Life behind bars isn’t easy, but film fans have found it fascinating for years. It’s an area of film that takes audiences into unfamiliar, dark, often violent territory. We have prepared for you a listing of the five best prison-themed films ever made. We invite you to read on.
Best films about prison theme – TOP 5 ranking
“Midnight Express” (1978)
The story of Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) – an American student who visits Turkey. During an attempt to smuggle hashish he is arrested and as a result is sent to prison, where he will spend over thirty years. The prison is not just any prison – it is the strictest institution of its kind in Turkey, a true hell on earth. The picture is based on the book “Midnight Express” from 1977, which described a true story.
The film was shot in Malta, at Fort Saint Elmo. The authorities in Istanbul refused to allow such a negative portrayal of the Turks to be made in their city. The film itself is extremely powerful, shocking and brilliantly acted. Its final minutes will stay with you long after the credits roll. “Midnight Express” won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
“The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)
“The Shawshank Redemption” is a film that could not be missing from this list. This adaptation of Stephen King’s book has been considered one of the best films of its genre and one of the best films about friendship behind prison bars. In the IMDb service Frank Darabont’s picture retains its place at the top of the list of the best titles in the history of cinema (beating “The Godfather”, “Pulp Fiction” or “Forrest Gump” among others ). Outstanding performances by Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins; seven Academy Award nominations.
The year is 1981, Northern Ireland. Bobby Sands(Michael Fassbender) is a member of a paramilitary IRA organization who goes on a hunger strike in prison. In doing so, he demands that he be granted political prisoner status. In confinement, Sands goes through hell and falls victim to elaborate mental torture.
Fassbender received great reviews for his performance, which was awarded a BIFA (British Independent Film Award) and nominated for a European Film Award. On Rotten Tomatoes the film maintains a score of 90% positive reviews from critics.
Best movies about prison – what’s worth watching?
“Lock up” (1989)
A film that is often referred to by Sylvester Stallone fans as “the prison version of ‘Rocky'”. It’s one of the most underrated and forgotten entries in Stallone’s rich and iconic catalog of roles. The action movie star appears in this thriller drama as Frank Leone, a convict who waits quietly for his sentence to end and his freedom to be restored. He is not going to get it: he is sent to a maximum security prison ruled by the sadist Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland). The warden aims at breaking Frank psychologically…
Stallone has also appeared in other prison-themed films: in “Escape Plan” (2013) alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, and in two sequels to that production from 2018 and 2019.
“The Great Escape” (1963)
A war film about a group of prisoners who try to escape from an Allied POW camp. The whole thing is treated a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it’s spectacularly told, star-studded and exquisitely directed. It stars such icons as Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance and James Garner.