. Director Steve McQueen turns the spotlight on three story angles: on a prison guard and his every day struggle with his job; the two prisoners who joined in on the IRA prisoners’ noncompliance to bathe or wear prison clothes; and the hunger strike.
McQueen’s feature-length directorial debut is not for the faint of heart and it will leave you feeling emotionally beaten to a pulp. The British director was able to heighten various sensations in Hunger by focusing on its gustatory physical details. One scene even showed excrements on the wall of the Maze prison cells. He depicted Sands’ last moments when he chose to join the hunger strike in revolt against the British government’s rejection to acknowledge IRA captives as political prisoners, in vivid, haunting pictures.
Fassbender was able to deliver his role very well. His dedication in giving justice to Sands’ character is very impressive, as he shed so much weight for the role. From being 170, his weight was cut down to 132 pounds heavy.
McQueen is not your typical narrative film director. He gives the audience a dizzying experience just by using sounds, light, and shadow in all the right scenes in the film and everything just falls exactly right into place. Hunger entices its audience to create their own interpretations of the film. There are scenes in the film, which are actually long, but stayed impressive. Hunger is a film that’s full of intensity, waking people up on what a hunger strike can actually do to one’s body. McQueen’s style of presenting a story is unlike any other, where he seems to be challenging other film directors in elevating their craft to another level of artistry.
Hunger won various awards in different film festivals including the prestigious Camera d’Or. It received a 90% rating in Rotten Tomatoes, based on 120 reviews, with an average score of 7.8/10.
11. The Green Mile (1999)
The Green Mile is a crime drama film made in 1999, starring Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecomb, and Michael Clarke Duncan, playing the role of John Coffey. The story was adapted from a Stephen King book of the same title, and directed by Frank Darabont. The movie revolves around Paul, a corrections officer in charge of death row in a Louisiana penitentiary, who had witnessed supernatural events during the Great Depression in the U.S.
In The Green Mile, Darabont had the film’s focus on the relationship between Paul and Coffey, with Darabont providing them the opportunity to shine. Paul, now an old man and confined in a retirement home, goes back on a trip to the past, and tells his story that transpired back in 1935. His memories were all about his inmate John Coffey, who was convicted of killing two girls.
The pacing of The Green Mile was actually very slow, and Darabont could have shortened some unimportant certain scenes in it, which prolonged the movie. Sources said that Darabont intentionally made the scenes long because he wanted the audience to have a connection with the prisoners, and have them feel the same agony that the prisoners are going through as if they’re with them in months, and in years, while waiting in vain in jail. Nevertheless, Darabont was able to present the story successfully, even though it is quite long, with a three-hour viewing time.
There are certain scenes in The Green Mile that evoke powerful emotions from its audiences. One particular example of that is one of the gruesome execution scenes shown in the film. But it was actually the moving performances by the actors and the scoring of Thomas Newman that made this film an emotionally powerful experience. This film could have actually been better but in spite of it showing cruelty, violence, and horrible moments, it was also gentle in many ways.
The Green Mile got four nominations in the Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, and Best Supporting Actor. It received an 80% rating in Rotten Tomatoes based on 132 reviews, with an average score of 6.8/10.
12. Prison Break (tv show 2005-2009)
Prison Break is an American TV drama that was shown in Fox Channel from 2005 to 2009. The story was about two brothers, one of them was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit, while the other brother was scheming a plan to help his brother escape prison and to eventually be able to prove his innocence. The show was created by Paul Scheuring, starring Wentworth Miller, who played the lead role of Michael Scoffield, a structural engineer and the brother of Lincoln Burrows, which was played by Dominic Purcell. Burrows was accused of murdering Terrence Steadman, who is the brother of the Vice President of the USA, Caroline Reynolds. Steadman was played by John
Billingsley, while Reynolds was played by Patricia Wettig.
This incredible series takes you to the edge of your seat in each episode. From the start of season one where the brothers and the other inmates were able to escape prison in the season finale, to them being caught in Panama on the second season’s finale, to Scoffield seeking revenge against company operative, Gretchen, when his girlfriend, Sara was killed in Season 3, up to Season 4 ending where Scoffield sacrifices himself, Prison Break is packed with breathtaking action and suspense. It is comparable to the style of Mission Impossible, with its fast pace story and action. Although some scenes may be treated as an overkill, and even if there were standard, common elements of a government conspiracy drama series injected in it, the filmmakers were still able to give Prison Break a unique twist to each of its season.
Each episode of Prison Break is actually full of emotions and adventures. Both Miller and Purcell gave outstanding performances in the show. The storytelling was very vivid, and each scene is unpredictable. The scriptwriter was able to explain everything in the show and had answered all the questions that the audience had in mind. There weren’t any plot holes seen in it, nor was it seen as rushed and shabbily made. This show was incredibly done and truly satisfactory, as the whole production gave its audience the closure they wanted for the show’s characters.
Although the ratings of the TV show had decreased during the last season, it didn’t stop the production team from coming up with a strong and amazing finale. The ending was somewhat heartbreaking and overwhelming at the same time, as Scoffield chose to die for the sake of his brother, wife, and child. The series had its fair share of nominations, and won Favorite New TV Drama in 2006. Rotten Tomatoes gave Prison Break an 82% rating, with an average score of 3.8/5.
13. Oz (tv show 1997-2003)
Oz is a prison jail TV series that first aired in 1997 and ran for six seasons until 2003. It starred Ernie Hudson, Kirk Acevedo, Terry Kinney, Harold Perrineau Jr. and Eamonn Walker, and was set inside the “Emerald City”, an experimental ward of the maximum security Oswald State Correctional Facility. The series is notable for being the first dramatic series produced by HBO, and remains one of the most critically acclaimed TV shows ever aired. Entertainment Weekly ranked it #73 in its 2008 listing of New TV Classics.
Oz tells the story of the daily struggles of the corrections officers and inmates in “Em City”. The inmates have divided themselves into various groups who struggle for power as well as the attempts of the officers to keep them under control. The factions include the Italian Wiseguys, the Muslims, the African-American Homeboys and the Latinos. In addition, there are unaffiliated inmates who are just trying to survive until they are paroled or released.
The corrections officials included Leo Glynn (Hudson), the warden, and Tim McManus (Kinney), the unit manager who is responsible for the formation of the “Emerald City” and who try to deal with the inmates in a humane fashion. The leaders of the various factions included Vernon Schillinger (JK Simmons), the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood and Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker), a Muslim leader. Augustus Hill (Perrineau), a physically disabled inmate, served as the narrator of the series for all six seasons, and his monologues set up each episode’s story.
Oz was a groundbreaking prison jail TV series for its time, featuring elements such as full-frontal male nudity and gay relationships that had not been portrayed on mainstream serialized television. It paved the way for subsequent HBO series such as The Sopranos, The Wire and Sex in the City, which would continue to push the boundaries of what could be portrayed on TV.
In addition, Oz’s revolving cast of recurring characters was portrayed by actors who would do some of their best work for the prison jail show. These included Christopher Meloni, B.D. Wong, Rita Moreno, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Edie Falco, Kathryn Erbe and Betty Buckley.
14. The Experiment (2010)
The Experiment (2010) is a prison jail movie loosely based on the infamous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment and stars Adrian Brody, Clifton Collins Jr., Forest Whittaker, Maggie Grace and Cam Gigandet. It is a remake of the German film Das Experiment (2001), directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. The film was directed by Paul T. Scheuring, who is best known as the creator of the hit Fox TV show Prison Break.
This prison jail movie concerns a psychological study that takes place in a makeshift prison. Twenty-six volunteers are chosen and divided into six guards and twenty prisoners. The experiment was set to last for two weeks, and the participants are told the guidelines – the prisoners must eat three times a day and stay within designated areas, while the guards must ensure that the rules are obeyed and deal with infractions within thirty minutes.
Brody plays Travis, an anti-war protester who is designated as a prisoner and Whittaker plays Barris, a forty-something man who still lives at home, and is assigned to be a guard. At the end of the study, each of the participants will be paid $14,000 if they succeed in following the rules. The study is monitored using surveillance cameras and red lights are turned on whenever an infraction of the rules has been noted.
Over the course of the study, both Travis and Barris begin to act increasingly out of character, with Travis becoming more violent while Barris is more domineering. The ‘guards’ become more violent as they attempt to uphold the rules, even as the ‘inmates’ become defiant and try to end the experiment before it completely spirals out of control and a participant is hurt or killed.
The Experiment unfortunately was not given a theatrical release and went straight-to-DVD. However, the prison jail movie still received many positive reviews. Ryan McLelland from the Ain’t It Cool News site said the film is “fast-paced” and would keep viewers guessing. According to the Blogcritics site, the film is a “tense” exploration of human behavior that is sometimes sickening but still manages to satisfy. A review from the Doha Film Institute said the action was “exciting, yet disturbing”.
15. Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Escape from Alcatraz is a 1979 prison movie directed by Don Siegel and starred Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan and Fred Ward, while Danny Glover made his film debut. The film was based on the true story of a 1962 escape from the notorious Alcatraz prison, which is believed to have been the only successful escape attempt in its history, as well as the 1963 book authored by J. Campbell Bruce. The film had a retroactive score of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 22 reviews.
Eastwood stars as Frank Morris, who is sent to Alcatraz following numerous escape attempts from other prisons, while McGoohan plays the fictional warden of the prison, who insists that no one will ever escape. Once at the prison, Morris reconnects with old friends as well as making new ones. Eventually he devises an escape attempt following his discovery that the concrete around the window bars in his cell is weak enough to be chipped away. Morris and two associates, the Anglin brothers, eventually break out of the prison and are last seen paddling a raft out into the ocean. No trace of the men were ever found, leading many to believe that the escape was a success, although authorities insisted that the escapees likely drowned in the waters of San Francisco Bay.
Escape from Alcatraz was a critical success upon its release, and is widely considered one of the best films of 1979. The late Roger Ebert gave the prison jail movie 3.5 out of 4 stars, calling it a “masterful piece of storytelling,” in addition to being a “tautly wrought portrait” of prison life. Variety said the film is relentless in establishing “unrelieved tension”, while Time Out London called it Siegel’s best film since The Shootist.
In addition, this prison break movie was also successful at the box office, earning $43 million domestically, which made it the fifteenth highest-grossing film of the year. Escape from Alcatraz has also had a lasting impact on viewers, since it was on the shortlist of the 100 Years … 100 Thrills list of the American Film Institute although it ultimately did not make the cut.
16. American History X (1998)
American History X (1998) is a prison jail movie staring Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Avery Brooks and Fairuza Balk. Norton played a reformed Neo-Nazi leader who is sentenced to three years in prison for voluntary manslaughter. Upon his release, he tries to prevent his younger brother from following in his footsteps. The film earned Norton an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
The prison jail movie revolves around Danny and Derek Vinyard, who were raised by their father, Dennis, who displays racist tendencies. After black drug dealers kill Dennis, Derek forms the Disciples of Christ, a white supremacist group. When Derek catches some members of the Crips trying to steal his truck, he kills one of them and curb stomps another, resulting in his being sentenced to jail.
While in prison, Derek joins the Aryan Brotherhood but eventually becomes disillusioned with their racist outlook. He eventually reforms and turns his back on racial hatred. Upon his release, he tries to dissuade Danny from joining the neo-Nazi movement, and seems to be successful in changing his younger brother’s attitude. Unfortunately, a black student named Little Henry kills Danny and the film ends with Derek mourning for him.
American History X earned positive reviews from critics, with an 83% ‘fresh’ score on Rotten Tomatoes. According to the late Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, the prison jail movie was not only a powerful statement against racism, but entertaining as well, and rated it four out of four stars. The late Roger Ebert rated it three out of four stars, saying that it contained more actual provocative thought on race than an American film since Do The Right Thing. Variety called the film “cutting-edge fare” and singled out Norton’s performance for special praise.
In addition, American History X also made the shortlist of the 100 Years … 100 Cheers list of the most inspirational films compiled by the American Film Institute but ultimately failed to make the cut. Apart from his Best Actor nomination at the Oscars, Norton also earned nominations from the Chicago Film Critics Association and Online Film Critics Society and won at the Golden Satellite Awards.
17. Bad Boys (1983)
Nowadays, when people are asked if they have seen the movie “Bad Boys”, they would most likely refer to the action blockbuster movie featuring the dynamic police duo of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. However, there existed the original “Bad Boys” movie which was filled with drama, suspense, and action. Although the titles are the same, the plots are completely different. This movie was released in 1983 and it featured Sean Penn playing Mick O’Brien who’s a teenage hooligan. His performance would mark his reputation as a young, promising and talented actor. Sean Penn was also supported by a great cast of actors including Esai Morales who plays Paco. The movie was directed by Richard Rosenthal who is also responsible for the direction of successful television series such as “Smallville”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and “Law and Order”.
Bad Boys is centered on gang-related violence in Chicago. Mick O’Brien, who is part of an Irish-American gang, is involved in a drug deal gone wrong with Paco who is part of a Latino gang. The conflict arises when shots were fired between the gangs. Mick kills Paco’s brother and his actions resulted to spending time in a juvenile prison. Revenge ensues with Paco raping the girlfriend of Mick. His action would also land him to the same juvenile prison as Mick. The two hoodlums would meet again, only this time, in jail. A heated confrontation is the only possible outcome.
Bad Boys is unlike any typical gangster movie that glorifies violence. Sentiments and the feeling of wanting to be a gangster is not present in this movie. What occurs is a moving and serious scenes of different forms of violence such as rape and murder. There is nothing admirable about the actions committed by these gang members. But it’s precisely because of this unpleasantness that makes the movie engrossing and entertaining. This is only possible with Penn and Morales convincingly depicting their character under the guidance and ingenuity of Rosenthal as the director of the movie. It is not a surprise that Bad Boys holds an 89% rating from the movie review website, Rotten Tomatoes.
18. Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
“Birdman of Alcatraz” is not a typical prison movie that involves violence caused by conflicts with prison officers or inmates. The movie does not have the usual plot of a prisoner trying to escape, which is the case with movies like Shawshank Redemption or even Clint Eastwood’s “Escape from Alcatraz”.
“Birdman of Alcatraz” is about a prisoner, Robert Stroud, who serves a lifetime sentence in jail for murder. Stroud is played by Burt Lancaster who was already a highly accomplished by the time the movie was released in 1962. Lancaster has garnered an academy award for his role as Elmer Gantry in 1960. It is not a surprise for him to be nominated again for his brilliant portrayal as Robert Stroud. Lancaster was supported by equally talented actors such as Karl Malden who plays the strict and irritated prison warden. Walden is the same actor who worked with legendary actors like Marlon Brando in movies like “On the Waterfront” and “Streetcar Named Desire”.
“Birdman of Alcatraz” is based on a true story of a prisoner serving a life sentence. The biography of Robert Stroud confirms that he spent forty three years in solitary confinement. Just the thought of that would drive anybody insane. But Lancaster played Stroud with this sense of restrained hope which was believable and real.
The movie is initiated by a sickly sparrow that flies into the cell of Stroud. Any prisoner who has given up on life and freedom would have taken away the life of the bird. This is not the case with Stroud who nursed the sparrow to full health. This was the start of a journey that would lead to Stroud becoming a famous ornithologist. The word “Alacatraz” in the title becomes relevant when the overbearing warden, Shoemaker, transfers Stroud to Alcatraz. The prison is notorious for accommodating the most dangerous and ruthless criminals. It is built on an island and is intentionally located there to prevent any chances of prisoners escaping. However, Stroud was not looking to escape. He continued his work with the birds and it was eventually broadcasted by a determined reporter played by Edmond O’Brien.
Birdman of Alcatraz is an emotional, but at the same time, a hopeful movie. Under the direction of John Frankenheimer, the movie was a success and the results were numerous academy awards nominations for Lancaster and the other supporting actors. It is therefore not a surprise that the movie review website, Rotten Tomatoes, has rated this movie a solid 82%.
19. Alien 3 (1992)
Alien 3 is part of a quadrilogy of the famous Alien franchise. The first movie was released in 1979 directed by Ridley Scott. Every movie had different directors and this was the case with this movie. David Fincher, who is known for his stylistic and creative works such as Seven, Fight Club and the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, had his directorial debut with this movie. Despite the numerous directorial changes, Sigourney Weaver who plays Ripley Scott, was the only actor in all four movies. Though the movie underperformed in the US box office, it strongly performed outside the US. This goes to show the international appeal of the movie and it is evident with earning over $100 million.
The movie starts with a crash landing on planet Fiorina “Fur” 161. It is a prison planet filled with dangerous criminals. However, the danger is not with these prisoners but an unwelcomed visitor who came from a crashed spaceship. Ripley survives the crash but so did the alien that sprung out of a dog. This is where this movie is different from the previous movies in the series. The aliens from the first and second movies were born from humans. This is not the case with Alien 3. It is important to point this out because the behavior of the alien is completely different. The alien from the first two movies exhibited problem-solving skills similar to humans but this is not the case with Alien 3.The alien is more of a beast and this is evident because it stands on all four legs and is extremely quick and aggressive. The criminals in the penal colony were savagely killed by this alien. Despite this, Ripley devised a plan to combat the alien in a thrilling showdown.
The movie had mixed responses and criticisms, but this is largely based on unfair comparisons with the previous movies of the series. This is shown with a 44% rating on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes. However, Alien 3 is entertaining and unusually encaptivating. This may be due to the film’s visual effects, which was nominated for an Academy Award.
20. The Hurricane (1999)
“Hurricane” is based on a true story of Rubin Carter who was an American middleweight boxer. The character is played by Denzel Washington and directed by Norman Jewison in 1999. There is an interesting history behind the collaboration between Washington and Jewison. The movie Malcolm X, which Washington was nominated for best actor, was originally assigned to Jewison. However, there was great public criticism over the race of Jewison. In effect, Spike Lee replaced Jewison and directed the movie. “Hurricane” is a movie that also raises problems of racial prejudice and Jewison skillfully directed the movie as a seamless biography of Carter’s life.
“Hurricane” starts with the early life of Carter as a boxer and the rise to being one of the top middleweight boxers of that time. However, the main plot is not based on what happened on the boxing ring but the events that occurred outside the ring. Carter and his friend John Artis was accused for the murder of three people in a bar despite no evidence to prove this. The only basis for their conviction was a witness account of Alfred Bello who was also a suspect in the murder case. There were no evidence gathered and the prosecution provided no motive for the killings. It is therefore hard to view this case as a legal battle but more of a racial clash. Carter continued to plead his innocence even while in jail. This is best shown in the scene of him refusing to wear prison clothes by famously saying: “I will not wear the clothes of a guilty man”. The case was again revisited in 1985 under the Federal District Court. Carter and Artis were subsequently freed.
“Hurricane” conveyed this theme of overcoming injustice and never losing hope. The success of this movie was heavily due to Washington’s performance. He captured the audience with everything he felt. It is hard not to be moved by many of the scenes which evoked feelings of despair, humiliation, anger, and eventual joy. It is not a surprise that the critics praised this film. The movie review website, Rotten Tomatoes, scored this movie a rating of 83%.
21. Escape Plan (2013)
The Escape Plan (2013) is a star studded action and prison movie. It tells the story of Ray Breslin, owner of a security company that ensures that prisons are escape proof. His family was killed by a convict who escaped from prison. This is the reason why Breslin dedicated his life to devise ways to keep prisoners locked out until they served their sentence.
He goes to different prisons to study the design of the prison cells and the behavior of prison guards. Then, he was offered a deal by CIA agent named Jessica Mayer to test a maximum security and top secret prison. Breslin agreed to enter the prison under the alias Antonio Portos even though he and his colleagues are unaware where this prison is. But, everything did not go as planned when the tracking device was removed from his arm. He was drugged. He woke up in a prison with complex glass cells. The prison does not have any windows. Breslin realized that he has been tricked so he started to devise an escape plan.
He meets Emil Rottmayer, a man who works for Mannheim – a modern day Robin Hood. They begin to plan their escape plan. They studied the prison cells and the guard and later realized that they are in Morocco and that they are inside a cargo ship. Rottmayer and Breslin escaped from the prison after a gunfight, killing the warden in the process. It was revealed that Rottmayer is, in fact, Mannheim and the woman who posed as the CIA agent is Mannheim’s daughter. The plan all along was to get Mannheim out of the prison. It was also revealed that Breslin’s partner was offered a $5 million annual salary if Breslin stays in prison.
The movie is entertaining and action packed. This is an amazing prison break movie and it has a powerhouse cast. This film is witty and unpredictable. The acting is great and the twists of the movie are both surprising and satisfying. The two superstars in the movie also have amazing chemistry. They complement each other. But, the movie only got a 49% rating in Rotten Tomatoes.
The Escape Plan (2013) gives viewers a preview of corruption in the prison system. It also features bloody and animated fights. So, if you love action-packed prison movies, you should watch this.
22. Orange Is The New Black (tv show)
Orange is the New Black (TV Show) is a refreshing TV series that follows the story of Piper Chapman. She’s a law abiding PR executive with a dark past. Ten years earlier, she was in a lesbian relationship and she smuggled a suitcase of drug money with her former lesbian lover, Alex.
But, 10 years later, Alex was arrested and she named Piper as her conspirator during the trial. So, Piper was arrested and taken away from her almost perfect life.
While in prison, Piper was reunited with Alex. They re-examined and rekindled their friendship as they deal with other prisoners. Orange is the New Black (TV Show) is interesting because, in every episode, it examines the backstory of each inmate. This show explores the inadequacy and corruption of the American prison system. It also highlights Piper’s struggle to adjust to the prison life.
This TV show tackles serious issues and yet has a comedic air. The show helps explore the human emotions of inmates. It helps the viewers understand the bad choices that each inmate has to make. You’d meet different archetypes in the show – the nun, the drug junkie, the hippie, the Russian matriarch and more. The story of each inmate is weaved using clever story-telling techniques.
The stories are amazing and the cast is outstanding. The Orange is the New Black (TV Show) is filled with fascinating characters that will get you hooked. The acting was superb and the story is refreshing considering that women’s prison is rarely explored in movies or TV series.
This series is refreshing and offers something new to the viewers. It allows the viewers to discover the fact that the prison is filled with different stories. It does not glorify prison life. In fact, the TV series shows the harsh reality inside the women’s prison. It’s filled with gossips and hostility. It shows that being in prison brings up one’s worst and selfish qualities. But, it also shows that genuine friendship can be formed in a hopeless place. This TV series is well-liked. In fact, it got a 95% rating in Rotten Tomatoes.
The Orange is the New Black (TV Show) has a dark humor that is both hilarious and thought-provoking. If you have nothing to do during your weekend, grab some popcorn and watch this series.
23. Fortress (1992)
Fortress (1992) is a science fiction film that tells a story of a couple who were sent to a maximum prison. The film has a futuristic theme. The story was set in dystopian 2017 where the US has one child policy. Parents who conceive more than one child will be imprisoned.
A couple, John Henry and Karen attempts to cross the US-Canada border to avoid imprisonment. Karen was pregnant with their second child and they plan to raise the child in Canada but they got caught while attempting to cross the border.
John was sentenced to prison for 31 years and sent to maximum security high-tech prison. In this prison, the inmates are implanted to “intestinators” as penalty to bad behavior. These “intestinators” can induce pain and even death. After a prison brawl, John was placed in the “intestinator” to undergo a mind wipe procedure as a punishment. The prison is also monitored by a computer system named Zed. It monitors the inmates’ every move and even their sexual dreams.
This fortress is located in the middle of the desert. The prison was run by Director Poe. He’s infatuated with Karen. So, he tells her that if she lives with him, he’ll release John from the mind-wipe chamber. Karen agreed to this as she wants to help her husband the best way she can. She accessed Poe’s computer to help restore John from his mind wipe state. Karen also stole the prison’s holographic map to help John escape. After carrying out their prison escape plan, Karen gave birth to their second baby in the barn. She and John were able to escape to another country.
The Fortress (1992) is ahead of its time. If you watched it in 1992, you’ll be impressed with the special effects and the story line. In fact, this movie got only 40% rating in Rotten Tomatoes. But, if you’re watching it in 2016, you’ll find the film a little dull. However, if you’re into vintage action and sci-fi movies, you’ll enjoy this one. It tackles the cruelty in high security prisons. It also reveals that people have high hopes for 2017 in 1992. You’ll find it funny that 2016 is not even close to how the film maker envisioned 2017 to be. This movie is not the best but has some entertaining value.
24. Lockout (2012)
Locked Out (2012) is a futuristic action film. The movie has less than favorable reviews when it was released but is entertaining. It also has amazing stunts.
Locked Out (2012) is set in 2076. It is about a CIA agent named Snow. He was convicted of espionage against the US. He was also accused of killing an undercover agent named Frank Armstrong who found out that another agent is selling secrets to another country about the United States’ space program.
Marion Snow was sentenced to thirty years of imprisonment and he was confined in a high tech prison called MS One. Prisoners are kept in statis during their sentence. This process causes mental deterioration.
Emilie, the US President’s daughter went to MS One to check the status of the prisoners. The warden lets Emilie interview a deranged prisoner named Hydell. But Hydell managed to escape. He then released the other prisoners resulting to a riot. Emilie was captured by the prisoners. Hydell’s brother, Alex, then realized that Emilie is the president’s daughter. So, he held her captive. Alex threatened to let Hydell rape Emilie if they are not to be released. But, the president chose to risk his daughter and refused the request of Hydell and Alex.
In an effort to clear his name, Snow went on a quest to save Emilie from the brothers and other prisoners. After a series of fights, he succeeded. Emilie and Snow put on space jumpsuits and they jump out of MS One before it detonates. Snow was arrested in New York but was later on released.
This movie is perfect for those who are looking for some action. It is packed with well-choreographed fight scenes. The fight scenes are amazing. This movie will definitely remind you of the old, classic action movie – Die Hard.
Although Locked Out (2012) is pretty good, the plot of this movie is flat. It does not have any twists or turns. The film uses the usual formula for Sci Fi action movies which made it really boring and unoriginal. It is filled with mindless violence. The movie only got 38% rating in Rotten Tomatoes. But, if you’re a big action movie fan, this movie will be of good entertainment.
25. The Rock (1996)
The Rock (1996) is an interesting movie about prison, hostage crisis, and secrets. The movie had a positive review from respected critics at the time of its release.
The movie is about the story of Captain John Patrick Mason who has been a prisoner for more than thirty years. He was not charged with anything but the U.S. government still wants him behind bars without trial. It was revealed in the movie that Mason was a British captain who stole a microfilm containing the most guarded secrets of the United States government. He refused to give up the film knowing that he’ll be killed if he gives it up. So, he was locked away for many years.
The FBI director James Womack was forced to ask the help of Mason when a group of angry military men held more than 80 tourists hostage in the Alcaratz island. These military men have M55 rockets and they threatened to launch the rockets against the city of San Francisco if their ransom demand of $100 million is not given to them in days.
Mason was the only prisoner who escaped Alcaratz, so the FBI director asked for his help in infiltrating the island and saving the lives of the hostages. In exchange, he’ll be given a parole. Mason was partnered up with Dr. Stanley Goodspeed, a chemical weapons expert, to defuse the rockets. Together, they infiltrate the island. However, the military men, led by General Frank Hummel, were alerted. All the SEALs who accompanied Mason and Goodspeed were killed.
The Rock (1996) duo was able to defuse the nuclear weapons except the last one. When the hostage takers decide to fire the rocket to San Francisco, Goodspeed killed them. He then signals the jets that the hostage drama is over. However, one of the jets accidentally dropped the bomb. Luckily no one was hurt. Goodspeed, however, was thrown out to the water. Mason rescued him. Goodspeed then revealed to Mason that the FBI director will not grant his parole as promised. He’s not willing to hold his end of the bargain. Goodspeed allowed Mason to escape. But, before leaving, he told Goodspeed the location of the microfilm.
Goodspeed told the FBI that Mason was killed during the fight. Later on, Goodspeed discovered the microfilm containing the biggest secrets of the US government including the one who killed John F. Kennedy.
This movie is thought provoking. It has good twists. The plot is refreshing. It is definitely one of those engaging action movies of the ‘90s. If you don’t have anything to do on a Saturday night, watch this movie. The Rock (1996) is definitely worth your time. In fact, it got 66% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which means that it has generally favorable reviews.