When thinking of movies that take place in the slammer, certain titles come to mind, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Escape From Alcatraz, and so on. Some of the biggest movies in history have centred around a prison and penitentiaries, making it one of the oldest Hollywood genres. To celebrate the release of hard-hitting new movie Stealing Cars, starring Emory Cohen, John Leguizamo and William H. Macy, we pay homage to this gritty sub-genre with a list of the Top Ten movies to show incarceration on the silver screen – found below the official Stealing Cars trailer.
Midnight Express (1978)
Based on and adapted from the non-fictional book of the same name, Midnight Express follows the true story of Billy Hayes, an American college student who is sent to a Turkish prison after trying to smuggle hashish back home. Though it differs from the book in some aspects, the film itself was highly acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, being nominated for five Academy Awards and winning two for best score and adapted screenplay. Directed by a British great, Alan Parker (Mississippi Burning) and starring Brad Davis (Chariots of Fire), Randy Quaid (Independence Day) and the legendary John Hurt (Alien), who received an Academy Award nod for best supporting actor.
Directed by Alan Clarke (The Firm) and starring Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast), the film centres around young offender Carlin as he arrives at the institution and his rise through violence and self-protection to the top of the inmates’ pecking order, purely as a tool to survive. This immensely gritty film is known for being highly controversial for its time due to its graphic depiction of racism, extreme violence, rape, suicide and very strong language. Nonetheless, this movie is a moving story that deals with being in a position of power and prison survival. Also starring Julian Firth (The Queen) and Phil Daniels (EastEnders).
American History X (1998)
Following a Neo-Nazi skinhead (Edward Norton, Fight Club) who renounces his former ways, and attempts to stop his younger brother (Edward Furlong, Terminator 2: Judgement Day) going down the same path, after serving a three-year prison sentence for voluntary manslaughter, American History X is a thought-provoking comment on race and institutionalised hate in the US. While not a Box Office blockbuster, it earned Norton an Oscar nomination, and was widely praised by critics. Also stars Stacy Keach (Sin City: A Dame To Kill For), Elliott Gould (Ocean’s Eleven), Avery Brooks (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and Ethan Suplee (The Wolf Of Wall Street).
Animal Factory (2000)
Rob Decker, a 21 year old man, has just been dealt heavy prison time for trafficking drugs. Scared he won’t last through his sentence, he turns to hardened criminal and ex-gang leader Earl Copen for guidance. Earl sees a part of himself in Decker and decides to take him under his wing and help him survive prison. This emotional incarceration epic is the second feature film directed by award winning actor Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs) and is widely praised by critics for its realism. Starring Edward Furlong (Terminator 2: Judgement Day), Willem Dafoe (Platoon) Tom Arnold (True Lies) and Danny Trejo (Machete).
Directed by John Luessenhop (Takers), Lockdown follows three friends wrongly convicted of a shooting, who wind up in prison and on extremely different path; Avery (Richard T. Jones, Concussion), a promising swimmer with a potential university scholarship, is greeted by a kind older cellmate (Clifton Powell, Ray); Cashmere (Gabriel Casseus, Black Hawk Down) beats up his cellmate and becomes a key player in a prison gang; and Dre (De’aundre Bonds, Dope) finds himself victimised, raped, and the personal sex-slave of a psychotic Neo-Nazi. An emotional, ultimately tragic, film highlighting problems within the penal system, co-starring Master P, Bill Nunn (Spider-Man), and Sticky Fingaz (The Shield).
The Last Castle (2001)
One of the few films to focus on life inside a military prison, this Rod Lurie (Straw Dogs) directed film follows a US Army Lieutenant General (Robert Redford, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) sentenced to ten-years for violating a presidential order resulting in the deaths of eight soldiers. Once inside the former general challenges the warden (James Gandolfini, The Sopranos) over his treatment of the prisoners, and eventually attempts to seize control of the prison (based on the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth). Co-stars Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Delroy Lindo (Point Break), and Clifton Collins Jr. (Pacific Rim).
The first ever feature length movie by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), winning the prestigious Caméra d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival the same year and starring Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones). The film follows the real story of Bobby Sands (Fassbender), an IRA volunteer who led his fellow inmates through the famous hunger strike, where the Irish Republican prisoners tried to regain political status after it had been revoked by the British government in 1976. Maybe not centring around a juvenile delinquent, but Sands was incredibly young when he passed and it is an extremely visceral and thought provoking piece, with McQueen doing a fantastic job of not portraying Sands as a Martyr, a danger that a lot directors would have neglected.
The Lion’s Den (2008)
An Argentine drama directed, co-written, co-produced and co-edited by Pablo Trapero. Shot inside real maximum-security facilities in Buenos Aires, the film follows Julia, a woman who has been arrested for the murder of her boyfriend and has to give birth to her son in prison and raises him in a maternity cellblock. To start, the film explores Julia’s growth as an individual under such extreme conditions, but the film really hits hard when Julia’s son approaches the age at which he is allowed to stay with a relative outside prison. An enthralling and incredibly emotional story with intense lead performances from Martina Gusman (White Elephant) and Rodrigo Santoro (300).
Starred Up (2013)
Eric, an arrogant and ultra-violent 19-year-old (Jack O’Connell, Unbroken), is prematurely transferred to the adult prison facility where his estranged father (Ben Mendelsohn, Killing Them Softly) current resides. As his explosive temper quickly finds him enemies in both prison authorities and fellow inmates, Eric is approached by a volunteer psychotherapist (Rupert Friend, Homeland) who runs an anger management group for prisoners. Eric becomes torn between the different issues he faces and finds himself in a fight for his own life, unsure if his own father is there to protect him or join in punishing him. The film is an instant British classic and currently holds a whopping 99% rating on rotten tomatoes.
Stealing Cars (2015)
From Executive Producer Mark Wahlberg comes the gritty story of a rebellious teenager (Emory Cohen; A Place Beyond the Pines, Brooklyn) who gets caught by the police for stealing cars, which lands him in a ruthless young offender’s prison. As he fights against the corrupt institution of the juvenile prison, he inspires his fellow inmates to make a stand and take back their lives. Produced by the award-winning Rachel Winter (Dallas Buyers Club) and featuring a plethora of talented actors including William H. Macy (Fargo, Room), Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives), John Leguizamo (John Wick) and Mike Epps (The Hangover), Stealing Cars is a gripping drama with excellent performances.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment releases Stealing Cars on DVD and Digital HD June 20th.