We've found that, when it comes to prison, it's best to live vicariously through movies rather than experiencing the real thing. One movie fan asked the online community for movie recommendations that might make one think twice before jaywalking (let alone embracing a life of crime), and folks came with the heat.
1. Starred Up (2013)
Up-and-coming star Jack O'Connell shines as Eric Love in this modern prison thriller that puts a locked-up twist on the theme of daddy issues. Love is locked up in the very same prison as his father, Neville Love, played devilishly by Bloodline‘s Ben Mendelsohn. Neville attempts to counsel an increasingly uncontrollable Eric through prison life, exposing the generational wounds that incarceration creates.
With a strong IMDb score, a stellar cast, and a full-fledged endorsement from fans online, this is a film you shouldn't keep locked up on your “Have Not Watched” list.
2. In The Name of The Father (1999)
Daniel Day-Lewis goes to prison? Sign us up?! Well, technically it is his character Gerry Conlon who goes to prison, but only after he has been coerced into confessing to a pub bombing in Troubles-era England. Conlon's confession under duress also results in his father being imprisoned, hence the film's title.
Based on the true story of the Guildford Four and Conlon's own biographical book about the ordeal, In the Name of the Father is a harrowing look into a painful period of history.
3. The Green Mile (1999)
Wait, Tom Hanks goes to prison? OK, in this case the generational actor plays a prison guard rather than a prisoner, but the result is the same: A timeless prison film that will scare you straight. The Green Mile is based on Stephen King's novel, and it casts Hanks as a Depression-era corrections officer manning a prison in Louisiana. When a Herculean inmate (played by Michael Clarke Duncan) arrives for execution after being convicted of a heinous crime, the film takes a supernatural turn.
With legendary director Frank Darabont at the helm, this film resides in the upper echelon of the prison-flick pantheon.
4. Shot Caller (2017)
A modern thriller starring Game of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Shot Caller examines prison's ability to transform an unassuming business person into a hardened, well, shot caller. With powerful performances from now-established actors including Jon Bernthal and Omari Hardwick, Shot Caller combines thoughtful character study with modern filmmaking flair.
5. Shawshank Redemption (1994)
If there is one prison film that has captured the hearts of filmgoers of multiple generations more than any other, it is The Shawshank Redemption. If anything, this Darabont-directed gem based on the Stephen King short story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is too widely-known to be first on any prison film list. It's simply too obvious a choice.
The film has an IMDb rating of 9.3, a score that will stick in your head for weeks to come, and a legitimate claim to the Best Film Ever mantle.
6. Papillon (1973)
For a film that younger movie buffs (meaning Boomer and below) may not have seen, check out Papillon. Starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman as fellow convicts residing in a South American penal colony. This prison escape thriller absolutely holds up with time. Based on a semi-biographical novel by Henri Charriere, Papillon puts a sub-tropical twist on the prison film narrative.
Those who enjoy the original might also check out the 2017 remake starring Charlie Hunnam.
7. American Me (1992)
American Me shines a light on the Latin American prison experience, and Edward James Olmos both directs and stars in this gritty cult classic. Olmos plays Montoya Santana, a young gang member in Los Angeles who gets arrested and ultimately serves an 18-year prison stint. While Santana gains great power during his time locked up, this movie examines the passage of time that ex-convicts must reconcile when they re-emerge into society.
8. The Last Castle (2001)
The Last Castle re-imagines Tony Soprano (actor James Gandolfini) as a power-hungry prison warden at a maximum-security facility dubbed The Castle. Robert Redford is General Irwin, a former three-star general who finds himself in prison after defying a presidential order. He serves as the foil to Gandolfini's tyrannical Colonel Winter, and a tactical battle between the two unfolds over the ensuing two-plus hours of runtime.
While not the most critically acclaimed film on this list, The Last Castle pits two legendary actors against each other, and for this reason is a must-see prison film.
9. Blood In, Blood Out (1993)
Another film that delves into the Chicano culture in East Los Angeles and the prison experience that many live through, Blood In, Blood Out is based on the true life experiences of poet Jimmy Santiago Baca. The lives of central characters Paco, Cruz, and Miklo take drastically different paths after once sharing gang ties.
A highly-rated film that exemplifies the grit of early-90s filmmaking, Blood In, Blood Out is a well-kept secret in the prison-centric film catalog.
10. Escape From Alcatraz (1979)
While most older filmies have likely seen Escape from Alcatraz, this classic may remain a mystery to younger viewers inclined to view films made before 1990 as dated. Set in San Francisco's iconic Alcatraz prison and based on a true story, this movie continues to work because it sticks with a basic (and true) premise. Bank robber Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) teams up with fellow inmates to test if Alcatraz is truly unbreakable.