25 best prison movies ever

The greatest caged classic of all time – all boxed into one list

Everyone loves a good prison film, and the concept of a life behind bars is a rich seam for any artist to mine – whether they’re a comedian, a moralist or simply someone who wants to entertain. We’ve racked our brains and compiled a list of our 25 favourite films about the joint – you bring the popcorn and the shiv.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

One of Paul Newman’s most iconic roles, Luke Jackson is a chain-gang prisoner who refuses to buckle to authority, repeatedly attempting to escape and keep his individualistic spirit in an environment designed to crush exactly that. Oh, and he eats 50 hard boiled eggs in under an hour.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

So this one is a total no brainer, as it’s widely considered to be one of the best movies of all time full stop. You’ve probably seen it ten times already, but if you haven’t it stars Tim Robbins as a man wrongly imprisoned for the murder of his wife – and tracks his experiences in jail, his friendship with Morgan Freeman’s lifelong convict and ultimately his… well, that would be saying too much. Just watch it, already.

Hunger (2008)

Before Shame, Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender burst onto the scene with this gut-wrenching tale of Irish republican Bobby Sands, who led the 1981 IRA Hunger Strike at Belfast’s Maze Prison in an attempt to gain political prisoner status. Fassbender went on a crash diet in order to better portray Sands in the final stages of the strike – a fact which suggests you should not approach this film expecting lightweight fare.

The Rock (1996)

Michael Bay’s action romp has Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery breaking into prison – specifically, Alcatraz – rather than out of it, in order to stop Ed Harris’ rogue general from unleashing a deadly nerve gas on San Francisco. It’s far-fetched, testosterone- and gasoline-fuelled nonsense, of course (that’s our Bay!) but nobody could say The Rock isn’t a whole heap of dumb fun.

Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

Take the tour around San Francisco’s notorious Alcatraz prison island and you’ll hear that nobody has ever successfully escaped – but one man broke out and disappeared, and this movie tells his tale. Clint Eastwood is as fine and understated as ever as Frank Morris, and the movie manages to sidestep the majority of prison movie cliches.