A Prophet (2009)
The prison: Anonymous French nick
Hellhole or cushy number? Newbie prisoner Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) quickly learns that hell is for weaklings, so he'd best start getting strong if he's going to make it through his stretch.
But the only tutor available is the prison's guv'nor Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup)...and his school offers only the hardest of knocks.
Escape potential: Why escape? Sometimes real power can be achieved from behind bars.
The lawbreak: Murder . Outside, it's a crime. In the clink's topsy-turvy morality, it's a rite of passage.
The Prison: Erewhon Penetentiary
Hellhole or cushy number? Erewhon is “nowhere” spelled backwards (almost). And nowhere is precisely where the perks and privileges can be found for Fed Sean Archer (John Travolta), unfortunately now wearing the face of criminal mastermind Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage).
With the Geneva Convention not in force, and Amnesty International unaware the place even exists, the screws can do pretty much as they please.
Escape potential: With mobility limited by magnetic boots that clamp to the floor at the first sign of trouble, getting out is surely a non-starter. However…
The Lawbreak: Rioting . Erewhon is bad-ass central, a holding pen for society’s most mischievous miscreants. Switch off the magnets, and hell really will break loose.
Midnight Express (1978)
The Prison: Samalclar prison in Turkey
Hellhole or cushy number? No numbers cushed here. Samalclar is brutal.
The welcome committee for drug smuggler Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) consists of having the soles of your feet beaten with a club – and that’s just the start of his troubles.
Escape potential: The prison is built on long-forgotten Christian catacombs, so there’s gotta be a way out. Just watch out for snitches.
The lawbreak: Assault . Par for the course in prison, surely? But this isn’t just any old assault.
Billy’s revenge on the informant who grassed him up is to stop him talking again permamently, by biting off his tongue. Outh, at's otta urt.
The Great Escape (1963)
The prison: Stalag Luft III
Hellhole or cushy number? Surprisingly cosy for a Nazi POW camp. Then again, with a population of stiff-upper-lipped Brits, it’s bound to be civilised.
Even solitary confinement isn’t so bad, provided – like Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen) – you have a baseball to idle away the time.
Escape potential: It’s designed to be air-tight. But with “every escape artist in Germany” under the command of serial absconder Roger Bartlett (Richard Attenborough) the Germans’ faith in their engineering is about to be tested.
The lawbreak: Tunnelling . Not something you’d normally trust to any Tom, Dick or Harry. But these guys are specialists.
Vorsprung durch Technik? Nah, just shovels, sweat and sheer bloody mindedness.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The prison: Shawshank State Prison
Hellhole or cushy number? For Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), it’s all about who he knows.
His initial tangle with gang The Sisters ends in tears, but when he makes friends with prison fixer and veteran yardbird Red (Morgan Freeman), Andy's life improves considerably.
Escape potential: At Shawshank life means life… Put it this way, you’d have to spend years trying to dig your way out.
The lawbreak: Bribery . Hard time is negotiable. And with Andy’s expertise in banking, he has a skill to trade for privileges from crooked guards and Warden Norton (Bob Gunton).
Next thing you know he’s living the high life, getting beers for the prisoners and playing opera over the public address system. Remind us, why does he want to escape?
The prison: Cook County Jail
Hellhole or cushy number? Even in stir, you can rely on the women to scrub up nicely. Most of their time is spent gossiping about past misdeeds and devising ways to become famous.
Basically, it’s like Katie Price’s life, but with added singing and dancing.
Escape potential: A question of semantics. If Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) hires a crooked lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to concoct a made-up sob story calculated to get her acquitted, does that count as “escape"?
The lawbreak: Perjury . Roxie drums up sympathy by falsely claiming to be pregnant, and tarts up the fib with some more razzle dazzle. They really shouldn’t allow musical numbers in the courthouse.
The prison: Lewisberg Federal Prison
Hellhole or cushy number? Most of the inmates are living like pigs. But for wiseguys like Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) it really isn’t that bad.
Escape Potential: Separate living accommodation, the finest ingredients to cook, playing cards in the evening – who’d want to leave?
The lawbreak: Possession of a deadly weapon – to wit, a razor.
But since Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) is a made-man in the Mob, who’d dare snitch on him? Especially when he's only using it to slice the garlic so thin it'll melt in the pan
A Man Escaped (1954)
The prison: Fort Montluc, commandeered by Nazis to detain dissidents.
Hellhole or cushy number? Imprisoned French Resistance fighter Fontaine (Francois Leterrier) seldom leaves his cell, but it beats fraternising with his Nazi captors.
Escape potential: Others have tried and failed. But Fontaine is a patient man; it’s just a matter of time. Using only a stolen spoon and the wire frame of his bed, he painstakingly creates a way out.
The lawbreak: Damage to property . Nobody's going to leave the door open for Fontaine. So he's going to make to make a hole in the wood large enough to wriggle through.
Thing is, he needs to do it anybody seeing or hearing. Meet Fontaine - the world's subtlest vandal.
The prison: The penal colony on French Guiana, aka Devil’s Island
Hellhole or cushy number? Check the name; this place actually belongs to Satan.
Between guillotine-happy guards, work camps situated in a malarial swamp and an impenetrable clifftop fortress, this ain’t no walk in the park.
Escape Potential: You’d have to think you're a butterfly to escape this joint. Trouble is, that’s exactly what Lepidoptera-tattooed Henri "Papillon" Charriere (Steve McQueen) thinks he is.
The lawbreak: Smuggling – Papillon’s resolve is tested by a stretch in solitary confinement, but it’s made palatable by loyal Dega (Dustin Hoffman) sneaking food in to him.
But when he refuses to snitch on his supplier, it’s basic rations only...and Papillon has to augment his diets by eating bugs. It’s practically cannibalism.
Alien 3 (1992)
The Prison: Fiorina 61, an entire planet converted into a penal colony
Hellhole or cushy number? The inmates nicknamed it Fury, so what do you think? Forced to work in a foundry and prone to lice, they’re permanently hot and bothered.
Escape potential: Zilch, unless you can hitch a lift from a passing spaceship.
The Lawbreak: Women – well, one woman anyway. Specifically alien-killer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), stuck in an all-male prison with some medieval views on gender issues.
Really, though, the cons should be more worried by their ‘other’ guest – an Alien with the DNA of a dog. Priorities, people.
The Rock (1996)
The Prison: Alcatraz island in San Francisco Bay
Hellhole or cushy number? In its heyday, this was America’s most infamous (real-life) prison. Today, it’s a museum – so it really depends what you think of walking around and looking at stuff.
But it's precisely that isolation which makes it the perfect base for rogue General Ed Harris to hold America to ransom with chemical weapons.
Escape potential: Supposedly inescapable, but Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) might have made it in Escape From Alcatraz and – according to this film – John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery) definitely escaped
The lawbreak: Breaking into prison . What madness is this? Mason didn't risk life and limb flying the coop only to stick his neck back in.
Yet Mason’s unique knowledge is exactly what FBI weapons geek Stanley Goodspeed (Nic Cage) needs to stop Hummel. So back he goes.
The prison: An unnamed British borstal
Hellhole or cushy number? Think the Yanks have the monopoly on brutality? Think again.
The screws let the kids here rule themselves, which is as messy as you’d expect. New boy Carlin (Ray Winstone) soon discovers that the “Daddy” is the one with the biggest balls. Snooker balls, that is.
Escape potential: The inmates are so demoralised that the only escape they can think of is suicide.
The lawbreak: Rape . Timid Davis (Julian Firth) thought greenhouse duty was a chance to get away from the violence – but tragically it just made him an easier target for the older boys to have their wicked way.
The Green Mile (1999)
The prison: Cold Mountain Penitentiary
Hellhole or cushy number? For its death row inmates, it’s the last chance saloon before they’re fried in the electric chair.
On the other hand, head guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) is a pleasant enough fella, and they put green lino down to make that final walk more appealing. Rather nice, considering.
Escape Potential: There’s only one way out here, and it ain’t pretty.
The lawbreak: Maltreatment - yes, this time the bad boy is one of the screws.
Sadistic Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison) deliberately fails to wet the conducting sponge during execution, leading to a sore head for the dear departing Eduard “Del” Delacroix (Michael Jeter).
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
The prison: A Florida prison camp
Hellhole or cushy number? Hard labour in the Everglades is literally that - hard. But “Cool Hand” Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) doesn’t make it any easier on himself with all that backchat.
Escape potential: Escaping’s easy for a wily bird like Luke. It’s not getting caught that’s the problem.
The lawbreak: Disrepect . What we have here is a failure to communicate. Luke won’t answer to nobody, whether it’s alpha inmate Dragline (George Kennedy) or the sadistic Captain (Strother Martin).
Then again, maybe that's because Luke's mouth is stuffed with hard boiled eggs.
Escape To Victory (1980)
The Prison: Yet another Nazi POW camp.
Hellhole or cushy number? Yet another Nazi POW camp, Hollywood-style. Which means, instead of torture and brutality, the lads - led by Captain John Colby (Michael Caine) - get to organise a footie match against the guards. What larks.
Escape potential: The Allies are brought out of camp, en masse, to play the match. Perfect opportunity to leg it, surely? Not when the Nazis are winning - national pride is at stake!
The lawbreak: Cheating . C'mon fellas, play fair. Poor Nazis think they're playing a bunch of amateurs. But look. Pele! Ossie Ardilles! Bobby Moore! The whole team is comprised of ringers...
Er, except Caine. And Sly Stallone. In goal, no less. So maybe it cuts both ways.