25 best prison movies ever
The Great Escape (1963)
Based on the real life mass escape attempt from German prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III (although Steve McQueen’s iconic “Cooler King” is sadly a work of fiction), The Great Escape works as a taut boys’ own thriller – perfect post-Christmas Dinner fodder – but its tragic ending lingers long in the memory.
American History X (1998)
Shot in stark black and white, the prison scenes in American History X are key to the development of Edward Norton’s character, allowing him to let go of his anger and reject the white supremacist culture he had earlier embraced. A brutal, funny and touching part of a powerful film.
Alien 3 (1992)
So it seems they’ll still have prisons in the future, and that they’ll build them on remote planets. When Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is unfortunate enough to be stranded on one such world, she finds herself in as almost as much danger from the inmates – who haven’t seen a woman in years – as from the killer xenomorph that hopped along for the ride. Not the finest Alien movie by any stretch of the imagination, but David Fincher’s direction brings the dingy penal colony to life with great effect.
Chicken Run (2000)
Aardman Studios’ claymation full-lengther combines the studio’s small-time British charm with a blockbuster approach – including Mel Gibson voicing the main role – many of them taking on the roles of talking chickens attempting a Great Escape-style breakout from their coop. Packed with homages to other prison movies, it’s a movie that you’d be hard pressed not to enjoy all the way through – no matter your age.
Dead Man Walking (1995)
Perhaps not so much concerned with its depiction of prison as with its depiction of punishment – specifically the death penalty – Tim Robbins’ movie about the relationship between a convicted murderer and the nun who befriends him doesn’t preach: it simply presents a story and complex characters in brilliant fashion.
Caged Heat (1974)
A low budget, women-in-prison film from the 70s… yes, Caged Heat is an exploitation movie with all that entails (nudity, sex, OTT violence) – but it’s still rather good. Directed by Jonathan Demme (who later bagged an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs) and featuring a score from John Cale, it’s a true guilty pleasure.