Prison movies we present in this article include everything from the redemption stories of inmates to the parable of chaos and order.
This article has not just some of the best prison movies ever made. But some of the best movies, in general, ranging in genre from psychological thriller to drama, to crime dramas.
Regardless of what you usually watch, even if it is comedy movies or just rom coms. You are sure to enjoy these movies. They come from some of the legendary filmmakers and actors.
Shawshank Redemption and American History X are two of such movies that have a special place in my heart. And I am sure they will conquer that part in yours too. If that did not already happen before.
From the magnificent Birdman healing birds to setting them out to McMurphy’s fight against order. Each movie has those one-of-a-kind wow moments and uniqueness to themselves. Despite it all being in the same genre, that you will be coming back to this list for more than one time to look up.
Although the first movie on our best prison movies list is going to be a Shawshank Redemption movie review, the full article is hidden under the hypertext.
Now, without a further ado let us just find the best prison movies in existence today.
Top Prison Movies: The Shawshank Redemption
Director: Frank Darabont
Writers: Stephen King (short story “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”), Frank Darabont (screenplay)
Stars: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton
Director Frank Darabont’s best prison movie: “Shawshank Redemption” bases itself on the novelette of Stephin King by almost the same name. But the screenplay was written by Frank Darabont himself. He changed it a bit to fit the viewing audience. And the movie features the stars like Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton.
Wrongly accused successful lawyer Andy Dufresne becomes an unconventional prisoner and befriends Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding. Both eventually end up finding solace after years of moral dilemma and walking on the edge of good versus bad.
Shawshank is currently at the top of the best prison movies list on IMDb. But I’d argue it is on top of any list that is about good movies. This is one of those rare cinematic masterpieces to which you can dedicate all of your good vocabularies, and no one will argue.
Shawshank Redemption is the best redemption story ever. However, is the redemption story of Red? or Andy? Perhaps even prison? ‒ A question of the century and every film lover!
The positive tone, and the message it sends, is probably one of the main reasons many people like the movie. The notion that no matter how bad your situation is, there is always a way out. In the literal and figurative sense, it is what kept me watching all those times after the first.
The balance between the evil and the good being equally important. Thus, should not be prioritized if one intends to achieve a total self-liberation.
The element of “hope” is popularly in use by prison movies. But good prison movies use this facet of structure in a way that is not too cliche. Yet brings about desperateness and transient ephemeral quality in vivid presence throughout the movie.
You can continue reading my Shawshank Redemption review here.
Prison Rape Movies: American History X
Director: Tony Kaye
Writers: David McKenna
Stars: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo
American History X comes from director David McKenna and Tony Kaye wrote it. Stars include people like Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo. I never thought a movie about hate would receive so much love.
A neo-nazi member finally goes to jail for killing two members of the black race who tried to steal his car. After his incarceration, this former neo-nazi tries to prevent his brother to follow his steps. Partly, because he gets raped by his fellow Nazis.
To say the least, the best performances by Edward Norton. I truly mean it the way it is written. He has never been hated and loved simultaneously as Derek in this prison movie.
The movie feels as if it was based on real events. Part of it is acting, the other part is definitely writing. Because watching the film you know this guy is wrong in all kinds of ways. But by the end, you still end up supporting him anyway.
Its theme has a good message and delivers it without preaching it. The idea that “hate is learned” stays with you and in your subconscious mind even years later. The fact a movie can teach a person such deeply appreciated values is an incredible thing.
Although, this is just a movie, so, it could not have illuminated the whole race issue within its run time. It is far too simple of a movie to be able to do that. So, anyone hoping to understand the deep-rooted issue and find a solution with one movie is on the wrong track.
However, among the many other Hollywood attempts. American History X gets the closest and does it better than any other prison movies I have ever seen.
So, in this regard, this movie is easily one of the best prison movies.
Best Prison Movies: Green Mile
Director: Frank Darabont
Writers: Stephen King (novel), Frank Darabont (screenplay)
Stars: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse
Green Mile is a Stephin King novel and the screenplay is from the director Frank Darabont who made Shawshank Redemption. This movie features Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse. The central point of the movie in simpler words is humanity. And human relationships shot through the lenses of a prison cell.
Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) has walked his fair share of a mile with prisons of all kinds. Except when he meets John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) his life and everyone else’s on Death row change as John has a supernatural gift.
I would not include this movie knowing that it is the second movie from the same director and writer. However, Green Mile earned its spot on the best prison movies. Over the years, it has received both praise and criticism. Surely some of those points make sense. Although the fact remains that this prison movie raises above all critique and shines brighter than the compliments.
It is an emotional movie like its predecessor. But at a much slower rate, that people can find it too slow. The touching points and the poignant characters are the grains of seed that the flower of the movie grows upon.
Another one of the minuses the movie seems to have is that it drifts off the main topic a bit too unnecessary. There are a few abandoned subplots and secondary ideas, even when cut won’t make any change to the overall product.
The acting is worth all the praise and envy. Because it is one of the few aspects that keep the movie floating ahead even at the darkest tides. Even when the audience is about to be overwhelmed by the huge waves of boredom.
Plus, Hank takes the iconic historic pee in the history of the prison movies.
Prison Movies List: Midnight Express
Director: Alan Parker
Writers: Oliver Stone (screenplay), Billy Hayes (book) (as William Hayes)
Stars: Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins
Midnight Express is directed by Alan Parker, written by Oliver Stone based on the book and true events that happened with Billy Hayes. The role of Billy Hayes portrayed by Brad Davis, while his girlfriend is Irene Miracle.
It is about an American who gets caught smuggling hashish from Turkey and is sentenced to four years in prison. However, when his time in prison changes to 30 years, things start to change.
Midnight Express in one sense is the truest expression of the best prison movies. In that, it captures and encapsulates prison life and its injustices very well. However, it is not a movie that would have been made today.
You can not vilify the whole other nation’s prison system. Especially when it is not based on facts. The idea that you said it was based on true events goes right out the window that very second. Because it is not all correct.
I love the drama and the emotionality, and the rawness of the movie. I love how they are able to show the outside world in a microcosm of a jail. Sound edits and cinematography were also of the highest for its time.
However, after all, it is a story of a smuggler. Just because the camera follows a particular person does not mean that person is a hero.
Most fans forget to understand this movie is good to enjoy as a movie and as a fable. But its message and truthfulness are arguable. It is definitely one of the good prison movies. One that includes all the prison politics and intricacies and the suffering of people who are there. But through the wrong spectre of optics, through the specimen of a failed smuggler.
Best Prison Movies: Cool Hand Luke
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Writers: Donn Pearce (screenplay), Frank Pierson (screenplay) (as Frank R. Pierson)
Stars: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin
Cool Hand Luke is a fundamentally retelling of the Christ story from a prison cell in a prison movies style. And it is directed by Stuart Rosenberg and written by Donn Pearce, Frank Pierson. Features the biggest stars of its time like Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Brother Martin.
A young man is sentenced to two years in prison in the south, where he denies to conform. His will and individuality and unwillingness to play by the rules make him a leader in its own right.
It is an incredible cinematic experience as it is. But when you add the underlying meaning and existentialism parables to the Bible. It becomes like wine is to the Christian, a holy movie.
The fact that there are 10 rules just like the Bible’s 10 commandments from the start sets it off like repeating the story that has been told a million times for 2 thousand years.
Its excellency is in that even though you might find out that it is Jesus’ figure retold again, you won’t mind it. This revelation will only make you like it even more.
Part of the reason for its popularity could be the 60s counterculture movement and its influence. Or vice versa, this can be one of the movies that caused the counterculture movement to progress even further.
Leaving all the ideologies and the perfect timing of its political correctness. The fabulous acting, meticulously detailed cinematography, articulate dialogues, and writing are some of the facets that made this prison movie what it is; A classic of a lifetime.
One of the best prison movies Cool Hand Luke deserves more than a 300-word review which I might consider later. There is no women in prison films as hot as Lucille
Prison Breaking Movies: The Great Escape
Director: John Sturges
Writers: Paul Brickhill (book), James Clavell (screenplay)
Stars: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough
Director John Sturges’ masterpiece of a prison movie based on true events features stars like Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough. The screenplay was written by James Clavell based on the book of Paul Brickhill.
It is a story about allied prisoners plotting an escape from a newly built German camp during World War Ⅱ. While the movie exaggerates some aspects of the escape it still was based on the real truth. I had to google it to find out 😜.
Obviously watching The Great Escape you can’t help but be reminded of the fact that this happened sometime in the past. And those people really existed, except a few to give more of a dramatic and cinematic experience. Not one of those movies like escape plan, this one is far better.
But the very fact that these brave, and courageous people from different backgrounds came together to achieve one single goal, is awe-inspiring, mind-boggling, and simply hard to imagine. Because those things don’t happen easily even in a globalized world.
Watching one of the best prison movies makes one feel a colorful emotion. It was like watching a sad story with bursts of laughter in between that one moment you are crying while in the other you cannot stop smiling.
Incredibly written script, outstanding cast, one of kind story, it is a wonder that it didn’t win an Oscar. Fascinating how entertaining and capturing the story of a bunch of prisoners of war could be in the hands of the right director.
The movie sets out a bit too slow. The plots and the storyline unfold gradually into something that soars up into the sky full of action scenes and moments of courage. There is a reason this is called the list of the best prison movies.
Best Prison Movies: In The Name Of The Father
Director: Jim Sheridan
Writers: Gerry Conlon (autobiographical book “Proved Innocent”), Terry George (screenplay)
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Alison Crosbie
In the Name Of The Father is directed by Jim Sheridan and written by Gerry Conlon. Features stars like Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Alison Crosbie.
A young Irish man who lives in London is wrongly accused of terroristic acts when the bombing in London happens. And he is sentenced to life in prison with his father where he spends 15 years trying to prove his innocence.
Jim Sheridan was able to make this story of an estranged father and son story so much more personal and intimate. So appealing that it tears your eyes once at least throughout its runtime. That makes it one of the best prison movies
Acting in this flick is simply phenomenal. It is the instrument through which you connect with the characters. And it could not have been expressed better than by those two men.
At the beginning, the relationship between the father and the son is complex. Because in the eyes of the young man, his father has grown stale, and boring. Whereas he is exuberant, young, and takes risks. As a result of differences in their character, they are in constant conflict.
The way the movie develops is that he starts to understand his father more, as his father does too. The depiction of this changing relationship and behavior is all too real, almost surreal that makes you consider your own actions. Makes you consider picking up the phone and giving your old man a call. To be honest there are not many movies that make you do something after watching it.
It is a pity this was only nominated for Oscars when it was just as good a movie as the rest of the Oscar nominees of 1993 year. Although nomination itself is a big thing in and of itself.
Best Prison Movies: Birdman of Alcatraz
Director: John Frankenheimer, Charles Crichton (uncredited)
Writers: Guy Trosper (screenplay), Thomas E. Gaddis (book)
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter
Birdman of Alcatraz is directed by John Frankenheimer and the screenplay by Guy Trosper with some events based on the book by Thomas E.Gaddis. It features stars like Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter.
In this list, we have been talking a lot about redemption and hope and how positivity and optimism can have immense effects on life and the characters in movies. This movie is probably the best example of how a convicted murderer redeemed himself.
It is based on real events, but I would not recommend you look it up before you watch it. Because that person in real life was truly a criminal who committed murder more than once. So, just like we said before, he is no hero, not even close.
The movie has some of the best acting and storytelling I have seen in years. A person who was sent to prison at such an early age for a long time. Committing another murder at the prison probably loses all the hope to ever live normally. And perhaps, just gives in to just die.
However, his mother succeeds in changing his sentence from execution to life imprisonment in solitary confinement. This itself is in a way a curse for someone who has lost all hope. However, for someone who holds even the smallest, the tiniest atom of hope, he will live on. Just like this prisoner who later was known as the birdman.
Because he would heal the birds and start looking after them. So successful and professional he became that his works were published in magazines and captured the attention of the scientific world. That is the story that Hollywood should tell.
This is definitely one of the best prison movies ever. And it is worth watching with its more than two hours of runtime.
Top Prison Movies: A Prophet
Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Thomas Bidegain (screenplay), Jacques Audiard (screenplay)
Stars: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif
A Prophet comes from a celebrated French director Jacques Audiard who co-wrote the script with Thomas Bidegain. It features actors like Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif.
It is a prison movie at its best, and showcases a young Arab man’s perspective in French prison.
The plot of the movie is complex but engaging something that needs the least bit of spoils. Because it is one of the aspects that elevates the movie into a whole new heights. In short, it follows this Franco-Arab boys’ involvement in the crime world.
A prophet feels and sounds like the new Godfather movie only in French. Perhaps, I could call it the Godfather of French cinema.
It has a riveting story, and with a complex plot so well structured and the events unfold just enough for the story to continue at a certain point that despite its long runtime, you won’t feel bored. It is this well-pacedness of the movie that gives its long and quick feel at the same time.
The way the movie is made considering all details and every technical aspect make it a different movie. It is not your usual crime drama. Or just another one of those prison movies with all the cliches and banalities. It has a unique feel and looks to it. One that has not been tried before but you know works.
You might not know anything about the French prison before watching the movie. But you feel like you know a whole lot after watching it just once. It is this type of time, and space travel aspect of it that takes you out of your reality and pushes you into its own where you feel lost and taken over.
One of Jacques Audiard’s best works and certainly one of the best prison movies ever.
Prison Escape Movies: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Director: Milos Forman
Writers: Lawrence Hauben (screenplay), Bo Goldman (screenplay)
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Michael Berryman
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is an incredible analogy of chaos and order directed by Milos Forman. Screenplay comes from writers Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman. It features stars like Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Michael Berryman.
I might have spoilt the plot a little bit with my starting sentence. But it was a necessary start because the way this movie plays out is nothing that can be spoilt. Because this is how the best prison movies are.
The theme of the movie is chaos versus order. But this is not something that you will understand easily. Especially at your first viewing. Because this theme is conveyed through small details and subtle moments that flow over your cuckoo’s nest that you won’t even notice.
But from the second viewing, you start to notice all those small details that make this movie a wonder. And they make you appreciate this movie even more.
For example, McMurphy appears in the movie with some sort of tribal music background and in the flatland. Which can only mean that he is a free spirit and not used to control and does not want to be controlled either.
As the Nurse Ratched first appears with no background music but the sound of the doors squeaking and creaking and the jingle and tingle of keys. One important aspect is that it is a closed atmosphere and the door itself is squared with iron and indestructible.
These two are just some of the small yet immensely important details from just the opening scene of the movie that tells so much more.
The acting on the other hand is on another level. The near perfect acting of Jack Nicholson leaves you wondering there were any other people eying out for this role.
In this list of extraordinary and astoundingly gorgeous prison movies. I hope you found something to watch, something to enjoy, something to be at awes with.
Some of the best prison movies require only one glance to appreciate their full beauty. While others might require you to watch a few times to really understand and value them.
To value, there is much indeed: Like the scenes of the panic attack captured in full perfection from “A Prophet” to the Shawshank’s escape scene that completed the character’s arc, at the same time redeeming him and the whole audience watching him.
If you are looking for singular movie reviews, check out our movies category where we treasure the best of one movie reviews.
However, I’d recommend lighting up your mood a little bit and changing the brainwaves to lighter frequencies with the best 90s cartoons on OnReplayTV. After watching the best prison movies in this list, the possibility that frequencies changed, is far more likely.