Though what specifically makes a movie a "prison movie" might differ from viewer to viewer, for the purpose of this list, a movie is eligible if one of the film's major characters spends some time in the slammer and that jail time is shown in the film. In addition, the film's plot must revolve around that prison time or the attempt to avoid going back to the pokey. Here's the list of what we consider to the best prison movies of all time in no particular order: {googleads}

Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - Tops on any list.

The Blues Brothers

The Blues Brothers (1980) - Of course they'll never get caught. They're on a mission from Gyod! Also features one of the best soundtracks in film. Don't bother with any of the sequels however.


Papillon (1973) - Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman at their best. "Hey you bastards, I'm still here".

Cool Hand Luke

Cool Hand Luke (1967) - Stars Paul Newman, but the star of the show is George Kennedy with his Oscar winning performance as best supporting actor.

The Longest Yard

The Longest Yard (1965 - TV) - The 1974 version starring Burt Reynolds, not the 2005 version starring Adam Sandler.

Escape from Alcatraz

Escape From Alcatraz (1979) - Clint Eastwood plays Frank Morris, the only man believed to have escaped from the rock. Morris's method was even proven possible on Mythbusters. {googleads}

American History X

American History X (1998) - Powerful film that tackles racism and hatred head on.

Bad Boys

Bad Boys (1983) - The version with Sean Penn not the one with Martin Lawrence and Will Smith.

The Birdman of Alcatraz

The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) - John Frankenheimer direction that features Burt Lancaster as Robert Stroud, a prisoner who was probably the most famous inmate ever to reside on Alcatraz.

The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter (1978) - Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken in the 5-time Academy Award winner. Though not a prison movie per se, it certainly features on the most oppressive and intense POW scenes in film.


O Brother Where Art Thou

O Brother Where Art Thou (2000) - Coen brothers interpretation of The Odyssey that stars George Clooney, John Turturro, and John Goodman. Also a great soundtrack worth owning.

Bridge on the River Kwai

Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) - One of the best war movies of all time as well.

Midnight Express

Midnight Express (1978) - Note to self: never try to smuggle hash out of Turkey.

The Great Escape

The Great Escape (1963) - Steve McQueen makes the list again in this 1963 epic that featured an ensemble cast of near heroes.

The Green Mile

The Green Mile (1999) - A Stephen King product that featured the breakout performance of Michael Clarke Duncan.

Dead Man Walking

Dead Man Walking (1995) - Say what you will about Sean Penn, but he's good in this one!


Chicago (2002) - Yes, it's a prison movie.

48 Hours

48 Hours (1982) - Prison movies can be funny too.

Chicken Run

Chicken Run (2000) - Well, not prison as we know it, but it is chicken prison nonetheless.

Stalag 17

Stalag 17 (1960) - A Billy Wilder film with William Holden as a prisoner in a WWII German POW camp. Inspired the hit television series, Hogan's Heroes (1965)

The Hurricane

The Hurricane (1999) - Another gripping performance by Denzel Washington as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a boxer wrongly imprisoned for murder

My Cousin Vinny

My Cousin Vinny (1992) - In case you need more proof that prison movies can be funny. Stars Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei.

Stir Crazy

Stir Crazy (1980) - One of Richard Pryor's funniest movies. Who would have imagined the chemistry between Pryor and Gene Wilder? Directed by Sydney Poitier.


Alien 3 (1992) - Sigourney Weaver's space pod crashes on a remote prison planet. Let the mayhem begin.

The Life of David Gale

The Life of David Gale (2003) - One of the most controversial films on the list. Stars Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet.

25th Hour

25th Hour (2002) - A Spike Lee joint. What goes on in a man's life as he spends his final day before doing a seven year prison term.

21 Grams

21 Grams (2003) - While questionable as to whether or not it qualifies as a prison movie, it does feature Sean Penn and Naomi Watts in one of the best performances by Naomi Watts' nipples.

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) - No fiction writer would dare make an attempt at presenting such an unbelievable story of inept police work and plot implausibility.

The Great Raid

The Great Raid (2005) - John Daul film based on the William B. Breuer book of one of the bravest acts in military history that no one knows about.


Brubaker (1980) - Starring Robert Redford as the titular warden, this film won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for its writer, W.D. Richter. Yes, it's that good.

Blood in, Blood Out Prison Movie

Blood in, Blood Out (1993) - Based on the true life experiences of poet Jimmy Santiago Baca and other members of an East L.A. gang, the film depicts how a violent crime and the influence of narcotics alter their lives. So as not to promote gang violence, Disney actually released the film under the banner "Bound By Honor" since "Blood In, Blood Out" is the motto of La Onda, the prison gang depicted in the film.

The McKenzie Break

The McKenzie Break (1970) - In the closing days of World War II, German prisoners riot in a POW Camp in Scotland. Fearful of a mass escape attempt, the British Army sends in an unorthodox Irish Captain (in the person of Brian Keith) in hopes of discovering exactly what is going on. A true multinational production - the setting is Scotland, the film was made largely on location in Ireland with a cast of British, American and German actors, produced and directed by Americans."

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