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Top 10 Prison Movies You Must Watch

There’s something about the desperate, brutal and suffocating nature of life in the clink that makes watching a prison-based film so compelling. Behind bars, we see both the absolute worst, and sometimes, best of humanity – but one thing’s for sure, we’re always on the edge of our seats watching a prisoner attempting to escape or merely trying to endure the hellhole…Here’s our rundown of ten of the best prison movies you have to see.
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Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

Image 10 Prison Movies you have to see - Escape from Alcatraz

A hardened criminal with a history of prison breaks, Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood), is sent to serve a life sentence at America’s supposedly inescapable maximum-security prison, Alcatraz. A great character study movie based on a real-life escape attempt in 1962, Morris and two convict brothers plan their escape. And even to this day, it remains a mystery whether they really made it out or not.
Director: Don Siegel

Papillion (1973)

Image 10 Prison Movies you have to see - Papillon

Starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, Papillon (French for ‘butterfly’) is one of the most iconic and inspirational jail movies of all time. After safecracker Henri ‘Papillon’ Charrière is framed for murder, he’s sentenced to life imprisonment in a penal colony in French Guiana, a hellish prison no one has escaped from… yet.
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Midnight Express (1978)

Image 10 Prison Movies you have to see - Midnight Express

Caught by Turkish police while attempting to smuggle cannabis out of Istanbul, American Billy Hayes (Brad David) is sent to four years in a shockingly brutal prison. But just as he’s finishing his sentence, surprise – the judge slaps him with another 30 years. As prison life grows increasingly unbearable, escape becomes the only option. A great character study movie of a person under almost unbearable pressure.
Director: Alan Parker

The Great Escape (1963)

Image 10 Prison Movies you have to see - The Great Escape

Do doo, doo doo, do doo doo… You’ve heard the theme tune a thousand times before, but have you actually seen the famous film? Steve McQueen has a real knack for breaking out of prisons, and this time it’s as Captain Virgil Hilts, via a tunnel from a German POW camp. But as escape becomes reality, the stakes become dangerously high.
Director: John Sturges

The Green Mile (1999)

Image 10 Prison Movies you have to see - The Green Mile

Set during the Great Depression, corrections officer Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) begins to question whether the huge black inmate on death row (John Coffey, played by Michael Clarke Duncan) was truly guilty of murdering two young girls. Something doesn’t add up – simple, naive and afraid of the dark, Coffey also seems to possess a supernatural gift.
Director: Frank Darabont

Brubaker (1980)

Image 10 Prison Movies you have to see - Brubaker

Turning the prison movie genre on its head (and therefore one of our top 10 prison movies). A film inspired by a real-life scandal, the new prison warden of an Arkansas prison, Henry Brubaker (Robert Redford) goes undercover as an inmate to witness first-hand the corruption and abuse that the prisoners reportedly suffer. But the problems run deeper than the new warden could’ve ever imagined.
Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Image 10 Prison Movies you have to see - Cool Hand Luke

Petty criminal Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) may be forced to spend the next two years in a tough Florida prison, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to submit to either the sadistic warden or the thuggish inmate, Dragline. Despite stints in solitary confinement, Jackson’s wit and bravado begin to make him a rebellious hero to his fellow inmates.
Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Stir Crazy (1980)

Image 10 Prison Movies you have to see - Stir Crazy

Some dig tunnels to try to break out of prison, but this duo has, er, a different plan… Framed for a bank robbery and given 125-year sentences, Harry Monroe (Richard Pryor) and Skip Donahue (Gene Wilder) plan to escape at the annual prisoners’ rodeo. The comedy caper grossed an incredible $100 million at the US box office.
Director: Sidney Poitier

The Experiment (2010)

Image 10 Prison Movies you have to see - The Experiment

If you fancy experimenting with a completely different type of prison movie, this prison film from the creator of TV series ‘Prison Break’ poses the question – what if ordinary people were given roles playing inmates and prison guards? Starring Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker and Travis Fimmel, The Experiment considers the ease in which people can become violent and cruel.
Director: Paul Scheuring

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Image 10 Prison Movies you have to see - The Shawshank Redemption

Perhaps the greatest prison film of them all. Sentenced to two life terms in the cruel Shawshank prison for murdering his wife and her lover, banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) strikes up a friendship with fellow prisoner ‘Red’ (Morgan Freeman), and sets about a long-term escape plan… with a little help from a rock hammer and a poster of Rita Hayworth.
Director: Frank Darabont

Hopefully, this has given you some ideas if you fancy watching one of the top 10 best prison movies. Agree? Disagree? Which best prison films would you recommend? Drop us a line at or leave us a comment on our Facebook page.

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