Barbie World + Werner Herzog

The 12 Best Prison Movies

Top 12 Best Prison Movies

Top 12 Best Prison Movies

I love my lists, but I've got to be honest and admit I didn't come up with the idea for this one. Instead, full kudos go to the team at Blockbuster video whose Assignment 6 in the Blockbuster Super Blogger competition loosely eluded to this idea. For those of you playing at home, I'm an entrant in the Blockbuster Super Blogger competition where two winners score a trip to the Cannes International Film Festival to report on the event. Moving on, here's my pick of the 12 best communal soap films (aka prison movies).

  1. The Shawshank Redemption
    The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
    Why not start with arguably the best? Based on Stephen King’s short story, this is cinematic storytelling at its finest. There’s not much I can say about The Shawshank Redemption that hasn’t already been said. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are unforgettable, almost equally as memorable as one of film’s greatest scenes – Andy standing free and liberated in the pouring rain. Magic.
  2. Chicago
    Chicago (2002)
    A sexy prison movie? If you be good to Rob Marshall, Rob Marshall will be good to you by rewarding audiences with an exciting and lush version of one of Broadway’s biggest hits. From the flawless casting and performances, to the on-the-money editing and musical numbers, this goes down as one of Hollywood’s best musicals and, coincidentally, prison movies.
  3. The Great Escape
    The Great Escape (1963)
    Steve McQueen once again proved he’s King in this Oscar-nominated tale of allied Prisoners Of War who plan a mass escape from a German camp during World War II. This real life account never gained the respect it deserved until years after its release, but thankfully, it’s now recognised as the classic it is.
  4. The Green Mile
    The Green Mile (1999)
    Random fact, but did you know Stephen King is the author with the most amount of works adapted for the big screen? Unfortunately, most of them are pretty darn terrible. The Green Mile is definitely not one of those. After the huge success of King’s prison tale in The Shawshank Redemption, director Frank Darabont returned for this spectacular supernatural epic set on death row. Tom Hanks and co-stars give incredible performances as guards affected by the presence of a convicted child murderer (Michael Clarke Duncan in his breakout role). Emotional, magical and moving, this retains much of Shawshank’s grandiosity – spanning years and lives. It’s important to note Movie Mazz favourite Sam Rockwell in scene stealing role as the despicable `Wild Bill’ Wharton.
  5. Dead Man Walking
    Dead Man Walking (1995)
    This was the second of two stellar prison movies involving Tim Robbins released over a two year period, with everyone’s favourite strawberry blonde behind the camera as director, producer and writer his time. Based on Sister Helen Prejean’s book of the same name, Susan Sarandon plays the nun who becomes the unlikely friend to a convicted killer on death row (Sean Penn) and the victims’ families. An intelligent, eye-opening look at the death penalty, Sarandon won the best actress Oscar for her turn as the sassy and compassionate Prejean. In a testament to how deluded the Academy is, Penn lost out to Tom Hanks as a doofus in Forrest Gump.
  6. Conviction
    Conviction (2010)
    Sam Rockwell is back in jail in this under seen story about a single mother (Hilary Swank) who gets her highschool certificate then goes off to college and finally law school to become an attorney and free her brother (Rockwell) who was wrongly convicted of murder. Like a handful of films on this list, Conviction is based on an incredible true story and director Tony Goldwyn breathes life into this testament to love and loyalty. Swank and Rockwell carry the film with their powerhouse performances, with the supporting cast in Minnie Driver, Juliette Lewis and Melissa Leo rounding out an great ensemble acting triumph.
  7. The Hurricane
    The Hurricane (1999)
    He was a man the authorities came to blame, for somethin’ that he never done and it’s the Oscar Denzel Washington should have won. Instead, they gave him the compensation prize the following year, but there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that his staggering performance as an angry, talented and inspirational boxer; Rubin `Hurricane’ Carter should have been the real winner. Veteran filmmaker Norman Jewison is at his experienced best in this layered, powerful and ultimately heart-warming movie about a wrongly convicted man.
  8. Stone
    Stone (2010)
    Edward. Norton. Has. Cornrows. If you need another reason to see this movie, then you clearly didn’t understand the full scope of that last statement – Edward. Norton. Has. Cornrows. He also delivers a fantastic turn as another manipulative psycho in John Curran’s Stone. Norton is a convicted arsonist who looks to manipulate a parole officer (Robert DeNiro) by placing his beautiful wife (Milla Jovovich) in the lawman's path to secure his parole. It’s a complex, twisted tale and looks at prison life through the perspective of three very different people affected in three very different ways.
  9. Alien 3
    Alien 3 (1992)
    The only film on this list which features aliens and Sigourney Weaver-awesomeness. A very different film from the first two, both tonally and literally, Alien 3 comes from the demented mind of David Fincher. Many have criticised this industrialised take on the sci-fi series, but I say you can’t knock any flick brave enough to put girl-power icon Ripley in an all-male prison AND pull it off.
  10. Rescue Dawn
    Rescue Dawn (2006)
    Possibly the two bat-shit craziest people in Hollywood – Werner Herzog and Christian Bale – team-up for this account of a US Fighter pilot's epic struggle of survival after being shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War. Bale once again drops about four small children’s worth of weight and completely immerses himself in a character who’s biggest enemy is the harsh environment keeping him prisoner.
  11. The Longest Yard
    The Longest Yard (1974)
    This con-comedy proves the original is often the best with Burt Reynolds starring as a former pro quarterback, now serving time in his prison, asked to put together a team of inmates to take on the guards. Gen Y’ers probably saw the Adam Sandler remake with Nelly, Chris Rock and Reynolds in a supporting role. The rest of us probably wish we hadn’t.
  12. The Rock
    The Rock (1996)
    This is the only Michael Bay film I like. Period. As a general rule I tend to hate Bayhem – kill me if I think films need more than explosions and penis metaphors – but I actually enjoyed this. From Nic Cage doing his good guy-in-a-bad-situation shtick to the overly dramatic action scenes, this is a guilty popcorn pleasure. Sean Connery is also pretty awesome as a gnarly Scottish super-con. The Rock is the film that really kick-started Cage’s 90s action movie reign (which seems about implausible as the biological weapons in the film) given his reputation as a hardcore method and character actor.

Bayhem, best, Christian Bale, movie, Nic Cage, Sam Rockwell, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, and more:

The 12 Best Prison Movies + Werner Herzog