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Top 10 Best Prison Movies You’ve Ever Seen: Ranked

There are numerous prison movies available. While some films use fantasy and science fiction to create fantastic works of escapism, prison films strive to depict the drama of our actual world. Prison is a place where reality can reach its apex. There’s plenty of opportunity for imperfect characters, room to grow, and room to pose difficult legal concerns. Others are based on true stories, while others are entirely fictional, and some have gone on to become some of the most well-known films of all time. Without further ado, let’s dive into the best prison movies list:

The Shawshank Redemption

This movie, which is based on another Stephen King book, is widely regarded as one of the best movies of all time (not just of prison movies). Following Andy Dufresne after he is convicted of murdering his wife and her boyfriend, the story follows him. This film is generally the first that comes to mind when people think of the prison genre. The United States Library of Congress has chosen the film for inclusion in the National Film Registry because of its influence and cultural significance.

The Green Mile

Stephen King has a flair for writing stories set in jail, as evidenced by the poignant 1999 fantasy film “The Green Mile,” which follows inmates and guards on death row in a Louisiana prison. The Oscar-nominated picture stars Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sam Rockwell, James Cromwell, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Harry Dean Stanton, Barry Pepper, and Gary Sinise and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Duncan), Best Screenplay, and Best Sound. Duncan was also nominated for the Golden Globes, however he did not win any of the awards. The movie is undoubtedly among the top prison movies.

American History X

While the story does not take place largely in prison, it is a byproduct of incarceration. Two brothers who are involved in neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements star in the film. After one is incarcerated and returns to society, he wants to protect his brother from further indoctrination by these dangerous organizations. American History X, one of the best escape from prison movies, is not only extremely well-known, but it has also been used in schools across the United States.

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The Great Escape

In “The Great Escape,” a World War II prison escape film based on Paul Brickhill’s 1950 non-fiction book of the same name, Steve McQueen leads a star-studded cast that includes James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, and James Coburn. The book is primarily a first-hand account of the actual mass escape of countless British prisoners of war from Germany’s Stalag Luft III POW camp in 1944, despite the fact that the film is partially fabricated.

Cool Hand Luke

Even individuals who have never watched the film are likely to have heard of it because it is considered a classic. The plot follows a rebellious prisoner in a Florida prison camp in the 1950s, and is based on a novel of the same name. With its Christian imagery and use of signs, the film is full of ideas and symbolism. The film received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a Laurel Award for Top Male Supporting Performance in terms of honors. It’s also on the National Film Preservation Board’s list. The movie is considered among the violent prison movies.

In The Name Of The Father

The true narrative of the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven, two overlapping groups of persons wrongly prosecuted and imprisoned for the IRA bombings of two Guildford pubs in 1974, is told in “In the Name of the Father.” Best Picture, Best Director (Jim Sheridan), Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Supporting Actor (Pete Postlethwaite), and Best Supporting Actress (Susan Sarandon) were among the seven Academy Award nominations for the film (Emma Thompson).

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12 Monkeys

The 1995 sci-fi picture “12 Monkeys” does not focus on prison life, but it does have scenes set in an underground correctional facility. After all, James Cole (Bruce Willis) is only participating in the time travel experiments because he is imprisoned. Cole also spends time in a mental institution with Jeffrey Goines, who is played by Brad Pitt in an Oscar-nominated supporting role. In 2015, “12 Monkeys” was made into a Syfy television series, which aired for four seasons and 47 episodes.


The narrative of two guys attempting to flee prison in French Guiana is told in this historical drama prison film. Due to its isolated locations, filming it was highly expensive at the time. The picture, nevertheless, was so well-liked and well-received that its budget was more than doubled. The feeling of despair, helplessness, and brutality of jail is well depicted, as it is in many popular prison films. It depicts the indomitability of the human spirit in such a way that it keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, clinging to a glimmer of hope, just as the characters in the film do.

Birdman Of Alcatraz

Although the protagonist, Robert Stroud, is a fictional character in the 1962 prison film “Birdman of Alcatraz,” he was a real person. Stroud (another Burt Lancaster) was a convicted murderer who spent much of his life in solitary confinement at Kansas’ Leavenworth Prison and the namesake Alcatraz, as the film depicts. During his life sentence, the once-rebellious Stroud not only becomes a bird owner and expert to pass the time, but he also becomes a trusted inmate, subsequently gaining some celebrity after a biography about his life is written – one of the prison movies based on true stories.

Escape From Alcatraz

One of the most well-known prisons in the world is Alcatraz. It is a tourist attraction and museum that is located off the coast of San Francisco. From the 1930s to the 1960s, it was used as a jail and is full with fascinating stories. One such story, an unsolved mystery regarding how three prisoners fled this island jail to this day, inspired several films, including this one. The movie is considered among the top prison escape movies.

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