Beyond 'Get Hard': 7 Prison Buddy Films You Should Watch

by Daniela Capistrano 10:54 PM PDT, March 27, 2015
Photo: Columbia Pictures

It’s no surprise that Get Hard — the raucous Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart comedy set in a prison — is predicted to gross over $30 million at the box office in its opening weekend. Buddy films have been a winning formula since the 1930s, and long before Ferrell and Hart paired up for Get Hard to poke fun at racial taboos, comedy legends Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder introduced biracial buddy films to audiences in the 1970s.

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Typically featuring men from different backgrounds who end up bonding or falling in love through humorous or tragic events, the prison buddy genre rose to Oscar-winning heights with Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1985. The movie centered on a gay cinephile torn between befriending his political prisoner cellmate and spying on him in exchange for parole.

If Get Hard left you seeking other penitentiary-focused buddy films, here are seven more for your next movie marathon:

1. Escape From Alcatraz (1979)

Buddies: Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) and the Anglin brothers (Fred Ward and Jack Thibeau)

Plot: Based on true events, Escape From Alcatraz tells the thrilling story of the only successful escape attempt from the maximum security prison on Alcatraz Island, which happened in 1962. Morris, a newly arrived prisoner at Alcatraz with a genius level IQ, reconnects with his old friends, bank robber brothers John and Clarence Anglin. With the help of fellow prisoner and car thief Charlie Butts (Larry Hankin), Morris and the Anglin brothers attempt the impossible: escape from Alcatraz.

Trivia: This film was Danny Glover’s feature film debut; he played an inmate in Escape from Alcatraz long before his breakout role as Detective Sergeant Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon film series.

2. Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

Buddies: Luis Molina (William Hurt) and Valentin Arregui (Raul Julia)

Plot: Hurt won an Oscar for his portrayal of gay cinephile Luis Molina who falls in love with his cell mate Valentin Arregui, a political activist.

Trivia: This movie features a "film within a film" — throughout Kiss of the Spider Woman, Luis Molina tells Valentin Arregui the plot of a fictional wartime film called Her Real Glory, supposedly produced by the Nazis.

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3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Buddies: Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman)

Plot: Set in 1947, this harrowing drama tells the story of banker Andy Dufresne, an innocent man who is sentenced to life in prison for allegedly murdering his wife and her lover. He befriends "Red," another lifer, and together they navigate the horrors of prison life and eventually secure their freedom.

Trivia: The Shawshank Redemption brought the biracial buddy film to a prison setting for the first time.

4. The Green Mile (1999)

Buddies: Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) and John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan)

Plot: Nominated for four Academy Awards, this fantasy drama set in a flashback format and based on a Stephen King novel of the same name, is a biracial prison buddy film with a twist. A white death row corrections officer (Tom Hanks) befriends a black prisoner (Michael Clarke Duncan, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of the innocent and gentle Coffey) sentenced to be executed, with supernatural and heart-wrenching results.

Trivia: Stephen King called the film "the single most faithful adaptation" of his work.

5. Animal Factory (2000)

Buddies: Ron Decker (Edward Furlong) and Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe)

Plot: Directed by Steve Buscemi, this 2000 crime drama is set in San Quentin and based on the novel of the same name by Eddie Bunker. Decker, a young man convicted for drug possession, finds a mentor and protector in Copen, a veteran con man who first helps Decker avoid being gang raped and then uses his connections to help Decker escape.

Trivia: Animal Factory was not filmed in San Quentin, a state prison for men located in Marin County, Calif. Production actually took place at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia, Penn.

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6. Let’s Go to Prison (2006)

Buddies: John Lyshitski (Dax Shepard), Nelson Biederman IV (Will Arnett) and Barry (Chi McBride)

Plot: The only comedy on this list, Let’s Go to Prison chronicles the exploits of John Lyshitski, who has spent most of his life in prison, and his revenge scheme that targets Nelson, the newly incarcerated son of the judge who was responsible for John's indiscriminately harsh sentences. They both end up at Rossmore State Penitentiary, where John has himself placed as Nelson’s roommate and proceeds to manipulate Nelson by giving him bad advice — with hilarious results. Meanwhile, prison gang leader Barry falls head over heels for Nelson and attempts to coerce him into a relationship.

Trivia: Jim Hogshire’s 1994 non-fiction book You Are Going to Prison inspired the film; it offers advice to first-time prisoners.

7. K-11 (2012)

Buddies: Raymond Saxx, Jr. (Goran Višnjić) and Mousey (Kate del Castillo)

Plot: K-11, a dormitory section used to hold gay and trans inmates, is the title and setting for this gritty drama. Saxx, a heterosexual record producer on a drug binge, finds himself in the K-11 section of a Los Angeles County jail ruled by a transwoman named Mousey. Saxx and Mousey team up to get rid of a corrupt prison guard.

Trivia: This film was Jules Stewart’s (Twilight star Kristen Stewart’s mother) directorial debut. Kristen Stewart’s voice makes a small cameo as Raymond Saxx Jr.'s secretary when he calls his office.

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