Top Five: Prison Films

This weekend, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and KPFT's "The Prison Show" will present the

Prison Reform Film Festival

, a series of movies about prison-related subjects. One of the films,

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo

(see the trailer above), is one of our favorite documentaries of last year. The Oklahoma State Penitentiary Prison Rodeo is the last of its kind, being the only prison rodeo held completely behind bars. The film follows a group of women inmates trying out for a chance to compete.

From the first prison films of the early 20th century to now, jail has been a popular setting in cinema. In honor of the festival, we picked our top five of the genre. Now, don't scream at us when you find out classics like Cool Hand Luke and Midnight Express didn't make the list. They're definitely in the top 10. But we thought of a few that don't get the praise we feel they deserve. Parole 'em.

Stir Crazy

They can't all be dismal, depressing dramas, right? After

Silver Streak


Stir Crazy

Upcoming Events

is really the only Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor movie that matters. There's not really a plot, and the production values are pretty spartan; what makes the movie is Wilder and Pryor's incredible chemistry. The famous "We Bad" scene is a perfect example of why we watched. They pushed each other places neither one expected to go.


The Shawshank Redemption

On most prison-film lists, this one's in the top three. After

The Shining

, it's the best Stephen King adaptation to date.


Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills

This 1996 documentary about three young men imprisoned for the gruesome killings of three eight-year-old boys is an absorbing and disturbing story that ultimately left us angry and confused. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky make a compelling case for the boys' innocence.


A Prophet

A young man gets a criminal education in prison from a godfather-type gang thug, and builds a crime organization that threatens to overtake his mentor's. An epic, brilliantly paced film.


Down By Law

This 1986 Jim Jarmusch classic doesn't pop up on any top-prison-films lists, and we scoured a slew of them. At the website, it doesn't even crack the top 200, and goddammit, that's why it's number one here. It should probably be classified in the prison-break subgenre, but we don't care. It's meditative, metaphorical and quirky, and it doesn't really go anywhere, but the chemistry between Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Begnini is just too damn cute. And Robby Muller's black-and-white cinematography is stunning.

Upcoming Events

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >