Prisons are a country’s most dangerous institution full of the dregs of society taking the form of the most violent villains, sly schemers and bad-ass cons. It’s a realm governed by rules for people who break the rules. If you’re stuck in this hive of scum and villainy you’d better make sure you can handle yourself or you’ll end up someone’s kid or toes up with a tag in the prison morgue.
From underground fights to riotous uprisings with vigilantes, undercover cops fearing discovery, or even ordinary schmoes in extraordinary circumstances, prison movies and settings have proven time and again to be the most intense and nail-biting of situations.
With danger from cons and authorities waiting around every corner you literally need eyes in the back of your head and some serious martial arts skills if you’re going to survive.
Here at KFK we found the baddest most low-down prison fight scenes in the joint, pulled them out of solitary confinement and thrown them into general population. It’s time for lockdown as we present these Top 10 Prison Fight Scenes – the best (or worst!) prison fights featuring some of the hardest names in martial arts cinema (in descending order)…
- Big Stan (2007) — Prison Yard Fight
- The Fate of the Furious / Hobbs vs Shaw (2017) — Prison Break
- Death Warrant (1990) — Battling The Sandman
- Blood and Bone (2009) — Prison Laundry Fight
- Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018) — Kurt Sloane vs Thai Prisoners
- SPL2: A Time for Consequences (2015) — Prison Riot
- Kung Fu Killer (2014) — Donnie Yen vs Prisoners
- Avengement (2019) — A Hardened Rusty Nail
- Undisputed 3: Redemption (2010) — Boyka vs Dolor
We kick off this hard-nosed Top 10 with the most unlikeliest of entries. Facing a prison sentence for fraud, real-estate con artist Stan Minton (Rob Schneider) fears being raped in prison and gets some training from a martial arts guru known only as “The Master” (the late David Carradine). Once incarcerated Stan the Man uses his newly acquired pain-inducing skills to become the prison yard’s top dog.
Fight coordinator Mike Gunther (“Book of Eli”, Star “Trek”), and Guro Dan Inosanto are the martial wizards responsible for transforming Schneider from class clown to bad-ass convict. Although Schneider dabbled in a bit of martial arts action in Knock Off, this is the first time he takes centre stage, kicking some of the biggest and nastiest prison yard bullies on screen. To our surprise Schneider pulls it all off with great aplomb, even showing off some swinging Escrima skills that almost leave Jeff Wincott’s stick abilities from “Mission of Justice” comparatively tame.
Here’s a little taster to whet appetites for the upcoming Fast and Furious spin off that pits two of action cinema’s biggest heavyweights against each other; former FBI agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and criminal mastermind Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). These hard men of action find themselves in a Supermax prison in opposite cells but not for long. After a free flow of WWE-style trash talk the testosterone fountain cascades into full flow as the prison cell doors mysteriously open, and the two men make a break for freedom but not before they exchange some hefty blows.
Jonathan Eusebio is the man behind this epic clash of the franchise titans, having previously cut his action teeth on “Ninja Assassin”, the Bourne Saga, “300” and serving as personal trainer to Zoe Saldana for her kick-ass role in “Colombiana”. Eusebio certainly plays to each actor’s strengths – in Johnson’s case his wrestling skills are emphasized and given some oomph factor by his sheer size, whilst Statham does what he does best with his Hong Kong-eseque killer kung-fu skills.
All these combined with powerhouse cop and con’s comic timing, along with the wide-eyed stares, make for a tense yet fun-filled prison break.
This 1989 psychological thriller marked the start of the ‘Muscles from Brussels’ climb off the DTV shelf and onto the cinema screen. Van Damme plays decorated cop Louis Burke, posing as a convict to investigate an illicit operation in which inmates are involuntarily enrolled in black market organ donation, as unwilling donors.
Burke has plenty to contend with in busting open the operation without blowing his cover which would leave him at the mercy (or lack thereof) of the prison inmates. Things hot up when he comes to face to face with the Sandman (Patrick Kilpatrick in fine form), a brutal serial killer whom Burke apprehended earlier in the film. Sandman is clearly in the mood for payback turning Burke’s temporary stay in the pen into a permanent nightmare.
With a creepy boiler room setting looking a lot like Freddy Krueger’s play area, stunt legend Jeff Imada stages a no-holds barred battle and whilst a clean-cut Van Damme looks ripped and formidable, Kilpatrick’s imposing persona makes our hero seem several feet smaller adding that contrasting, essential danger factor.
The clash comes hard and fast, with Burke’s skills matched by Sandman’s psychotic relentless resourcefulness. Yes the outcome is foreseeable but it makes for a bumpy yet enjoyable ride with a satisfying finish.
You really have to watch your back on the inside even when answering a call of nature. For ex-con Isaiah Bone (aka powerhouse badass Michael Jai White) this isn’t an issue as he quickly dispenses with a burly group of shank-waving inmates lead by the late MMA legend Kimbo Slice.
The scene is fairly short as Bone makes light work of his attackers, using them to send a message to the rest of the population to ahem, wind in their necks. With a series of blink and you’ll miss ’em kicks, locks and submissions the only bones breaking are those of the inmates’ as our titular character painfully makes the point that he knows how to take care of himself in the joint.
Perhaps this sequel to the “Kickboxer” franchise reboot should’ve been subtitled “Redemption” garnering more positive reactions after the mixed reactions to the first attempt “Vengeance”. Alain Moussi reprises the role of kickboxer extraordinaire Kurt Sloane who, after defeating the monstrous Tong Po and avenging his brother’s death in the first film, finds himself in a Thai prison and blackmailed by underground fight mogul Thomas Moore (Christopher Lambert).
Kurt finds himself under constant attack from his fellow inmates, Moore’s tactic of forcing Kurt to give in to his demands, and here he deals with an onslaught of cons looking to do some serious Van-Dammage. The scene plays out more like a bizarre platform game with Kurt working his way up to each level with some nifty slo-mo providing the essential coolness factor. Moussi glides his way almost effortlessly through the gauntlet with the blues track “Working Hard” by Anders Johan Greger Lewen, and Sven Zetterberg accompanying him. This ticks the boxes for stylised fun and some hard-hitting kickbox-fu to um, boot.
A sequel in name only this gritty cop drama clearly influenced by ‘The Raid’ films sees Hong Kong cop Kit (Wu Jing) going to extreme lengths to bring an organ trafficker to justice only to end up serving life in a Thai supermax prison. It’s so frustrating to see Kit incarcerated for two thirds of the film that you’re just begging for him to break out, and that’s exactly what he tries to do in the midst of an all out riot. Cue raging fires, and violent cons unleashing their pent up frustrations on suited up guards, as an almighty rumble ensues.
And, as if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Kit has to get through prison guard Chatchai (Tony Jaa), so not only are the two fighting to survive, they’re fighting each other. This has all the tension and excitement of our number one pick, caught through dizzying tracking shots which also features Master Z himself, Max Zhang. As prison warden Ko Chun, it’s fun to watch him dispensing of charging inmates with cold calm stylish ease. Such is the raw intensity of this scene and sense of urgency that by the time things calm down, one can’t help but feel a little breathless.
The opening to Teddy Chen’s mix of Hong Kong action and contemporary thriller sees Donnie Yen’s convicted killer, Hahou Mo channelling his inner ‘Ip Man’ to fend off a herd of fellow convicts. Throwing in bits of Wing Chun, Shaolin-esque style, and even a little Hung Gar, Hahou shows the cons just who’s boss of the prison. The action, as you would expect from Donnie still in familiar Hong Kong territory, is fast and hard- hitting, but as a killer defending himself against other killers we see our anti-hero at his most brutally raw.
Looking to make his ‘Ip Man’ 10 man fight look positively tame, star and action director Donnie has 17 attackers come at him with all they have. Every strike looks and sounds so bone crunchingly painful, you’d think they were being hit with a sledgehammer. The mix of rough prison tumble and traditional kung-fu techniques with the Yenster moving like a deadly whirlwind make for a stylish, gritty, behind-the-bars bash.
Britain’s own Scott Adkins has scored a career best with his performance as petty crook Cain Burgess transformed into a hardened machine with vengeance on his mind. Much of the action is recalled through flashbacks with a very cold and angry Cain relaying his hellish time in prison to a literally captive audience of a local pub.
The whole film is, without a doubt, Scott as you’ve never seen him before as an actor giving a hard-as-nails performance, and action-wise some of the most brutal and savage fight-fu. Out goes some of the star’s signature, flashy 720 aerial spins and kicks, to be replaced with no-nonsense, bone-crunching and blood spattering strikes that don’t just hit but go through anyone attacking the chiseled Cain. Fight coordinator Dan Styles’ choreography conveys the brutality of a hardcore prison, along with Jesse V Johnson’s slick and skillful direction showing us what most films prefer to leave to our imagination.
Let’s face it the “Undisputed” series is one big prison movie, and the third film brings one hell of a character twist – the previous movie’s villain, Russian prisoner Yuri Boyka (Scott Adkins) becomes the hero. The scene is set for Boyka’s road to redemption as he fights for freedom in the prison’s underground fight scene.
There are many great moments from this film alone featured in many KFK Top 10’s, and we have gone with the finale as Boyka takes on the unrelenting Dolor played by the uber-tough Marko Zaror. With superb action courtesy of Larnell Stovall, Zaror’s and Adkins’ high-flying fast kicks are mingled with the best of MMA for a tense and hard-nosed in-ring battle.
…and in at #1 is…
The Raid 2 (2014) — Prison Yard Fight
Given that Gareth Evans’ epic gangster hit has a third of it set in a prison it was a tough choice for best prison fight scene from the film but ultimately the yard scene won the day and it’s not too hard to see why. From the slow (mo), visceral build up where Rama (Iko Uwais) senses an assassination attempt on underworld heir, Uco (Arifin Putra), to the knock down, drag out mud-slinging free for all, Evans has packed in an abundance of tension, excitement, and fast, frenetic, bone-crunching blood ‘n’ mud-drenched fight action.
The violence is unrelenting and there are some genuinely wince-inducing moments – a rock to the head and multiple stabbings. Although it looks like a messy brawl amid the muddy rumble, Uwais and team unleash a whirlwind of Silat moves to survive, and the real sense of danger is so prevalent you wonder if Rama will make it out. Often imitated or homaged – see entry #7 – the yard battle helped seal “The Raid 2” as one of the most thrilling, martial arts classics of all-time!