Everyone is scared of going to prison. And if there’s one thing worse than prison, it’s Future Prison. Future Prison is gonna chew you up and spit you out. If you’ve been sentenced to do time in a Future Prison, chances are you’re probably innocent. Failing that, the chances are you’ve been ‘done’ for something relatively normal by today’s standards, but strictly at odds with future society’s warped moral compass. If you’re getting sent down to Future Prison it’s most likely being run by an evil corporate entity or a deranged, power-crazed madman. Future Prison is probably holding a mirror up to the neo-fascist Orwellian nightmare that society has become. Future prison is bad news, and you better get yourself a good Future Lawyer, ‘cause here are the Top Ten.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead…
- Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161 – Alien 3
Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161 is the setting for David Fincher’s disowned, much maligned (and rightly so) third entry into the Alien canon. Ripley’s crash-landing finds her amongst a troupe of balding British soap actors, all doing their bid on a remote, elemental rock in the arse-end of space. Trying to live a life of passivity in a hostile environment, the prisoners and guards inexplicably have no weapons, so when the Alien turns up, things get real. Fury 161 isn’t much of a prison in the hi-tech stakes, but its remoteness succeeds in delivering what the other prisons on this list can’t do – removing hope. Escape is pointless when there’s nowhere to go, so the inmates slog it out in dreary bleakness. A forgettable rock for people you want to forget about. Its major flaw is that on the off chance a deadly, extra-terrestrial killing machine that’s worth a whole lot of cheddar to an intergalactic space conglomerate turns up, you’re gonna end up toast.
- The Cube – Cube
The Cube is not a conventional prison like the rest of our list. While it certainly has inmates, they are invited to try and escape by negotiating their way through the constantly changing rooms of the Cube. Some are safe, others are booby-trapped. It is the most enigmatic of our prisons – we’re not 100 percent sure it even is a prison – and it’s this uncertainty that drives the movie. If you wake up and find yourself in the Cube, you won’t know why you’re there or how to get out, and to top it all off you’re going to have to do some lateral thinking if you want to stay alive. If you ever sat bored out of your skull in Maths class, wondering what the real world applications are, your teacher should have told you to pay attention because it might help you get out of the Cube.
- Camp Holliday – Wedlock
One of the most underrated action stars of the 1980s and 90s, Dutch master Rutger Hauer, re-teams with his Salute of the Jugger co-star Joan Chen (better known to many as Twin Peaks’ Josie Packard) and Mimi Rogers for a high-concept made-for-TV prison escape flick. The concept of Camp Holliday is that all inmates are twinned with another prison buddy. Each prisoner wears an explosive device around his or her neck and if separated from their buddy by over 100 yards of distance, the explosive detonates. Likewise, any tampering with the volatile collars will result in explosion. An interesting but flawed prison, Camp Holliday’s main problem is that should the prisoners discover who their ‘necklace buddy’ is, then escape is suddenly not as impossible as first thought. As proved by what happens when you try to keep a badass like Rutger Hauer locked up in the clink.
- MS One – Lockout
Maximum Security One is the setting for Lockout. Our hero, Snow (Guy Pearce), finds himself wrongly convicted and sentenced to hard time in a hi-tech prison orbiting the Earth. Following a prisoner insurrection, Snow needs to escape from MS One, extricate himself from a hostage situation and rescue the President’s daughter (Maggie Grace). MS One looks like it’s all futuristic razzmatazz, but the inmates take control pretty easily and you’d really be wanting a bit more bang for your buck as far as your maximum security penitentiaries go. Throw in with the right set of crooks and you might be onto a winner … providing you don’t get used as a medical guinea pig and can get off the station before the authorities try to blow it up.
- Stygian Penal Colony – The One
The Stygian Penal Colony, in the appropriately named Hades Universe, is the destination of choice for shifty interdimensional crooks in James Wong’s hugely underrated sci-fi actioner, The One. Jet Li’s murderous, superhuman, evil version of himself is sentenced to life imprisonment in the Hades Universe, but is busted out at his trial in order to wreak havoc across multiple universes as he tries to become the omnipotent ‘One’. Getting sentenced to the Stygian Penal Colony means you’ve been on the wrong end of some Multiverse Authority justice, courtesy of good guy agents Jason Statham and Delroy Lindo. Escape will be the last thing on your mind as you spend the rest of your life having a massive fight with the hundreds of other inmates atop a giant Aztec-style temple. That’s some hard time right there.
- The Kyln – Guardians of the Galaxy
James Gunn’s riotous 2014 outer space excursion brought the Guardians of the Galaxy all together for the first time inside the Nova Corps’ celestial slammer. The Kyln ticks all the boxes for a decent futuristic prison: maximum security, trigger-happy guards and a motley assortment of intergalactic lowlifes. That said, the very important battery needed for the Guardians’ escape is left more or less unprotected (apart from a siren), and if you are as adept at kicking ass and taking names as Gamora, then getting hold of a guard’s security bracelet won’t be too taxing. So to surmise, the Kyln is pretty effective against your average interstellar felon, but it’s out of its depth if your crew includes a genetically engineered raccoon and an adopted daughter of the Mad Titan. It also does not hold up well to a Sakaaran attack.
- Erewhon – Face/Off
Erewhon is the prison top FBI man Sean Archer (Nicholas Cage/John Travolta) must infiltrate, disguised as his arch nemesis Castor Troy (John Travolta/Nicholas Cage), in order to weasel out the location of a bomb from an incarcerated terrorist. An anagram of ‘nowhere’, Erewhon Prison is an off-the-books, super-secret lock-up for the worst of the worst. All inmates must wear state-of-the-art magnetic ski boots, so if you step out of line, the brutal guards are gonna lock you to the floor and poke you with a cattle prod. And if that’s not bad enough, turns out the prison is inside an offshore oil rig! There is no way for a normal person to escape Erewhon. Your only option is to let sanity fly the coop, and go ‘full Cage’ by starting a prison riot and doing a runner.
- Absolom – No Escape (a.k.a. Escape From Absolom)
No Escape actually features two prisons. One state-of-the-art bells and whistles hi-tech prison, and another where most of the action is set, in a more rustic environment. John Robbins (Ray Liotta) is an ex-army captain, arrested for shooting a senior officer and sentenced to life imprisonment. Experiencing classic anti-hero problems with authority, no sooner does Robbins find himself doing a stretch in the slammer, than he immediately gets on the wrong side of the corrupt prison warden (Michael Lerner) and gets shipped off to Absolom, an island prison from which there is no return. Plonking a bunch of criminals on an island, and letting them have a survival-of-the-fittest type existence, pretty much indulges the fantasies of every idiotic right-wing commentator on the planet. But on the flip side, when Robbins encounters nice criminals Lance Henriksen and Ernie Hudson, trying to ‘make a go of it’ with their own little outcast micro society, you could just about imagine an outraged future tabloid running an expose on prisoners enjoying a holiday camp at the expense of the taxpayer. So, No Escape sort of stokes up right-wing moral outrage at the same as gently fondling its righteousness. In the hi-tech slammer you probably stand a chance of getting out at some point, but on the island you’re either in for a tough ride or an exotic holiday, depending on where your politics lie.
- The Fortress – Fortress
The Fortress is the slammer of choice for a dystopian 2017, where having more than one child is not only illegal but also constitutes life imprisonment. Unlikely French action hero Christopher Lambert is John Brennick, incarcerated in the underground desert gulag after getting caught trying to border hop with his pregnant wife. The slammer is ruled over with an iron fist by Clarence Boddiker (Robocop), a.k.a. evil clone prison warden, and Director Poe (Kurtwood Smith). Your only hope of busting out of this place is to team up with a long-haired hippy computer hacker (underrated sci-fi LEGEND Jeffrey Combs) and a motley assortment of cell mates, while the prison director is preoccupied by falling in love with your wife. In 1992, when this film was made, the idea of a corporate-run prison probably sounded like wild, outlandish science fiction. Who was to know that by 2015 this would become chilling reality? It’s only two years until 2017, so we all better watch out.
- Manhattan Island – Escape from New York
At the top of the futuristic prison pile we have Manhattan Island, from John Carpenter’s 1981 masterpiece Escape From New York. Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the apex of the futuristic prison movie. It operates under the irresistible concept that the entirety of Manhattan Island has been shut off from the rest of the United States and co-opted as a gigantic maximum-security gaol. Kurt Russell’s iconic anti-hero, Snake Plissken, must negotiate his way in and out of Manhattan chokey for the purpose of rescuing the President of the USA, whose plane has been forced down inside the prison grounds by a band of terrorist hijackers.
Setting the bar for the popular genre trope of dumping prisoners somewhere and letting them simply get on with it, the Manhattan Island of this dystopian, climate change-affected 1997 is as tough as they come. If you’re not battling subterranean freaks coming up from the sewer, or clock watching until the micro-explosives in your neck take out your major arteries, then you’re having a rumble with the street gangs ruled by ruthless prison overlord, The Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes). If you manage to survive all that and somehow get across the river without getting taken out by a helicopter gunship, the walls to the mainland are patrolled by jack-booted security thugs, led by the super awesome double team of Lee Van Cleef and Tom Atkins. The only way out of this hellhole is to have a mission – like rescuing the magnificently slimey Donald Pleasence – before you get double crossed. It also helps to be the most badass of all badasses, like Snake Plissken.