In 1912, 13-year-old Indiana Jones is horseback riding with his Boy Scout troop in Moab, Utah. While scouting caves, Indy discovers a group of grave robbers who have found a golden crucifix belonging to Coronado and steals it from them, hoping to donate it to a museum. The men give chase through a passing circus train, leaving Indy with a bloody cut across his chin from a bullwhip and new phobia of snakes. Indy escapes, but the local sheriff makes him return the crucifix. Impressed with Indy's bravery, the leader of the robbers gives Indy his fedora.
Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is pulled from her training at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the Bureau's Behavioral Science Unit. He assigns her to interview Hannibal Lecter, a former psychiatrist and incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer, whose insight might prove useful in the pursuit of a serial killer nicknamed "Buffalo Bill", who skins his female victims' corpses.
Ray Breslin is a former prosecutor who co-owns Breslin-Clark, a Los Angeles–based security firm specializing in testing the reliability of maximum security prisons. He spends his life getting into prisons to study their designs and the guards' habits to find and exploit their weaknesses, thus enabling him to escape without a hitch or a victim. His goal is to ensure that criminals sent to prison stay inside by eliminating the weakness of every prison; Breslin's wife and child were murdered by an escaped convict he had successfully prosecuted.
A career bank robber, Jack Foley (George Clooney), and a U.S. Marshal, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), are forced to share a car trunk during Foley's escape from a Florida prison. After he completes his getaway, Foley is chased by Sisco while he and his friends—right-hand man Buddy (Ving Rhames) and unreliable associate Glenn (Steve Zahn)—work their way north to Bloomfield Hills, a wealthy northern suburb of Detroit. There they plan to pay a visit to shady businessman Ripley (Albert Brooks), who foolishly bragged to them in prison years before about a cache of uncut diamonds hidden in his home.
Three convicts, Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), known as Everett, Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnel (Tim Blake Nelson) escape from a chain gang and set out to retrieve the $1.2 million that Everett buried. The three get a lift from a blind man driving a handcar on a railway. He tells them that they will find a fortune, but not the one they seek. The trio make their way to Pete’s cousin Wash’s house. They remove their chains and sleep in the barn, but Wash betrays them and they are woken by policemen led by Sheriff Cooley, who have them surrounded. The police try to smoke them out, but Wash’s son rescues them.
1930's France. Henri Charrière (Steve McQueen), a safecracker nicknamed Papillon because of the butterfly tattoo on his chest, is wrongly convicted of murdering a pimp, he is being framed for the crime. He is sentenced to life imprisonment within the penal system in French Guiana. En route, he meets a fellow convict, Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman), a forger and embezzler who is convinced that his wife will secure his release. Dega hires Papillon as his bodyguard, but the two eventually develop a friendship.
In Clairton, a small working-class town in western Pennsylvania, in late 1967, Russian American steel workers Michael "Mike" Vronsky (Robert De Niro), Steven Pushkov (John Savage), and Nikanor "Nick" Chebotarevich (Christopher Walken), with the support of their friends and coworkers Stan (John Cazale) and Peter "Axel" Axelrod (Chuck Aspegren) and local bar owner and friend John Welsh (George Dzundza), prepare for two rites of passage: marriage and military service.
In World War II, British prisoners arrive by train at a Japanese prison camp in Burma. The commandant, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), informs them that all prisoners, regardless of rank, are to work on the construction of a railway bridge over the River Kwai that will connect Bangkok and Rangoon. The senior British officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), reminds Saito that the Geneva Conventions exempt officers from manual labour.
On January 18, 1960, Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) arrives at the maximum security prison Alcatraz, having been sent there after escaping from several other prisons. He is sent in to meet the warden (Patrick McGoohan), who curtly informs him that no one has ever escaped from Alcatraz. Eventually he meets his old friends, bank robber brothers John and Clarence Anglin (Fred Ward and Jack Thibeau), and he makes the acquaintance of the prisoner in the cell next to his, car thief Charley Butts (Larry Hankin). Morris befriends numerous other inmates, including English (Paul Benjamin), a black inmate serving two life sentences for killing two white men in self-defense; the eccentric Litmus (Frank Ronzio) who keeps a pet mouse and calls himself Al Capone, and the elderly artist and chrysanthemum grower Doc (Roberts Blossom).
During World War II, U.S. Army intelligence officer First Lieutenant Thomas Hart (Farrell) is captured by German forces. While interrogating Hart, the Germans coerce him to divulge intelligence by taking away his boots, causing his feet to become frostbitten and badly injured, and leaving him, naked, in a very cold cell. He is then transferred by train to Stalag VI-A prisoner of war camp at Hemer, Germany. While en route, a P-51 Mustang attacks (the letters POW were painted on the top of the train, but got covered by thick snow). To save themselves, the POWs leave the train and spell P-O-W with their bodies and prevent further strafing.
In 1947 Portland, Maine, banker Andy Dufresne is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences at the fictional Shawshank State Penitentiary in rural Maine. Andy befriends prison contraband smuggler, Ellis "Red" Redding, an inmate serving a life sentence. Red procures a rock hammer and later a large poster of Rita Hayworth for Andy. Working in the prison laundry, Andy is regularly assaulted by the "bull queer" gang "the Sisters" and their leader, Bogs.
Steven Jay Russell (Jim Carrey) is on his deathbed, recalling the events of his life that led him to this point. He spent his early adult years in Virginia Beach as a police officer. He plays the organ at church, has unenthusiastic sex with his wife, Debbie (Leslie Mann), and spends his off hours searching for his biological mother, who placed him for adoption as a child. Steven locates his biological mother, but she rejects him.
Set in 1931, two sisters, 14-year-old Molly and 8-year-old Daisy, and their 10-year-old cousin Gracie live in the Western Australian town of Jigalong. The town lies along the northern part of Australia's rabbit-proof fence, which runs for several thousand miles.
In 1943, having expended enormous resources on recapturing escaped Allied prisoners of war (POWs), the Germans move the most determined to a new, high-security prisoner of war camp. The commandant, Luftwaffe Colonel von Luger (Hannes Messemer), tells the senior British officer, Group Captain Ramsey (James Donald), "There will be no escapes from this camp." Von Luger points out the various features of the new camp designed to prevent escape, as well as the perks the prisoners will receive as an incentive not to try. After several failed escape attempts on the first day, the POWs settle into life at the prison camp.
In 1881 in Old Fort Sumner, New Mexico, William H. Bonney, known as Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson), is passing the time with friends shooting chickens for fun. An old friend of Billy's, Pat Garrett (James Coburn), rides into town with Deputy Sheriff J.W. Bell (Matt Clark) and joins the diversion. Later, over drinks, Garrett informs Billy that the electorate want him out of the country, and that in five days, when he becomes Sheriff of Lincoln County, he'll make Billy leave.