Top 10 Best Prison Movies

Prison Movies - An International Genre

Prison movies are a mainstay of cinema drama, with a prison movie being released almost every year in one country or another.

Whether your tastes run to the older ones or more recent prison films, this list should provide you with some great choices should you decide to hold a Prison Movie marathon - for which you might make inmate hooch and eat your snacks from little prison trays.

This top 10 list could have easily run to 20 movies but in the name of brevity, some of the best are collected here as a Top 10,

What is it in the human psyche which draws us to prison movies?

Seeing people in captivity is like looking at human nature through a lens - everything is there in close up and the protagonists act out their drama for us in tiny cells, in prison corridors, on clanking metal stairways and in the brooding atmosphere of the prison dining hall. Boys those guys are grumpy when they're hungry.

And prison drama often gives us the unexpected - usually a good dose of conflict (absolutely necessary for a decent storyline) and hopefully a storyline involving escape, revenge or protecting birds.

If we get a backstory told in flashbacks then even better. There is nothing better than finding out about prisoners before they were incarcerated.

So here is my own list of the Top 10 Prison Movies, I hope you like it.

Burt Lancaster-as Robert Stroud
Burt Lancaster-as Robert Stroud

10. Birdman of Alcatraz

John Frankenheimer's 1962 biopic of the life of tough guy prisoner, Robert Stroud gave Burt Lancaster yet another real acting opportunity after his Oscar-winning turn in Elmer Gantry.

Lancaster really took the role seriously, completely immersing himself in Stroud's life; learning about Stroud's toughness - he was a real hard man, somewhat downplayed in the movie and about his turn around in prison thanks to an injured bird flying into his cell.

Stroud nursed the little bird back to health and discovered in himself a kindness and real desire to save these small creatures. Stroud kept his birds a secret and his fighting with the prison warden played by Karl Malden is the central point of conflict in the movie.

As a viewer we are brought around to Burt Lancaster's sympathetic portrayal of Stroud and of course, we love the story; a man who looks after birds.

In real life, Stroud became a world famous ornothologist. Frankenheimer had three other really good performances from Thelma Ritter, Karl Malden and Telly Savales and the move was nominated for Oscars but won none. Frankenheimer did not make many movies but this prison movie was one of his best.

Stephen Dorff - no more Mr Nice Guy
Stephen Dorff - no more Mr Nice Guy
Val Kilmer - tattooed prison 'philosopher'
Val Kilmer - tattooed prison 'philosopher'

9. Felon

Stephen Dorff is a revelation in this movie and is ably assisted by the never average Val Kilmer in role as Dorff's protector.

Dorff turns from the rather nice businessman at the start of the movie with a loving girlfriend and young child into the beaten down con he becomes in the prison under the influence of malevolent forces. Kilmer as John Smith is the odd bod in this prison, a shapeshifter who has learnt to change himself to suit the background.

The ethnic tensions erupt frequently as the gladiatorial contests between the gangs take violence to new levels. Dorff gives an amazing performance - at first restrained but then his acting goes to another level as he realises that he will not survive without change in this terrible place.

Filmed in a real penitenciary in New Mexico and also with a host of real prisoners as extras, Felon uses the juxtaposition of perfect life and horrendous imprisonment (for baseball batting the life out of an unarmed burgler) to unsettle the viewer, Dorff's character, Wade Porter has to come to terms with what his life has become in this awful place - the real prison setting is a huge part of the movie's success - the authenticity, the sounds and sights all make Dorff's performance all the more special.

Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris
Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris
Clint's papier mache head, hand crafted by the prisoner himself.
Clint's papier mache head, hand crafted by the prisoner himself.

8. Escape from Alcatraz

'Escape from Alcatraz' was a prison movie starring one of Hollywood's tough guys , Clint Eastwood in the lead role. Eastwood is never someone who overacts - he always seems to hold back, perhaps to improve that brooding intensity?

Eastwood was a favourite actor of the movie's director, Don Siegel who had used him in his other blockbuster, Dirty Harry. Siegel was well known for gritty realism in his movies and 'Escape to Alcatraz', his last movie with Eastwood is directed in the same vein with many critics praising, in particular, his use of rather claustrophobic cutting to ensure the viewer gets the sense of captivity in small spaces.

It was not Siegel's only prison movie; he made 'Riot on Cell Block 11' in 1954, a 'B' movie which was nonetheless well received by movie critics and also said to be influential as an early example of 1950s social commentary style filming (a British example being 'Brighton Rock').

'Escape from Alcatraz' is shot in an almost staccato fashion with very few long scenes, no scene is wasted in the telling of the story. Clint Eastwood's character, Frank Morris arrives on Alcatraz, a rock out in the San Francisco bay being lashed by heavy rain in the opening scene - "fresh fish" and Patrick McGoohan, the warder stared down on him and the rest from his high spot in the prison, a plush office. Sparing no expense on his own comfort, it is in stark relief to the prisoner's cells, all grey concrete and colourless backgrounds.

Eastwood remains a stranger for much of the movie (still almost the man with no name?) and begins the chipping away at the concrete in his cell in a methodical and systematic way as we are introduced to the other prisoners with whom he shares this space.

Siegel's directorial obession with 'the outsider' continues in this prison movie where's he's moved the outsider 'inside' and directing is like voyeurism.

Alcatraz is the ultimate panopticon - a prison fortress from whom none can escape? Siegel's pacing is near perfect - he keeps us wondering right up to the final scene.

Tom Courtney
Tom Courtney
Courtney running towards?  Or running away?
Courtney running towards? Or running away?

7. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

This movie is the only British one featured in this list but deserves its place because it was one of the first British New Wave dramas to hit screen in the early sixties; Britain got really good at doing what are now called 'kitchen sink' dramas but they were well written, directed and acted.

In the lead role of teenager gone wrong is Tom Courtney in his first movie as Colin Smith, the angst-ridden young man battling against working in a factory like his dad and finding ways to screw the system with a life of petty crime.

When he is caught after the money he stole slips from its hiding place in a drainpipe, he is sent to borstal (British version of reform school) where the warder takes special notice of him - not to try to reform him but because he is a gifted runner.

Courtney of course has other ideas - he strings along the warden, training harder and harder, sees off his competition in the build up to the big race, the prestige event. I won't spoil it for you, you need to see it to find out what happens.

Courtney won a BAFTA for Best Newcomer and went onto bigger and better as an actor on both stage and screen.

The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner was also a picture of post-war Britain going through enormous social change; the working class after the Second World War were finding their voice and also finding their political strength in a country rebuilding itself after so much destruction. It was one of the best movies of this genre. The book on which it was based by Alan Sillitoe was also a bestseller.

The film was directed by Tony Richardson ans also starred Michael Redgrave and James Bolam. James Bolam went on to further success as a comedy actor on British TV, Redgrave was mainly a stage actor though did enjoy success in films, the most notable being The Browning Version.

Brubaker as a convict, Robert Redford 'in the rough'.
Brubaker as a convict, Robert Redford 'in the rough'.

6. Brubaker

If Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was Britain's socially driver prison movie then Brubaker did a similar job for the USA with Robert Redford playing the new warden who goes into his prison undercover as a prisoner first to really get into the nuts and bolts of what makes his new prisoners tick.

Redford's understated performance in a tour de force and Stuart Rosenberg's direction is deft, in spite of him replacing Bob Rafelson before the shoot. Rosenberg had also made 'Cool Hand Luke' so perhaps was hand-picked for this type of movie; in any event Brubaker begins with a clever idea and then sees Redford flexing his muscles and using his influence once he takes over as warden - the corruption in his world is rife and the powers that be decide Brubaker has to go. There are excellent supporting roles from Morgan Freeman and Jane Alexander and Henry Brubaker has you cheering him on all of the way.

Paul Newman as the ever-smiling Luke
Paul Newman as the ever-smiling Luke
Cool Hand Luke
Cool Hand Luke

5. Cool Hand Luke

Cool Hand Luke is maybe one of Paul Newman's best movies - this was a character part made in Heaven and Newman did not disappoint - he was robbed in not winning the Oscar for this movie.

It has a central character to whom everyone can relate - Luke Jackson got put on the chain gang from knocking the heads of parking meters when he was drunk - and who wouldn't want to knock the tops off parking meters? So immediately, Luke seems like a slightly eccentric, off the wall guy who likes a beer but hates parking meters.

When he is imprisoned he takes on hard man, Dragline (George Kennedy), in the boxing ring and in spite of being absolutely hammered, he gets up again and again and in doing so gains Dragline's respect and also the respect of all the guys in their gang.

Luke is a clever guy but he hides it well behind his humour and soon he has the guys doing the work in half the time.

The famous hard boiled egg eating scene is a movie legend - if you haven't seen it, where have you been?

When Luke's mother dies, he decides he needs to go home to see his family and decides to escape. The rest of the movie is about his many escape attempts. To tell you more would spoil the story and I won't do that to this faultless movie.

Stuart Rosenberg directed this movie and makes everyone seem larger than life, Newman included. Get it on DVD, you won't be sorry, you will happily watch it again and again.

Dega and Papillon, Hoffman and McQueen
Dega and Papillon, Hoffman and McQueen

4. Papillon

'Papillon' meaning 'butterfly' in French and that is the nickname given to Steve McQueen's character, Henri Charriere, the only man to have escaped from the French prison colony, Devil's Island in French Guyana.

'Papillon' takes the viewer places they might not want to see to real despair and the harsh truth of what imprisonment on Devil's Island meant - a life of captivity until death in the harshest conditions. If you survived the diseases and heat then the violence of the prison regime would get you anyway.

Steve McQueen's movie it may have been but Dustin Hoffman occasionally steals the show (again?) as Louis Dega. Dega's life is saved early in the movie by Papillon and then makes it his life's worth to help Papillon escape the prison island.

Papillon is obsessed with escaping and Dega never shirks a challenge, even when his own life is on the line.

The great thing about Papillon is in its build up of suspense with each successive escape attempt. Will Papillon ever make it? You'll have to watch it to find out.

Steve McQueen seems to have excelled at escape movies - The Great Escape is his crowning glory and is a better (and quite different) prison movie to Papillon.

Papillon suffers slightly for being a tad too lengthy and perhaps the number of escape attempts could have been edited? It's a small criticism of a very good movie.

Hanks and Clarke-Duncan - on opposite sides of the law, they are brought together by fate to change lives forever.
Hanks and Clarke-Duncan - on opposite sides of the law, they are brought together by fate to change lives forever.

3. The Green Mile

The Green Mile is a long movie, over 3 hours long and yet not a minute is wasted. It is a story of such depth that to edit it might have spoilt Stephen King's story.

The novel on which it was based was originally written as a serial novel in 6 parts but was finally sold as one book. Stephen King, mostly famed for horrors and supernatural thrillers gives us a story laden with magic realism - a great setting (death row), a list of wonderful characters (the inmates and prison guards) and the introduction of supernatural forces which affects each and every one of them.

The Green Mile's greatest asset is Frank Darabont's fantastic scene setting and some clever trickery with special affects.

Michael Clarke-Duncan is like a gentle giant of a man, sent to death row for the rape and murder of two small girls. He is a simple man, seemingly innocent but he seems to know about the crime. In the cell next door a man training a small mouse to do tricks to amuse himself and the guards. Then one more cell along, Sam Rockwell as a deranged rapist. All of them waiting to go to the electric chair.

Tom Hanks' Head Guard, Paul Edgcombe is a decent man trying to give these men some trace of dignity at the end but not all of his own guards can be trusted to follow the rules when it comes to executions.

The supernatural element of Clarke-Duncan's character, John Coffey is what makes the movie so great but it is a many layered storyline which Darabont treats with care and respect.

Hanks' character, Paul Edgcomn is struggling with a urinary tract infection and is in a world of pain. The movie is set in 1935 so modern medicine is failing him. When Coffey sees Edgcomb's pain, he knows he can hep him and his supernatural powers cure the inflection but at what price to his own health.

The Green Mile is an emotional rollercoaster and in parts, on a par with Darabont's other prison movie, Shawshank Redemption. As a cinematic experience, it is only slightly less enthralling than Shawshank - Darabont is a director of some skill.

2. The Great Escape

A movie, like Shawshank Redemption which perhaps deserves an article all of its own, this movie remains a favourite all these years after it was made because of its amazing ensemble cast which includes some of THE biggest Hollywood stars ever, a fantastic setting, a World War Two German prisoner of war camp and human ingenuity - the ability to create things seemingly from what seems to be nothing.

The casting is impeccable with Richard Attenbrough, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Garner, James Coburn and David McCallum all playing their part to get bottoms on cinema seats.

Each character had a special skill, Garner is 'the scrounger', you need something, he can usually get it. James Coburn is 'the manufacturer' and makes things. Every guy gets to do his bit. Donald Pleasence plays the almost blind forge. This movie has men with no 'special powers' in supernatural terms but they have human skills which make them ideal for the plan to tunnel free under the camp, under the fences to freedom.

Suspense is an imprtant part of the movie and there is a great sense of timing for things moving forward then being thwarted. Battles are overcome with nothing more than human wiles and that is why everybody loves The Great Escape.

Steve McQueen's 'Cooler King' is the best wing-man, getting captured deliberately and throwing the Germans off the scent of those tunnelling.

The tension near the end of the movie is palpable; you are sitting on the edge of your seat and that's even when you've seen it six or seven times!

It is usually a traditional UK Christmas movie, shown almost every year in the holiday season but I don't groan when I see it in the listings - I look forward to seeing it again.

One of the wonderful stills from the movie
One of the wonderful stills from the movie
Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins as Red and Andy
Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins as Red and Andy

1. Shawshank Redemption

Stephen King wrote a short story called 'Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption' and Frank Darabont made a movie based on the short story.

Stephen King is a prince of storytelling - he is able to appeal to something in all of us which makes us want to read his books and our enjoyment of 'Shawshank Redemption' is down to his ability to let his characters get inside our heads.

Shawshank Redemption's main character Andy Dufresne is sent to prison for the murder of his wife and from the outset pleads his innocence.Morgan Freeman's character, Red tells him that's what everybody says.

The setting is once again a prison and this one is a tough place, inhabited by long-time prisoners - lifers with very little hope of parole. And it has various elements at play too with gangs of hard men pimping for male sexual company for their leader and everybody accepts that the main guard, Captain Hadley is the law! What he says goes and he is a man who rules with a rod of iron.

Dufresne's only real talent is for numbers and he understands tax and he explains that he can hep others with numbers. Word spreads and soon Hadley wants Dufresne's help in avoiding a huge tax bill. Dufresne helps him and gets all of the boys a beer when they're laying pitch on a roof in the prison.

Tim Robbins plays Dufresne as a quiet, clever guy who understands that he has to find his way in this awful new world he has entered. Dufresne keeps his head down and stays honest. Soon, Red begins to trust this young man and they form a relationship where Red can get Andy his little stone pick for collecting colourful stones in the exercise yard to file into shapes for his cell.

A poster of Rita Hayworth is acquired for Andy and takes priude of place on his cell wall.

Once the warder hears about Andy's financial skills, he decides to get him to work corrupting the prison funding for his won gain.

But you can't keep an honest man down!

Shawshank Redemption will make you laugh,cry and yell out at the TV or cinema screen - you will want this poor, innocent young man to succeed and get out of this hell hole.

Will he succeed? You will have to watch to find out :o)

Honourable Mentions

Was one of your favourites not on the list? 'Scum' ? American History X? The Rock? Count of Monte Cristo? They are all prison movies, or in the case of 'Scum', a borstal movie and they are certainly all good movies in their own right but I just prefer the other 10 more than any of these.

Prison Movies - A Favourite Genre?

I admit to having a soft spot for prison movies. There is something about the human condition and particularly the duress of imprisonment which really appeals to me.

I love my freedom and the idea of losing it under any circumstances scares me.

Prison Movies are all about a journey for the main character - about taking them out of their normal comfort zone and placing them in a setting against their will.

That is the moment when human beings have to take things into their own hands and make sense of their new surroundings - and maybe join the system or work against it. That's always a story worth following.

Thank you so much for reading this article - maybe you can tell me about your own favourite prison movie by leaving a comment below. Thanks again!

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Top 10 Greatest Prison Movies Comments 110 comments

Valeant profile image

Valeant 2 years ago from Syracuse, NY

Victory would have been good, but I guess it falls under POW escape films instead. Maybe I'll make that hub.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Esmeowl, thanks so much for your comment. Stephen King is a brilliant storyteller isn't he? These were both created as short stories but have crossed over to be 2 of the best prison movies ever.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Amymarie, many thanks for commenting. I love Shawshank and I never get tired of seeing it. I have seem Escape from Alcatraz quite a few times too but prefer Shawshank.


Esmeowl12 profile image

Esmeowl12 4 years ago from Sevierville, TN

I'm not a huge fan of prison movies but definitely agree with The Green Mile & Shawshank Redemption. They are two of my favorite movies of all time! Thanks for the great info. I might have to check out some of the other choices on your list.


amymarie_5 profile image

amymarie_5 4 years ago from Chicago IL

Shawshank Redemption is one of my all time favorites! Loved Escape from Alcatrez as well. Great list!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Liz, many thanks for your comment - I will check that movie out when I get a chance.


Lizvdw18 profile image

Lizvdw18 4 years ago

Check out the last castle with Robert Redford, I wouldn't probably put that one on my top ten. Good choices though, and ya gotta go with Shawshank for number 1!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Prison Break is a TV show but thanks for your comment.


Aisha Jilani profile image

Aisha Jilani 4 years ago from Lahore

prison break


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

nanderson500, well you have seen the pick of the bunch! Thanks for being comment #100 :o)


nanderson500 profile image

nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

I've seen Coolhand Luke, The Green Mile, and The Shawshank Redemption. All good movies. This is a nice list. Voted up and interesting.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Alecia, you must br one of the only people in the world not to see The Great Escape :o) I thought everyone had seen that movie! Yes, it is sad news about Michael Clarke Duncan, he was only in his early 50s. I loved him in the Green Mile.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

Sadly I haven't seen any of these movies, for one reason or another. The closest I came was the end of Green Mile. I'm sure that will air soon given the untimely demise of Michael Clarke Duncan. But this is a great list! I will have to check some of these out now.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

WhydThatHappen - I will look out for The Prophet, many thanks for the recommendation and thanks for commenting.


WhydThatHappen 4 years ago

How could shawshank NOT be #1, lol.

But if you've got a thing for prison movies, I really highly recommend "the prophet" it's a french film that won several awards, and i thought it was a great story.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

PDXKaraokeGuy, many thanks for visiting and commenting - I have heard of 'Down By Law' but I don't think I have ever seen it. I will look out for it :o)


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

This is a great list. I've seen about half of these films. Have you seen "Down by Law" directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Tom Waits and Roberto Benigni? It's a great prison film as well, and very untraditional.


danielabram 4 years ago

How about The Dark Knight Rises? That was cool how they turned a well into a prison.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

jainismus - I hope you find some of them, you will enjoy them. Many thanks for your comment.


jainismus profile image

jainismus 4 years ago from Pune, India

Great list, but I have watched none of them. I have bookmarked this hub and would like to find CDs of these movies from market.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

e-five, Hi! And many thanks for commenting. I saw 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' after it was first released. It did not make my list but would get an 'honourable mention' for the acting alone.


e-five profile image

e-five 4 years ago from Chicago, Illinois, USA

"Kiss of the Spider Woman," starring William Hurt and Raul Julia, takes place almost entirely in a Brazilian prison cell. Hurt won Best Actor Oscar, and the film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Ruth, Hi :o), how kind of you to stop by and comment - I appreciate it.


Ruth Pieterse 4 years ago

Brought back some fabulous memories. Thanks. Voted Up.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Lady_E, many thanks for the visit. I think he's wonderful -he's also appeared in Two And A Half Men.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 4 years ago from London, UK

Interesting Collection - Thanks for the review but most of all for sharing the name of that big man in the Green Mile. I've always wondered what his real name was. Now I know its: Clarke-Dunkan.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mary, many thanks for your kind comment. I know you're a film fan too!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

I never realized I was a prison film junkie till I read this hub! There were two I haven't seen but the rest were the best! You did a great job writing about each film...The Green Mile, Papillon, The Great Escape, The Shawshank Redemption, The Birdman of Alcatraz....you get the idea...I liked the movies and loved the hub!

Voted up, awesome, and interesting.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mr Archer, many thanks for your comment - I will need to check out King Rat. I think I have seen it but forgot all about it. It could be an 'honourable mention' :o)


Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

Great recap of some great movies. The Great Escape is my personal favorite of theis group, but you can't go wrong with Shawshank, Cool Hand, or Green Mile. The only one I might mention not listed is King Rat, starring George Segal. Another great POW movie.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

free2writ2, many thanks for your comment - you should see some of these movies, you will love them.


Free2writ3 profile image

Free2writ3 4 years ago from Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania

wow awesome list..I need to update my movie collections...didn't know about all of these awesome movies you listed..have to check em out!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Keith, many thanks for stopping by and leaving such a good comment - Darabont is obviously a man who take his time over which movies to get involved in. He paces his movies to perfection.


KDuBarry03 4 years ago

I absolutely love Escape from Alcatraz and the Shawshank Redemption movies! I have to dedicate my time to the other movies on this list. Jools, you definitely gave some great movie reviews here. YOu are absolutely right: Darabont definitely knows his craft and definitely knows how to control, maintain, and respect King's stories :)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Midget38, Yes Shawshank is at #1 for most people - great movie. Many thanks for reading and commenting.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mary - Sean didn't quite make it but gets an 'honourable mention' :o) Many thanks for your comment.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Linda - Wow! I bet your friend really enjoyed that job - it must be strange being around all of those stars but I expect in the end, it's your job and you just get on with it.

Many thanks, as always, for your comment.


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

I love prison movies too. A great review, Jools!My have was the Shawshank Redemption. A bit emotional though! Still great acting, with my favorite actor Morgan Freeman. Thanks for the share!


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

I have seen all of these great movies: some at least twice. Steve McQueen was always one of my favorite actors. I loved all his movies. You didn't mention "The Rock" with Sean Connery (sp). It's late and I know I misspelled his name, but you know who I mean: James Bond!

Great Hub. I voted it UP, etc.etc.


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

I just found out this week that a Facebook friend of mine for over the past year played a prisoner in the Green Mile! He was there when Wild Bill did his Moon Pie scene. We all remember that scene. Anyway my friend Greg worked on the set for two months of shooting and he spoke very highly of Tom Hanks.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

James, many thanks for your comment - I know what you mean about some of the bleaker movies but I am a sucker for prison movies, I do tend to watch them over and over again.


James Vernon profile image

James Vernon 4 years ago from UK

Really good hub. I've seen a few of these and some are films that are really bleak and once is enough,such as Papillion but i can watch The Green Mile and The Great Escape a lot.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Brinif3sh, many thanks for your comment. I have not seen Locked Down but I have seen Con Air which I rather enjoyed :o) It would get in amongst the 'honourable mentions' if I edit this hub later.


Brinafr3sh profile image

Brinafr3sh 4 years ago from West Coast, United States

Hi Jools99, this is cool article on prison movies, I keep "The Green Mile" as a classic. Some people may remember the prison movies; "Locked Down" with DeAundre Bonds, and "Con Air" with Nicolas Cage. Voted up.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Peanutritious, I haven't read the book but I know what you mean about books not crossing over to film successfully - the movie is very good though, you won't be disappointed.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Audra, Shawshank seems to be the most popular according to comments too. Many thanks for your comment.


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK

I absolutely adored 'The green mile' and recently read 'Papillion'. I'm reluctant to watch the film version as I've been told it's totally different to the book which was fabulous!


iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

Prison movies fascinate me. They hit all of the bases; comedy, suspense, drama, etc. My favorite ones on your list are Shawshank and Papillon! Dustin Hoffman was brilliant! Great hub!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

jpcm, many thanks for your comment. I hope you get a chance to see Felon, it is a good movie.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

I have Shawshank Redemption at the top of my list. I have not seen Felon. It sounds great. I'll try to watch it one of these days.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Steve, thanks for your comment - I may have to extend my honourable mentions to other movies selected in the comments section. I think I have seen Stalag 17 but not for a long time. And yes, Tom Vourtney's movie used to be on regularly but hasn't been on for a while. Last thing I saw him in was The Royle Family and I remembered '...Long Distance Runner' and couldn't imagine it was the same bloke.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England

Hi Jools, I've just noticed this hub which shows how observant I am. :)

Nice work, were you a fan of the TV series Prison Break?

I'm not a huge fan of either Shawshank or Green Mile though I respect them both. I would pick The Great Escape as my favourite followed by Cool Hand Luke.

Birdman of Alcatraz is great too.

I haven't seen the Tom Courtney film in ages. The BBC used to show it all the time decades ago along with Morgan! A Suitable case for Treatment... aah memories! :)

A favourite missing from your list is Stalag 17, a film I still watch at least once a year.

Voted Up, Interesting and Awesome.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Lesley, many thanks for your comment and yes, a lot of my favourite moves are prison movies - the human factor I think? I think we imagine how bad it could be and then usually we're rooting for the hero to get out.


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Hi Jools, what a great list - we watched Shawshank redemption just a couple of nights ago and Papillion last week!

The Green Mile and Cool hand Luke are two more one of my favourites!

In fact I think all my favourite films are prison movies!

A great article and voting up.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Deborah - thanks for your comment; I don't know anyone who doesn't love Cool Hand Luke.


Deborah Brooks profile image

Deborah Brooks 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

wow you have some great movies here..I have seen almost all of them.. My favorite is COOL HAND LUKE..


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Arlene, wow - your experience of real institutions must make watching prison movies a different experience for you because you know the reality of their lives.

Many thanks for your great comment and also for reading this hub, I appreciate it.


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Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

fpherj48, thanks so much for reading. Cool Hand Luke was a movie that my dad told me to watch (he still loves it) and I still enjoy it even though I know what's going to happen and I've seen it many times. Shawshank would be one of my top ten movies of all time - I just love it.


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Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

rfmoran - many thanks for your comment!


rfmoran profile image

rfmoran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

Good hub! Yes, prison flicks make for great drama. I agree: Shawshank # 1 and Green Mile #2. Voted up and interesting


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Yes Bruce, the Burt Reynold's movie was under consideration but did not squeak into the top 10. Maybe I was being too partisan with 'Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' but I felt that it was a better movie and belongs to a gentre (kitchen sink British drama) that I rather enjoy :o)


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

An excellent Top Ten list....normally I can think of a couple of movies I would have included.....but this list does not allow me that opportunity as you seem to have covered all the bases....but I am still thinking.....lol.

Green Mile, Shawshank, Great Escape, and Cool Hand Luke are some of my all-time favorite movies. Great information that was fun to read....job well done. Voted up and useful and interesting.

Finally a good prison movie comes to mind....Burt Reynold's The Longest Yard.....certainly not Adam Sandler's The Longest Yard.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Jools99.....Very VERY great hub on prison movies......I'm a junkie....even watch the "lock-up" programs on cable!! Don't know why, because I've surely never been IN one! Whew! Don't ever want to either.

Every movie you list, I have seen more than once, each! Trying to choose a "favorite" is next to impossible because I loved each movie for it's own uniqueness, the actors as well as the story value itself.."Cool Hand Luke" has a special memory attached to it, for me ..and who could not like SHAWSHANK??..Thank you for this Jools. I thoroughly enjoyed this hub Voted way UP!! +++


Arlene V. Poma 4 years ago

Enjoyed your Hub because it's the first time I've come across this subject. I spent 10 years working for California prisons for men and youthful offenders, and I am a very hard sell when it comes to the "prison reality" depicted by television, the movies, the media, writers, etc. Because of my prison experience, I am not fascinated by prison the way the public is . I do know what is real. As for prison movies? I read "Shawshank Redemption" before viewing it, and it is the type of movie that I could watch over and over again. "Cool Hand Luke" is another. I zero in on the believable prison friendships between these men. In prison, all you have is your word. Everything else, I can pass off as fiction.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Teaches, Fennelseed and Melovy, many thanks for your comments! Anything with Clint Eastwood is worth watching :o). I have not seen Dead Man Walking yet so it could creep into my top 10 once I've watched it. Shawshank is one of my favourite movies of all time Annie.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

'Escape to Alcatraz' is my favorite prison movie that you mentioned. I love the thrill of this movie and how they escaped. Eastwood is also one of my favorite actors. Enjoyed the read.


Fennelseed profile image

Fennelseed 4 years ago from Australia

While I have only seen about three of the movies here, I also like movies that home in on the human condition and nothing does that like a prison movie. As I was reading through I was actually beginning to panic a little!!! And then, there it was at number one, the movie that I would probably put right up there as one of the greatest - 'Shawshank Redemption'. I have seen it a few times and it never fails to move me. Another prison movie I would include as a personal favourite is Dead Man Walking with Sean Penn.

A very interesting hub, thank you Jools, I will be looking at filling the gaps by watching some of these that I haven't yet seen.

My votes and best wishes to you, and sharing.


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK

I've only seen 4 of these: Loneliness of Long Distance Runner, Great Escape, Papillion and Shawshank Rememption. I remember Papillion best, probably because I saw it in the cinema rather than on TV.

Your reviews are great, voted up.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Carly, Hi! Always great to meet a fellow Shawshank fan. It is a movie which has everything :o) Many thanks for your comment.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Deborah - Shawshank was a no brainer for me, I just love it! Many thanks for your comment.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

bankscottage, Midnight Express was under consideration but didn't make it but I did enjoy it when I saw it way back in the 80s. Many thanks for your comment.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Hi Victoria, The Rock is about Alcatraz but is more about the island than any inmates. It is a good suspenseful movie though. It gets an honourable mention just for being set in Alcatraz.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Jon, many thanks for your comments - many of these would be seen on TV now so keep your eyes peeled and hopefully you'll get to see why I am so enthusiastic - I love prison movies.


CarlySullens profile image

CarlySullens 4 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

It is funny, any time I flip through the channels on TV and stumble upon the Shawshank Redemption, I just have to stop and watch it. I have seen it so many times, but I can't turn away form it when I find it on TV. Great Hub, voted up and shared.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 4 years ago from Iowa

Glad to see Shawshank was number 1 on your list; it's one of my all time favorites!


bankscottage profile image

bankscottage 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

Great prison movies. I have seen most of them. Shawshank Redemption was just on t.v. a week or so ago. Shawshank and Green Mile are about the only Stephen King movies that I like (I prefer intrigue over horror).

I would only add one movie, "Midnight Express" a 1978 film about a young American student sent to Turkish prison for trying to smuggle hashish. The circumstances still make me afraid to even consider visiting Turkey.

Voted up and interesting.


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

Why are prison movies so good? Who knows? Great review. Was "The Rock" about a prison escape? That just came to mind. The Green Mile is incredible, and I don't usually like long movies. And Shawshank--incredible. Great job here!


jonmcclusk profile image

jonmcclusk 4 years ago from Cinnaminson, New Jersey

This list is great, Jools99, I've only seen a few of these movies but now I have a whole list to pick from when I go to watch something.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

europewalker - many thanks for your kind comment! Cool Hand Luke is a keeper and definitely a 'go back to' movie.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Raciniwa, Anything with Sean Connery is worth watching and I like The Rick but it is probably number 12 or 13 on my list so just outside of the Top 10.

Many thanks for your comment!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Cat, Probably just showing my age :o) but your three would tally with mine! All great movies.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Robin, We're all still waiting for the sun to shine :o)...many thanks for your comment - anytime is a good time for a prison movie but if it does stay wet....you've got an excuse to watch one of these Top 10 choices.


Cat R profile image

Cat R 4 years ago from North Carolina, U.S.

Surprised by your choices. Most people don't even remember the famous names of my youth such as handsome Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood and Burt Lancaster.

If I were to list my favorite of your list:

1. Shawshank Redemption (without a doubt)

2. The Green Mile (has me crying every time)

3. Escape from Alcatraz (Clint Eastwood ROCKS!)


raciniwa profile image

raciniwa 4 years ago from Naga City, Cebu

while reading this i was thinking of Sean Connery's prison movie "The Rock", i really love that movie...well, i will try to watch the suggested movies here...


europewalker profile image

europewalker 4 years ago

Love the list of prison movies. Great hub. I have seen Shawshank and Cool Hand Luke numerous times and never tire of them.


Robin Oatley profile image

Robin Oatley 4 years ago

What a great overview! I must admit that I haven't seen many of the listed movies. If I ever find the time I really should check out some of these. Perhaps if the summer is rainy. (But I'm still hoping the sun will shine! ;) )


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Vinaya, many thanks for your comment. I hope you get a chance to see some of the others some time :o)


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 4 years ago from Nepal

I have watched Shawshank Redemption, but not other movies on this list. Thanks for this wonderful review.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Josh, I've added it to the honourable mentions :o)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Bernard, many thanks for your comment. You're right, Stephen King is a master story teller and Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile are both fantastic movies.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Docmo, thanks for commenting. Darabont's biggest skill is his ability to structure a story in the right way so that the viewer is built up then unsettled, built up, unsettled. He also wrote Frankenstein for Kenneth Branagh and now does 'Walking Dead'. I think Shawshank is a movie with everything, just brilliant.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Nell, I think prison movies just hit the right spot for most of us. It's been a while since I seen Papillon but I love it. i think it was the first time I appreicated Steve McQueen as an actor rather than a tough guy. Many thanks for commenting.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mhatter, 9 out of 10 eh? Great minds think alike :o) Thanks so much for your comment!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Carter06, many thanks for your comment - weird that we watch this one over and over again, we know how it's going to end and we still get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside!


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

thank you. I agree with you 100% 9 out of 10 times and that's pretty good.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Every single one I was saying, oh this was the best, then I would get to the next and say it again! great list, I loved papillon, it was amazing, I must have watched that at least 20 times! but all of them were and are classics, and wasn't paul newman gorgeous? lol!


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

This hub is right up my street. As a movie lover, I am really liking your top ten list with some of my favorites featured in here. There are some great classics here and a couple I haven't seen and have to catch up. I am a big fan of Stephen King and I think Darabont and King delivered two of the best here - Green Mile and Shawshank. I had read both those stories before and I think these are those examples where the films actually manage improve upon the original stories. voted up/awesome!


bernard.sinai profile image

bernard.sinai 4 years ago from Papua New Guinea

Great list! I loved The Green Mile. It is one of the most touching films I’ve seen. Outstanding performances by everyone involved in the film. It was also written by Stephen King; my favorite horror author.


josh3418 profile image

josh3418 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

You are welcome Jools, I love that movie so much, probably in second before Green mile under Shawshank but that's just my opinion.


mejohnson profile image

mejohnson 4 years ago

Shawshank is the best prison movie in my opinion. I just watched it yesterday!


carter06 profile image

carter06 4 years ago from Cronulla NSW

Shawshank Redemption is one of my all time favourites...who doesn't love Andy in that still in the movie?? Freedom!!!

Great hub, great review...lot's of votes...cheers


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Count of Monte Cristo would be an excellent choice of course! Josh, many thanks for your comment!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Chrisnstar, both of the Irish moves were in contention, particularly In The Name of the Father because of Daniel Day-Lewis' performance. In the end it came down to my favourites and they didn't quite make it. I remember the Bobby Sands story from when I was in my late teens. I wasn't sure about the politics, still very sad, he was only a young man.


josh3418 profile image

josh3418 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

These are some excellent prison movies, I love Shawshank Redemption, for it has so many awesome themes in it! What about the Count of Monte Cristo? That is another one, probably on my top five along with Green Mile of course! Great hub, many votes! :)


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Sally, I'm intrigued, I have never seen or heard of "Lock Up Raw", I will watch out for it on some of the satellite channels.

Linda has already agreed with your comment so I've got to see it!


chrisnstar profile image

chrisnstar 4 years ago

Absolutely, Shawshank Redemption!!!! It was robbed at the Oscars, a way better movie than the gooey feel good Forrest Gump! There are some good, and unfortunately true stories, prison movie genre from Ireland.

"Hunger" is about Bobby Sands who led the hunger strike in 1981 in protest to Margaret Thatcher's brutal treatment of Irish political prisoners. 10 men died before it was over.

"In the name of the father" is about a young Irish lad who lives in London, gets arrested and convicted for something he didn't do. When his father tries to intervene, he gets thrown in prison too. It's a compelling story.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Linda, picking number 1 was a difficult one but it's always Shawshank for me, I just love that movie. Your doctors office sounds like a walk on the wild side :o)


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

I read Sherri's comment after I posted mine...Lock Up Raw is sooooo addicting! I could watch that show for hours. Hmmmm. I might need to talk to someone about my addiction to prisons. I do know I never want to be in one.


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

I love prison movies! What does that say about me? Haha! My favorite is The Green Mile...I must have watched that movie at least a dozen times. Shawshank Redemption is my 2nd favorite. Followed by all other 8 movies you have listed. Fantastic hub! At our doctors office we have to walk a long hallway that's painted green...yep it makes me want to watch the Green Mile! You got my votes...as usual!:)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

A great review of prison movies...and the fascination about the subject doesn't stop there. If you know the "Lock Up Raw" series on MSNBC, this peculiar interest is never-ending. I think, at the heart of the fascination is, this could happen to me.

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