There’s something about movies that involve prison that draws people in. Whether it’s the nearly unfathomable idea of being locked up like a zoo animal, or the heart-pounding intensity of a jailbreak- it seems we can’t get enough. Despite the very serious setting, these movies can range from drama to straight comedy and back again. Here are a few you can watch from the comfort of your own home anytime you like.
The Green Mile (Amazon)
Spoiler alert: This will not be the last movie based on a Stephen King story on this list. Anyway, The Green Mile is going to break your heart, no matter how many times you watch it. If you do go back for a second viewing, you’ll find that everyone in the film absolutely nails it. While only Michael Clark Duncan was nominated for an Oscar, a case could be made for Tom Hanks, Michael Jeter, a very young Sam Rockwell, and even noted cradle-robber Doug Hutchinson. In fact, like many of the films on this list, it’s the performances that elevate a film mostly set inside gray slabs of concrete to another level.
The Silence of the Lambs (Netflix)
It’s remarkable to think someone could picture anyone other than Anthony Hopkins when they hear the name Hannibal, but here we are. Mads Mikkelsen has done such a fine job on the critically acclaimed and recently canceled series Hannibal that it’s possible an entire generation just might use him as their poster boy for eating people. One thing is for sure: this film will continue to give every generation the heebie-jeebies.
Sure, a large percentage of movies about prison are serious, but that only makes the ones that aren’t stand out even more. Bronson isn’t known by many, which is a shame, because it is a star vehicle for Tom Hardy. Luckily, he became a star anyway and gave us a new Mad Max, so everything is great. Hardy’s performance in Bronson earns every glowing cliche you’ve ever read in a movie review. Hardy absolutely becomes this psychotic criminal, and you forget you’re watching a movie. It seems like a documentary you’re a part of. Also, it’s directed by Drive‘s Nicolas Winding Refn, so he just might be responsible for two of your favorite movies now instead of just one.
Cool Hand Luke (Amazon)
One of the rare films to hold a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, Cool Hand Luke stars the eternally handsome Paul Newman in the title role and is one of the great anti-establishment films of the 1960’s. As long as you’re okay with some Christian symbolism sprinkled throughout, there aren’t a lot of ways you can dislike this one.
Dead Man Walking (Netflix)
Based on a true story, Dead Man Walking is arguably the heaviest film on this list, which is saying something considering they’re all about prison in some capacity. A forgotten fact about this one is that Tim Robbins (yes, that Tim Robbins) directed it. Robbins was even nominated for an Oscar. As expected after such an acclaimed work, Robbins has directed exactly… one movie since.
The Shawshank Redemption (Amazon)
A year before Dead Man Walking, Robbins starred in The Shawshank Redemption, now widely considered one of the greatest films of all time. Based on another Stephen King story, the film garnered seven Oscar nominations… and didn’t win a single one. The movie was absolutely steamrolled by Forrest Gump.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Amazon)
When Randle McMurphy finally manages to get transferred from a prison to a mental institution, he thinks it’s going to be a breeze. Of course, he eventually realizes it may be worse than the big house from which he came… that is, until he discovers everyone but him is there willingly. Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the great character studies of our time, bringing together one of the more eclectic groups of personalities ever seen on screen. It was also the first film since 1934 to win the five major Academy Awards. The only film to do it since then? The Silence of the Lambs.
Escape From New York (Amazon)
Some people might think of New York as an all-the-time prison, but they’re probably just living in a closet and working in the service industry while they write their screenplay and wait for their sitcom apartment to come available. In Escape From New York, however, it actually is… in the distant future of 1997, where the United States has become overrun with crime, and NYC has been turned into a maximum security prison. The movie has turned into a cult classic, with Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken becoming one of the great action heroes of all time.
Con Air (Amazon)
Con Air might have come out nearly twenty years ago, but the fact that someone, somewhere yelled “HEY WHAT IF WE MADE A MOVIE WHERE THE PRISON IS IN THE SKY?!” is as awesome as ever. Add in Dave Chappelle, Steve Buscemi portraying his creepiest character ever, John Malkovich playing himself (I mean, come on right?), and Nic Cage doing…Whatever that accent is, and it adds up to an absolutely amazing mess of an action movie.
The Rock (Amazon)
You didn’t think we were getting through this list without a Michael Bay movie did you? Only he could think “Okay…But what if people had to break IN to Alcatraz?” With Sean Connery at his Sean Connery-est and Nic Cage at his Cage-iest (playing a guy name Stanley Goodspeed, you guys. Seriously.), this is Michael Bay in his prime. Add lots of explosions, lots of dialogue getting screamed like “WHERE ARE THE GUIDANCE CHIPS?!” and you’ve got yourself Classic Bay.