If there’s one movie genre that provides a guaranteed escape from the humdrum of everyday life, it’s the prison break movie. The meticulous planning (watch out for those guards!), the high-stakes suspense (will they make it?), the glorious moment when the prisoner finally breaks out of his confines and breathes free… it’s always an enjoyably nerve-wracking experience. There’s something elemental and universal in our desire to root for the (usually innocent) prisoner.

The latest example of this genre can be seen in Paul Haggis’ new thriller The Next Three Days, starring Russell Crowe as a devoted husband willing to do anything to break his (supposedly) wrongfully imprisoned wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of jail. With the film hitting theaters this weekend, it’s the perfect time to run down some of our all-time favorite prison break movies.

Stalag 17 (1953)
directed by Billy Wilder

This World War II classic takes place in a German POW camp, where a group of captured American pilots (led by William Holden) attempt a daring escape from their Nazi captors. Wilder’s innovative blending of wacky humor and gripping drama set the pattern that would inspire such future war-set comedies as M*A*S*H and Catch-22. While some of its broad humor has dated since it premiered, in many ways Stalag 17 is as fresh today as it was 57 years ago.

The Defiant Ones (1958)
directed by Stanley Kramer

Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier star in this highly-charged drama as a pair of hostile escaped convicts, chained together, who must learn to get along in order to elude the authorities. The film proved a hit with both audiences and critics, winning two (Best Cinematography and and Best Original Screenplay) of its nine Oscar nominations. With its powerful message of racial tolerance, the film was more than simple popcorn entertainment, and went on to influence a number of wide-ranging films, including the immortal blaxploitation classic Black Mama, White Mama (1973), starring Pam Grier.

The Great Escape (1963)
irected by John Sturges

Like Stalag 17, The Great Escape revolves around a group of World War II American soldiers (led here by Steve McQueen at his most charismatic) who must find a way to escape from their Nazi POW camp. But while Stalag 17 strives for a tricky blend of comedy and drama, The Great Escape has pure adrenaline on its mind. Based on a true story, the allied soldiers in the film (including James Garner, Richard Attenborough and Charles Bronson) hope to escape through digging elaborate underground tunnels—but will they make it out alive? Expertly directed by genre pro Sturges (The Magnificent Seven; Bad Day at Black Rock), including a kick-ass motorcycle sequence, The Great Escape is epic Hollywood moviemaking at its most exciting.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)
directed by Stuart Rosenberg

Paul Newman stars as the rebel-rousing title character in this Oscar-winning classic. Luke is a prisoner on a Southern chain gang who refuses to conform to society’s rules and expectations, and ultimately decides to make a break for it, despite the brutal punishment he may receive if caught. With its endlessly quotable dialogue (the most famous line being, as spoken by Strother Martin as the prison warden, “What we got here is… failure to communicate.”), Cool Hand Luke is an ode to anti-heroes everywhere.

Papillon (1973)
directed by Franklin J. Schaffner

Steve McQueen makes yet another daring prison break (won’t this guy ever learn?) as the wrongfully convicted title character in this exciting adventure, based on a true story. Papillon teams up with a fellow criminal (played by Dustin Hoffman in a brilliantly quirky and/or irritatingly mannered performance, depending on your point of view) as they attempt to escape from the legendary French penal colony Devil’s Island. The tension becomes palpable as the two make their tortuous escape.

Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
firected by Don Siegel

Fact: The notorious, maximum-security prison on Alcatraz Island never appeared on any “Easiest Prisons to Break Out Of” lists. Yet this film, based on a true story, is about exactly that. Clint Eastwood stars as Frank Morris, one of only three prisoners to ever successfully escape from “The Rock.” And let’s face it—if anyone can escape from Alcatraz, it would be Clint.

Escape from New York (1981)
directed by John Carpenter

This cult classic puts a unique spin on the prison-break sub-genre, in that an entire city qualifies as the prison. In Carpenter’s dystopian view of the future (which, since the movie takes place in 1997, is now technically the past), Manhattan has been transformed into a maximum-security prison, stocked with America’s most dangerous criminals. When the President’s plane crashes in NYC, it’s up to gruff new prisoner Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to rescue him. With its innovative visual effects (accomplished on a very low budget), amusing wisecracks and the interesting concept of NYC as a literal and metaphoric prison, Escape from New York manages to rise above its B-movie premise.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
directed by Frank Darabont

This acclaimed tearjerker (nominated for seven Oscars) follows unjustly imprisoned Andy (Tim Robbins) as he bonds with another inmate, Red (Morgan Freeman), over a period of many years—but never gives up hope. Based on a short story by Stephen King (no killer clowns or malicious spirits to be found here), the “redemption” of the title comes about at the end of the film, when Andy, having escaped through a tunnel he’d been digging for two decades, finally tastes freedom for the first time in 20 years.

Con Air (1997)
directed by Simon West

Before there was Snakes on a Plane, there was the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced tough guy extravaganza Con Air (a.k.a. “Cons on a Plane”). Chock full of red meat action, Con Air takes place aboard a prisoner transport plane that’s been overtaken by the aircraft’s dastardly passengers. Featuring an enjoyable array of hammy over-acting from the criminals aboard (including Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi and Ving Rhames) this guilty pleasure is a lot of dumb fun.

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
directed by Kevin Reynolds

Adapted from the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers), this story follows Dantes (James Caviezel), who is sent to an island prison after being betrayed by his best friend, Ferdinand (Guy Pearce). While in prison for nearly 15 years, Dantes plots his revenge and with the help of a fellow prisoner (Richard Harris, in one of his last film roles) escapes the island and transforms himself into the wealthy title character in order to exact revenge. With its swashbuckling action sequences, this tenth filmed version of Dumas’ story captures the original’s sense of injustice, years of incredible frustration and the overwhelming satisfaction of finally getting some well-deserved payback.