Alcatraz at 80: The Iconic Prison on the Big and Small Screen

Alcatraz opened its prison doors 80 years ago to the nation’s most dangerous criminals—including mob bosses, con men, gangsters, and murderers— and although the penitentiary ceased operations in 1963, its notoriety endures on the big and small screens.

Numerous films over the years include depictions of Alcatraz, but director John Boorman’s “Point Blank” (1967) was the first major motion picture to be filmed on location at the prison. The crime thriller, now a cult classic, stars Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson.

The true story of the infamous prison escape of Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin was the subject of the 1979 film, “Escape from Alcatraz,” starring Clint Eastwood as Morris. The three convicts escaped the high-security prison by digging their way out of their cell reportedly using broken spoons. They also constructed fake heads out of stolen objects and left them as decoys in their beds, then jumped into the bay on a homemade raft. None of them were ever seen again.

The iconic prison took center stage in Michael Bay’s 1996 action film “The Rock” starring Sean Connery, Ed Harris, and Nicolas Cage. Connery and Cage play a spy and an FBI agent tasked with breaking into Alcatraz to disable poison-gas rockets targeting the city of San Francisco. The premiere of the movie was held in the Prison Recreation Yard on Alcatraz.

J.J. Abrams has featured Alcatraz in multiple projects. In the 2012 Fox television series, “Alcatraz” that quickly went off the air, the show was about the prisoners and guards of Alcatraz that disappeared in 1963 and have re-appeared in present-day San Francisco. Then in 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness,” Alcatraz is destroyed when the “Starship Enterprise” crashes into the Island.

In comedic contexts, a 1979 episode of “Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo” centers on the gang’s trip to Alcatraz to look into reported sightings of a female vampire. In 2004, an episode of “The Simpsons” takes place at Alcatraz when the family gets imprisoned along with Michael Moore and Bill Clinton.

Other films and television shows make reference to Alcatraz, including:

"The Book of Eli" (2010)

"Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" (2010)

"X Men: The Last Stand" (2006)

"Half Past Dead" (2002)

"Murder in the First" (1995)

"So I Married an Axe Murderer" (1993)

"The Enforcer" (1976)

"Bird Man of Alcatraz" (1962)

"King of Alcatraz" (1938)


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