For decades, writers and directors have been motivated by the concept of escaping confinement. Here are the best jail break movies, listed according to their IMDb rating.
Escapes from prison are the most audacious of all. A successful expedition like this requires meticulous organization, coordination, and flawless execution, but not everyone is blessed. Unfortunately, even the most beginner, two-timing crooks may learn from dozens of videos.
For those who prefer classics from the Golden Age of Hollywood to more experimental films, there’s a prison bust film out there for everyone. IMDb has chosen these as the best prison break movies to watch.
Mark Birrell updated this page on October 24, 2020: There’s nothing quite as engrossing as a terrific prison break story for any movie viewer looking for a little escape most of the time. In a field as wide-ranging as film, it’s easy to overlook some of the greatest works ever made. 5 more prison escape movies you’d be glad to be locked up with are here for your viewing pleasure.
1. The Way Back (7.3/10)
The Way Backis a massive survival tale in the style of Peter Weir’s greatest sweeping epics, based on a much-disputed legend of a long walk from a Siberian penitentiary to freedom.
As easy as it is for the protagonists to flee the gulag, their true jail is far more difficult to reach. Weir never loses sight of the emotive intricacies, even on the most vast backdrops, during their 4000-mile trek across some of the most magnificent and arid landscapes in the world.
2. Rescue Dawn (7.3/10)
Filmmaker Werner Herzog is known for portraying the human spirit and triumph in the face of hardship. Dieter Dengler, a US pilot, is shot down in Laos in his 2006 Vietnam war drama, Rescue Dawn, starring Christian Bale.
His revolt and subsequent escape with another prisoner are examined in great detail in the film. For Bale’s versatility as an actor and Herzog’s dedication as a filmmaker, this is yet another example of their work together.
3. King of Devil’s Island (7.5/10)
KING OF DEVIL’S ISLANDis an unforgiving–but highly affecting–drama about life in a boy’s prison on the Norwegian island ofBasty in the early 20th century.
Director Stellan Skarsgrd leads a superb cast as an out-of-touch jail director. As a group, they create an encompassing criminal universe and unbreakable relationships of loyalty that could stand up to the most seasoned gangster stories.
4. The Defiant Ones (7.6/10)
Filmmaker Stanley Kramer made the 1958 drama The Defiant Ones on race relations in the 1950s, and it’s an insightful and tense film. While bound together, two criminals take advantage of an opportunity to flee from a chain gang, despite their hatred of each other.
Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis were both nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role in this picture, which won two Oscars. The nomination of Potier, the first black actor to be considered for the award, marked a historic moment.
5. Midnight Express (7.6/10)
Although Midnight Express is a legendary jail escape story, it is a difficult picture to watch. For trying to smuggle hash out of Istanbul, college student Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) was arrested and imprisoned to a Turkish prison.
While the film is based on a book by Hayes, it takes significant liberties with the facts. Despite this, Parker’s directing and the performances of the actors are terrific. It is, however, Giorgio Moroder’s Oscar-winning score that stands out.
6. Escape From Alcatraz (7.6/10)
Dirty Harry and the Beguiled director Don Siegel’s 1979 prison escape movie is a masterpiece. Clint Eastwood plays Frank Morris, a bank robber imprisoned in the infamous and insurmountable prison of Escape From Alcatraz. In order to escape, he and two others create a plan of action.
His final film was based on this amazing escape from prison, and it left a lasting impression on both his filmography and the sub-genre of prison escape movies.
7. Down By Law (7.8/10)
This three-person inmate drama was directed by Jim Jarmusch and shot in black and white. They are played by Tom Waits (John Lurie), John Travolta (John Lurie), and Roberto Benigni (Roberto Benigni). In contrast to other jail escape films, this one focuses on how the criminals communicate with each other rather than their elaborate escape plans.
Jarmusch’s witty language and Robby Müller’s careful cinematography make this one of the more interesting prison pictures.
8. Papillon (8.0/10)
In a South American prison, two inmates forge an unlikely relationship while serving their respective life sentences. Prisoners scheme an escape at this time, which sets off one of the most ingenious plot twists in movie history.
This suspense thriller features a teenage Dustin Hoffman and acting icon Steve McQueen.
Also written by Dalton Trumbo is the acclaimed and once-blacklisted novel, “Papillon.” As recently as 2018, there was a remake of it.
9. The Grand Illusion (8.1/10)
In this classic anti-war drama from legendary auteur Jean Renoir, a group of French POWs in World War I plot their escape.
With its close closeness to the outbreak of World War II, this film’s depiction of European civilization and its demise is heightened to an unprecedented level.
10. Cool Hand Luke (8.1/10)
When it comes to this situation, “we’ve had failure to communicate.” One of Paul Newman’s most well-known performances is that of Luke Jackson, a laid-back Southerner who refuses to follow the orders of the warden. He is hailed as a hero and leader of the group by the other inmates.
Luke’s attempt to flee goes awry, but his tenacity is what makes him a legend. That’s what the audience is left with after all is said and done: men can be broken, but their spirit is unbreakable.
11. I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (8.2/10)
Robert Elliott Burns, a World War I veteran turned vagrant, was the inspiration for this 1930s criminal drama, which tells the story of how he ended up as a member of a Georgia chain gang.
The barbarity of the chain gang itself is simply a portion of the story’s description of a larger jail of a corrupt and self-perpetuating criminal system, as I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang may not sound.
12. The Great Escape (8.2/10)
This thrilling thriller, starring Steve McQueen and a stellar ensemble cast, is one of the all-time greats in the genre. Allied soldiers in World War II prepare to free over a hundred of their own after being imprisoned in a war camp.
Most people will remember this movie for its spectacular motorcycle jump, but there’s much more to it than that. The warriors’ determination and strength are some of the best depicted on film.
13. Toy Story 3 (8.3/10)
Having been abandoned by Andy, the loving toys of Toy Story set out to rescue him after being taken into the custody of a cruel teddy bear. This prison break is so unique because it references a slew of previous films. There are numerous allusions to The Great Escape and The Escape from Alcatraz.
One of the best animated films of the decade, it takes you on an emotional trip with well-known characters.
14. A Man Escaped (8.3/10)
With a devoutly ascetic approach, Robert Bresson’s war film depicts the unfeeling violence of the Nazi occupation of France in stark contrast to Renoir’sThe Grand Illusion..
“A Man Escaped,” based on the memoirs ofAndré Devigny, is timelessly tense, thanks to its cold, objective level of attention to detail in the design of every aspect of the escape.
15. The Shawshank Redemption (9.3/10)
IMDb’s highest-rated jail movie is also one of its most popular. An escape attempt and a friendship between two inmates are the focus of this drama from 1994. This film tells one of the most moving and famous stories of a prison break ever depicted through narrative and the passage of time.