While the majority of us will never wind up behind bars with rapists and murderers for pirating John Carter Of Mars from a torrent, the idea of being sent to prison is still a scary one. It’s the kind of environment that no person wants to find themselves locked up in, as most jails are seen as hellholes thanks to film and TV. Still, those productions have made for some damn good viewing. Here are ten such films, that are worth dropping the soap for.
- The Shawshank Redemption
Let’s start this list off right. I don’t think anyone can fault The Shawshank Redemption, a tale of loss, understanding and the human spirit. It’s not just a damn good story, it’s an exceptionally well shot movie, with folks finding new scenes and ideas with each and every viewing of the film. A haunting film, The Shawshank Redemption proves that no matter what life throws at you, there’s always an escape route, and it did so with an ingenious twist that no one saw coming.
You’ve probably seen this film a dozen times already. And watching it for a 13th time is still worth it.
The Last Castle
Most prison films deal with escaping an institution. But The Last Castle put a twist on the genre, creating a film where Robert Redford’s Lietenant General Eugene Irwin plays mind games with his warden, James Gandolfini’s Colonel Winter. Locked up in a military chokie and treated to anything but rehabilitation by the warden and his cronies, Irwin plays a dangerous game where he forms his own secret army with the intent to capture the prison, not to escape it, but to force a change of leadership within the system that all comes down to one climatic end-game between two opposing forces.
What happens when you combine claymation, British charm and a nod to one of the greatest escapes in history? You get Chicken Run, a children’s movie with a slightly unnerving tone as a coop of clucked-up hens dream of leaving their dingy camp as living, breathing creatures and not as a selection of cheap pies.
Chicken Run is packed to the waddle with references to other escape movies, includes Mel Gibson as a conniving con artist chicken and is enjoyable all the way through. If you haven’t seen it yet, then dammit man, what are you waiting for?
- In The Name Of The Father
Daniel Day-Lewis may be one of the finest actors of all time, but it was films like this that truly cemented his role as a damn good thespian. Based on the true story of Gerry Conlon, who was wrongfully convicted of an IRA bombing along with his father Giuseppe, the film painted a stark image of the British prison system, with an emotional core that would move even the hardest of men to tears.
Mean Machine isn’t exactly an original film, being based on the earlier Burt Reynolds film The Longest Yard (Which was then remade again, with Adam Sandler in the lead), but it’s easily the far more fun opposite to the emotion In The Name Of The Father, above.
Vinnie Jones is banged up in jail, and forced to use his waning soccer stardom to put together a rag-tag team of inmates to play against the squad of prison guards, forming the titular mean machine of the film. It’s as predictable as can be, but it’s completely worth watching to see Jason Statham’s cool, calm and collected Monk character in action, with a half-hour match that is far too much fun to ignore and not have a laugh at.
That Steve McQueen, he just can’t seem to stay out of jail, can he? Being banged up is bad enough. But being banged up abroad? Now that’s even worse. Stuck in a French Guiana prison that is rated as “Oh crap” by any prisoner who has survived it, McQueen finds himself as a criminal convicted of a murder that he didn’t commit, sentenced to a harsh life behind bars that consists of regular beatings and a stretch or two in solitary confinement. It’s an enduring tale of one man trying his best to escape a fate that he didn’t deserve, with Dustin Hoffman also contributing magnificently in this cult film.
Breaking out of prison is one thing. But breaking into it? Madness! Before he became obsessed with transforming robots and China, Michael Bay honed all his sexy camera work and signature style in this one film, that saw Nicolas Cage team up with Sean Connery in order to stop a viral terror attack being launched on US soil. Out of all the movies on this list, this one is easily the most adrenaline-charged and fun one around, with Cage and Connery’s banter making for one hell of an odd couple. Godshpeed, Goodshpeed.
- The Count Of Monte Cristo
What’s worse than being imprisoned and realising that you’ll need to make certain that your orifices are locked up tighter than the KFC secret recipe? Being wrongfully imprisoned, that’s what. Even though the entire film isn’t set in jail, The Count Of Monte Cristo is still a fine-ass tale of revenge, with the 2000’s incarnation being worth a rewatch or two as Jim Caviezel finds himself on the wrong end of Guy Pearce’s lust for his wife. Locked up for 13 years in a hellhole, Caviezel eventually escapes, plotting the mother of all revenge schemes that ends with sword on sword action between the Count and his hated arch-enemy.
- The Great Escape
World War 2 was a terribly crap time for most of the world, as one maniac with a Napoleon complex plunged the globe into chaos. Many soldiers died, and many more were captured and sent to prisoner of war camps. And in those camps were hatched some of the most ingenious plots at escape, ever devised. Based on true events, The Great Escape saw a mass escape from the dreaded German POW camp Stalag Luft III, with Steve McQueen’s sadly fictional character performing his own stunt at the end of the film as he pitted a motorcycle against gravity with one last attempt at freedom.
Also, ten points if you can whistle that iconic theme tune without Googling it.
- Alien 3
Just about every prison movie has some nefarious beast running amok looking to reign havoc on your chutney chute. Alien 3 however, took things further by making such a beast an actual monster. And in the future, there’ll still be a need for prisons, as humanity is just as bad as anything conjured up out of the mind of a European surrealist artist obsessed with genitalia. It’s not the finest Alien movie in the entire franchise, but Alien 3 is still one hell of a jailhouse film, thanks to David Fincher’s edgy directing and visuals.
Last Updated: September 4, 2014