The Best Prison Films

by dimampr | created - 12 Dec 2011 | updated - 04 Aug 2018 | Public
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1. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

Passed | 92 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

Wrongly convicted James Allen serves in the intolerable conditions of a southern chain gang, which later comes back to haunt him.

Director: Mervyn LeRoy | Stars: Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson, Noel Francis

Votes: 10,633

2. A Man Escaped (1956)

Not Rated | 101 min | Drama

A captured French Resistance fighter during WWII engineers a daunting escape from a Nazi prison in France.

Director: Robert Bresson | Stars: François Leterrier, Charles Le Clainche, Maurice Beerblock, Roland Monod

Votes: 16,251

3. Papillon (1973)

R | 151 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

58 Metascore

A man befriends a fellow criminal as the two of them begin serving their sentence on a dreadful prison island, which inspires the man to plot his escape.

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner | Stars: Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Victor Jory, Don Gordon

Votes: 113,870 | Gross: $53.27M

4. Le Trou (1960)

Not Rated | 131 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

In prison four long-sentence inmates planning an elaborate escape cautiously induct a new inmate to join in their scheme which leads to distrust and uncertainty.

Director: Jacques Becker | Stars: André Bervil, Jean Keraudy, Michel Constantin, Philippe Leroy

Votes: 13,027 | Gross: $0.03M

5. A Prophet (2009)

R | 155 min | Crime, Drama

90 Metascore

A young Arab man is sent to a French prison.

Director: Jacques Audiard | Stars: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Reda Kateb

Votes: 88,594 | Gross: $2.08M

6. Cool Hand Luke (1967)

GP | 127 min | Crime, Drama

91 Metascore

A laid back Southern man is sentenced to two years in a rural prison, but refuses to conform.

Director: Stuart Rosenberg | Stars: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, J.D. Cannon

Votes: 150,256

7. Interrogation (1989)

118 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

Tonia goes out drinking. She wakes up in prison, not having a clue why she's there. She is tortured to encourage her to confess to a crime she is not aware of.

Director: Ryszard Bugajski | Stars: Krystyna Janda, Adam Ferency, Janusz Gajos, Agnieszka Holland

Votes: 2,709

8. The Confession (1970)

GP | 139 min | Drama, History, Thriller

Anton Ludvik, aka Gerard, is vice-minister of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia. He realizes he is watched and followed. One day, he is arrested and put into jail, in solitary confinement. ... See full summary »

Director: Costa-Gavras | Stars: Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Gabriele Ferzetti, Michel Vitold

Votes: 3,228

9. Midnight Express (1978)

R | 121 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

59 Metascore

Billy Hayes (Brad Davis), an American college student, is caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and thrown into prison.

Director: Alan Parker | Stars: Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins, Paolo Bonacelli

Votes: 66,422 | Gross: $35.00M

10. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

R | 142 min | Drama

80 Metascore

Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.

Director: Frank Darabont | Stars: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler

Votes: 2,125,659 | Gross: $28.34M

11. Each Dawn I Die (1939)

Approved | 92 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

A corrupt D.A. with political ambitions is angered by news stories implicating him in criminal activity and decides to frame the reporter who wrote them for manslaughter in order to silence him.

Director: William Keighley | Stars: James Cagney, George Raft, Jane Bryan, George Bancroft

Votes: 2,558

12. Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

PG | 112 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

76 Metascore

Alcatraz is the most secure prison of its time. It is believed that no one can ever escape from it, until three daring men make a possible successful attempt at escaping from one of the most infamous prisons in the world.

Director: Don Siegel | Stars: Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan, Roberts Blossom, Jack Thibeau

Votes: 106,138 | Gross: $43.00M

13. Oz (1997–2003)

TV-MA | 55 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

A series chronicling the daily activities of an unusual prison facility and its criminal inhabitants.

Stars: Ernie Hudson, J.K. Simmons, Lee Tergesen, Dean Winters

Votes: 82,507

14. Prison Break (2005–2017)

TV-14 | 44 min | Action, Crime, Drama

Due to a political conspiracy, an innocent man is sent to death row and his only hope is his brother, who makes it his mission to deliberately get himself sent to the same prison in order to break the both of them out, from the inside.

Stars: Dominic Purcell, Wentworth Miller, Amaury Nolasco, Robert Knepper

Votes: 435,864

15. Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

R | 120 min | Drama

80 Metascore

A gay man and a political prisoner are together in a prison. The gay man narrates the stories of two fake movies and his own life.

Director: Hector Babenco | Stars: William Hurt, Raul Julia, Sônia Braga, José Lewgoy

Votes: 13,106 | Gross: $17.04M

16. Before Night Falls (2000)

R | 133 min | Biography, Drama, Romance

85 Metascore

The life of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas.

Director: Julian Schnabel | Stars: Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp, Olatz López Garmendia, Giovani Florido

Votes: 22,936 | Gross: $4.22M

17. Bronson (2008)

R | 92 min | Action, Biography, Crime

71 Metascore

A young man who was sentenced to seven years in prison for robbing a post office ends up spending three decades in solitary confinement. During this time, his own personality is supplanted by his alter-ego, Charles Bronson.

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn | Stars: Tom Hardy, Kelly Adams, Luing Andrews, Katy Barker

Votes: 111,115 | Gross: $0.10M

18. Bad Boys (1983)

R | 123 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

53 Metascore

Chicago crime kid Mick O'Brien is sent to reform school after accidentally killing a rival's kid brother.

Director: Rick Rosenthal | Stars: Sean Penn, Reni Santoni, Jim Moody, Eric Gurry

Votes: 12,819 | Gross: $9.20M

19. Lost in Siberia (1991)

Not Rated | 140 min | Drama, Romance

A political drama about Stalin's prison-camp system in Russia.

Director: Aleksandr Mitta | Stars: Anthony Andrews, Vladimir Ilin, Elena Mayorova, Irina Mikhalyova

Votes: 260

20. The Hill (1965)

Approved | 123 min | Drama, War

81 Metascore

In a North African military prison during World War II, five new prisoners struggle to survive in the face of brutal punishment and sadistic guards.

Director: Sidney Lumet | Stars: Sean Connery, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen, Alfred Lynch

Votes: 11,161

21. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

Not Rated | 104 min | Drama, Sport

A juvenile offender (Sir Tom Courtenay) at a tough reform school impresses its Governor (Sir Michael Redgrave) with his running ability and is encouraged to compete in an upcoming race, but faces ridicule from his peers.

Director: Tony Richardson | Stars: Michael Redgrave, Tom Courtenay, Avis Bunnage, Alec McCowen

Votes: 7,094

22. Murder in the First (1995)

R | 122 min | Drama, Thriller

An eager and idealistic young attorney defends an Alcatraz prisoner accused of murdering a fellow inmate. The extenuating circumstances: his client had just spent over three years in solitary confinement.

Director: Marc Rocco | Stars: Christian Slater, Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman, Embeth Davidtz

Votes: 24,975 | Gross: $17.38M

23. Hunger (2008)

Not Rated | 96 min | Biography, Drama

82 Metascore

Irish republican Bobby Sands leads the inmates of a Northern Irish prison in a hunger strike.

Director: Steve McQueen | Stars: Stuart Graham, Laine Megaw, Brian Milligan, Liam McMahon

Votes: 61,685 | Gross: $0.15M

24. Passenger (1963)

62 min | Drama, War

While being aboard a transatlantic ship, German woman Liza notices someone who looks like Marta, the former inmate at Auschwitz, where Liza used to be the guard.

Directors: Andrzej Munk, Witold Lesiewicz | Stars: Aleksandra Slaska, Anna Ciepielewska, Jan Kreczmar, Marek Walczewski

Votes: 1,327

25. Seven Beauties (1975)

R | 116 min | Comedy, Drama, War

The defense of honor, a strong value in Neapolitan society, and his effects on the life of everyman Pasquale Frafuso.

Director: Lina Wertmüller | Stars: Giancarlo Giannini, Fernando Rey, Shirley Stoler, Elena Fiore

Votes: 4,422 | Gross: $0.01M

26. La Chartreuse de Parme (1948)

170 min | Drama, Romance

Fabrice del Dongo, a young archbishop, gives his all to romance rather than to the Church, creating complications for everyone around. The Countess of San Severina, is but one of the women ... See full summary »

Director: Christian-Jaque | Stars: Renée Faure, Lucien Coëdel, Louis Salou, María Casares

Votes: 340

27. Bespredel (1989)

102 min | Crime, Drama

A drama from the life of the prisoners in a regular jail in Soviet Union.

Director: Igor Gostev | Stars: Andrey Tashkov, Anton Androsov, Aleksandr Mokhov, Lev Durov

Votes: 745

28. Brute Force (1947)

Passed | 98 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

At a tough penitentiary, prisoner Joe Collins plans to rebel against Captain Munsey, the power-mad chief guard.

Director: Jules Dassin | Stars: Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Yvonne De Carlo

Votes: 7,960

29. Komediya strogogo rezhima (1992)

78 min | Comedy

The action is set in 1970 as the Soviet Union (and the entire progressive world) are preparing to celebrate Lenin's centenary. Not to be outdone, the camp commander decides to have the ... See full summary »

Directors: Mikhail Grigoryev, Vladimir Studennikov | Stars: Viktor Sukhorukov, Ivan Krivoruchko, Nadezhda Zharikova, Yury Vyushin

Votes: 219

30. Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)

Not Rated | 147 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

76 Metascore

A surly convicted murderer held in permanent isolation redeems himself when he becomes a renowned bird expert.

Directors: John Frankenheimer, Charles Crichton | Stars: Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Neville Brand

Votes: 14,691

31. Let Him Have It (1991)

R | 115 min | Crime, Drama, History

In 1950s England, slow-witted Derek Bentley falls in with a group of petty criminals led by Chris Craig, a teenager with a fondness for American gangster movies. Chris and Derek's ... See full summary »

Director: Peter Medak | Stars: Tom Courtenay, Christopher Eccleston, Eileen Atkins, Rebecca Eccleston

Votes: 3,086

32. Sleepers (1996)

R | 147 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

49 Metascore

After a prank goes disastrously wrong, a group of boys are sent to a detention center where they are brutalized. Thirteen years later, they get their chance for revenge.

Director: Barry Levinson | Stars: Robert De Niro, Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, Jason Patric

Votes: 176,450 | Gross: $49.10M

33. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983)

R | 123 min | Drama, War

During WWII, a British colonel tries to bridge the cultural divides between a British POW and the Japanese camp commander in order to avoid bloodshed.

Director: Nagisa Ôshima | Stars: David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano

Votes: 13,493 | Gross: $2.31M

34. Triumph of the Spirit (1989)

R | 120 min | Biography, Drama, History

Fact based story about a former Greek Olympic boxer who was taken as a prisoner during World war II and placed in the Auschwitz prison camp. There he was permitted to survive as long as he ... See full summary »

Director: Robert M. Young | Stars: Willem Dafoe, Edward James Olmos, Robert Loggia, Wendy Gazelle

Votes: 2,041 | Gross: $0.41M

35. Jailhouse Rock (1957)

Not Rated | 96 min | Drama, Music, Musical

After serving time for manslaughter, young Vince Everett becomes a teenage rock star.

Director: Richard Thorpe | Stars: Elvis Presley, Judy Tyler, Mickey Shaughnessy, Vaughn Taylor

Votes: 7,166 | Gross: $4.00M

36. Freedom Is Paradise (1989)

76 min | Drama

Young Sasha is brought into a state-run children's home because his mother died early and his father spends most of his life in prison. The conditions are like in a penal institution. Sasha... See full summary »

Director: Sergei Bodrov | Stars: Sergey Bodrov, Aleksandr Bureyev, Svetlana Gaytan, I. Khanbudagov

Votes: 228

37. Lady Vengeance (2005)

R | 115 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

75 Metascore

After being wrongfully imprisoned for thirteen years and having her child taken away from her, a woman seeks revenge through increasingly brutal means.

Director: Chan-wook Park | Stars: Yeong-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi, Shi-hoo Kim, Yea-young Kwon

Votes: 65,159 | Gross: $0.21M

38. The Grey Zone (2001)

R | 108 min | Drama, History, War

58 Metascore

A Nazi doctor, along with the Sonderkommando, Jews who are forced to work in the crematoria of Auschwitz against their fellow Jews, find themselves in a moral grey zone.

Director: Tim Blake Nelson | Stars: David Arquette, Velizar Binev, David Chandler, Michael Stuhlbarg

Votes: 9,831 | Gross: $0.52M

39. Carandiru (2003)

R | 145 min | Drama, Crime

71 Metascore

Brazilian MD Drauzio Varella starts AIDS prevention in Brazil's largest prison, Carandiru, in São Paulo, where the population is nearly double its 4,000 maximum. Doc learns from experience ... See full summary »

Director: Hector Babenco | Stars: Enrique Diaz, Wagner Moura, Caio Blat, Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos

Votes: 16,599 | Gross: $0.21M

40. Scum (1979)

R | 98 min | Crime, Drama

An uncompromising story of life in a British juvenile offender institution in the 70's.

Director: Alan Clarke | Stars: Ray Winstone, Mick Ford, Julian Firth, John Blundell

Votes: 9,128

41. Strange Cargo (1940)

Passed | 113 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance

Convicts escaping from Devil's Island come under the influence of a strange Christ-like figure.

Director: Frank Borzage | Stars: Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Ian Hunter, Peter Lorre

Votes: 1,963

42. Il Generale Della Rovere (1959)

Not Rated | 129 min | Drama, War

Bardone, a petty con man, is arrested by the Gestapo and coerced into impersonating a partisan leader in order to expose another resistance organizer.

Director: Roberto Rossellini | Stars: Vittorio De Sica, Hannes Messemer, Sandra Milo, Giovanna Ralli

Votes: 2,496

43. The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936)

Approved | 96 min | Biography, Drama, History

The story of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was imprisoned after innocently treating President Lincoln's assassin in 1865.

Director: John Ford | Stars: Warner Baxter, Gloria Stuart, Claude Gillingwater, Arthur Byron

Votes: 1,795

44. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1970)

G | 100 min | Drama

Ivan Denisovich Shukhov has been sentenced to a camp in the Soviet gulag system. He was accused of becoming a spy after being captured briefly by the Germans as a prisoner of war during ... See full summary »

Director: Casper Wrede | Stars: Tom Courtenay, Espen Skjønberg, Alf Malland, Frimann Falck Clausen

Votes: 484

45. A Prayer Before Dawn (2017)

R | 116 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

76 Metascore

The true story of an English boxer incarcerated in one of Thailand's most notorious prisons as he fights in Muay Thai tournaments to earn his freedom.

Director: Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire | Stars: Joe Cole, Vithaya Pansringarm, Panya Yimmumphai, Pornchanok Mabklang

Votes: 15,755



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