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Great Escape

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"I ain't spending my life here, I ain't living alone
Ain't breaking no rocks on the chain gang, I'm going down and heading home
Gonna make a jailbreak."
AC/DC, "Jailbreak"

I'm innocent — innocent, I tells ya! They think they can keep me in this tin can forever? With all these plastic meal trays and soap that's just begging to be whittled into a gun? And this gang of jailbirds with nothing to lose? Give me enough time, and I'm outta here. And the D.A.'s given me all the time in the world...

This is a trope about prison breaks, which may or may not be from The Alcatraz.

The average prison break plot usually breaks down into a common series of elements, which have to happen more or less sequentially or the audience will call shenanigans. The details are often conflated, depending on the time available to tell the story; but rarely are they skipped altogether.

The Big Idea: Prison movie protagonists are almost always the new guy, who on his first day does something to gain a lifer's trust. The lifer will then hip the fresh meat to the escape plan and introduce the conspirators. Nearly always, the plan is fortuitously just days away from fruition, which is a writer's trick for confining the action to a short stretch of time. In this case, the scene may be a complete flashback of all the painstaking steps taken up to this point.

Inevitably, someone will say "You must be crazy! They'll shoot you down like a rabid dog if you try to climb those walls!" Sure it's crazy. Crazy Enough to Work.

Oh no, the snitch! Every prison has a snitch, a weaselly character who gives information to the guards in exchange for cigarettes. At a critical conspiratorial moment, he'll overhear the wrong conversation and our heroes have to decide how far they'll go to shut him up. This is almost always a choice between murder and making him an accomplice. In the latter case, you can bet the snitch will pansy out at the last second. Alternatively, they might discover they have a snitch within the escape party, in which case the newest recruit will always be suspect number one, but will rarely turn out to be the snitch.

The Night Before: Let's go over the plan, one last time. Every conspirator plays a part, and they'd better have it down cold. Depending on how complicated this plan is, we may cut away while the conversation is superimposed on a visual demonstration of what's supposed to happen. Not that it matters because...

The Great Escape Never goes as planned. Close calls abound, someone chickens out or dies, and the way out, inevitably if improbably, runs right through the big nasty antagonist. The escape at times becomes an all-out riot when it should've been silent.

There are different flavors of escape, of course. There's the classic tunneling-under-the-wall-with-spoons, the hiding-in-the-laundry-cart, the diversionary Prison Riot, and of course Dressing as the Enemy and the Air-Vent Passageway escape. (There's also the stereotypical method of cutting through the bars with a file delivered in a cake and escaping down a Bedsheet Ladder, but that's mostly a Dead Horse Trope.) Any permutation of these will always involve a Sleeping Dummy, and almost always MacGyvering crude weapons from prison-issue goodies because it's a No-Gear Level. Bonus points if the plan hinges on bribing a guard with some nigh-impossible favor. The protagonists may be there because They All Met in a Cell. A faster and lighter version of this which often appears in children's media is Pet Gets the Keys.

Not to be confused with The Great Repair, which is about repairing a damaged vehicle to escape a Closed Circle. If you're looking for the movie, that's The Great Escape.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean, once Enrico Pucci heads out to finalize the Evil Plan of obtaining 'Heaven', Jolyne and her allies break out of Green Dolphin Prison to reach Cape Canaveral and defeat Pucci before the new moon's arrival.
  • Lupin III: Prison of the Past: What Lupin and the other thieves all plan to help break Finnegan out of El Guille. Only Lupin manages to make any real progress, courtesy of the mistakes the other thieves made in their plans, and get to the goal.
  • Nanbaka is all about the main characters looking for some excuse to leave their high-security prison. While they are excellent escape artists, Nanba Prison is the most secure prison in the world, so their attempts are often foiled.
  • An unusual case happens in One Piece. Monkey D. Luffy breaks into maximum-security prison Impel Down to get his brother Ace out. None of the above happens, not even the plan: Luffy makes everything up as he goes, and the entire spectacle takes place over a few hours at most. His Leeroy Jenkins approach catches the attention of the entire prison staff — Luffy only gets as far as he does because everyone else is surprised and aren't prepared to deal with someone breaking in from outside and willingly heading deeper in (as Ace is in the deepest area). Luffy happens to meet up with a group already orchestrating a prison break, however. They DO have a plan, and they use Luffy as an impetus to put it into action.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Blackgate was a one-shot about Cluemaster orchestrating a Great Escape from Blackgate Penitentiary.
  • Issue #1 of Red Hood and the Outlaws starts with Arsenal being busted out of a Qurac prison by the Red Hood and Starfire.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (IDW): Most of issue #1 of "Bad Guys" consists of this, with Starline breaking Zavok, Rough, Tumble, and Mimic out of prison.
  • In The Smurfs comic book story "The Smurf Menace", one of the Smurfs in the Grey Smurf prison camp makes his escape by digging a tunnel from the camp to freedom. He reaches the Smurf Village by the time the story ends and the Grey Smurfs have disappeared.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Villainy Inc was originally formed by Reformation Island inmates looking to escape and get revenge. Only four of their number actually managed to truly escape the Amazons, with the others being caught and re-imprisoned when they stuck around to try to get revenge after escaping their bonds.

    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Breaking out Dwarf Master Smiths so Ami can learn how to forge Adamantine is discussed but tabled as a possible, but unlikely plan.
  • The Night Unfurls:
    • Annoyed by Vault seemingly wasting time at the Black Fortress, Kyril decides to bring Olga back to Ken himself without his permission. To do so, he breaks her and Chloe out of prison, while securing the quickest exit of the stronghold thanks to Olga.
    • Chapter 6 of the remastered version, aptly named Escape, expands further on the above. Rather than an on-the-fly decision, the prison break is a more thought-out plan that not only involves the above three, but also several rogue Black Dogs. Here, Kyril knows of Vault's plan for conquest before hand thanks to Soren overhearing his plan, giving him all the more reason to fulfil his mission.
  • Vow of Nudity: The first chapter of the prequel story revolves around a hastily-planned jailbreak Haara's mother participates in.
  • Wayward Shark's Return starts with the Arlong Pirates breaking out of captivity on a Marine prison ship, then hijacking the ship for themselves.

    Films — Animation 
  • Back to the Outback: The animals escaping the zoo at night plays out like a prison break, complete with guard towers scanning the area with searchlights that Maddie and the others have to avoid.
  • Chicken Run: The Great Escape but with chickens.
  • Much of Toy Story 3 involved this, where Andy's toys had to get through and escape the daycare center being ruled by the iron fist of Lotso and his system of informants including the Cymbal-Banging Monkey.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Ariel (1988), Kasurinen and Mikkonen break out of prison.
  • Dr. Evil's escape from normal prison in the third Austin Powers movie involved starting a riot to cover the escape. He was able to manipulate the prison's populace after demonstrating how, you know, evil he is.
  • The Big House (1930) which won the first Academy Award for Sound, as well as one for its script.
  • In Boot Camp, Ben plans one to allow him and Sophie to escape from Camp Serenity. It actually runs according to plan, and they escape, but he failed to take into account the limited number of places they could go once off the island and they are quickly recaptured.
  • In Brute Force (1947), Joe and Gallagher plan an assault on the guard tower where they can get access to the lever that lowers a bridge that controls access to the prison.
  • The Colditz Story is a WWII example. The book of the same name it was based on also inspired The BBC series Colditz.
  • Averted in Down by Law (1986) staring Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni. It's about their imprisonment and eventual escape but doesn't focus on how they get out.
  • Each Dawn I Die (1939) stars Jimmy Cagney as a journalist framed for murder. Contains every sub-element of this trope, yet ends rather realistically with a riot-plus-hostage-situation that goes south. Don't worry, everything else that happens is gloriously ridiculous.
  • Escape from Alcatraz (1979) asks what if the famous Alcatraz prison break starred Clint Eastwood? One of the few "non-fiction" Great Escape movies out there, and all the weirder that the actual event utilized so many of the classic jailbreak story idioms.
  • Like The Great Escape, Escape from Sobibór includes a grand scheme to free hundreds of prisoners. Also similar to The Great Escape, the film is based on actual events that occurred in World War II.
  • In Escape Plan, Ray Breslin's job was to break out of prisons in order to test out their level of security. The majority of the movie is him working together with Emil Rottmayer to break out of a top-secret prison known as the Tomb.
  • Escape to Athena (1979). Though mainly an action movie, especially the second half which takes place in a secret Nazi V2 missile base.
  • Escape to Victory is another WWII-era escape movie. This one involves a propaganda soccer game between POWs and the Germans. The players opt to finish the game rather than escape at halftime. They escape, anyway, when the crowd rushes the field at the end.
  • Frank orchestrates one of these in The Escapist. He recruits the expertise of Tunnel King Brodie, thief Lenny, and chemist Batista.
  • The classic Laurel and Hardy short Going Bye-Bye! has the suspect Richard K. Muldoon escaping from prison, So he make a serious revenge: Breaking off Stan and Ollie's legs and wrapped them around their neck.
  • Gustave and his cellmates pull one off in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
  • The Great Escape is the Trope Namer. The "wartime escape story" is practically its own sub-genre.
  • In Life Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence play convicted felons who eventually succeed in escaping.
  • A Man Escaped is a French film about a French Resistance soldier who makes a daring escape out of a Gestapo prison in Lyon.
  • The McKenzie Break: 28 U-boat officers plan to escape from captivity and flee back to Nazi Germany.
  • A large part of Muppets Most Wanted is concerned with Kermit's attempts to escape the Gulag. The classic ones all fail because Nadia the guard has seen every prison movie ever made (even the ones in space). He eventually uses the Gulag Revue talent show as a cover.
  • The Next Three Days is about a man trying to break his wife out of prison for a crime that he feels she did not commit.
  • The Old Man & the Gun: Forrest Tucker has staged 16 prison escapes during his long life. In the end, we get a montage of them all.
  • The entire plot of Papillon (1973) revolves around the titular character's numerous attempts to escape (with varying degrees of success).
  • Passage to Marseille (1944) tells a ridiculously trope-laden story where Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart are somehow French prisoners escaping Devil's Island by raft. Once successful, they find out their motherland has surrendered and hijack a boat to England. So they can learn to fly planes and run bombing raids over occupied France. In your face, history!
  • The Rock has the less-common inversion of this trope, where a group of conspirators break into prison. After a group of terrorists use Alcatraz Island as a base for launching chemical weapons at San Francisco, the US military is forced to recruit British political prisoner John Patrick Mason—the only man ever to escape Alcatraz—as an advisor. In the course of the break-in, he ends up retracing his old escape route to storm the island through its underground tunnel system.
  • In The Running Man, Ben Richards and his fellow prisoners engineer a mass prison break by using a Prison Riot to distract the guards while stealing one of their computer terminals to shut down the "sonic deadline" that decapitates any prisoner who thinks of escaping.
  • The Secret War Of Harry Frigg: When several Allied Brigadier Generals are captured by the Italians during WW-II, the Americans take their best escape artist: Private Harry Frigg — he's escaped from pretty much every military stockade they have — promote him to Major General, so he'll outrank all the others, and arrange for him to be captured in the same region so he'll be sent to the same prison to break the other generals out.
  • The Shawshank Redemption, which gives a Shout-Out to The Count of Monte Cristo.
  • Son of a Gun: In exchange for his protection, Lynch has JR help orchestrate his escape from the maximum-security prison. Part of the plan involves JR hijacking a sightseeing helicopter.
  • Stir Crazy (1980) is a parody of the prison movie in general, starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. Just because. Includes an escape. Also, a rodeo. But not in that order.
  • Sucker Punch is a bizarre take on the Great Escape. A young woman plans to escape from a mental institution before she suffers a lobotomy, with the elements of the escape plan being depicted as elaborate fantasy sequences.
  • T34 is about a crew of Russian tankers who have been chosen to act as a training target for Nazi tank crews scrounging up some live ammunition for their tank and trying to fight their way back to the front lines.
  • Von Ryan's Express. Prisoners of war take over a train and, posing as Germans, try to make their way to Switzerland.

  • In almost all the chapters of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea the Great Escape is discussed. Aronnax, Counseil, and Ned Land are prisoners in the Nautilus. To regain their freedom, they must attempt a successful Great Escape because there will not be a second chance.
  • Harlan Ellison's "Battle Without Banners" is this trope in a prison controlled by a future American government that has apparently been taken over by some form of fascism. None of them make it.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Blind Alley": The aliens have been kept in a gilded prison, with every necessity provided for them with no effort. When Antyok is assigned a job that is effectively their warden, he realizes that they have given up on life. He subtly arranges things so that are able to escape to an entirely different galaxy without getting into trouble himself.
  • Camp 30: Near the end of the book, it becomes apparent that this is what the German prisoners at Camp 30 are attempting. To wit, they've been digging a secret tunnel in one of the buildings and hiding the dirt in the rafters. First four soldiers, including Captain Otto Kretschmer, would escape through the tunnel, followed by 300 more later on, all of them using fake identifications to pretend to be Canadian so they could reach an opportunity to make it back to Germany.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo has Dantes escaping from the Chateau d'If before setting out on one hell of a quest for revenge.
  • Gordon R. Dickson's "Danger--Human!" is about bear-like aliens testing an ancient prophecy (which said that if they try to interfere with the prophecy they'll end up speeding it) about humans and their supposed dangerous unknown ability, so they abduct a human, make him near-immortal and enclose him in a Tailor-Made Prison to test the prophecy.
  • In Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn novel Malleus, when Eisenhorn is imprisoned and about to be transferred to trial, his jailor will question him in a manner he would not survive. His friend urges him to eat his dinner, he does and falls vilely ill, and when he is being transferred for treatment, his friends rescue him. Earlier, an enemy had given Eisenhorn half of a poison; his friends had added the other hand to the meal.
  • In the short story "Good Friends and Good Family" (scroll down) by Desmond Warzel, Sparks manages a prison break with a little outside help. Say hello to his little friend...
  • Harry Potter:
    • The Prisoner of Azkaban Sirius Black, was the first wizard known to successfully escape Azkaban right under the Dementors' noses (or lack thereof).
    • Barty Crouch Jr also managed it, several years earlier, but his escape wasn't discovered until later (Goblet of Fire) and he had outside assistance.
    • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Voldemort personally broke his most trusted and loyal out of Azkaban, though the dementors were on his side so all he needed to do was ask.
    • In the later books, a few other Death Eaters accomplish this. However, they basically cheated since the Dementors switched sides and thus Azkaban became rather unreliable.
  • Honor Harrington is responsible for one of the grandest examples on record; she managed to take over a whole prison planet and made it back to friendly space with half a million freed inmates and a fleet of her ownnote .
  • Indexing: Reflections: As the store blurb says:
    But when a twisted, vicious Cinderella breaks out of prison and wreaks havoc
  • In Myth-ing Persons, Aahz is framed for murder and imprisoned in a gargoyle head made of living stone. Skeeve gets him to tell stories so boring that the head yawns.
  • Papillon plays this straight, averts it, and subverts it. He escaped several times. One is an incredibly good plan, another time the plan failed, and he finally does it by throwing himself to the sea with a barrel, his least elaborated plan.
  • The first third of the Parker novel Breakout is dedicated to Parker organising a Great Escape from Stonveldt prison.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "Rogues in the House" this is arranged for Conan the Barbarian on the condition he assassinates someone after.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, a plot to Save the Princess plays out as one of these. Mance Rayder and six spearwives, disguised as a bard/pimp and his whores, recruit Theon to help smuggle the girl they think is Arya Stark out of a besieged and locked-down Winterfell. They come up with a plot, trick their way past several sets of guards, it goes wrong, several conspirators die and Our Hero leaps over the wall with The Girl in his arms... and that's where the book leaves it.
  • In the Sten novel Revenge Of The Damned, the first half is this trope: Sten assembles a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, finds that the religious dude who turned out to be a kick-ass miner dug a great tunnel with the help of his converts, and takes them to freedom. Well, it turned crazy- two of the escapees ended up dead, two bought and ran a casino (very well, actually) and the religious dude ends up converting an entire enemy village.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • In "The Borders of Infinity", Miles Vorkosigan is sent in to rescue one single man from a Cetagandan concentration camp. Finding that his intended rescuee is catatonic and dying, he opts to organize the escape of all 10,000 POWs. In-universe, it's the third biggest mass breakout in recorded history. And he sets the whole thing in motion while bare-ass naked, having been robbed of his clothes within moments of arriving at the camp. Miles Vorkosigan: a man to whom "Tries Too Hard" has no meaning.
    • Years later, as mentioned in Komarr, the Marilacans make a holovid drama about it called The Greatest Escape, and try to hire Admiral Naismith (Vorkosigan's Secret Identity) as a technical consultant.
  • In Fractured Stars, prisoners in the mine and power plant on the ice world Frost Moon 3 concoct a plan to escape by shoveling huge amounts of coal into the generators, creating a power surge that will knock out power to half the moon.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The first season of the Star Wars series Andor contains a prison arc which culminates in the appropriately titled tenth episode, One Way Out
  • Birds of a Feather: In "We'll Always Have Majorca", Darryl is eventually able to briefly escape from jail during a performing gig with a prison rock band.
  • Every episode of Breakout Kings begins with a prisoner or prisoners staging a Great Escape (usually highly spectacular).
  • CSI: NY: Sheldon goes to witness an execution and gets caught in a Prison Riot while there. The authorities are taking too long for the team's comfort to rescue him:
    Mac: We're gonna have to break Sheldon out of prison.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: A staple of the series:
    • The most common by far is Bo and Luke staging simple escapes from the Hazzard County Jail, often tricking Rosco or one of his deputies (most often Cletus, but more than once Enos) into letting them escape.
    • Sometimes, a criminal was locked up with one of his henchmen, and together would scheme to trick one Rosco or one of the deputies into opening the cell. At least once, Daisy fell for one of the bad guys' tricks: In "Deputy Dukes," one of the criminals pretends to fall suddenly ill, and Daisy goes to tend to her, only for Daisy to get knocked out almost immediately and the bad guys stage an escape.
    • In "Cool Hands Luke and Bo," a Great Escape is the centerpiece of the final act. Imprisoned on false charges by Boss Hogg's longtime enemy Col. Cassius Clayburn at an illegal prison camp, Bo and Luke band with the other inmates — including Boss and Rosco — to tie up the prison guards and stage a huge prison break ... this despite knowing that past inmates have tried large-scale prison breaks, been unsuccessful and were brutally killed.
  • Escape at Dannemora: Two murderers with life sentences stage an escape from prison with the help of a prison employee whom they've seduced. Based on a true story.
  • In The F.B.I. episode "Anatomy of a Prison Break", a dying inmate tells the warden of a maximum-security penitentiary that several other prisoners are planning a massive jailbreak. Erskine tries to stop the plan by going undercover as an inmate and having himself assigned as the cellmate of the suspected ringleader.
  • Guerrilla: Jas and Marcus arrange to break their friend Dhari out of prison. Jas gets the idea from a TV story about how Timothy Leary got broken out by the Weathermen in the US. Jas smuggles glass pieces in which Dhari then eats, and he's rushed to a hospital near the prison where she works. They then break him out there, taking a guard hostage and shooting another in the process.
  • Himmelsdalen: There are rumors throughout the series of patients planning an escape, but it turns out to be largely false. In the season one finale Helena manages it, despite extensive security measures.
  • Horatio Hornblower, "The Duchess and the Devil": Hornblower and his sailors end up in Spanish prison. Midshipman Hunter, the surly seaman of the week, feels they must do the prison break asap. Hornblower wants to escape as well but insists they must develop a more elaborate plan, and more importantly, he wants to wait for his friend to fully recover — he's not leaving the place without Archie. (Archie however is not so keen on escaping, because he tried five times and always got caught and punished.) Hunter convinces about half of the men to try to escape under his lead. However, his plan involves attacking fully armed guards with their improvised weapons in full sunlight rather than avoiding them and going unnoticed and their escape attempt fails miserably.
  • Irma Vep: Irma manages to escape after she's sentenced to life in Algeria, jumping from the train and then lying on the tracks while it passes over her. She returns and is given a triumphant welcome by the Vampires.
  • JAG:
    • "Brig Break" is about a jailbreak and with Meg in a Hostage Situation.
    • in "Scimitar", Harm and Meg gets the captured marine out of an Iraqi prison.
    • In "The Black Jet", Harm and Mac gets Keeter out of an Iranian prison.
  • Parodied in a sketch from the finnish sketch comedy show, Ketonen Ja Myllyrinne. Two prisoners outline their escape plan, which includes things such as flying a helicopter over the Gulf of Finland to Mexico and killing guards with a fork. Also, the guy who they're enlisting to pilot the helicopter has two days to learn to fly a helicopter from a book.
  • The Leverage episode "The Jailhouse Job" opens with the team busting Nate from a courthouse. It soon cuts to Nate, behind bars, pointing out to Sophie that it would never work, and he points out the numerous flaws in it. He then breaks out of prison anyway and pins the corrupt warden as his accomplice in one episode, just because he can. It also helps that the warden was locking up innocents for crimes using corrupt judges, which just irritated Nate.
  • MacGyver (1985) compresses the entire trope into a single episode in "The Escape".
  • In The Mentalist episode "The Greybar Hotel", FBI Agent Teresa Lisbon is undercover in prison to get a convict to turn on her boyfriend who leads a car theft ring. The plan later involves Teresa and her cellmate Marie to break out of jail. It involves dressing as employees and going away casually with them at the end of one shift.
  • Michael Bentine's Potty Time: "The Great Potty Escape" was a parody of Colditz. The POWs end up digging so many tunnels that the entire castle collapses.
  • My Name Is Earl:
    • Earl goes to prison for a crime his ex-wife committed and finds that his cellmate happens to be his good friend Ralph. The next morning, Earl finds that Ralph has escaped, by creating a tunnel through the wall behind a Dolly Parton poster, and placing a watermelon-dummy in his bunk. (He was going to make one for Earl, but ate it.) Earl then gets moved to the general population barracks instead of a regular cell.
    • The trope comes up again (with help from Randy, Joy, and Darnell) after finding out that the warden rescinded his promise to give Earl his early release. It results in a hostage situation... and the revelation that the warden is Darnell's old roommate...and since he's also a former porn star, he gives Earl what was promised to keep that detail from being leaked to the public and jeopardizing his career, his wife's career, and their marriage.
  • MythBusters has tested some rather bizarre fictional methods of breaking out of jail, including...
    • Breaking down the bars with salsa until they can be pulled out.
    • Firing your ball and chain in a cannon so you fly over the wall.
    • Blowing up the door with antacids.
    • Tying a rope around the bars and having a horse pull them out.
    • Building a raft out of raincoats to escape Alcatraz.
    • Making a rope out of toilet paper, hair, or bedsheets and climbing out.
    • Using floss to wear away the bars.
  • The Outpost: After getting busted out of prison by Garret, Luna later returns the favor by breaking him out of prison in a later episode.
  • Oz: Busmalis repeatedly attempts to escape Oz by tunneling out. He actually manages to succeed on the third try and and even takes Alvarez with him, but he's recaptured almost immediately.
  • Prison Break:
    • Breaking his brother out of Fox River is Michael Scofield's overall goal in Season 1.
    • Season 3 features another Great Escape in Panamanian Sona prison.
    • The theme recurs in Season 5 when breaking people out of prisons has become the protagonist's forced sole job.
  • Parodied something rotten in Ripping Yarns: "Escape from Stalag Luft 112B."
  • Affectionate Parody in the Ship to Shore episode "The Grate Escape", in which the kids' attempt to sneak off the island to a pop concert involves as many prison break tropes as possible.
  • Supernatural: Dean and Sam Winchester get themselves into a prison so they can deal with the ghost that's killing guards and inmates. None of their escape plans get given away until the end of the episode, but it turns out their contact, Deacon, is in fact one of the prison guards, which is helpful.
  • A Great Escape (Neal desperately wanting to find his missing girlfriend) kicks off White Collar.
  • The X-Files:
    • Subverted; Mulder's escape from prison is a spur-of-the-moment decision on the part of his friends to escape execution and comprises only about five minutes of the two-hour series finale. It does feature a nice Heel–Face Turn from former FBI archnemesis ADA Kersh.
    • Lampshaded in "F Emasculata." Scully reads a briefing that says two prisoners escaped by hiding in a laundry cart, and Mulder says rather dryly that he doesn't think the guards have been watching enough prison movies.
  • In an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Indy is in a German prison fortress for Allied POWs during World War I and attempts to escape with a fellow prisoner, a young Charles De Gaulle.

  • Heist!: Bashing the jail cell repeatedly starts a jail break to rescue any crew members captured by the police.
  • Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast: The mode "Hallowed Be Thy Name" depicts Eddie chained up in prison. Successfully completing shots shows him gradually breaking his restraints before bending his cell window's bars to escape.
  • One of the "Supergame" modes in Judge Dredd requires stopping a prison break.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The story of Crimestrikers begins with a mass escape from the Quarry, a maximum security facility for Creaturian supervillains.

    Video Games 
  • The first stage of Apocalypse have the player escaping from Paradise Prison with a machine gun smuggled into his cell, before blasting his way through hordes and hordes of guards and defeating the first boss, a massive tank and then escaping into an Absurdly-Spacious Sewer.
  • A Way Out has protagonists Vincent and Leo breaking out of prison in order to exact revenge on the crime boss who screwed them both over.
  • The Babylon Project: In one level of the Earth-Brakiri war, you escape a Brakiri prison, commandeer a Brakiri fighter, and try to make it to the nearest jump gate, dodging fire from Brakiri cruisers and fighters.
  • Dusk's backstory in Brawlhalla: a master artificer for the elves, he was blamed by the Elf King for the failed assault on Asgard and locked him in the Elondil prison. He spent 200 years creating a magical orb made of stone and another 200 learning how to use it, then he used it to smash the prison and the guards before escaping into the Fangwild.
  • The second level of Call of Duty: Black Ops has the player character leading an epic escape from a Soviet gulag.
  • In Chrono Trigger, this happens to the protagonist fairly early in the game... and then it happens again later. The first time it happens, the guards apparently believe that holding a competent swordsman convicted of terrorism with all his weapons and gear is a great idea. The second time, they strip you of your gear, requiring you to be quiet unless you brought Ayla along-she can destroy most encounters in a few moves.
  • The Dishonored games both begin with the leads escaping persecution. In the first game, Corvo is awaiting his execution after being wrongfully accused of killing the Empress. He must slip past guards and detonate a bomb at the security gate in order to escape.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, one of Sugar-Lips Habasi's quests for the Thieves' Guild is to break a fellow Guild member out of jail in this fashion. (Or you can simply bribe/blackmail the prison guard captain.)
  • The Escapists is all about staging these. The prisons and their security range from cardboard to The Alcatraz (including the real Alcatraz, if you buy the DLC), with a couple POW camps thrown in for good measure. It runs on all the classic escape tropes too, with a heavy dose of reality mixed in.
  • Final Fantasy XII has a long detailed one early in the game, from a big open-pit type dungeon. It also serves as Recruitment by Rescue of party member Basch, who's locked in solitary. Bonus points for being followed by a sequence where you bust another party member (a princess to boot) out of the brig of an airship.
  • In The Game of the Ages, you pick your way out of prison with a bit of wire and end up holding a sword to a guard's throat as you walk out the door.
  • Sissel aids in one in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective's Special Prison, where he tries to get Detective Jowd free in the darkness with security guards searching the cells, hallways, and stairs. Thankfully, Sissel can see in the darkness while in the Ghost World... but you can't move the camera in this mode. This quickly proves pointless, though, as Inspector Cabanela recaptures him moments after his escape.
  • One of the heists in Grand Theft Auto V - Online entails helping a Mad Scientist break out of prison. Said scientist was incarcerated for a crime he did commit, but he will pay you and your allies a pretty penny to help him escape the prison and the country.
  • The ZX Spectrum game The Great Escape, inspired by the movie of the same name.
  • The very first mission in Jak II is to escape from the prison that Jak has been kept in for two years. Later on, he and Daxter must save several allies including old Samos from prison after Torn is forced to betray the Underground to save Ashelin.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • In Kingdom Hearts II, Sora, Donald and Goofy get arrested at one point by the Master Control Program for fiddling with the computer and are zapped into the computer itself, which contains its own world called Space Paranoids, where the trio are thrown in prison by "Commander" Sark. They manage to break out with the help of fellow prisoner Tron and subsequently manage to escape the computer. They return twice, due to their newfound friendship with the program.
    • There have been a few other jailbreaks throughout the series; once in Neverland, once (offscreen) in Port Royal and once in Deep Space. Neither of them is as noticeable as the one in Space Paranoids, as they either happen within a cutscene, or are just mentioned.
  • The Legend of Zelda
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: Link needs to infiltrate through Forsaken Fortress to look for his sister, who was kidnapped by the Helmaroc King. If he gets captured, he'll have to find a way to break free (interestingly, getting captured is the fastest method to find the dungeon's Compass). It's not until the second visit when he succeeds, as Tetra's pirate crew helps him take his sister and the other imprisoned girls out of the whole place.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Link gets captured by the Shadow Beasts shortly after he enters one of the Twilight areas of Hyrule and is transformed into a wolf for the first time. Midna meets him in jail and the two of them make their way out of prison (and eventually meet Princess Zelda).
    • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks: One minigame in the Pirate Hideout revolves around escaping the prison with one prisoner.
  • Mars: War Logs starts out in a POW camp, with escape via freight train as your ultimate goal. This involves convincing mistreated mutant workers to riot, enlisting the aid of a sympathetic guard, and smuggling guns used for pest control out of the infested areas. Then you simply disable automated security and fight your way to the train. Of the three prisoners (and one guard) who are in on the escape, only the player character and his sidekick actually get out alive. The overarching mission covering the escape is, naturally, called 'The Great Escape'.
  • Escaping from prison happens a lot in the Ratchet & Clank series, beginning with Going Commando. This is referenced in the Future trilogy
    Talwyn: A jail break. You sure know how to impress a girl.
    Ratchet: Are you kidding? Clank and I used to do this all the time back on Kerwan.
    Clank: We did?
  • As the name suggests, Rayman 2: The Great Escape begins with one of these, as Globox assist Rayman in escaping the pirate ship prison.
  • River City Girls Zero: The opening level at the prison has Kunio and Riki up to speed on what's been going on after their arrest, and with help from the other inmates, manage to escape from the prison and prove their innocence.
  • In Sly 2: Band Of Thieves Neyla betrays Sly and Murray, and Bentley must then free them from prison.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam: Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario get locked in the Twinsy Tropics Dungeon by the Koopalings for interfering with the two Bowsers' plans. The two brothers and Paper Mario need to break out and then build a boat to escape the island. Ironically, the dungeon is located in the underground of a tropical island.
    • Paper Mario: Color Splash: After falling into the sinkhole created near Mustard Cafe, Mario, Huey, and the Chef Toad are eventually captured by Snifits who lock them in prison cells under the desert. Mario and Huey break out of their cell first and then have to help the Chef get out.
  • In Super Mario 64: Last Impact, "Escape The Prison" in Dusky Doomed Dale is a prison break mission, wherein Mario must escape the prison after being jailed for helping Kamek escape.
  • In Tales of Berseria, right after the prologue, Velvet plans to escape from the island by having Seres unlock the jail doors and have the prisoners cause a riot while they both try to escape.
  • This is a very common trope in The Legend of Heroes - Trails and it usually happens in the sequel of those games.
  • XCOM 2: In the War of the Chosen expansion, the Chosen can kidnap your soldiers and have them imprisoned and interrogated. By working with the new Resistance factions, however, you can mount a jailbreak to get them out of captivity.
  • In Yakuza 4, Taiga Saejima's storyline kicks off with him working with another prisoner to escape prison so that he can discover the truth behind the events that got him arrested in the first place. This being a Yakuza game, this mostly involves him beating the crap out of all the prison guards.

    Visual Novels 
  • Lucky Dog 1:
    • Gian is very experienced in breaking in and out of prisons. He's broken out of the prison he's in at the start of the game four times. His first job is to break him and the four mafia captains/love interests out of prison. He picks all of their respective locks open, takes them to the morgue, they pretend to be corpses so they're loaded into the car, driven out, and then they jump out once they get to the gate. The plan doesn't go off without a hitch as the people who were supposed to pick them up outside fail to arrive (due to a mole trying to keep the cast in prison) so the team hijack the warden's new car — which just happened to drive past.
    • It is also possible to fail escaping altogether. In Guilio's route, if you decide to put the escape off for another day he'll be transferred to another prison and everybody else is either transferred away or killed, meaning The Mafia is completely destroyed and it's game over. In Ivan's route, if you decide to go through an old tunnel dug by another prisoner it'll collapse and everybody is crushed to death.

    Web Animation 
  • The Birds Are Working: The show's whole premise was this... with talking super-powered dogs.
  • Mega Man Dies at the End: Mega Man is tasked with breaking someone out of prison using the abilities he had taken from his targets. To his horror, the person he was tasked freeing was Dr. Wily, and is soon labeled a fugitive.
  • SMG4's Mario Bloopers: "Crime Time", "Party Rock Prisoners" and "Mario's Dangerous Delivery" has the characters(s) trying to break out of jail. The former blooper has Mario helping Luigi escape from jail. The second blooper has Mario and Toad trying to escape from jail together. The third has both Mario and Luigi try to break out Frankie before Toadsworth finds out he even got jailed in the first place.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 
  • A common plot in 7-Second Riddles:
    • One riddle involved the wrongfully accused protagonist escaping The Alcatraz by crawling through the vent in their cell.
    • There was a puzzle involving two cops trying to decipher a coded message they intercepted from some of the prisoners. Their failure to crack the code in time allowed the prisoners to plan an escape.
  • World War II: Episode 8 - "The Submarine War" tells the story of the Polish submarine ORP Orzeł's escape from internment in neutral Estonia. Her crew stealthily sawed through the ropes holding the ship, disabled searchlights, overpowered guards and slipped away into the sea while under artillery fire.

    Western Animation 


Video Example(s):


One Way Out

Kino rallies the men of a penal colony to a successful prison break.

How well does it match the trope?

4.96 (24 votes)

Example of:

Main / RousingSpeech

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