Classic Prison Flicks

There are elements common to all great "prison movies". The cell block and the inmates who live there, in close quarters. The dirty uniforms. The noisy mess hall. The dynamic between the inmates and the guards. The dynamic between fellow inmates, be it friendly or unfriendly. Riots. Plans for escape. Scenes of violence.

The films in this modest list define what we consider a "prison movie", with the genre's foundations dating back to the gritty Pre-Code era. Each film is a shining example of what makes prison stories so compelling.
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1.
The Big House (1930)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A convict falls in love with his new cellmate's sister, only to become embroiled in a planned break-out which is certain to have lethal consequences. (87 mins.)
Director: George Hill
 
2.
The Criminal Code (1931)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
After a failed attempt at running for governor, D.A. Mark Brady is appointed warden of the state prison where many of the criminals he prosecuted are incarcerated. (97 mins.)
 
3.
20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Brash hoodlum Tom Connors enters Sing Sing cocksure of himself and disrespectful toward authority, but his tough but compassionate warden changes him. (78 mins.)
Director: Michael Curtiz
 
4.
Each Dawn I Die (1939)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
A corrupt D.A. with governatorial ambitions is annoyed by an investigative reporter's criticism of his criminal activities and decides to frame the reporter for manslaughter in order to silence him. (92 mins.)
 
5.
Brute Force (1947)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
At a tough penitentiary, prisoner Joe Collins plans to rebel against Captain Munsey, the power-mad chief guard. (98 mins.)
Director: Jules Dassin
 
6.
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A surly convicted murderer held in permanent isolation redeems himself when he becomes a renowned bird expert. (147 mins.)
 
7.
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
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 one of the most infamous prisons in the world. (112 mins.)
Director: Donald Siegel
 
8.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.3/10 X  
Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency. (142 mins.)
Director: Frank Darabont