10 Best Crime Movies About Death Row

Thursday, February 24 by Walter Turner

The 10 best crime movies about death row are a mix of films that recount real life stories and films that portray fictional tales about death row experiences. Few movies of any other film genre can match the raw tension of crime movies about death row because the stakes in these stories are so high. Viewers are often compelled to think about how they would react if they were on death row as the days, hours, and minutes of their lives were ticking down.

  1. “Angels With Dirty Faces.” This crime movie stars James Cagney as a tough gangster and Pat O'Brien as a priest. Cagney's character has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from death row to the execution chamber.
  2. “The Green Mile.” In this fantasy movie, Tom Hanks plays a prison guard in charge of death row. His life is shaken up when a condemned man with supernatural powers arrives at the prison.
  3. “In Cold Blood.” This movie is based on Truman Capote's famous book of the same name, which itself recounts actual events. This is one of the ten best crime movies about death row because it not only deals with the antagonists' stay on death row, but also discusses some of the well-know criminals who are also scheduled to be hanged at the penitentiary.
  4. “Executioner's Song.” This crime movie about death row stars Tommy Lee Jones, and tells the story of Gary Gilmore. Gilmore fought from death row to end appeals on his behalf and to expedite his own execution by firing squad.
  5. “Kill Me If You Can.” Alan Alda gives a brilliant performance as Caryl Chessman, a condemned inmate who filed appeal after appeal from death row in a successful effort to delay his execution. This was in an era when executions were carried out relatively soon after trial. This crime movie is based on actual events. The movie is also known as “The Caryl Chessman Story.”
  6. “Monster's Ball.” This is one of the best crime movies about death row because of Halle Berry's Oscar winning performance. Billy Bob Thornton plays a prison guard who subsequently becomes sexually involved with the widow of one of the men that he helped to execute while assigned to death row.
  7. “Dead Man Walking.” This crime movie about death row stars Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Sarandon plays a nun who becomes close to a violent murderer on death row whose execution date is nearing.
  8. “The Life of David Gale.” In this movie, a journalist interviews a man on death row who was once a prominent death penalty opponent. It later turns out that the man framed himself for murder in order to force the state to execute an innocent man, believing that such an event would help end the death penalty. This crime movie stars Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet.
  9. “Murder in Coweta County.” Andy Griffith and Johnny Cash star in this surprisingly good movie. Griffith plays against type as a wealthy landowner who completely controls a Georgia county. The landowner is so secure in his powerful position that he simply kills a man he believes stole from him. However, the murder actually occurred just across the county line in a county with a sheriff who isn't under the rich man's thumb. The murderer is convicted, but, even while on death row, he does not believe he will be executed. This film, which is based on real events, is very hard to find.
  10. “I Want to Live.” This crime movie about death row tells the story of Barbara Graham, a mother who was executed in California while proclaiming her innocence. Susan Hayward won an Academy Award for her performance in this film.
Do you like this story?