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The Best Prison Movies and TV Shows on The Criterion Channel

Finding a good Prison movie and TV show to watch can be hard, so we've ranked the best ones and included where to watch them. Check out our list of the best Prison movies and TV shows of all time streaming on The Criterion Channel.

VIEW: best
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1. Escape from New York

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo85%
Reelgood Logo
83/100
Released: 1981Rated: R
Action & Adventure, Cult

What it's about: In 1997, the island of Manhattan has been walled off and turned into a giant maximum security prison within which the country's worst criminals are left to form their own anarchic society. However, when the President of the United States crash lands on the island, the authorities turn to a former soldier and current convict to rescue him.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a popular subscription service (Prime Video & The Criterion Channel) & rent or buy from $2.99 on 6 services (iTunes, Prime Video & 4 others).

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kanopy

2. La Strada

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo97%
Reelgood Logo
80/100
Released: 1954
Drama

What it's about: When Gelsomina, a naïve young woman, is purchased from her impoverished mother by brutish circus strongman Zampanò to be his wife and partner, she loyally endures her husband's coldness and abuse as they travel the Italian countryside performing together. Soon Zampanò must deal with his jealousy and conflicted feelings about Gelsomina when she finds a kindred spirit in Il Matto, the carefree circus fool, and contemplates leaving Zampanò.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel & Kanopy).

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3. A Man Escaped

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
8.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo100%
Reelgood Logo
79/100
Released: 1956
Drama, Thriller

What it's about: A captured French Resistance fighter during World War II engineers a daunting escape from prison.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel & Kanopy) & rent or buy from $3.99 on 2 services (iTunes & Prime Video).

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4. Hunger

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo90%
Reelgood Logo
79/100
Released: 2008
Biography, Drama

What it's about: The story of Bobby Sands, the IRA member who led the 1981 hunger strike in which Republican prisoners tried to win political status. It dramatises events in the Maze prison in the six weeks prior to Sands’ death.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel) & rent or buy from $3.99 on 1 service (iTunes).

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5. Grand Illusion

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo97%
Reelgood Logo
78/100
Released: 1937
Drama, History

What it's about: A group of French soldiers, including the patrician Captain de Boeldieu and the working-class Lieutenant Maréchal, grapple with their own class differences after being captured and held in a World War I German prison camp. When the men are transferred to a high-security fortress, they must concoct a plan to escape beneath the watchful eye of aristocratic German officer von Rauffenstein, who has formed an unexpected bond with de Boeldieu.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel) & rent or buy from $3.99 on 3 services (iTunes, Google Play & Vudu).

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6. Down by Law

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo90%
Reelgood Logo
78/100
Released: 1986Rated: R
Comedy, Independent

What it's about: A disc jockey, a pimp and an Italian tourist escape from jail in New Orleans.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel & Kanopy) & rent or buy from $3.99 on 2 services (iTunes & Prime Video).

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7. Le Cercle Rouge

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo95%
Reelgood Logo
77/100
Released: 1970Rated: R
Crime, Drama

What it's about: When French criminal Corey gets released from prison, he resolves to never return. He is quickly pulled back into the underworld, however, after a chance encounter with escaped murderer Vogel. Along with former policeman and current alcoholic Jansen, they plot an intricate jewel heist. All the while, quirky Police Commissioner Mattei, who was the one to lose custody of Vogel, is determined to find him.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel) & rent or buy from $3.99 on 3 services (iTunes, Google Play & YouTube).

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8. Pickpocket

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo97%
Reelgood Logo
76/100
Released: 1959
Crime, Drama

What it's about: Michel takes up pickpocketing on a lark and is arrested soon after. His mother dies shortly after his release, and despite the objections of his only friend, Jacques, and his mother's neighbor Jeanne, Michel teams up with a couple of petty thieves in order to improve his craft. With a police inspector keeping an eye on him, Michel also tries to get a straight job, but the temptation to steal is hard to resist.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel & Kanopy) & rent or buy from $3.99 on 2 services (iTunes & Prime Video).

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9. A Short Film About Killing

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo90%
Reelgood Logo
75/100
Released: 1988
Crime, Drama

What it's about: Jacek climbs into the taxi driven by Waldemar, tells him to drive to a remote location, then brutally strangles him, seemingly without motive.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel & Kanopy).

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10. Little Dieter Needs to Fly

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo93%
Reelgood Logo
74/100
Released: 1997
Documentary, Biography

What it's about: In 1966, Dieter Dengler was shot down over Laos, captured, and, down to 85 pounds, escaped. Barefoot, surviving monsoons, leeches, and machete-wielding villagers, he was rescued. Now, near 60, living on Mt. Tamalpais, Dengler tells his story: a German lad surviving Allied bombings in World War II, postwar poverty, apprenticed to a smith, beaten regularly. At 18, he emigrates and peels potatoes in the U.S. Air Force. He leaves for California and college, then enlistment in the Navy to learn to fly. A quiet man of sorrows tells his story: war, capture, harrowing conditions, escape, and miraculous rescue. Where did he find the strength; how does he now live with his memories?

Where to Watch: Available to watch free online (Shout Factory TV & Tubi TV), stream on a subscription service (Fandor, Shout Factory TV & The Criterion Channel) & rent or buy from $2.99 on 6 services (iTunes, Google Play & 4 others).

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11. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo96%
Reelgood Logo
74/100
Released: 1943
Drama, Romance

What it's about: General Candy, who's overseeing an English squad in 1943, is a veteran leader who doesn't have the respect of the men he's training and is considered out-of-touch with what's needed to win the war. But it wasn't always this way. Flashing back to his early career in the Boer War and World War I, we see a dashing young officer whose life has been shaped by three different women, and by a lasting friendship with a German soldier.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel) & rent or buy from $3.99 on 2 services (iTunes & Prime Video).

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12. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo80%
Reelgood Logo
74/100
Released: 1983Rated: R
Drama, Cult

What it's about: In 1942, British soldier Jack Celliers comes to a japanese prison camp. The camp is run by Yonoi, who has a firm belief in discipline, honour and glory. In his view, the allied prisoners are cowards when they chose to surrender instead of commiting suicide. One of the prisoners, interpreter John Lawrence, tries to explain the japanese way of thinking, but is considered a traitor.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel).

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13. Insiang

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo100%
Reelgood Logo
73/100
Released: 1976
Drama

What it's about: A young woman raped by her mother's new boyfriend finds a new way to exact revenge.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel).

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14. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo70%
Reelgood Logo
71/100
Released: 1989Rated: R
Comedy, Crime

What it's about: Recently released from a mental hospital, Ricky ties up Marina, a film star he once had sex with and keeps her hostage.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel & Kanopy) & rent or buy from $3.99 on 2 services (iTunes & Prime Video).

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15. Raw Deal

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo100%
Reelgood Logo
70/100
Released: 1948
Crime, Drama

What it's about: In this film noir classic, a revenge-seeking gangster (Dennis O'Keefe) is sent to prison after being framed for a crime he didn't commit. After seducing a beautiful young woman, he uses her to help him carry out his plot for vengeance, leading him to the crazy pyromaniac (Raymond Burr) who set him up.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel) & stream on a popular TV everywhere service (Epix).

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16. Brute Force

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo91%
Reelgood Logo
70/100
Released: 1947
Crime, Drama

What it's about: Timeworn Joe Collins and his fellow inmates live under the heavy thumb of the sadistic, power-tripping guard Captain Munsey. Only Collins' dreams of escape keep him going, but how can he possibly bust out of Munsey's chains?

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel & Kanopy) & rent or buy from $3.99 on 2 services (iTunes & Prime Video).

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17. The Human Condition I: No Greater Love

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo73%
Reelgood Logo
70/100
Released: 1959
Drama, History

What it's about: A Japanese pacifist and socialist, unable to face the dire consequences of conscientious objection, is transformed by his attempts to compromise with the demands of war-time Japan.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel).

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18. The Arbor

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo96%
Reelgood Logo
68/100
Released: 2010
Documentary, Biography

What it's about: Portrayal of the late Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar. Andrea Dunbar wrote honestly and unflinchingly about her upbringing on the notorious Buttershaw Estate in Bradford and was described as ‘a genius straight from the slums.’ When she died tragically at the age of 29 in 1990, Lorraine was just ten years old. The Arbor revisits the Buttershaw Estate where Dunbar grew up, thirty years on from her original play, telling the powerful true story of the playwright and her daughter Lorraine. Also aged 29, Lorraine had become ostracised from her mother’s family and was in prison undergoing rehab. Re-introduced to her mother’s plays and letters, the film follows Lorraine’s personal journey as she reflects on her own life and begins to understand the struggles her mother faced.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (Fandor & The Criterion Channel) & rent or buy from $3.99 on 1 service (Prime Video).

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19. The Human Condition III: A Soldier's Prayer

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
8.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes LogoN/A
Reelgood Logo
60/100
Released: 1961
Drama, History

What it's about: His ideals challenged by life as a conscript in war-time Japan's military, a pacifist faces ever greater tests in his fight for survival.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel).

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20. Le Deuxième souffle

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo100%
Reelgood Logo
59/100
Released: 1966
Crime, Drama

What it's about: A gangster escapes jail and quickly makes plans to continue his criminal ways elsewhere, but a determined inspector is closing in.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel) & rent or buy from $2.99 on 4 services (iTunes, Google Play & 2 others).

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21. Five Corners

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
6.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo78%
Reelgood Logo
58/100
Released: 1987Rated: R
Drama, Crime

What it's about: A psychotic young man returns to his old neighborhood after release from prison. He seeks out the woman he previously tried to rape and the man who protected her, with twisted ideas of love for her and hate for him.

Where to Watch: Available to watch free online (Tubi TV), stream on a popular subscription service (Prime Video & The Criterion Channel) & rent or buy from $0.99 on 1 service (Prime Video).

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22. Gods of the Plague

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
6.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Logo80%
Reelgood Logo
48/100
Released: 1970
Crime, Drama

What it's about: A man is released from prison and finds the society on the outside less than appealing. With several women as well as the police on his tail, he sets out to find an old friend.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel).

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23. A Man There Was

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes LogoN/A
Reelgood Logo
47/100
Released: 1917
Drama

What it's about: Terje Vigen, a sailor, suffers the loss of his family through the inflexibility of another man. Years later, when his enemy's family finds itself dependent on his benevolence, Terje must decide whether to avenge himself.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel).

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24. The Thick-Walled Room

IMDB LogoIMDB Star
7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes LogoN/A
Reelgood Logo
36/100
Released: 1956
Drama

What it's about: A group of rank-and-file Japanese soldiers are jailed for crimes against humanity, themselves victims of a nation refusing to bear its burdens as a whole.

Where to Watch: Available to stream on a subscription service (The Criterion Channel).