Prison movies offer a glimpse into terrible situations that most of us want to avoid, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun to watch. Prison fight scenes take this a step further, showing the violence that can occur when hardened criminals are stuck behind bars together. While not every prison fight scene is enjoyable to watch, others are shining examples of how incredible choreography can entertain audiences of both television and film.
A good prison fight scene must deliver the gritty action that reflects the environment it takes place in while also matching the tone of the movie or show it appears in. When these two requirements are blended seamlessly, the resulting fight looks authentic and spontaneous even if it’s anything but. Here’s our ranking of the top 10 prison fight scenes to appear in film and television thus far.
10. Blood and Bone: Michael Jai White destroys Kimbo Slice
The tenth spot in our list goes to Michael Jai White in Blood and Bone. White is a criminally underrated national treasure that has been in more action movies than you can count. In this movie, he plays the role of Isaiah Bone, an ex-convict on a mission to save his cellmate’s family, but before he can do his duty as a good samaritan, he has to fight against several inmates led by street-fighting legend Kimbo Slice.
If you can’t tell already, I’m a huge fan of Michael Jai White. Kimbo Slice also blew my mind in the early days of YouTube when I watched him destroy several guys in 240p. This seemed like a match made in heaven, and I couldn’t wait to see these two behemoths go at it in a fight scene. But that isn’t what we received, and White uses Kimbo’s own shank to stab him in the shoulder within the first 10 seconds of the fight. Kimbo should’ve been the final boss at the end of a cell block, but it was still great to see him in a movie regardless. Rest in peace, Kimbo.
9. Fast and Furious 6: Brian fights three guys
The Fast and the Furious series has come a long way since its humble street-racing origin. Now the crew routinely saves the world, pulling off more outlandish stunts in each film. Some fans don’t like the over-the-top style, but I sincerely hope they keep getting more ridiculous.
Fast and Furious 6 contains a surprisingly well-coordinated fight featuring Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner, who goes to prison to get information from a criminal he previously arrested. Before the fight begins, O’Conner tells the criminal and his two lackeys that they’re lucky the door is between them, which of course, instantly opens. O’Conner is scared for a brief second before he immediately starts a brutal beatdown on all three assailants.
Paul Walker was a surprisingly good action star that could convincingly hold his own in a fight. He left us far too soon, and we’re happy to honor him by continuing to watch the new Fast and Furious movies he will be forever known for.
8. Avengement: Scott Adkins gets curb-stomped
Scott Adkins is one of the best stuntmen in the world and honestly deserves more appreciation than he gets. He’s been in several notable movies like The Expendables 2, Ip Man 4: The Finale, and the upcoming John Wick 4. He’s 45 years old, but I’m convinced he could still take a dozen guys half his age with ease.
Avengement shows just how great he is at not only action scenes but also acting in general. Netflix has a bad habit of picking terrible screenshots for movies in its menu (Avengement has an image of Adkins yelling at the camera with silver teeth) that I’m sure negatively impacts the number of people that will give it a chance. I kept scrolling over this movie until I saw a clip on YouTube, and I’m disappointed I didn’t watch it sooner.
There are multiple prison fight scenes in this movie, but I think the first is the best. It unfortunately ends with Adkins getting curb stomped and losing his front teeth, and it’s almost as brutal as the iconic scene from American History X, but he goes on to basically beat up the entire prison, so all’s well that ends well.
7. Blood In Blood Out: Dia De Los Muertos massacre
If you haven’t seen Blood In Blood Out, take a break from this list, watch it, cry a little, and then come back. This scene isn’t a prison fight in the traditional sense, but more like the coordinated assassination of 13 inmates. I’m willing to bend the rules a little for this scene because it’s a classic movie and deserves endless praise.
La Onda and the Black Guerrilla Army work together to take out the high-ranking members of the Aryan Vanguard, cementing their spot as the leaders of the prison. But La Onda immediately eliminated the BGA members after the initial massacre, resulting in a massive double-cross that eliminated all of their significant rivals in one swift plan. Blood In Blood Out is one of the best prison movies ever made and should be at the top of your list of movies you need to watch.
6. Shot Caller: Prison riot
Shot Caller is another movie that suffers from a terrible cover image on Netflix. What is a surprisingly good prison movie starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jon Bernthal, and Omari Hardwick is misrepresented by a picture of Waldau that looks like he is cosplaying as a cholo. It’s actually a decent prison movie with one of the best prison riot scenes of all time.
Waldau stars as Jacob Harlon, a stockbroker who goes to jail after accidentally killing his friend (played by Max Greenfield, better known as Schmidt from New Girl) in a car accident while driving under the influence. He is forced to adapt to survive and ultimately moves up the ranks of the white supremacist gang PENI. He eventually takes part in a brutal riot where he stabs multiple people, extending his sentence and further cementing himself as a hardened criminal.
Shot Caller isn’t an Oscar winner, but it has a decent story with an excellent cast and minor appearances by Holt McCallany, Benjamin Bratt, and Jeffrey Donovan, so be sure to give it a chance.
5. Without Remorse: Michael B. Jordan vs. the guards
Before we get into the prison fight scene in Without Remorse, we need to preface that it’s impossible for Michael B. Jordan to be bad in a movie, but it is possible for a movie he is in to be bad. This is the case with Without Remorse, which is generic and predictable, but still a fun, casual watch.
Jordan stars as John Kelly, one of the most popular Tom Clancy characters this side of Jack Ryan, as he tracks down the assassin that killed his pregnant wife. He unravels a conspiracy to start a war between the U.S. and Russia and provides an excellent prison fight along the way. This prison fight is Kelly against the prison guards, marking the first time a character on our list isn’t fighting other inmates.
Kelly does a few things before the fight starts I would never even think of, like flooding his cell to make it slippery and covering himself in water to make it harder for the guards to grab him. He then proceeds to single-handedly take out four guards in riot gear, taking the final guard hostage to protect himself. Jordan is reportedly coming back as John Kelly, now John Clark, in Rainbow Six. I hope the sequel makes use of Jordan’s talents and marks a crossover with the Jack Ryan series.
4. The Fate of the Furious: The Rock vs. Jason Statham vs. everyone else
Remember how we mentioned earlier that the Fast and Furious series has gotten ridiculous? This scene where Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham break out of prison is a perfect example.
In The Fate of the Furious, Hobbs and Shaw are both in prison when the doors suddenly open, resulting in a prison riot where they both manage to escape. Both have a distinct fighting style that is fun to watch simultaneously in this entertaining scene. One of the best moments arrives when an inmate tries to stab Hobbs, telling him he’s waited a long time for this. Hobbs immediately stabs him in the chest with the inmate’s own shank and tells him to “keep waiting, bitch.” Iconic.
The Rock has also transformed into the Fast and Furious equivalent of the Hulk at this point, as he takes multiple rubber bullets to the chest without breaking a sweat and throws multiple guards like they weigh nothing. It’s funny looking at The Rock’s early movies, like The Rundown, where a rubber bullet easily debilitated him at the beginning of the movie. The Rock can continue to make dozens of films a year, and I’ll happily watch all of them.
3. The Raid 2: Bathroom fight
The Raid films are two of the best action movies in recent history. They have excellent casts of talented fighters and an interesting story that is significantly expanded in the second film. The second movie picks up immediately after the first, and Rama, played by Iko Uwais, must go undercover as a prisoner to gain the trust of a gangster’s son.
Shortly after arriving at the derelict prison, Rama is forced to fight what appears to be every other prisoner in a restroom. He takes a few seconds to compose himself before taking out several criminals with ease. He is eventually overpowered, but it’s still one of the best-choreographed prison fight scenes of all time.
2. Daredevil season 2, episode 9: The Punisher kills an entire cellblock
Charlie Cox’s Daredevil recently joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Spider-Man: No Way Home, exciting fans of the gritty series to no end. Kingpin was also added to the MCU in Hawkeye, leading many to wonder if other characters introduced in the show would make the jump to the official canon.
One of the best characters besides Daredevil in Netflix’s Marvel shows is The Punisher, played by the incredible Jon Bernthal. He first appeared in Daredevil season two and gave us one of the best fight scenes of the season, which happened to take place in a prison. The Punisher is sent to a cell block to learn more about his family’s death and to eliminate one of Kingpin’s rivals. Kingpin double-crosses the Punisher, causing him to fight through the entire cellblock.
I sincerely hope Bernthal’s Punisher appears in the MCU, but he is by far the most violent character, which Disney might avoid. But Kingpin made it into Hawkeye, and he isn’t exactly a saint. Regardless, this scene will maintain its spot as one of the top prison fight scenes of all time.
1. The Raid 2: Prison riot, but in the mud
Having two scenes from the same movie on this list feels like cheating, but both prison fight scenes in The Raid 2 are better than almost anything else. We’ve already covered multiple prison riot scenes, but this is the most brutal and best choreographed of them all.
On a dreary day in prison, Rama notices several inmates about to kill Uco, the son of a gangster whose trust he needs to gain. He immediately springs into action to defend Uco, which ultimately results in a full-on riot. The prisoners take on the guards as Rama must help defend Uco in what is the thickest mud I’ve ever seen.
During the riot, at least eight prisoners and five guards are maimed or killed. There are several more that are injured, but I’m only counting the injuries we see that require surgery and/or physical therapy. One of the most brutal kills is a prisoner ripping the jaws of a guard wide open like King Kong did with the Tyrannosaurus rex.
This scene alone makes me wish a third film was being made, but this won’t likely happen anytime soon. The Raid director Gareth Evans is currently working with Michael Bay on a remake of The Raid, which hopefully can live up to the original series.