Are you in the mood for some serious female empowerment? Well, you’re in for a treat because we’ve compiled a list of the top 50 best female focused prison movies and shows that will leave you cheering for these badass ladies.
From nail-biting escapes to heart-wrenching betrayals, these stories will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. So, grab some popcorn, kick back, and get ready to witness the strength, resilience, and sheer awesomeness of these unforgettable female characters. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- Women’s Prison TV Shows
- Women in Prison Documentaries
- Women’s Prison Movies
- Other Hard Hitting Prison Films and Shows
- More to Watch
Women’s Prison TV Shows
Orange Is the New Black (2013-2019)
This groundbreaking Netflix series follows the lives of a diverse group of women in a minimum-security federal prison. The show explores themes of identity, power, and human connection, and is known for its complex, well-developed characters.
This gritty Australian drama follows the lives of the inmates and staff of a women’s prison, exploring themes of power, betrayal, and redemption.
Bad Girls (1999-2006) – This British series focuses on the relationships and conflicts between the inmates and staff of a women’s prison, and features a diverse cast of characters.
Locked Up / Vis a Vis (2015-2019)
This Spanish-language series follows a young woman who is framed for a crime and sent to a high-security prison, where she must navigate the dangerous world of the inmates in order to survive. This Spanish-language drama follows a young woman who is sent to a high-security women’s prison after being convicted of tax fraud. There, she must adapt to the harsh realities of prison life while also uncovering the secrets of her fellow inmates and fighting for her own survival.
This British series tells the story of a group of women who are captured by the Japanese during World War II and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in the jungle. The show explores the relationships and conflicts between the women as they struggle to survive in a brutal and unfamiliar environment.
Dead Boss (2012)
Dead Boss is a British black comedy series about a young woman named Helen Stephens, who is wrongfully convicted of murdering her boss and sent to prison. The show follows Helen’s attempts to navigate prison life while also trying to clear her name and find the real killer. The show’s dark humor and strong performances have made it a cult favorite among fans of the genre.
Beyond Scared Straight (2011-2015)
This reality show follows at-risk teens as they are taken on a tour of a prison and interact with inmates in an effort to deter them from a life of crime. The show has been praised for its raw and intense portrayal of the realities of prison life, and for its impact on young viewers.
Clink is a British drama series that premiered in 2019 on Channel 5. The show is set in a women’s prison and follows the stories of the inmates and the staff who work there. The series explores a range of issues facing women in prison, including mental illness, addiction, and family relationships. The show has been praised for its strong performances and its realistic portrayal of the challenges and complexities of life behind bars.
Snapped: Women Who Kill (2004)
“Snapped: Women Who Kill” is a true crime television series that examines cases of women who have been accused and convicted of murder, exploring the motives, relationships, and circumstances that led to their crimes.
Each episode features a different case and includes interviews with law enforcement officials, family members, and other key figures involved in the investigation and trial. The show has been praised for its in-depth and often empathetic approach to the stories of these women, and for shedding light on some of the unique social and psychological factors that can contribute to female criminality.
“Prisoner” (known as “Prisoner: Cell Block H” in some countries) is an Australian television series that aired from 1979 to 1986. The show is set in a fictional women’s prison called Wentworth Detention Centre and follows the stories of the inmates and staff who work there. The series is known for its gritty realism and its exploration of social issues such as domestic violence, drug addiction, and LGBT rights.
The show’s main character is Bea Smith, a tough and uncompromising inmate who becomes a leader among the prisoners. Other memorable characters include the sadistic guard Joan “The Freak” Ferguson, the kind-hearted officer Meg Jackson, and the flamboyant drag queen “Queen” Bea Smith. The show was groundbreaking for its time, featuring strong female characters and addressing controversial topics that were not often discussed on television.
“Prisoner” was hugely popular in Australia and around the world, and has since become a cult classic. The show’s legacy can be seen in the many women-in-prison dramas that followed it, and in the enduring popularity of the show’s characters and storylines.
Women in Prison Documentaries
Stacey Dooley: Women Behind Bars (2018)
Stacey Dooley: Women Behind Bars is a documentary series that aired on BBC Three in 2018. The show follows investigative journalist Stacey Dooley as she explores the lives of women who are incarcerated in prisons around the world. Over the course of the series, Dooley visits prisons in multiple countries, including the United States, the Philippines, and Norway, to meet with inmates and hear their stories.
The show explores a wide range of issues facing women in prison, including addiction, mental illness, and abuse. It also highlights the differences in the ways that women are treated within the prison system across different countries. Throughout the series, Dooley uses her platform to shed light on the often-overlooked experiences of women behind bars, and to call attention to the urgent need for prison reform.
The series was praised for its powerful and thought-provoking storytelling, as well as Dooley’s empathetic approach to her subjects. It has been credited with helping to raise awareness about the issues facing women in prison and sparking important conversations about the need for change.
This powerful documentary explores the legacy of racial inequality in the United States by examining the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. The film takes a deep dive into the ways in which the criminal justice system has been used as a tool for racial control, and highlights the ways in which the system disproportionately targets and harms black Americans.
The House I Live In (2012)
This documentary examines the impact of America’s war on drugs, which began in the 1970s, and its effects on communities across the country. The film explores the ways in which the drug war has led to mass incarceration, and the ways in which drug addiction has been criminalized rather than treated as a public health issue.
Lock-Up: The Prisoners of Rikers Island (1994)
This documentary takes viewers inside Rikers Island, one of the largest and most notorious jails in the United States. The film follows a group of inmates as they navigate life behind bars, and examines the complex social and political forces that contribute to the overcrowding and violence within the prison system.
All four of these documentaries have been praised for their thought-provoking and nuanced approach to complex social issues, and for their impact on public perception and policy.
Women’s Prison Movies
Double Jeopardy (1999)
In this thriller, a woman (Ashley Judd) is wrongly convicted of murdering her husband and sent to prison. After learning that her husband is still alive and has framed her for his murder, she escapes from prison and sets out to clear her name.
“Jailbait” (also called Jailbird) is a 2014 drama film directed by Jared Cohn. The film follows the story of a teenage young girl named Anna Nix who is sent to a juvenile detention center after being caught in a robbery. While in the center, she discovers a corrupt and violent system, and becomes embroiled in a dangerous relationship with a fellow inmate. The film explores issues such as youth incarceration, mental health, and the failures of the juvenile justice system. “Jailbait” has been praised for its intense and gripping storyline, as well as for the strong performances of its cast.
The Concrete Jungle (1982)
A gritty, low-budget film about a young woman (Jill St. John) who is sent to a violent women’s prison after being framed for a crime she didn’t commit.
Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion
Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is a classic Japanese exploitation film that tells the story of a young woman named Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji) who is falsely accused of murder and sent to a brutal women’s prison. There, she must navigate the violent and corrupt world of the inmates while planning her escape and seeking revenge against those who wronged her.
Caged Heat (1974)
Caged Heat is a 1974 exploitation film about a young woman named Jacqueline Wilson, who is sent to a women’s prison after being framed for drug trafficking. Inside the prison, she must navigate a brutal and corrupt system while also trying to clear her name and seek revenge against those who wronged her.
The film is notable for its graphic violence and sexuality, and for its depiction of the exploitation of women in the prison system. The film has since become a cult classic and is widely regarded as an iconic example of the women-in-prison subgenre.
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
This adaptation of the memoir by Susanna Kaysen chronicles her time in a psychiatric hospital in the late 1960s. The film features a powerful ensemble cast led by Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.
Terminal Island (1973)
“Terminal Island” is a 1973 exploitation film directed by Stephanie Rothman. The film is set in a near-future dystopian society where the government has established a prison island for violent criminals, known as Terminal Island. The film follows the story of Carmen, a new female prisoner who must navigate the harsh realities of life on the island while also trying to find a way to escape.
Along the way, she forms alliances with other inmates and confronts the brutal and corrupt system that has been established to control them. “Terminal Island” is notable for its graphic violence and sexual content, as well as for its social commentary on issues such as crime, punishment, and the use of technology for control.
“Jackson County Jail”
“Jackson County Jail” is a 1976 exploitation film directed by Michael Miller. The film follows the story of a young woman named Dinah Hunter who is arrested for a minor traffic violation and sent to the Jackson County Jail. Once inside, she finds herself trapped in a brutal and corrupt system that is ruled by violent male inmates and sadistic female guards. With the help of a sympathetic fellow inmate named Coley, Dinah tries to find a way to escape the jail and the horrors that lie within.
“Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” (2004)
Although not the main plot of the movie, In the film, Bridget travels to Thailand with her boyfriend Mark Darcy and finds herself in legal trouble when a package of drugs is planted on her. She is arrested, tried, and ultimately sentenced to a term in a Thai prison. The scenes set in the prison are played for comedic effect and feature Bridget trying to navigate the unfamiliar environment and bond with her fellow inmates.
The Big Doll House (1971)
A classic exploitation film about a group of American women who are imprisoned in a brutal, corrupt Philippine prison.
The Big Bird Cage (1972)
The Big Bird Cage is a 1972 exploitation film directed by Jack Hill. The film is set in a brutal women’s prison in the Philippines and follows the story of a group of female political prisoners who band together to overthrow their sadistic guards and escape from the prison. The film is known for its graphic violence, sexual content, and female empowerment themes, and for its iconic cast, which includes Pam Grier, Anitra Ford, and Sid Haig. The Big Bird Cage is considered a classic of the women-in-prison subgenre (wip films) and has had a significant impact on the genre as a whole.
Other Hard Hitting Prison Films and Shows
The below, while less female focused are still worth a mention
- Prison Break (2005-2017) – While not solely focused on female characters, this action-packed series features several memorable female prisoners and is known for its intricate plot twists and thrilling action scenes.
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – While not explicitly female-focused, this classic prison drama about male prisoners features a standout performance from actress Clancy Brown as the cruel and abusive captain of the prison guards.
- Oz (1997-2003) – This groundbreaking HBO series takes a gritty, realistic look at life inside a men’s maximum-security prison, featuring a diverse ensemble cast and tackling tough issues like race, sexuality, and violence.
- Celda 211 (2009-2011) – This Spanish-language series follows a prison guard who gets trapped inside a maximum-security prison during a riot and must pretend to be an inmate in order to survive. Along the way, he must navigate the complex power dynamics of the inmates and guards, and decide where his loyalties lie.
- “Escape Plan” (2013) is an action thriller film starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film is set in a high-tech maximum security prison and follows the attempts of several inmates to escape.
- “Cool Hand Luke” (1967), starring Paul Newman, which tells the story of a man sentenced to a Florida prison chain gang in the 1960s. The film is known for its iconic scenes of prisoners working in chain gangs and rebelling against their brutal treatment by the guards.
- “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000), a comedy film set in Depression-era Mississippi that features a group of chain gang escapees on a wild adventure.
- “Con Air” (1997) is an action film starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, and John Malkovich. The film follows the story of a group of prisoners who hijack a plane and attempt to escape from custody.
- “Escape from Alcatraz” (1979) is a classic prison escape film starring Clint Eastwood. The film is based on a true story and follows the attempts of several prisoners to escape from the notorious Alcatraz Island prison.
- “The Great Escape” (1963) is a classic war film directed by John Sturges and starring Steve McQueen. The film is based on a true story and follows a group of Allied prisoners of war who plan an audacious escape from a German prison camp during World War II.
The themes of passing a life sentence and spending time in a prison cell have been explored in a wide range of movies and TV shows, from gritty dramas to exploitative thrillers to classic action films.
With the rise of streaming services, audiences now have more access than ever to these kinds of stories and the diverse range of characters and experiences they portray.
Whether it’s a nuanced exploration of the complexities of the prison system or a pulse-pounding escape movie, these stories have the power to captivate and move audiences, and to shed light on some of the most pressing social issues of our time.