They say prison changes a man… at least if I’m to believe Hollywood. I’ve never done anything bad enough to land me in the pokey, and it’s not on my bucket list to give jail a shot. I don’t need to be scared straight because I can live vicariously through a myriad of prison films – all the excitement of life behind bars, no fear of dropping the soap.
So if you find yourself a little stir crazy, take in one of these prison films and you’ll find that maybe you have things a little better off after all. If your taste runs to top crime films, these represent some of my favorites.
5) Escape from Alcatraz – It is said that no one ever escaped from The Rock, as Alcatraz was one of the most secure prisons, being not just a heavily secured facility but also an island surrounded by choppy, cold water, along with patrol boats. Well, maybe you can amend that to almost no one. Clint Eastwood plays Frank Morris, a prisoner who, along with Clarence and John Anglin (Jack Thibeau and Fred Ward in the film), may be the only men to have escaped. Don Siegel crafts a film that is in turn tense and intense. As far as prison breaks are concerned, you won’t find much better.
4) American History X – A bit more serious than the other films on this list, American History X presents a very realistic and brutal portrayal of racism. While the prison scenes only constitute a small part of the film, they are some of the most important. Edward Norton and Edward Furlong give some of the best performances in their careers. Norton is a neo-Nazi who finds his views changed while in prison and one he gets out he does his best to convince his younger brother (Furlong) to take a different path. This is not a feel-good movie – it doesn’t pull any punches – but I feel it’s also an important movie, which is why I include it on this list.
3) Cool Hand Luke – All it takes is one memorable character to make a lasting impression and Paul Newman playing the titular character makes that impression. Despite his “failure to communicate” Luke is his own man – legendary escape attempts, an egg-eating machine, the car wash scene – there are so many things that stand out in this film, it’s hard to pick just one. An inspiration to fellow inmates, a consternation to his captors, Cool Hand Luke it a film you can pop in any time and live that life.
2) The Great Escape – There’s only room for one P.O.W. film on this list and even though Bridge on the River Kwai came close, I’ll tell you why The Great Escape wins in the end. While River Kwai wins the battle for drama, Great Escape wins for pure cinematic escapism. Every time I see Steve McQueen jump or see the meticulous escape plan come together – it just sweeps me into the story every time. So while Kwai may get more recognition, I find The Great Escape to me more entertaining.
1) The Shawshank Redemption – Who would have ever thought that out of all the popular horror novels he’s written one of the highest regarded films based off a Stephen King story is a prison drama. Thanks to deft direction by Frank Darabont and outstanding performances from Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Clancy Brown and Bob Gunton (amongst a strong supporting cast) – this uplifting drama is consistently near the top of many people’s (including my own) movie lists. There’s just something about the movie that strikes the right chord. While the ending is certainly hopeful, there are plenty of beatings and deaths you have to weather before you get there. Despite the sheer number of times I’ve watched this film, it will always remain my favorite in this particular genre.
Chris Kavan is the Community Manager of FilmCrave.com and he really makes it a point never to have any failure to communicate.