The 10 greatest prison movies of all time

Prison films are a fascinating subgenre that defies conventional classifications and often includes elements from other fields such as science fiction and romance. Because of their inherent universality and ability to impress with audiences they’ve never experienced before, these films have often been used as a means of sly entertainment.

However, many prevailing images of the prison system fail to understand the fundamental problems that continue to plague the social and cultural frameworks in which we live. The films on this list explore different aspects of the existential state that is prison, and raise important philosophical questions about our society.

While most people think of popular projects like The Shawshank Redemption And The Great Escape When the subject of prison films pops up, there are many other cinematic masterpieces that deserve even more recognition. This list provides an alternative choice for those who want to move beyond the prevailing images of crime and criminality.

The 10 greatest prison movies of all time:

10. Titicut Fallies (Frederic Wiseman, 1967)

A documentary film shot in the style of direct cinema. Titicut Fallies It is a seminal work by Friedrich Weizmann on the corruption pervasive in government institutions that are supposed to rehabilitate those who need help.

Wiseman conducts a relentless exploration of the striking setting at Bridgewater State Hospital, choosing to focus on mental patients who are often abused and bullied by staff in ways that can leave modern viewers receding in horror.

9. scum (Alan Clark, 1979)

One of Alan Clarke’s finest works. scum It is an unparalleled investigation of the UK’s juvenile detention system. He shows how these institutions transform young people into survivors of violence even though many of them still have a chance of rehabilitation.

scum Carlin follows as he uses violence to protect himself in a very hostile environment after being sent to such an institution. Although the film was pulled from broadcast due to its extreme theme, scum It has secured its status as a true cult classic.

8. I’m a runaway from a chain gang (Mervyn LeRoy, 1932)

Pre-code gem from 1932, I’m a runaway from a chain gang The film revolves around a World War I veteran who struggles to adapt to civilian life. He descends into a life of poverty, and soon finds himself in a difficult situation when he is arrested by the police for a crime he did not commit.

Based on the highly influential autobiography of Robert Elliot Burns, the film, as well as the book, draw scathing indictments of the chain’s sinister gang system. Burns and other prisoners were only able to appeal and be freed after the film was released.

7. halter (Nagisa Oshima, 1968)

A list of prison films would not be complete without mentioning a work that explores the death penalty – the most heinous consequence of systemic imprisonment. While other works such as Krzysztof KieĊ›lowski short film about murder They have gone down in history as definitive entries on the subject, yet few are as ambiguous as halter.

Directed by Nagisa Oshima, head of the Japanese New Wave, the film uses an innovative approach to develop an ethical analysis of the act of capital punishment. Show how violence cannot erase violence, halter It is the indispensable jewel of the new wave.

6. Pixot (Hector Babenko, 1981)

classic from brazil, Pixot It is a semi-documentary film about juvenile delinquency in the country. Through the titular character’s story, Babenko conducts a startling exploration of endemic corruption and violence.

The film offers insights into the utterly broken system in Brazil as strongmen use helpless teens for their own nefarious purposes. The most significant part of Pixot The legacy is the tragic fact that the movie star was murdered by the Brazilian police himself when he was just 19 years old.

5. her in law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986)

Among Jarmusch’s greatest accomplishments, her in law It features wonderful central actors Roberto Benigni, John Laurie and Tom Waits who find themselves behind bars due to various strange circumstances. The resulting movie scene is one you just can’t look away from.

Collected by the controlling hand of the law, these three dungeon buddies set out on a journey of their own after escaping from prison. Jarmusch beautifully depicts their physical and psychological journey, marked by fear, paranoia, and undeniable friendship.

4. Thirteenth (Ava DuVernay, 2016)

Among the most important works of the last decade, Thirteenth is a massive documentary about systemic racism in the US prison system written by Ava DuVernay. Dive deep into the prison industrial system full of deep problems, Thirteenth It was revisited and watched by thousands of people during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

DuVernay patiently builds her case as she documents compelling evidence against the justice system that actively disenfranchises the nation’s minorities while the prison system turns them into modern slaves, a shift that highlights the hypocrisy of the Thirteenth Amendment.

3. big delusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)

It is considered one of the most influential French films of all time. big delusion He deals with the horrors of war by focusing on the trials of a group of prisoners of war who dream of escape even though the odds are stacked diametrically against them.

There is something so powerful in the relentless pursuit of freedom in big delusion, an element recognized and feared by the Nazi Party during their regime. In fact, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, called it “Cinematic Public Enemy No. 1” but it has endured all censorship and has stood the test of time.

2. if you see (Jack Baker, 1960)

Excerpted from Jose Giovanni Becker’s book if you see It is a stunning cinematic feat that reconstructs the true events of 1947 when five inmates attempt to break out of La Sante prison after carefully planning their escape.

One of the men involved in the actual escape was cast if you see, along with other non-professional actors. Although Baker died shortly after filming ended, his legacy lives on among film fans who are still influenced by his creations.

1. man run away (Robert Bryson, 1956)

Based on the memoirs of a member of the French Resistance, there can be no doubt in Bresson’s mind man run away It is the greatest prison movie ever. Deceptively simple but has much more philosophical weight than some of the more popular entries in the genre, man run away The film industry is at its glorious height.

Since Bryson was himself a prisoner of war, his experiences proved crucial while making this film. We hold our collective breath for about 90 minutes or so, waiting to see the outcome of a great philosophical battle often fought within the confines of a small cell.

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