The best movie characters are always the villains. From The Joker, to Scarface, and finally to Darth Vader, it’s a wonder why they don’t have an Academy Award for ‘Best Bad Guy’. But, one problem with the whole ‘playing a bad guy’ thing is that, very often, the villains will be in prison. Where the heroes aren’t. This means that the villains need to escape from their prison, lest the movie audience dies of boredom. Here are three of the most ridiculous prison escapes in movie history.


The Shawshank Redemption

The Escape

Tim Robbins, armed with only a tiny hammer and a poster of Rita Hayworth, takes his damn time tunneling through the walls of Shawshank Prison, crawls half a mile through the sewage system, and runs away in the warden’s clothes. All the while Morgan Freeman’s voice whispers sweet nothings to the viewer.

You can’t have a list of prison escapes without mentioning Shawshank. Hell, you can’t even casually mention prison escapes in conversation without someone shouting it at you, often times far too loudly and followed by a raised palm indicating the desire for a high five. Even if no one in the conversation has seen the movie, science has proven that the moment the word “escape” is uttered someone will drive by, shout “Shawshank!” out of his car window, and speed off to his next adventure. And you weren’t even talking about prison breaks. You were discussing your favorite keyboard keys. Ours is “insert.”

shawshank redemption

Now don’t get us wrong. The Shawshank Redemption is a good movie. It well encapsulates a wrongfully accused man’s struggle to survive within the confines of a prison run by corrupt officials. Shawshank Prison, on the other hand, is not a good prison. Its security may be top notch, and its guards cold as hell, but its walls are entirely made of play dough.

It took him nineteen years to tunnel his way out, sure. But he did so with a hammer. Let us remind you that hammers are not used for digging. They’re used for hammering. If he had used a spoon, for instance, then by our calculations he would have been out in six months. With a shovel, he’d be out by lunchtime.

Where Security Screwed Up:

By not looking behind the goddamn poster. The movie went out of its way to show that the prison guards did routine inspections of the cells. They tore the entire place inside out, searching for incriminating items: weapons, drugs, weapons with drugs hidden inside, and hidden inside those drugs are more weapons. They never thought to maybe look behind the poster for such things? You know what easily attainable items can be used as a weapon? Razor blades. You know what is flat as hell and can be hidden away behind a poster? If you can’t guess, feel free to gouge out your eyes now. Don’t worry. We’ll wait.

Also, posters aren’t airtight. We’re sure that by the ninth year the guards were able to feel a draft coming from behind the poster. Was this considered normal? If so, we can only guess how many other prisoners were tunnelling out at the time. And how many of those had spoons.

Considering all this, we’re less surprised that Tim Robbins was able to escape and more by the fact that Shawshank was able to hold any prisoners at all.



The Escape

Nicholas Cage (as John Travolta) enlists the most expendable partner in cinematic history to help him overpower the guards and make a break for it, shoot ‘em up style. On the surface it’s your typical bang bang, run away scenario, but there are some specific elements which transform this otherwise unremarkable escape into one of the greatest unintentionally funny action sequences of all time.

The prison in which Nicholas Cage resides is chock full of futuristic technology intended to make escape impossible. Amongst this technology are magnetic boots that all prisoners are forced to wear, the design of which you may remember from that shitty/awesome Mario Bros movie. Whenever they wanted, the guards could turn on your magnetaboots, thusly rendering you completely immobile. Now this would make sense and, indeed, may even be kinda cool if the movie took place in the future, as it was originally written. But John Woo decided instead to set the story in the present, so he would be able to focus more on the dramatic and psychological elements of the plot. This, of course, completely explains the film’s emotional climax: an awesome fucking speedboat chase.

face off

So what should have been an impenetrable mega-fortress of the future became a jail where they force you into odd footwear. This reflects on the escape by making it significantly less cool.

Nicky Cage decides that the best way to escape is to get the guards to remove his shoes, and the best way of doing that is to have the guards fry his brain, which is the conventional punishment for prisoners in the, erm, present. So he does something bad, gets sent into the brain-frying room, and finds that the man who just finished having his brains fried is a man who tried to kill him in an earlier scene. This man hates Nicholas Cage, because Nicholas Cage sexed up his wife. (Actually, Nicholas Cage is not Nicholas cage at all; he is John Travolta who was able to disguise himself as Nicholas Cage by switching faces with him. This, of course, is made possible through technology that is readily available in the present.)

As he’s being strapped into the brain fryomatic, suddenly Nicholas Cage realizes that he hasn’t actually planned anything beyond getting his shoes removed. So he asks the other guy to help him. The same guy who tried to kill him earlier. Nicholas Cage beseeched that he knows that the guy’s wife still loves him, and that they should break out of prison to see her. The guy immediately agrees and attacks the guards. And this readers, is character development according to John Woo.

What follows is three minutes of ridiculous action. Nicholas Cage and his arbitrary partner quickly overpower the woefully undertrained guards, take their guns, and blast their way out. But Nicholas Cage is a cop, you see, so he doesn’t want to outright shoot the guards. So he uses items he finds lying around the room. Items like a jug of sulfuric acid. We know it’s sulfuric acid, because the large bold typeface label tells us so. This makes perfect sense. Jugs of sulfuric acid are widely available in prisons. In the present.

And then there’s the arbitrary partner. The brain fryer must have worked because this is the dumbest badass we’ve ever seen in a film. He’s reduced to staring blankly while Nicholas Cage barks one-word orders at him. To everyone’s surprise, he dies. And we’re supposed to care. We don’t.

This all cumulates to Nicholas Cage finally opening the door to freedom, only to find that the prison is built in the middle of the fucking ocean. A helicopter attacks Nicholas Cage who, hard pressed for options, decides to make a jump for it. What follows is a leap taken right out of The Fugitive, only less cool, and less believable because he’s in the middle of the fucking ocean. There’s nowhere to go after he hits the water!

The next time we see Nicholas Cage, he’s somehow wandered into LA, still wearing his prison jumpsuit and surprisingly not dead. How does the film explain this? It doesn’t. It doesn’t even try. Our guess is that a friend picked him up in his flying car and healed with cold fusion.

Where Security Screwed Up:

This part is easily divided into two categories: 1. Placing sulfuric acid in easy-to-reach places. 2. Everything else (this includes labelling the sulfuric acid).


The Silence of the Lambs

The Escape

Two guards try to feed Hannibal Lecter, so he kills them. Police rush in and find that Hannibal is missing and that one of the guards is still alive. They rush the guard to the hospital, but in the ambulance he rips off his own face and reveals that he is actually Hannibal Lecter. This was blatantly stolen from Scooby Doo.

Hannibal Lecter is awesome. This is made evident by the fact that he was the subject of at least two shitty sequels and his street cred remains a ten, or “hardcore gangsta.” In fact, recent polls have shown that the only way Hannibal Lecter could possibly be more gangsta is if he had bling. And a pimp cane. And a puppy. Puppies are totally gangsta.

This being said, he’s only awesome within the confines of his own world. In the real world he’d be downgraded to that creepy guy who always stares at you while he bags your groceries. You know the one we mean. The guy who always seems to be looking directly into your soul. Yeah. That’s Hannibal in real life.

Here’s why: Hannibal Lecter’s awesomeness is directly linked to how intelligent he is. In the Hannibal films he is basically depicted as the smartest man who’s ever lived, and he uses these smarts to commit evil. The author who created Hannibal Lecter, however, is not the smartest man who’s ever lived. In order to create Hannibal he had to compensate by giving everyone else an IQ relative to that of pickled herring. It’s only through outstanding lapses in logic and extreme plot contrivances that Hannibal Lecter is able to be so damn gansta. Without these, his street cred would drop from a ten to a three. Fucking Albert Brooks is a three!


And this is the problem with Hannibal’s prison break. Not only how completely incompetent the guards were (we’ll get to that later) but also how completely improbable the whole thing actually is. You know those movies where the hero disguises himself as a guard by knocking one out and dressing in his uniform? And how in those movies the uniform always fits the hero perfectly? It’s pretty goddamn ridiculous, isn’t it? Silence of the Lambs took this one step further. Not only did Hannibal and the guard have the same sized uniform, they also had the same size face. Meaning that they had the same size everything.

Here’s some interesting statistics from Wikipedia: the odds of finding someone with your exact proportions are one in 3,000. OK, so we just made that up (though Wikipedia may actually say this- we really wouldn’t be surprised), but by our calculations the odds of finding someone with your exact proportions and exact sized face is one very contrived plot point. What we’re trying to say is that it’s just not going to happen except for in Hannibal Lecter’s perfect little world where everything goes his way.

Also, we have it on good authority that Hannibal took the guard’s shoes. It’s almost a motif at this point.

Where Security Screwed Up:

Most movies which feature violent prison escapes also feature the most poorly trained prison guards to walk the face of the earth. When they shoot, they miss. When they attempt to apprehend a fleeing criminal, they stand in place and wait patiently for the criminal to come to them. Maybe they’ll dance in a threatening manner reminiscent of the Joker’s henchmen in the old Batman TV series. When the escaping prisoner finally comes close, the prison guard will dive at them. They’ll miss. And that’s it. Those are fucking prison guards.

The two guards which attempted to feed Hannibal Lecter suffered both from this syndrome and having the collective IQ of pickled herring. Not only did the poor bastards never stand a chance, but it’s amazing they remembered how to breathe long enough for Hannibal to kill them.

Hannibal’s initial attack on the guards was unarmed. He then used their own nightsticks and pepper spray against them. Here’s a question: why didn’t they use those against the unarmed Hannibal? Did they forget that they had them? It’s not even training at this point, it’s basic survival instinct.

What’s even more mind boggling is the fact that Hannibal cut off the guard’s face with the guard’s own pocketknife. Why did the guard bring a knife to feed the most dangerous person who’s ever lived? If he’s not trained enough to be able to hold his own nightstick, what made him think he’d be able to keep the knife away from Hannibal Lecter? They don’t even let Hannibal keep a pen, and the guy brings a knife to him. Fuck it. The guy deserved to die. It’s just natural selection.

And that’s why Hannibal Lecter is awesome. Written by Emma Jennins – Copyrighted © Image Sources

Image sources:

  • – The Shawshank Redemption:
  • – Face/Off :
  • – The Silence of the Lambs :