Alcatraz Island in popular culture

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Alcatraz Island has appeared many times in popular culture. Its appeal as a picturesque film setting derives from its natural beauty, isolation and its history as a prison (now a museum) from which, officially, no prisoner ever successfully escaped.


Most appearances of Alcatraz island in popular culture are related to its former status as a federal prison. Both real life and fictional accounts of imprisonment on the island have been popular.

One of the best-known of Alcatraz's historic inmates was Robert Franklin Stroud, known as "The Birdman of Alcatraz". His biography was written by Thomas E. Gaddis and then adapted into a film in 1962, with Burt Lancaster playing the lead role.

The 1995 film Murder in the First depicts a man who spends three years in solitary confinement at the prison. One of the prisoners, Kyle Oberholzer, was charged with rape, murder and fornicating.

In film and television[edit]

Many films and television series have exploited Alcatraz Island's reputation as a prison from which it was almost impossible to escape.

Don Siegel's 1979 thriller Escape from Alcatraz chronicles the story of Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, who escaped from Alcatraz in 1962, although it is not known whether the three escapees survived. The film implied that the escape had been successful.[1] The film portrayed both the conditions of life in the prison and the difficulty of escaping from it.

The 1996 action film The Rock, with Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris, takes place at Alcatraz Island, featuring a rogue U.S. Marine Brigadier General stealing dangerous missiles and threatening to eradicate large parts of San Francisco unless his demands are met, forcing a government strike team to recruit John Mason (Connery), a former SAS operative and the only man to ever escape "the Rock", in order to break in and stop them.

In "The Power of Two", season1, episode 20 of the American television series Charmed, the evil spirit of a serial killer escapes from Alcatraz Island seeking revenge on his judge and jury. Phoebe and Prue must figure out how to vanquish this evil spirit and prevent his killing again without their sister Piper, who's vacationing in Hawaii.

The 2012 television series Alcatraz involves prisoners from Alcatraz - which was not closed due to budget reasons, but because all 302 residents mysteriously disappeared on March 20, 1963 - reappearing in the present day, requiring a makeshift task force to track down the inmates and prevent them from committing further crimes while also determining the reasons for their return.

In video games[edit]

  • Alcatraz: Prison Escape (released worldwide on November 23, 2001) is a computer video game based on, but not directly referencing, some famous escapes from the prison facility. It was developed by Zombie Studios and published by Activision Value.
  • The storyline of the Ghostlight game, Shadow Hearts: From The New World (developed in 2005), takes the player to Alcatraz in order to bust out Al Capone, who was formerly a real-life prisoner of the island.
  • Sim City 4 (released in January 2003) used Alcatraz as a historical building. It was developed by Maxis and published by Electronic Arts.
  • The island was also featured as a playable level on the 2002 video game, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4.
  • In Crysis 2, the name of the main character is Alcatraz.
  • In Operation 7 an online free to play first person shooter managed by Netgame, Alcatraz is a playable map popular for the demolition or survival modes. It features a realistic map based on the cell blocks, cafeteria, and basement of the prison, finished with music that provides a creepy tone.
  • In Call of Duty: Black Ops II DLC "Uprising", a zombies map titled "Mob of the Dead" takes place in a twisted, nightmarish version of Alcatraz Island, inhabited by zombies. However, it is not the real Alcatraz; it is more like a purgatory for the four characters.
  • In Half-Life 2, The Combine Prison Nova Prospekt was heavily based on Alcatraz.
  • In Command & Conquer: Yuri's Revenge, Yuri, The former leader of Soviet Psychic Crops, had built a Psychic Dominator on Alcatraz Island, The Allied Harriers launched an air strike but failed. In the campaign, the player as commander must destroy the Psychic Dominator with the time shift by The Time Machine.
  • In 1954: Alcatraz, a point-and-click adventure released in 2014 by Daedalic Entertainment, the focus of the game is divided into two separate player characters. Joe who has been sent to Alcatraz Prison for being involved in a robbery and his wife Christine who works on the outside in San Francisco trying to aid him in his escape.


Alcatraz's isolated and fortified image has meant that it has been used as a location for fictional hostage scenarios in various instances.

  • The most successful of such films was The Rock (1996), in which a group from the United States Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance holds 81 tourists hostage, demanding monetary reparations. To defeat the hostage-takers, the Navy SEAL team enlist the help and knowledge of John Patrick Mason, the only inmate of Alcatraz who ever successfully escaped.
  • Terrorists also use Alcatraz as a hiding-place after taking the Mayor of San Francisco hostage in the third Dirty Harry film, The Enforcer.

Portrayals in media and entertainment[edit]



  • Al Capone Does My Shirts, a young adult novel by Gennifer Choldenko about a boy and his autistic sister living on Alcatraz Island
  • Al Capone Shines My Shoes, another young adult novel by Gennifer Choldenko about a boy and his autistic sister living on Alcatraz Island.
  • In Baccano!, the hitman Ladd Russo is imprisoned in 1932 and subsequently transferred to Alcatraz in 1934. The story arc "Alice in Jails" focuses on this and other inmates of Alcatraz prison.
  • In the fourth Percy Jackson book, Battle of the Labyrinth, a Labyrinth entrance is located in one of the cells on Alcatraz Island and the worst nightmare of the Cyclopes, 'Kampé is a prison guard at Alcatraz.
  • In an issue of Psi-Force, the group takes a sightseeing tour to Alcatraz and wind up getting attacked and temporarily imprisoned there.
  • In Michael Scott's The Magician, Perenelle Flamel is held prisoner on Alcatraz Island
  • After the mass depowerment of the mutant race, the superhero team the X-Men move to Alcatraz and make it a safe haven for all mutants, renaming it Utopia.


A number of books were written or co-authored by former Alcatraz prisoners, e.g.:

  • Alcatraz from Inside: The Hard Years, 1942-1952 was written by former inmate Jim Quillen.
  • Alcatraz: The True End of the Line, an autobiography by former inmate Darwin Coon.
  • From Alcatraz to the White House: An Autobiography, written by former inmate Nathan Glenn Williams.
  • On the rock : twenty-five years in Alcatraz: the prison story of Alvin Karpis as told to Robert Livesey and Public Enemy No. 1: The Alvin Karpis Story were coauthored by Alvin Karpis, the longest-held prisoner at Alcatraz.

Non-fiction books about Alcatraz[edit]

Film and television[edit]


  • In the MMORPG, World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade there is a reference to Alcatraz through the Tempest Keep dungeon wing: The Arcatraz.
  • The computer game Alcatraz involves US Navy SEALS infiltrating a terrorist-occupied Alcatraz and foil their plans. The game is the sequel of Hostages.
  • There is a game about the prison called Alcatraz: Prison Escape.
  • Alcatraz island appears in the last chapters of the first and fifth volumes of Cause of Death (game).
  • In the RTS video game Command & Conquer: Yuri's Revenge, Alcatraz is featured in the introduction video setting up for its single-player campaign. Yuri, the villain in the game, secretly established one of his "psychic dominators" and power plants on the island as part of his global mind-controlling device network.
  • In Homefront, during the mission on the Golden Gate Bridge, it is mentioned that US Navy SEAL Team Six has taken control of Alcatraz. It can also be seen in the distance.
  • There are two chapters (five levels) that take place in Alcatraz in Hulk.
  • The Stilwater Penitentiary in Saints Row 2 is based on Alcatraz.
  • The Albatross Island Prison in Lego City Undercover is based on Alcatraz Island.
  • In Manhunter 2: San Francisco, the player visits alien-occupied Alcatraz near the end of the game and frees captive mutants from the alien Orbs.
  • In Mean Streets, Tex Murphy visits Alcatraz at the end of the game, which houses the huge "Overlord" computer and then proceed to activate its self-destruct sequence.
  • The game RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 has a scenario setting on the island, some time after the prison was closed down and abandoned.
  • The game RuneScape sends the player to an "escape-proof" island known as The Rock.
  • In the video game San Francisco Rush: The Rock, Alcatraz is the main setting. Players race cars on, above, and through the prison and the island. Alcatraz also appears in Rush 2: Extreme Racing USA again using the same layout as Rush The Rock.
  • In the video game Shadow Hearts: From the New World, the party travels to Alcatraz to save Al Capone.
  • In the simulation game SimCity 3000, players can build Alcatraz Complex as their city's landmark.
  • In the game Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3, several hostages must be rescued from Alcatraz Prison.
  • Alcatraz is a playable level in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 and has many features of the real Alcatraz.
  • The video game Urban Strike features Alcatraz as one of the secret bases of main antagonist H. R. Malone.
  • Alcatraz Island is the location for Call of Duty: Black Ops IIs zombie map named 'Mob of the Dead'. It also has a cameo appearance in Call of Duty: Black Ops IIIs final zombie map, 'Revelations'.
  • The player can walk around and visit Alcatraz Island in the video game Watch Dogs 2.

Real time escape room games[edit]

  • "Escape from Alcatraz" from EscaspeSF in San Francisco. The game replicates the environment with using original props and background electronics.


  • June Carter Cash performed a song called "Alcatraz".
  • Alcatrazz were an American Heavy Metal band, notable for launching the careers of famed guitarists Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen. "Island in the Sun", the band's debut single from 1983, makes multiple lyrical references to Alcatraz Island.
  • The song "Bullet in the Head", by Rage Against The Machine features the lyric, "every home was like Alcatraz".
  • Christian rock band Capital Lights has a song called "Frank Morris" which tells the story of the escape attempt from the point of view of the prisoners.
  • Malvina Reynolds performed a song called "Alcatraz (Pelican Island)".
  • The 1993 album The New Jim Jones by Andre Nickatina has a song called "Alcatraz", which includes the lyric, "Frisco, the home of Alcatraz".
  • Rapper San Quinn released an album in 2006, entitled The Rock: Pressure Makes Diamonds
  • In a song from the musical The Addams Family, Gomez and Morticia Addams mention that they took a week long trip to Alcatraz.
  • Rick Wakeman's Criminal Record features a song called "Birdman of Alcatraz"
  • American rock band Train have a song called "Save Me San Francisco" which mentions Alcatraz.
  • Norteño band Los Tigres Del Norte filmed the music video of "Jefe De Jefes" at the Alcatraz prison.
  • Artist Benn has made a song called "Alcatraz" hinting of the Call of Duty map "Mob of the Dead".
  • Proto-Punk Peruvian band Los Saicos have a song called "Alcatraz" from the point of view of a prisoner of the Rock.
  • Indie rock band Carbon Leaf has a song called "Alcatraz" on their 2013 album Constellation Prize.

American bay area thrash metal band Testament have a song called "Over The Wall" which the lyrics talk about escaping Alcatraz


  1. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (June 9, 2012), "Tale of 3 Inmates Who Vanished From Alcatraz Maintains Intrigue 50 Years Later", The New York Times, New York, NY, retrieved June 9, 2012 
  2. ^ "About - Alcatraz on FOX - Official Site". FOX Broadcasting Company. 22 January 2012.