The 10 Best Prison Break Movies of All Time

5. The Great Escape


A fascinating portrayal of characters ranging from American to English to Australian who are held prisoner in an allied POW camp. The action takes place in the camp of the Luftwaffe, which was specially built for those who ran off a huge number of times. So our escape masters were placed in one particular camp.

One day they bring RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett to the camp who’s warned that if he’ll try to escape again, he’ll get shot but he doesn’t stop. He plans the greatest escape ever attempted, with tunnels to break out 250 prisoners.

This requires a plan, a very well-coordinated team and many devices, as well as fake passports and clothing for each prisoner. Whether if these prisoners of war will be able to carry out such a large-scale escape, if you do not know the history, you will learn in full detail by watching this film.

Despite the almost three-hour run time, the film keeps in suspense from the very beginning to the very end and all this magnificent action is watched in one breath. The cast is strong as well, led by ever cool Steve McQueen. The movie has everything you’d expect to get from an action-adventure film like this.


4. Escape from Alcatraz


On a June night in 1962, three inmates of the federal prison on Alcatraz Island escaped from their cells and (presumably) into San Francisco Bay, never to be seen again. Escape from Alcatraz marks the fifth and final collaboration between Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood who stars as Frank Morris, one of three main inmates and it’s kind of a rebel and loner type of character which Siegel loves and Clint easily fits.

It avoids most of the clichés of prison flicks by concentrating on the central character’s struggle to break through the boundaries imposed on him. The events of the film can be divided into two parts: the immersion into a brutal prison life and, in fact, the organization of the escape from Alcatraz.

Both topics are incredibly interesting and equal in importance, even if they give different emotions to the viewers. It’s a subtle film and is very engaging. If you love prison break films, and/or Clint Eastwood then it’s a must see. If you’re more interested in the real life events, you better find a documentary about it or just read about it as it’s not exactly historically accurate but it’s script is strong and convincing enough for you to not mind about it.


3. La Grande Illusion

La Grande Illusion film

One of the very first prison escape movies, Jean Renoir’s “La Grande Illusion” is hailed as masterpiece of French cinema and one of the greatest films ever made in general.

The film is about French POWs – working-class mechanic Jean Gabin (as Marechal) and smoothly suave aristocrat Pierre Fresnay (as Boeldieu) – in WWI Germany and how they work together to escape from a fortress-prison. Orson Welles named “La Grande Illusion” as one of the movies he would take with him “on the ark”, and even Woody Allen named it among his favorites.

The film is hailed for its anti-war nature among other things. The movie was also a huge political event. When the film was released in 1937, another war was on the horizon. The Nazis promptly banned Grand Illusion for its pacifism. Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels labeled it “Cinematographic Enemy Number One” and ordered the destruction of every print of the film. But the film survived

. It also faced with restrictions in Italy and Belgium. It’s believed that Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Every democratic person should see this film” and we’d say every film lover should see this film.


2. Cool Hand Luke

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men.“ Legendary Paul Newman gives a legendary performance as Luke, a prisoner who refuses to submit to the system.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, you can figure it out from here that it’s not much about escaping or prison life itself as much as it’s about its central character and his free spirit. We are also given some pretty great scenes between him and friend Dragline, portrayed by George Kennedy in an Oscar-winning performance. Luke is a fascinating character, he’s not necessarily interested in escaping because even if he’s prisoned physically, his soul is still free which makes the whole thing a fascinating a watch.

The movie is still popular as ever. In 2003, AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains rated Luke as the number 30 greatest hero in American cinema and its influence on popular culture is still alive. Many films are seemingly inspired by the film also, you can claim in Joel Schumacher’s “Tigerland”, Colin Farrell plays a character similar to Newman’s.


1. Le Trou

No opening credits, no musical score, no subplots, just black-and-white cinematography and a fascinating film. The classic French crime drama “Le Trou” has an amazing, raw escape story. Let’s start with the script and say that it was written based on the book by Jose Giovanni, who was sentenced to death and while he was waiting for his time, he managed to meet Roland Barbat, prisoner known for his numerous escape attempts.

Barbat became inspiration for one of the characters in the book, and therefore the film. The name of this character is Roland Darban, in the “Hole” the character is played by Jean Keraudy….which was the stage name of Roland Barbat himself. He actually really was one of five inmates involved in a 1947 escape attempt from France’s La Santé Prison. Amazing, isn’t it?

Director Jacques Becker, for whom “Le Trou” was the last film in his career, decided that he doesn’t need professional actors for the film and it worked brilliantly. The film is about four cellmates who expect long prison sentences, or execution, are determined to escape. Before they can start digging a tunnel, the prison staff puts a man arrested for attempted first-degree murder, Gaspard, into their cell who agrees to help them.

We must also praise the choice of locations, which convinces us that all the action really develops in the real prison itself. And, of course, the great acting performance even though, as mentioned, all the main actors were non-pros.The newcomer character was played by Marc Michel. And he certainly fit into the nature of the character, given that his character must stand out compared to others. The film may be decades older but certainly it still tastes fresh.