The Best Prison Movies To Watch of All Time

Clint Eastwood

If you're a fan of movies that take place behind bars, you're in luck. We've compiled a list of the top 59 best prison movies.

From heart-wrenching dramas to thrilling prison escapes, these movies will surely captivate and entertain you.

Whether you're in the mood for classic films like The Shawshank Redemption or newer releases like Shot Caller, there's something for everyone on this list.

So grab some popcorn and settle in for a cinematic journey through incarceration. Let's explore the top prison movies that have ever been made!

1 – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption
Photo Credit: Castle Rock Entertainment.

The Shawshank Redemption is a story of a banker named Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) sentenced to life imprisonment at Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover.

While serving his sentence, he befriends fellow inmate Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), and together they find hope amid despair.

2 – The Green Mile (1999)

The Green Mile Michael Clarke Duncan
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

The Green Mile is a story about a death row corrections officer named Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) who forms a bond with a gentle giant inmate named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), who has a mysterious gift.

As Paul witnesses the supernatural powers of John, he begins to question the morality of the death penalty.

3 – Escape From Alcatraz (1979)

Escape from Alcatraz
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Escape from Alcatraz is based on the true story of Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood), who successfully escaped from Alcatraz, a maximum-security prison island located off the coast of San Francisco.

With the help of his fellow inmates, Frank devises an elaborate plan to break free from the inescapable prison.

4 – Papillon (1973)

Papillon (1973)
Image credit: Allied Artists.

Papillon is based on the true story of Henri Charrière (Steve McQueen), a safecracker wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in French Guiana.

He forms an unlikely friendship with a fellow inmate, Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman), and together they plan their escape from the brutal prison.

5 – The Longest Yard (1974)

The Longest Yard
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The Longest Yard is a sports comedy film about former NFL quarterback Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds), who is imprisoned after being accused of stealing a car.

The sadistic warden forces him to lead a team of inmates against the guards in a football game.

6 – Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Cool Hand Luke
Image Credit: Warner Bros.-Seven Arts.

Cool Hand Luke is about a World War II veteran, Luke Jackson (Paul Newman), who was sentenced to two years in a Florida prison camp for cutting the heads off parking meters while drunk.

His unbreakable spirit and rebellious nature make him a legend among his fellow inmates.

7 – A Prophet (2009)

A Prophet (2009)
Image Credit: UGC Distribution.

A Prophet is a French prison drama about a young Arab man named Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) who is sent to prison for six years for assaulting police officers.

He is quickly drawn into the complex and dangerous web of power and politics within the prison and rises through the ranks by becoming a trusted advisor to a Corsican mob boss.

8 – Hunger (2008)

The Hunger
Image Credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Company.

Hunger is a historical drama based on the real-life events of Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), an Irish Republican Army (IRA) member who leads a hunger strike to protest the British government's treatment of IRA prisoners.

The film depicts the brutality of life in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland and the physical and psychological toll of hunger strikes.

9 – American History X (1998)

American History X Movie
Image Credit: New Line Cinema.

American History X is a drama film about Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), a former neo-Nazi skinhead released from prison after serving three years for manslaughter.

While in prison, he realizes the error of his ways and attempts to prevent his younger brother from following in his footsteps.

10 – The Escapist (2008)

The Escapist
Image Credit: IFC Films.

The Escapist is a thriller about a convicted criminal, Frank Perry (Brian Cox), who plans an elaborate escape from prison to see his terminally ill daughter.

The film interweaves the elaborate escape plan with flashbacks to the events that led to Frank's imprisonment.

11 – The Great Escape (1963)

The Great Escape (1963)
Image Credit: United Artists.

The Great Escape is a World War II adventure film based on a true story of Allied prisoners who plan to escape from a German POW camp.

The film follows the intricate planning and execution of the escape and the consequences for the caught prisoners.

12 – Bronson (2008)

bronson1 1
Image Credit: Magnet Releasing.

Bronson is a biographical crime film about the life of Michael Peterson (Tom Hardy), one of Britain's most notorious criminals.

Peterson, who renamed himself Charles Bronson after the famous actor, spends most of his life in prison due to his violent behavior and numerous escapes.

13 – Animal Factory (2000)

Animal Factory, Willem Dafoe
Image Credit: Silver Nitrate.

Animal Factory is a crime drama film about a young man named Ron Decker (Edward Furlong) sentenced to prison for drug possession.

He is taken under the wing of a seasoned inmate, Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe), who helps him navigate the harsh realities of prison life.

14 – Prisoners (2013)

Prisoners Jake Gyllenhaal
Image Credit: Alcon Entertainment, LLC.

Prisoners is a crime thriller about a man named Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) whose daughter goes missing.

When the police fail to find her, Dover takes matters into his own hands and kidnaps the man he believes is responsible. As the search for the missing girl intensifies, Dover's actions have unintended consequences.

15 – In The Name of The Father (1993)

In the Name of the Father
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

In the Name of the Father is a biographical drama film about Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis), a man from Northern Ireland who was wrongfully convicted of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings. The film follows Conlon's struggle to prove his innocence and clear his name.

16 – Felon (2008)

Image Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Felon is an action crime drama film about a family man named Wade Porter (Stephen Dorff) sentenced to prison after accidentally killing a burglar who broke into his home. While in prison, Porter must navigate the brutal and corrupt system to survive.

17 – Midnight Express (1978)

Midnight Express
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Midnight Express is a biographical crime drama film based on the true story of Billy Hayes (Brad Davis), a young American man caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and sentenced to prison.

The film follows Hayes' harrowing experiences in a Turkish prison, where he faces brutal treatment and fights to survive.

18 – Let Him Have It (1991)

Let Him Have It
Image Credit: First Independent Films.

Let Him Have It is a crime drama film based on the true story of Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston), a mentally handicapped man convicted of murder in the 1950s.

The film follows Bentley's trial and the controversy surrounding his execution, as well as the events leading up to the murder.

19 – The Hurricane (1999)

The Hurricane, Denzel Washington
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

The Hurricane is a biographical sports drama film based on the true story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (Denzel Washington), a boxer wrongfully convicted of murder in the 1960s.

The film follows Carter's fight for justice with the help of a young man named Lesra Martin (Vicellous Shannon) who becomes his friend and supporter.

20 – Fortress (1992)

Image Credit: Dimension Films.

The Fortress is a sci-fi action film set in the future, where a couple named John (Christopher Lambert) and Karen Brennick (Loryn Locklin) are sentenced to a high-tech maximum security prison for having a second child in a society where it's illegal to have more than one. The film follows their attempts to escape and reunite with their family.

21 – The Last Castle (2001)

The Last Castle
Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures.

The Last Castle is an action drama film about a highly decorated army general named Eugene Irwin (Robert Redford), who is court-martialed and sent to a maximum-security military prison run by a corrupt warden (James Gandolfini).

22 – Lock Up (1989)

Lock up, Sylvester Stallone
Image Credit: Tri-Star Pictures.

Lock Up is an action crime drama film about a man named Frank Leone (Sylvester Stallone) who is nearing the end of his prison sentence.

However, he is transferred to a maximum-security prison run by a sadistic warden (Donald Sutherland) who has a personal vendetta against Leone. Leone must survive the warden's brutal treatment and attempt to escape.

23 – Felony (2013)

Image Credit: Gravitas Ventures.

Felony is a crime drama thriller film about three detectives involved in an incident leading to a cover-up.

One of the detectives, Malcolm Toohey (Joel Edgerton), is haunted by his actions and struggles to do the right thing while his colleagues try to keep the truth from being exposed.

24 – Starred Up (2013)

Starred up
Image Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starred Up is a crime drama film about a young man named Eric Love (Jack O'Connell) who is transferred to an adult prison where his estranged father (Ben Mendelsohn) is also incarcerated.

Eric struggles to navigate the violent and dangerous prison environment while trying to reconcile with his father.

25 – The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

The Stanford Prison Experiment
Image Credit: IFC Films.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a biographical drama film based on a real-life psychological study conducted at Stanford University in 1971.

The film portrays the events during the study, in which college students were randomly assigned to be either prisoners or guards in a simulated prison environment.

26 – Stir Crazy (1980)

Stir Crazy, Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Stir Crazy is a comedy crime film about two friends, Skip (Gene Wilder) and Harry (Richard Pryor), who are wrongfully convicted of a bank robbery and sent to prison. The film follows their misadventures in prison as they try to survive and clear their names.

27 – Caged (1950)

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Caged is a crime drama film about a young woman named Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker) sentenced to prison for a minor crime.

The film portrays the harsh and brutal conditions of the women's prison system and the struggles of the inmates to survive in a hostile environment.

28 – Brubaker (1980)

Image Credit: 20th Century Studios.

Brubaker is a crime drama film about a new warden named Henry Brubaker (Robert Redford) who is appointed to a corrupt and violent prison.

He sets out to reform the prison system and expose corruption, despite facing resistance from both inmates and guards.

29 – We're No Angels (1989)

We're No Angels
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

We're No Angels is a comedy crime film about two escaped convicts, Ned (Robert De Niro) and Jim (Sean Penn), who pose as priests to avoid being recaptured.

They end up helping a struggling family in a small town and become unlikely heroes.

30 – The Big House (1930)

The Big House
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The Big House is a crime drama thriller film about a young man named Kent Marlowe (Chester Morris) who is sentenced to prison for manslaughter.

The film portrays the prison system's brutal and inhumane conditions and the inmates' struggles to survive in a violent environment.

31 – An Innocent Man (1989)

An Innocent Man
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

An Innocent Man is an action crime drama film about a man named Jimmie Rainwood (Tom Selleck) who is wrongfully convicted of drug trafficking and sent to prison.

The film follows his struggles to clear his name and seek revenge against those who framed him.

32 – Fugitive Pieces (2007)

Fugitive Pieces
Image Credit: Maximum Film Distribution.

Fugitive Pieces is a drama film about a young boy named Jakob Beer (Robbie Kay) who was rescued from a concentration camp during World War II and taken to live with a Greek archaeologist.

The film follows Jakob's struggles to reconcile with his past and find a sense of belonging.

33 – Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Grosse Pointe Blank, John Cusack, Minnie Driver
Image Credit: Touchstone Pictures.

Grosse Pointe Blank is an action comedy crime film about a hitman named Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack) who returns to his hometown for his high school reunion and takes on a job to assassinate a target.

The film follows his struggles to balance his personal and professional life.

34 – The Killing Yard (2001)

The Killing Yard
Image Credit: Paramount Television.

The Killing Yard is a crime drama film based on the true story of a prison riot in New York. The film follows the perspectives of both the inmates and the correctional officers during the violent uprising.

35 – The Informer (2019)

The Informer
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Informer is an action crime drama film about an ex-convict named Pete Koslow (Joel Kinnaman) who is recruited by the FBI to infiltrate a Polish drug cartel.

The film follows his struggles to navigate the dangerous world of organized crime while trying to protect his family.

36 – Chicago (2002)

Chicago (2002)
Image Credit: Miramax Films.

Chicago is a musical crime comedy film about two women (Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones) who are both accused of murder and end up in prison.

They compete for the spotlight and the attention of their lawyer (Richard Gere) to help them get acquitted and achieve fame.

37 – The Experiment (2010)

The Experiment
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

The Experiment is a psychological thriller film about a group of volunteers who participate in a simulated prison experiment.

The film explores the effects of power dynamics and social roles on human behavior.

38 – Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)

Ghosts of Mississippi
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

Ghosts of Mississippi is a drama film based on the true story of the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the subsequent trial of his killer.

The film follows the efforts of Evers' widow and a prosecutor to bring his killer to justice.

39 – Shot Caller (2017)

Shot Caller
Image Credit: Saban Films.

Shot Caller is a crime drama thriller film about a successful businessman named Jacob Harlon (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who is sent to prison after a fatal DUI accident.

The film follows his transformation into a hardened criminal as he navigates the brutal hierarchy of the prison system.

40 – Black and White (1999)

Black and White, Bijou Phillips
Image Credit: Screen Gems.

Black and White is a crime drama film about a group of privileged white teens who become involved in the world of hip-hop and street gangs.

The film explores race, class, and identity themes in contemporary society.

41 – Don't Say a Word (2001)

Don't Say a Word 2001
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Don't Say a Word is a mystery thriller film about a psychiatrist named Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas) who is forced to unlock the secrets of a traumatized young girl to save his kidnapped daughter.

42 – Murder in The First (1995)

Murder in the First, Kevin Bacon
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Murder in the First is a drama thriller based on the true story of a prisoner who sued the government for inhumane treatment in the Alcatraz Island prison.

The film follows the case and the prisoner's struggle against the corrupt prison system.

43 – White Heat (1949

White Heat
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

White Heat is a crime drama film about a psychotic criminal named Arthur “Cody” Jarrett (James Cagney) who is pursued by the police and his own gang after a botched heist. The film is known for Cagney's memorable performance and its explosive finale.

44 – The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)

The Birdman of Alcatraz
Image Credit: United Artists.

Plot summary: The Birdman of Alcatraz is a biographical crime drama film about Robert Stroud (Burt Lancaster), a convicted murderer who becomes a leading expert in bird diseases while in prison.

The film explores his transformation and redemption through his work with birds.

45 – Con Air (1997)

Con Air, Nicholas Cage
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Con Air is an action thriller about a newly released ex-con (Nicolas Cage) forced to board a flight with other dangerous criminals.

When the prisoners hijack the flight, he must use his skills to take back control and save the day.

46 – The Rock (1996)

The Rock Nicolas Cage
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

The Rock is an action thriller film about a former prisoner (Sean Connery) who the FBI recruits to help them take back control of the infamous Alcatraz prison, which has been taken over by a group of rogue soldiers led by a vengeful general (Ed Harris).

47 – Runaway Train (1985)

Image Credit: The Cannon Group, Inc.

Runaway Train is an action drama film about two escaped prisoners (Jon Voight and Eric Roberts) on a speeding train with no brakes, hurtling toward disaster.

The film explores themes of survival, redemption, and the consequences of our actions.

48 – Mean Machine (2001)

Mean Machine
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Mean Machine is a sports comedy film about a former soccer star (Vinnie Jones) who is sent to prison for assaulting a police officer.

To earn the respect of the other inmates, he agrees to train a team of prisoners to play against the guards in a soccer match.

49 – No Escape (1994)

No Escape
Image Credit: HBO.

No Escape is a science fiction action thriller film about a former Marine (Ray Liotta) who is sent to a maximum-security prison on a remote island.

When a violent uprising occurs, he must fight for survival against both the inmates and the prison staff.

50 – Fortress 2: Re-Entry (2000)

Fortress 2: Re-Entry
Image Credit: TriStar Pictures.

Fortress 2: Re-Entry is a science fiction action film about a man (Christopher Lambert) imprisoned in a high-tech facility on a remote island.

He must use his skills to escape and expose the sinister conspiracy behind the prison.

51 – American Me (1992)

American Me
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

American Me is a crime drama film about the rise and fall of a Chicano gangster (Edward James Olmos) who establishes a powerful prison gang to protect his fellow Hispanic inmates.

The film explores themes of identity, loyalty, and the destructive nature of power.

52 – The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

The Lincoln Lawyer, Matthew McConaughey
Image Credit: Lionsgate.

The Lincoln Lawyer is a crime drama film about a criminal defense attorney (Matthew McConaughey) who operates out of the back of his Lincoln town car.

When he takes on a wealthy client (Ryan Phillippe) accused of assault, he is drawn into a web of deceit and danger.

53 – Escape Plan (2013)

Escape Plan Arnold Schwarzenegger Prison Scene
Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

Escape Plan is an action thriller about a prison escape expert (Sylvester Stallone) who is wrongfully imprisoned in a high-security facility.

With the help of a fellow inmate (Arnold Schwarzenegger), he must use his skills to break out and uncover a conspiracy.

54 – Undisputed (2002)

Image Credit: Miramax Films.

Undisputed is a sports drama film about a former heavyweight boxing champion (Ving Rhames) serving a prison sentence for rape.

When a new inmate (Wesley Snipes) arrives and challenges him to a boxing match, he sees it as his chance for redemption.

55 – Big Stan (2007)

Big Stan, Rob Schneider
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Big Stan is a comedy film about a con artist (Rob Schneider) sentenced to a long prison term.

To survive, he hires a martial arts guru (David Carradine) to teach him self-defense and transforms himself into a fearless fighting machine.

56 – Stone (2010)

Stone, Edward Norton
Image Credit: Overture Films.

Stone is a drama film about a convicted arsonist (Edward Norton) who seeks parole with the help of his wife (Milla Jovovich) and a sympathetic parole officer (Robert De Niro).

As the parole hearing approaches, the characters' motivations and true selves are revealed.

57 – Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

Law Abiding Citizen Movie
Image Credit: Overture Films.

Law Abiding Citizen is an action thriller film about a man (Gerard Butler) who seeks revenge against the justice system that failed to convict his family's murderers.

He goes on a killing spree targeting those involved in the case, including the prosecutor (Jamie Foxx).

58 – A Prayer Before Dawn (2017)

A Prayer Before Dawn
Image Credit: A24.

A Prayer Before Dawn is a biographical crime drama film about a young British boxer (Joe Cole) who is sent to a Thai prison after being caught in drug trafficking.

In prison, he fights to survive and eventually becomes a Muay Thai boxer, using his skills to earn his freedom.

59 – Riot (1996)

Riot (1996)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Riot is an action drama film about a former cop (Gary Daniels) who is sent to prison after being framed for murder. He teams up with a group of inmates to take on the corrupt guards and avenge the death of his cellmate.

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