Escape from New York

Escape from New York is a 1981 science fiction action film directed and scored by John Carpenter. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Castle. The film is set in the near future in a crime-ridden United States that has converted Manhattan Island in New York City into a maximum security prison. Ex-soldier and legendary fugitive “Snake” Plissken (Kurt Russell) is given 24 hours to find the President of the United States, who has been captured by inmates after Air Force One crashed on the island.

Carpenter originally wrote the film in the mid-1970s as a reaction to the Watergate scandal, but no studio wanted to make it because Carpenter proved unable to articulate just how this film could relate to the Watergate scandal. After the success of Halloween, he had enough influence to get the film made and shot most of it in St. Louis, Missouri, where significant portions of the city were used in place of New York City.[3]

The film’s total budget was estimated to be USD $6 million.[1] It was a commercial hit, grossing over $50 million worldwide.[2] It has since developed its own cult following, particularly around the anti-hero Plissken. A sequel, Escape from L.A., was released in 1996.


The studio wanted Tommy Lee Jones for the role of Snake Plissken. The studio didn’t think Kurt Russell was right for the role because of his prior work.

The wire-frame computer graphics on the display screens in the glider were not actually computer-generated, as computers capable of 3D wire-frame imaging were too expensive when the film was made. To generate the “wire-frame” images, special effects designers built a model of the city, painted it black, attached bright white tape to the model buildings in an orderly grid, and moved a camera through the model city.


A scene in the beginning of the film where Snake and an accomplice rob a high-security bank, leading to his arrest and sentence to New York, was in the original script but was cut before release.


The name “Snake Plissken” was changed to “Hyena” for the Italian release, and “Cobra” in Korea.


Director Trademark: [John Carpenter] [names] minor characters Cronenberg, Romero, Taylor named after fellow sci-fi/horror directors David Cronenberg, George A. Romero and Don Taylor.


The night street scenes were filmed in East St. Louis, Illinois, which had entire neighborhoods burned out in 1976 during a massive urban fire. Across the Mississippi River from the more prosperous St. Louis, Missouri, East St. Louis was filled with old buildings that look seedy and run-down.


The only scene actually filmed in New York was the opening dolly shot, which follows a character past the Statue of Liberty.


The shot where the helicopter flies over Central Park was actually filmed in San Fernando, California. The buildings in the background were matte-paintings by future director James Cameron.


The fight scene in the boxing ring was filmed in the abandoned grand hall of St. Louis Union Station several years before the building’s renovation. While the hall was extremely dilapidated, viewers can make out the stained glass window representing New York, St. Louis, and San Francisco in the background. This window is still above the front entry into the grand hall from Market Street.


The original negative was considered lost, but later found by the current owner of the film: MGM. It was subsequently used to create new elements for the special edition DVD.


Donald Pleasence came up with a backstory to explain how he became President with his British accent, but John Carpenter didn’t use it.


Ox Baker struck Kurt Russell very heavily with some of his blows during the boxing ring fight scene. Russell had finally had enough and and asked Baker to take it easy, tapping him in the groin to let him know he was serious. Baker then calmed down.


Bill Bartell was the pilot in the glider sequence at the start of the movie. He sold the glider to the production company, and then flew it. The glider used had the designation N2927B and was a Romanian-made IS28-B2.


The skeletal weapons being carried by the police in the beginning of the movie are M16A1 rifles with the ventilated hand-guards and gas tubes removed. In reality, though the rifles can fire without the handguards, they are unable to fire with the gas tube removed. Cocking manually, the M16 can fire single shots even with the gas tube removed, but not in semi-automatic, full automatic or three-shot burst modes.


Joe Unger is listed in the end credits as playing the character of Taylor, although his scenes (the bank robbery/escape prologue) were deleted; however, his name remains in the ending credits.


Kurt Russell’s then-wife Season Hubley had just given birth to their son Boston Russell prior to doing this film. ‘The Girl in the Chock Full O’Nuts’ was her first role after Boston’s birth.


Isaac Hayes’s ’77 Cadillac Fleetwood sedan with the fender-mounted chandeliers is the first art car in a feature film.


“Everyone’s Coming To New York” is the song being sung at the stage show where Snake first meets Cabbie. The lyrics are as follows: Shoot a cop/With a gun/The Big Apple is plenty of fun/Stab a priest/With a fork/And you’ll spend your vacation in New York/Rob a bank/Take a truck/You can get here by stealing a buck/This is bliss/It’s a lark/Honey, everyone’s coming to New York!/No more Yankees/Strike the word from your ears/Play the roulette/There’s no more opera at the Met/This is hell/This is fate/But now this is your home and it’s great/So rejoice/Pop a cork/Honey, everyone’s coming to New York!


The final credit is a reference to a strip club and the dancers across the river from St Louis.


The studio also wanted Charles Bronson for the role of Snake Plissken but John Carpenter refused on the grounds that he was too old.


The original German one-sheet poster prominently misspells Snake’s last name as “Plessken”.


The entire crew was plagued by persistent mosquitoes during a very hot and sticky St Louis summer.


The President’s downed plane was an old Convair 580 bought from an airplane graveyard in Tucson, Arizona. The plane was carved up into 3 separate pieces and trucked into the film’s St Louis locations in the dead of night as they didn’t have the requisite paperwork.


The production design department would get their props by taking several dump trucks to the local garbage landfill sites and filling them up with junk like broken refrigerators and car shells.


The manhole covers in the film were all made out of wood. Real ones would have been far too heavy for the actors.


Snake Plissken’s eyepatch was suggested by Kurt Russell.


Donald Pleasence drew on his own wartime experiences as a prisoner of war for his performance as the imprisoned President.


Avco Embassy approached John Carpenter after the success of Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980) to make a film based on a novel that they had acquired titled “The Philadelphia Experiment”. When Carpenter got stuck on that project, he proposed instead his idea for “Escape from New York”. Avco liked the idea and green-lit the project almost immediately.


The model of the city set was repainted and reused for Blade Runner (1982).


Director of photography Dean Cundey used a special lens – new at the time – to extract the maximum amount of light from night time shoots.


The film’s budget of $7 million was the largest that John Carpenter had worked with up to that point.


John Carpenter and his crew convinced St. Louis authorities to shut off the electricity for ten blocks at night.


John Carpenter purchased the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge in St Louis for $1 from the government and then returned it to them for the same amount after filming was completed.


Co-writer Nick Castle came up with the idea for the Cabbie character and also the film’s ending.


John Carpenter originally wrote the film in the mid-’70s as a reaction to the Watergate scandal, but no studio wanted to make it because it was deemed to be too dark and too violent. That all changed after the success of Halloween (1978).


Maggie’s character was written with Adrienne Barbeau in mind.


Kurt Russell has stated that this is his favorite of all his films, and Snake Plissken is his favorite of his characters.


The opening narration is not, as some reported, provided by an uncredited Jamie Lee Curtis. The computer voice in the opening and in the first prison scene is producer Debra Hill.


The idea of being put a wig on at one point of the film was improvised by Donald Pleasence on the set.


Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges were both approached to play “”Snake” Plissken”, but were uninterested. Kris Kristofferson was considered as a possible candidate for the lead also, but was not approached due to the failure of Heaven’s Gate (1980).


This was the first film to be shot on Liberty Island beneath the Statue of Liberty.


Infamous for bad movie retitling, the German dub of the movie is known as “Die Klapperschlange” (The Rattlesnake). Snake has a cobra tattooed on his abdomen.


Filed under: Science Fiction

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