Michael Bay’s best movie has an A-list cast having tons of explosive fun – Ed Harris is the former marine who has taken tourists hostage and is threatening to fire chemical weapons at San Francisco, Nicolas Cage (as the amusingly named Stanley Goodspeed) is the reluctant scientist hired to stop him and Sean Connery (stealing every scene) is the only inmate to have ever escaped who gets coerced into taking a team of good guys back to Alcatraz to save the day. It’s desperately silly but also hugely enjoyable, with a witty script that, rumour has it, was worked on by Quentin Tarantino and the British comedy writers Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement.
Murder in the First (1995)
This gritty drama loosely inspired by a true story stars Kevin Bacon in one of his best performances, as a petty criminal sent to Alcatraz who spends three years in solitary confinement after an escape attempt. Killing a fellow inmate on his release back into the main prison, he’s charged with murder, but a young public defender (Christian Slater) decides that the prison itself should be on trial. Gary Oldman co-stars as a particularly sadistic warden, alongside William H Macy, Brad Dourif and Bacon’s real-life wife Kyra Sedgwick.
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
One of the most famous films about The Rock, this drama is based on the only possibly successful escape from Alcatraz prison (the escapees were presumed drowned in the bay but their bodies were never found). Teaming with his Dirty Harry director Don Siegel, Clint Eastwood stars as inmate Frank Morris, who with three other prisoners devises an escape plan that involves papier mâché dummies in their beds and digging through the walls of their cells with spoons. While one escapee in the movie is fictional, this tense, fascinating film otherwise keeps close to the facts and features a mesmerising performance from Eastwood, who had previously filmed the climactic scenes of the Dirty Harry sequel The Enforcer at the prison in 1976.
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
If you take the tour of Alcatraz Island, one of the first things the guides tell you is that prisoner Robert Stroud wasn’t really the Birdman of Alcatraz – he kept birds at his previous jail, Leavenworth, but wasn’t allowed any pets when he was transferred to The Rock. In fact, this dramatisation of his life (with Stroud played by Burt Lancaster) spends much time at Leavenworth, where Stroud fed birds and nursed them (even writing a book on bird diseases) while in solitary confinement. If you can forget that the real Stroud was far nastier than portrayed here, it’s a compelling movie from the director John Frankenheimer, well performed by Lancaster and with great support from Karl Malden and Thelma Ritter.
Point Blank (1967)
The first film to shoot at Alcatraz after the prison was shut down three years prior, this begins with tough guy Walker (Lee Marvin) being left for dead there
by his friend Mal (John Vernon), who is also having an affair with Walker’s wife. This kicks off a vengeful rampage that we know will lead back to the deserted prison in a thriller that is both brutal and stylish.
Directed by John Boorman, this was loosely based on the Donald E Westlake novel The Hunter, that was also adapted into the Mel Gibson movie