There are a lot of pretty outstanding prison movies out there. The number one movie on IMDB right now is The Shawshank Redemption. But my favorite part of many movies, usually sci-fi or B-horror, is when you get a glimpse at the prison systems of the future. In most cases, either prisons have gotten so out of control that they’ve been turned over to corporations, or they’ve literally blocked off vast tracts of land and let the prisoners run feral, creating primitive feudal colonies of their own. I’m always interested in dystopian futures, and it’s interesting that most science fictions envisions our flawed penitentiaries eventually will break down.
Here are ten of my favorite future visions of how prisoners will be penalized. Honorable mention goes to A Clockwork Orange, which isn’t really a prison movie, but does involve Alex breaking down and being reconditioned in a mental facility. Also not listed is SuperJail! Which is funny as hell and disturbing but not really in the spirit of what I was going for.
I remember this as Deadlock, but it involved Rutger Hauer as a jewel thief sent to an experimental facility called Camp Holliday. Prisoners were given metal collars which, if the prisoners were separated by more than 100 yards from their randomly selected and unknown partner, would explode. Headsplosions are both an excellent deterrent and an entertaining way to pass the time.
No Escape (1994)
Ray Liotta starred in this crazy ass prison flick about a marine who escapes from several corporate run superfacilities and then is eventually flown to Absolom, a remote island run by two groups of savage cannibals — The Outsiders and The Insiders. Things take a turn for the Lord of the Flies PDQ, and nothing is cooler than watching Stuart Wilson go batshit as the evil Marek.
Fortress (1993) & Fortress 2 (2000)
The MenTel corporation runs the prison with “Intestinators” which are small devices that cause agonizing pain when activated. Christopher Lambert is imprisoned when he and his wife are found sneaking off to Mexico in an attempt to give birth to a second child in a future where additional pregnancies are outlawed.
The Running Man (1987)
One of my favorite Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King) novels completely repackaged as a crazy ass game show. Ahnold stars as a wrongly convicted soldier sent into the gladiatorial combat arena where maniacs butcher prisoners in a huge crazy ass game board. It’s my hope for the future.
Death Race 2000 (1975) & Death Race (2008) & Death Race 2 (2010)
We’ve discussed this many times, but prisons are taken over by corporations where they stage television gladiator combats and such. The Weyland Corporation decides to involve their prisoners in races in souped up cars with machine guns and missles on the turrets, becoming a more explodey version of Mario Kart. Prisoners who manage to survive and win 5 races are given parole.
Alien 3 (1992)
Taking place right after the end of Aliens, the Sulaco launches an escape pod containing the survivors…and an alien egg. The ship crashes into Fiorina Fury 161, a refinery planet populated by violent sexual offenders, male prisoners with double YY chromosomes. By the way, the corporation that runs the space missions? Weyland-Yutani. Coincidence? I think not.
Judge Dredd (1995)
Though they do sentence people to the penal colony of Aspen, Judge Dredd is more interesting for a future where Judges are created — superwarriors that act as judge, jury, and executioner for specific crimes. Joseph Dredd (Sylvester Stallon) is the best of the batch, and of course, he’s forced into a prison which must escape from to reclaim his good name. If Judges can sentence people to death for most crimes, it’s curious that there would still need to be a prison system. Hopefully they clear this up in the planned sequel, Dredd.
Demolition Man (1993)
In the future San Angeles, prisoners are cryogenically frozen and give subliminal rehabilitation. The future is designed based on a utopian Huxleyian society, where cursing and alcohol and violence are outlawed. When criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) doesn’t take to the treatment, they unthaw imprisoned officer John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) to help fight him.
Escape From New York (1981) & Escape From L.A. (1996)
Criminals have gotten so bad that they simply build a wall around New York city and convert it into a maximum security prison where the prisoners are given free rein to run wild. The President’s plane crashes and they send bank robber Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) in to rescue him in exchange for parole. In the second film, Los Angeles breaks off after an earthquake and is also turned into a free range penal colony. There’s no need for guards, because the prisoners pretty much create their own feudal and violent gangs.
Year: 1997 & 2013
This isn’t really a prison, but the entire area of Scotland is walled off to hold off the spread of the Reaper virus. They have to send in Rhona Mitra to find a cure, when it spreads to London. But since it owes so much to Mad Max and Escape From New York, it felt like it needed to be on the list.
Year: Decades after 2008.