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Top 10 Prison Escape Films

VO: Rebecca Brayton
While we're not condoning such attempts, we know we're not the only ones to think that prison escapes (at least movie ones!) definitely hold some entertainment value! There have been plenty of big screen movies with such thrilling scenes, some of which are based on real-life stories or while others are purely fictional imaginings. The better ones have captured our hearts and remain firmly planted in our consciousness. In this video, we count down our picks for the top 10 prison escape films.

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They’ll do whatever it takes to break free. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 prison escape films.

#10 – “Victory” (1981)

Inspired by a true story, this movie follows a group of Allied POWs during WWII as they plan an escape during a soccer match against the Germans. After enlisting the French resistance as help, the prisoners are given a way out at halftime. But, instead of leaving, they see the game through. Their victory on the pitch becomes even more significant when it allows them to slip away during celebrations.

#9 – “The Count of Monte Cristo” (2002)

This film adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ novel is a journey of adventure and revenge that kept audiences and critics highly entertained with its swashbuckling action. But it’s naval officer Edmond Dantès’ imprisonment in the Chateau d’If that interests us most: after fellow inmate Abbe Farria is fatally wounded, Dantes pulls a brilliant switcheroo and secures his freedom by taking the place of his dead friend in a body bag.

#8 – “Papillon” (1973)

While Hollywood heavyweight Dustin Hoffman co-stars, it’s Steve McQueen’s portrayal of real-life convict Henri Charrière that steals the show here. Your heart goes out to the man who’s wrongly imprisoned for murder, but you feel for him even more when his ill-fated escape attempt lands him back on Devil’s Island. When Charrière makes that final leap of faith towards freedom, you truly hope it’ll all work out.

#7 – “Midnight Express” (1978)

This is a dark and brutal look at Billy Hayes’ time in a Turkish prison for smuggling drugs. When his 4-year sentence becomes 30, the American student gets the shock of a lifetime. This results in a disturbing breakdown that finally gives him the motivation to break out. By relying on survival extinct, Hayes executes a spur-of-the-moment escape that is so simple it works, and so does this film.

#6 – “Cool Hand Luke” (1967)

Thanks to its strong acting and realistic vision, this prison drama gave us several memorable movie moments and a hero of American Cinema. After landing in the slammer for alcohol-induced shenanigans, Paul Newman’s defiant yet determined Luke must deal with the hard reality of a chain gang prison. After numerous failed escape attempts, things really go downhill, which leads to a final desperate act that shows he just wants to be free.

#5 – “La Grande Illusion” (1937)

In this masterpiece of French cinema, Captain de Boeldieu and Lieutenant Maréchal are captured and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp. Dealing with politics, class and discrimination, the World War I flick sees prisoners coming together to build escape tunnels, though their plan is eventually foiled. But it’s the Captain’s ultimate sacrifice, which helps his lieutenant and another prisoner to escape, which makes this haunting flick so moving.

#4 – “Stalag 17” (1953)

Adapted from a Broadway play written by two ex-prisoners-of-war, this excellent thriller follows a group of Americans stuck in a stalag with a spy in their midst, with Oscar winner William Holden as suspected informant J.J. Sefton. What makes his escape so fitting is that he not only manages to clear his name; but by helping a rich prisoner in the process, he gives the traitor exactly the end he deserves.

#3 – “Escape from Alcatraz” (1979)

This dramatization of the one of the most famous and complex real-life prison escape attempts ever makes us believe the impossible is possible. After feeling for the prisoners as they endure depressing and difficult living conditions, we can’t help but root for their success. With an elaborate plan featuring spoon-dug walls, handmade dummy heads and raincoat rafts, who wouldn’t want to see these jaibirds break free?

#2 – “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)

In this Oscar-nominated adaptation of a Stephen King novella, Andy Dufresne is man forced to do time for a crime he says he didn’t commit. And while his banking skills help keep him safe and he’s got friends like Red, conditions go from bad to worse. It’s the fact that Dufresne never loses hope that makes his unexpected but clever escape so well deserved. And to us: unforgettable.

#1 – “The Great Escape” (1963)

The title of this aptly named film comes from Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett’s ambitious real-life plan to free over 250 prisoners-of-war from a German camp. It’s a great bit of escapism for both the Allied soldiers and moviegoers alike: giving them something to live for while giving us some entertainment. It may not have a happy ending but it’s still a cinema classic.

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