In the Name of the Father (1993)
Daniel Day-Lewis cemented his place as the finest actor of a generation with his performance as Gerry Conlon, wrongly imprisoned for 15 years along with his father Giuseppe for the IRA’s Guildford pub bombings. Along with its compelling portrayal of British prison life, the film’s emotional core and redemptive ending make it one of the finest of the 1990s.
Stir Crazy (1980)
Stir Crazy ranks as one of the better prison comedies by virtue of its central duo: the incomparable Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, here framed for a bank robbery and sent to the pen. They plan an elaborate escape during a prison rodeo competition… with predictably crazy results.
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
This story of real life convict Robert Stroud star Burt Lancaster as the bird-loving killer. While there are plenty of liberties taken with facts (the true Stroud was not as sympathetic a character as Lancaster plays him), it’s an effective meditation on the role of prisons in society.
Down By Law (1986)
Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni playing three guys who meet in prison, in a black and white movie directed by Jim Jarmusch! Suffice to say, this is an indie picture and may alienate those with more mainstream tastes – but if you like your movies a little more left-field you’ll love it. Funny and heart-warming, if you’re willing to stand the slow, meandering pace.
Mean Machine (2001)
Starring Vinnie Jones as the ex-England football captain thrown in choky for beating up a couple of coppers, Mean Machine is not a “great” movie by normal standards (it’s a rip-off of The Longest Yard, for starters), but the 30-minute match at the end between convicts and guards is too much fun for us to ignore it here.