Prison movies are one of the best genres of action movies. Asides keeping you at the edge of your seat, the thrill, the goosebumps, and the twists will keep you coming back for more. If you are a sucker for prison movies and want to indulge yourself in a couple of them, here are the 20 Best Prison movies you should check out.
Half Past Dead (2002)
English 1h 38m IMDb
Director: Don Michael Paul
Stars: Morris Chestnut, Steven Seagal, Matt Battaglia
This thrilling movie tells the audience about a heist happening in prison. After Lester is sentenced to death for stealing gold bricks worth up to $200,000,000 and, in the process, responsible for the death of five people.
A group of terrorists called the 49ers infiltrates the prison for information on the whereabouts of the Gold Bricks. According to those who have seen it, the movie is a slick, action classic but may not necessarily be the best from Seagal. Start with the trailer to get a glimpse of this action-packed thriller from the official trailer.
Half Past Dead 2 (2007)
English 1h 32m IMDb
Director: Art Camacho
Stars: Bill Goldberg, Kurupt, Jack Conley
The movie’s official trailer is enough to show you how much violence and action it has. If you loved the first movie and want to know who gets the gold, then you should see Half Past Dead 2.
Twitch, a long-time inmate from New Alcatraz prison who was present when it all went down, manages to get transferred to another prison, hoping to find the gold bricks. Many viewers think this explosive sequel is more thrilling than the first, so you don’t need to worry about becoming disinterested.
Let’s Go To Prison (2006)
English 1h 24m IMDb
Director: Bob Odenkirk
Stars: Dax Shepard, Will Arnett, Chi McBride
What better way to check out this movie than start by watching the official trailer on Youtube. This comedy-prison film ranks high among its counterparts.
After serving three prison sentences, John Lyshitski is enveloped by the thoughts of revenge and wishes to get back at the strict judge who had presided over his cases. However, when he learns that the judge is dead, he decides to make the judge’s son the next target.
After managing to put his new mark, Nelson, in prison, he still is not satisfied and decides to follow him into prison to ruin his life. While this movie is filled with absurdities and a total farce, it is enjoyable for an audience who would love to see a spoilt kid getting what they deserve.
American History X (1998)
English 1h 59m IMDb
Director: Tony Kaye
Stars: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo
While only half of this movie takes place in prison, it is still very much like the rest, as prison plays a significant role in changing the views and perspectives of the protagonist.
After his dad is shot dead by a black drug dealer, Derek becomes a racist and neo-Nazi who finds his Solace by being part of the Disciples Of Christ group. His decisions do not come cheap, as he ends up murdering under the influence of his group.
After being convicted, he realizes that his perspectives may never have been right. This movie has been commended by critics as a product of history, authentically depicting the concept of racism, war, etc. Get sucked into the movie just by watching the official trailer.
Celda 211 (2009)
Spanish (Spain) 1h 53m IMDb
Director: Daniel Monzón
Stars: Luis Tosar, Alberto Ammann, Antonio Resines
The thrilling official trailer is what you need to get in the mood for this movie. Celda 211 is a Spanish-French prison movie that will leave your hands on your chest as you try to come to terms with the plot.
When Juan, a new correctional officer, is left alone with no support in the prison amidst a riot, he must find a way to survive, even pretending to be a prisoner. According to critics, this movie is outstanding, made up of excellent characterization and a plot that would move you.
Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
English 1h 49m IMDb
Director: F. Gary Gray
Stars: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Leslie Bibb
Before setting a date with this movie, you should get warmed up with the official trailer. Law Abiding Citizen tells the story of a good man turned criminal mastermind because of the justice system.
After Clyde’s family is killed in a break-in, yet the murderer gets a light sentence, he takes it upon himself to plot revenge ten years after.
His bloody and murderous revenge, however, is not against the murderer but rather against the failed justice system. Apart from being highly entertaining, the movie also holds some profound truths that few would be willing to accept.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
English 2h 22m IMDb
Director: Frank Darabont
Stars: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton
The movie is based on Stephen King’s famous novel, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank redemption. After getting framed for the murder of his wife and her lover and convicted, Andy Dufresne plans to escape prison, all while living an unsuspectedly and inspiring life in prison.
Using only a rock hammer, Andy digs his way out of jail in under 20 years and is never found. While this movie was a box office failure when it was released, it has gained more audience over the years, and critics can only describe it as an inspiring and uplifting story. Watch the official trailer on Youtube to know what you’d be getting into.
The Green Mile (1999)
English 3h 9m IMDb
Director: Frank Darabont
Stars: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse
Paul Edgecomb is a death row correctional officer who is a supervisor over several other correctional officers. He is known as one of the good ones, taking it upon himself to be nice to the prisoners.
When Michael Clarke Duncan, a prisoner sentenced to death for murder, comes into the prison, everyone, especially Paul, begins to notice supernatural happenings in jail.
Starring Tom Hanks and John Coffey, the green mile is an emotional movie. According to critics, it would probably make you shed a few tears, and you can confirm that with the official trailer.
English 1h 32m IMDb
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Tom Hardy, Kelly Adams, Luing Andrews
You should get started with this movie by watching the official trailer. Michael Gordon Peterson didn’t have the best childhood; he got in trouble most of the time and was a delinquent. Remaining on this path, he ends up in prison.
After being thrown into Solitary confinement, Charles Bronson gets an alter ego. The movie is a biographical movie that would make viewers question everything they see. According to critics, some parts of the film might make audiences uncomfortable. However, you’ll enjoy it if you can sit through it and watch the masterpiece fully.
Shot Caller (2017)
English 2h 1m IMDb
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Stars: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Omari Hardwick, Lake Bell
Jacob Harlon is a stockbroker imprisoned for driving under the influence of alcohol and killing his friend. He plans to live his next 16 months a low-key, but when he sees the wildlife of the prisoners, he decides he’d rather be on the offensive.
This decision takes him on his journey to the top of the prison food chain. The beautiful cast and script make this cliche prison movie better than average for those who have watched it. Get a glimpse of what you’d be getting into with the official trailer.
Escape from Pretoria (2020)
English (United Kingdom) 1h 46m IMDb
Director: Francis Annan
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Daniel Webber, Ian Hart
Fighting for a good cause never felt so great as in this movie. Set in 1979 South Africa, Escape from Pretoria tells the true story of political prisoners, Tim Jenkins and Stephen Lee, who were arrested for their stand against apartheid.
While in prison, they enlist the help of a third prisoner, Leonard Fontaine, to help them escape. The official trailer of this biographical movie would give you an insight into how lousy apartheid was.
Viewers acknowledge that the movie does not do natural justice to the actual story, but it still has the thrill one would expect from this type of plot.
The Longest Yard (2005)
English 1h 53m IMDb
Director: Peter Segal
Stars: Adam Sandler, Burt Reynolds, Chris Rock
If you want to sense a little of how funny the movie is, you should turn to the official trailer. After landing in prison for drunk driving, Paul Crewe, a former NFL quarterback, coaches a team of inmates to go against a group of ruthless correctional officers in a football game.
Morals are tested, and friends are lost in an attempt to get revenge on the guards who constantly victimize them. This movie is funny and considerably more lighthearted than the original, but it still conveys its message.
The Escapist (2008)
English 1h 42m IMDb
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Stars: Brian Cox, Damian Lewis, Joseph Fiennes
The movie’s official trailer doesn’t have a consistent pace as it shows violent scenes that reach your heart. Frank Perry is a man who spends his remaining life behind the prison walls and has come to terms with that.
However, when he finds out that his daughter is a drug addict on the verge of death due to an overdose, he thinks of an escape plan to leave the prison and meet with his child.
As easily complicated as this seems, it isn’t as bypassing the prison security is not the only thing he has to sort out in the long run. Audiences hold that, like every other prison break movie, this movie is brilliant and has enough action embedded in it.
English 1h 44m IMDb
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Stars: Stephen Dorff, Marisol Nichols, Vincent Miller
Prison can be scary, especially if the officers in charge are corrupt and heartless. It is in one of such prisons that Wade finds himself after he is convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Refusing to bend to the ways of the corrupt officers and their heads, he devises a way to bring their actions to book and possibly reduce his sentence.
The official trailer wonderfully captures how intense this movie is. According to viewers, Felon is a passionate and emotional work of art, held together by its stellar performance and a great plot.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Englishv 2h 7m IMDb
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Stars: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin
In the early 1950s, Luke Jackson, a World War II Veteran, lands himself in prison for two years for destruction of public property. With his mother as his strength, he goes through his first years of imprisonment with optimism and pep in his step.
However, with the advent of his mother’s death comes his many attempts at escaping from prison, even though he knows that it could lead to his death.
Critics have praised Cool Hand Luke, giving credits to the script and Paul Newman’s performance. The official trailer is on youtube, and it puts in the light what you’d be expecting from a phenomenal classic movie.
English 2h 13m IMDb
Director: Michael Noer
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Damijan Oklopdzic, Christopher Fairbank
From the official trailer, you can see that, like every other prison movie, Papillon is filled with violence, but you can also perceive the determination reeking from the film. Not all birds can be caged, precisely what the movie Papillon depicts.
Henri ‘Papillon’ Charrière is a pro-safe cracker in Paris Underworld. However, when he is framed for murder and convicted despite his solid alibi, he would do anything, including risking his life to break free.
In this biographical film, we see that Papillon does the impossible by escaping twice. Although he is subjected to years of solitary confinement for his failed and successful attempt, he doesn’t give up, and eventually walks free.
Although similar to the 1973 original, critics hold that Papillon is brought to life by excellent performances from stellar actors.
Get The Gringo (2012)
English 1h 36m IMDb
Director: Adrian Grunberg
Stars: Mel Gibson, Kevin Balmore, Daniel Giménez Cacho
When you watch the movie’s official trailer, you’d perceive it as something light-hearted and funny, but it does have some thrilling action. After being incarcerated in a Mexican prison by two corrupt officers, a getaway driver has to navigate his way in a prison that feels more like a ghetto.
Things get complicated when he gets acquainted with a kid whose liver is to be harvested for the kingpin of the prison, Javi. Those who have watched the movie call it a genuinely entertaining piece of art that deserves more credit and audience than it gets.
English 1h 36m IMDb
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Stuart Graham, Laine Megaw, Brian Milligan
This film is a historical drama about the Hunger strike, which took place in Ireland around 1981. The movie gives the audience a view of the events and measures taken by the Republican Prisoners in Northern Ireland before they eventually resolved to have a hunger strike to meet their demands.
Ten prisoners, including Sands, the protagonist, had died due to the strike, but it hadn’t been in vain as the British government eventually met up with their demands. Critics have called this movie one of the most authentic representations of history.
With its vivid and uncompromising plot and scenes, it isn’t for you if you don’t like heart-wrenching movies. Not many words are said in the official trailer, but the scenes are well enough to show the exciting movie you’d be getting yourself into.
English 2h 26m IMDb
Director: Norman Jewison
Stars: Denzel Washington, Vicellous Shannon, Deborah Kara Unger
The Hurricane is a biographical sports drama that follows the life of then Middleweight boxer Rubin Carter. Rubin Carter, also known as The Hurricane, was wrongfully convicted of a triple murder alongside his friend John Artis.
And although they weren’t ever-present at the crime scene, the testimony of Alfred Bello was enough to convict them. He had spent 20 years in prison before his case was finally revisited, and he was acquitted. Through the 20 years of his wrongful accusation, he repeatedly proclaimed his innocence and owed his misfortunes to racism.
One thing the movie’s official trailer has got to say is that The Hurricane is a very emotional and heartfelt movie. A critical consensus holds that this movie is touching and inspirational, with Denzel Washington taking the lead.
The Next Three Days (2010)
English 2h 13m IMDb
Director: Paul Haggis
Stars: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson
If you are looking for a prison film mixed with an element of love, then you should give this film a try. After Lara is convicted wrongly for the murder of her boss, her husband tries all he can to prove her innocence, but when all evidence is against him, he chooses to do the unthinkable – break her out of prison.
According to critics, with stunning performances from Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, the movie’s suspense is enough to keep your heartbeat raging. This movie is filled with desperation, love, and intelligence; the official trailer will show you just that.
Prison movies don’t always follow a chronological plot. Even though some general elements appear in almost all prison movies, the diversity of the stories always brings audiences back. Grab some popcorn and cocktails and start a thrilling experience with the movies on the list above. For more fun, watch with a loved one!