20 Movies About Prison Life That Must Be Watched

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There are many movies about love, passion, war, comedy etc. But the ones about being behind bars are more bitter. They captivate you with their stories and you feel like you've become one of their cell mates. We picked these amazing 20 movies for everyone to watch and added a few more respected nominees at the end. The list is not in any particular order so let us know which one is your favorite.

Enjoy the list.

Storylines were taken from IMDb.

20. Brubaker

When the new warden comes in disguised as an inmate, he sees firsthand all the corruption and scams the guards and prison officials are running. When he reveals himself and starts to implement reforms to stop the corruption, the local business community, who had been benefiting from the scams, fights back, and the corrupt prison system starts making political trouble for the new warden.

Brubaker (1980)

19. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Wrongly convicted James Allen serves in the intolerable conditions of a southern chain gang, which later comes back to haunt him.

. I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

18. Hunger

Hunger follows life in the Maze Prison, Northern Ireland with an interpretation of the highly emotive events surrounding the 1981 IRA Hunger Strike, led by Bobby Sands. With an epic eye for detail, the film provides a timely exploration of what happens when body and mind are pushed to the uttermost limit.

Hunger (2008)

17. Stalag 17

Set in a German POW Camp for enlisted American airmen, a spy is discovered to be living in one of the prison barracks after an escape attempt fails resulting in the deaths of two inmates. The prisoners at once suspect Sefton, an unscrupulous inside dealer who trades almost anything with the Germans for extra privileges. After Sefton is beaten up, he himself determines to find the real spy and the result is a mixture of intrigue and betrayal leading to a surprise ending.

 Stalag 17 (1953)

16. Carandiru

Brazilian MD Drauzio Varella starts AIDS prevention in Brazil's largest prison, Carandiru, in São Paulo, where the population is nearly double its 4,000 maximum. Doc learns from experience and mainly stories the tragic stories of hideous crimes which landed scum there and passionate dramas adding otherwise decent people. Just when he believes to leave the prisoners happy with a soccer tournament, a silly clothing line argument kick-starts a politically opportune revolt repression.

 Carandiru (2003)

15. Przesluchanie

Tonia goes out drinking. She wakes up in prison, not having a clue why she's there. She is tortured to encourage her to confess to a crime she is not aware of.

 Przesluchanie (1989)

14. Bound by Honor

Based on the true life experiences of poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, the film focuses on half-brothers Paco and Cruz, and their bi-racial cousin Miklo. It opens in 1972, as the three are members of an East L.A. gang known as the "Vatos Locos", and the story focuses on how a violent crime and the influence of narcotics alter their lives. Miklo is incarcerated and sent to San Quentin, where he makes a "home" for himself. Cruz becomes an exceptional artist, but a heroin addiction overcomes him with tragic results. Paco becomes a cop and an enemy to his "carnal", Miklo.

 Bound by Honor (1993)

13. A Man Escaped

Captured French Resistance fighter Andre Devigny awaits a certain death sentence for espionage in a stark Nazi prison. Facing malnourishment and paralyzing fear, he must engineer an extraordinary escape, complicated by the questions of whom to trust, and in the absence of options, how to kill?

 Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut (1956)

12. Cool Hand Luke

Luke Jackson is a cool, gutsy prisoner in a Southern chain gang, who, while refusing to buckle under to authority, keeps escaping and being recaptured. The prisoners admire Luke because, as Dragline explains it, "You're an original, that's what you are!" Nevertheless, the camp staff actively works to crush Luke until he finally breaks.

 Cool Hand Luke (1967)

11. Das Experiment

For two weeks, 20 male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards in a prison. The "prisoners" have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the "guards" are told to retain order without using physical violence.

Das Experiment (2001)

10. Celda 211

The story of two men on different sides of a prison riot -- the inmate leading the rebellion and the young guard trapped in the revolt, who poses as a prisoner in a desperate attempt to survive the ordeal.

 Celda 211 (2009)

9. American History X

Derek Vineyard is paroled after serving 3 years in prison for killing two thugs who tried to break into/steal his truck. Through his brother, Danny Vineyard's narration, we learn that before going to prison, Derek was a skinhead and the leader of a violent white supremacist gang that committed acts of racial crime throughout L.A. and his actions greatly influenced Danny. Reformed and fresh out of prison, Derek severs contact with the gang and becomes determined to keep Danny from going down the same violent path as he did.

 American History X (1998)

8. The Great Escape

Based on a true story, a group of allied escape artist-type prisoners-of-war (POW's) are all put in an 'escape proof' camp. Their leader decides to try to take out several hundred all at once. The first half of the film is played for comedy as the prisoners mostly outwit their jailers to dig the escape tunnel. The second half is high adventure as they use boats and trains and planes to get out of occupied Europe.

The Great Escape (1963)

7. Escape from Alcatraz

Alcatraz is the most secure prison of its time. It is believed that no one can ever escape from it, until three daring men make a possible successful attempt at escaping from the most infamous prisons in the world.

Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

6. Papillon

Henri "Papillon" Charierre is sentenced to life in prison and transported to the penal in French Guyana. Aboard ship on the voyage over, he meets Louis Dega, a forger. They form a bond that will last them a great many years. The conditions at the penal colony are horrific and Papillon desperately wants to escape. His first attempt ends quickly in failure and as a result he spends 2 years in solitary confinement. His next attempt is somewhat more successful and he actually spends a idyllic time with a tribe of Central America Indians. Once caught however, he does 5 years in solitary confinement. Once released, he decides to make one final attempt at freedom.

 Papillon (1973)

5. Birdman of Alcatraz

As an inmate at Leavenworth prison, Robert Stroud has a series of confrontations with the guards and with the other convicts. When Stroud kills a guard, he is sentenced to be executed, and only his mother's impassioned intervention gets his sentence commuted to life imprisonment, which he must serve in solitary confinement. As he serves out his sentence in boredom and despair, one day he finds a helpless baby sparrow in the exercise yard. Stroud soon takes a deep interest in caring for birds, which gives him a new purpose in life, but which also brings new conflicts with prison authorities.

 Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)

4. Un Prophète

The illiterate eighteen year-old Franco-Arab Malik El Djebena is sent to Brécourt prison sentenced to six years for assaulting police officers. Alone and without money, Malik finds unprotected in an environment of corruption and violence divided by the Corsican and Muslim gangs. The powerful Corsican mobster César Luciani forces him to kill the Muslin Reyeb and then gives support and protection to him in his gang. Malik befriends Ryad that teaches him how to read and write and they become best friends. Meanwhile César uses Malik to help him outside prison in his dirty business with casinos. Malik also learns how to deal drugs and climbs positions in the hierarchy of César's mafia.

 Un prophète (2009)

3. In the Name of the Father

A small time thief from Belfast, Gerry Conlon, is falsely implicated in the IRA bombing of a pub that kills several people while he is in London. Bullied by the British police, he and four of his friends are coerced into confessing their guilt. Gerry's father and other relatives in London are also implicated in the crime. He spends 15 years in prison with his father trying to prove his innocence with the help of a British attorney, Gareth Peirce. Based on a true story.

 In the Name of the Father (1993)

2. The Shawshank Redemption

Chronicles the experiences of a formerly successful banker as a prisoner in the gloomy jailhouse of Shawshank after being found guilty of a crime he did not commit. The film portrays the man's unique way of dealing with his new, torturous life; along the way he befriends a number of fellow prisoners, most notably a wise long-term inmate named Red.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

1. Le trou

Just as 4 cell-mates are about to launch their elaborate escape from a tiny cell, a detainee from a cell-block under repair is transferred in. The 4 all face certain conviction & long sentences. Does the young new jail-mate have the same incentive & if so can they trust him ?

Le trou (1960)

BONUS

Other films about prisons that should also be watched but not included in the list:

  • Felon

  • Bad Boys

  • Bronson

  • Murder in the First

  • Down by Law

  • Animal Factory

  • The Last Castle

  • Dog Pound

  • Brute Force

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