Escape from New York

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Template:Infobox MovieEscape 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 was made on a total budget of around $7 million, which is sometimes apparent in the night scenes lit by fires in trash cans. It played upon the then recent highly-public fiscal and social eclipse of New York and fearful suburban attitudes concerning failed inner cities in general. It is said to be one of the "best" B-Movies, and still has a strong fan following.

Cast of characters


Tagline: "Breaking out is impossible. Breaking in is insane."


The film is set in a dystopian future of 1997, where the world is embroiled in World War III. Due to an overwhelming wave of crime that plagued the country, especially New York City, the government built a wall around Manhattan Island and turned it into a maximum security prison. Inside the city is total anarchy and the inmates are allowed to do whatever they want, except leave. Escapees are ruthlessly shot on sight.

A crisis arises when Air Force One, carrying the President of the United States to the Hartford Peace Summit, is hijacked by suicidal terrorists who protest the President's "oppressive facist regime", and crash the airplane inside the city prison. Moments before impact, the President avoids his fate in an escape pod.

Manhattan is monitored from a bunker on Liberty Island . Bob Hauk, the police commissioner who runs the prison, is able to track a life monitor placed on the President's wrist, and leads a rescue team to get him out. Upon arrival, Hauk finds that a gang of prisoners have gotten to the President first and are holding him hostage. They produce a severed finger with his presidential ring as proof that they have him. Hauk asks their demands, but the inmates don't have any as of yet and tell Hauk to leave immediately or the President dies.

With no other choice, Hauk returns to the Ellis Island to update anxious government officials of the situation. Elsewhere, Ellis Island is processing in a new prisoner; the one-eyed "Snake" Plissken, who has recently been convicted of attempted robbery of the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland. Plissken's impressive military record shows that he is a highly skilled Special Forces veteran who has received a prestigious award for his valor.

Hauk interviews Plissken, seeing the war hero that he once was over the dangerous convict he is now. Hauk updates Plissken on the President's situation and the importance of retrieving a cassette tape that has information on what the President hoped would be a new form of viable energy. Plissken is completely uninterested until Hauk offers him a full pardon if he agrees to take the rescue mission. Plissken is given 24 hours to find the President, and more importantly the tape, and get them both out before the summit concludes, or Russia and China will leave the peace talks.

Snake reluctantly agrees to the deal. He is told he will go in covertly with a Gulfstream glider and land on the roof of one of the World Trade Center towers. He is given a gun, a tracking device, a walkie-talkie, a locator bracelet, and a wrist watch with a 22 hour countdown clock which is already in progress. One final step before he leaves is to go to medical for shots which will protect him from the diseases that run rampant in the city. Snake doesn't realize until after the shots were administered that they have placed tiny explosives in him that have lodged in his arteries. Hauk warns Plissken that any attempt to turn the glider around to Canada, or failure to bring back the President will result in the detonation of the explosives which are just big enough to rip open both his arteries and kill him. Plissken's watch has now became his countdown "life clock". Plissken furiously strangles Hauk, demanding he remove the explosives, but a technician calms him down by explaining the charges can be easily neutralized by X-rays once he completes the mission. Before leaving, Plissken threatens to kill Hauk when he gets back.

Plissken flies the glider into the city and lands on top of the WTC as planned. Eventually he finds his way to the streets and the wreckage of Air Force One. He finds the President's escape pod nearby, but the leader is nowhere to be found. Snake activates his locator and tracks a weak signal from the President's life monitor. The signal leads him to a movie theatre where some inmates are enjoying a makeshift stage play. One of the prisoners, a pudgy older man, spots Plissken and takes interest. He follows him and quickly finds Snake's machine gun shoved in his face. The man apologizes for intruding on him and asks if he's "Snake Plissken". Snake doesn't answer, but the man is convinced; laughing that he heard he was dead.

Plissken ignores the man and heads down a flight of stairs despite the man's warning that he shouldn't go down there. Wandering around, Plissken is jumped by some inmates but quickly brushes them aside. Eventually, he finds the source of the signal - a drunken inmate. Distraught that he tracked a decoy, Plissken contacts Hauk to pick him up stating that the President must be dog meat by now, believing the inmates must have killed him already. Hauk orders him to push on since there are 16 hours left. He warns that failure means "no more Hartford Summit, and no more Snake Plissken!"

Plissken wanders around fatigued and wary. He crosses paths with a swarm of cannibalistic people who emerge from the sewers, and takes refuge in the ruins of a nearby diner. There he meets an attractive woman hiding there who quickly realizes who he is and indicates that she heard he was dead. She begs Snake to take her out of here and makes a passionate advance. At that moment, the floor explodes and the crazed cannibals drag the screaming woman away. Snake kills off a few and escapes down an alley with the mob in pursuit. Jumping a wall, Snake loses his walkie-talkie. Suddenly, a dilapidated Checker taxi cab, blasting bandstand music, blocks his path. The man from the theatre is driving and tells Snake to get in. The man tosses a molotov cocktail at the cannibals to cover Plissken's escape.

Despite old Cabbie's helpfulness, Snake forcefully demands to know where the president is. Cabbie tells Snake that "The Duke of New York" has him, and that he runs the city. Snake wants to meet this Duke, but Cabbie warns than no one can see the Duke - "if you do, you're dead!" However, Snake isn't kidding, so Cabbie takes him to see a man named "Brain" believing that he will know what to do.

Brain resides in what was once the New York Public Library, and now his personal fortress. Brain has some prestige and privilege in the city, He helps the Duke with his insight, solving problems and refining gasoline for his gang. Cabbie and Snake are refused entry at the door by Maggie, Brain's "woman", but Cabbie tells her Snake Plissken is here and he has to see Brain. Maggie mentions that she hear Snake was dead, but decides to let them in anyway. She leads them down to see Brain; a skinny disheveled man sitting in a large chair of the main floor like it was his personal throne room. When Brain and Plissken meet eye-to-eye, Plissken realizes who Brain is; none other than a former partner of his named Harold Helman. Snake remembers Harold had double crossed him on a job a while back and threatens to kill him.

Brain begs for his life and offers the whereabouts of the President as leverage. Brain explains that Duke has the President, and that the Duke plans a big "walk out" from the prison tomorrow evening right across the 59th Street Bridge. Snake says the President's life won't mean much in a few hours; he won't be useful as a hostage if he misses the peace talks. Brain doesn't believe him and refuses to help any further, but Snake tells him that the President will pardon anyone who helps him get out alive. Cabbie and Maggie think it's an offer they can't refuse and urge Brain to reconsider. Brain asks Snake about how he plans to escape, where Snake tells him about the Gulfstream glider hidden on the WTC. Reluctantly, Brain finally agrees to help.

The Duke however, has paid a surprised visit, and his entourage of armed thugs surround the library. Snake gets his first glimpse of The Duke; a muscular black man with a sleeveless white outfit and a feathered hat. The Duke's Cadillac has crystal chandeliers mounted to the fenders as headlights. Brain indicates that The Duke wants his map of the bridge which is rigged with land mines to thwart any escape. Plissken and the others hide in a nearby alley, while Cabbie cowardly flees in his taxi. Brain is anxious, stating that the Duke will kill them if he finds out what they're planning.

Plissken decides to steal one of the thug's cars and knocks a guard out. Brain and Maggie rush into the car as Snake takes the wheel. They drive to Duke's compound only to find the Duke's entourage is heading back as well. Plissken takes a shortcut down a street is full of the cannibals who try to swarm the car. Plissken manages to get away and beats The Duke to the compound. Brain indicates that the President is being held in a old subway car and that he and Maggie will create a diversion. This should give Snake the opportunity to sneak in and rescue him.

The plan commences; Plissken enters the subway car and finds the President tied to a chair with a briefcase still handcuffed to his wrist. Plissken explains that he is here on a rescue mission, but then a guard arrives and a brawl ensues. Plissken is stabbed in the leg during the fight and is overpowered by more thugs who drag him outside before The Duke. Brain runs up and lies to The Duke that Plissken forced him against his will to help get the President. The Duke steps up and looks over Snake, stating "Snake Plissken! I heard about you... I heard you were dead." The Duke grabs the knife still stuck in Snake's leg and twists it. Snake passes out from the pain.

Snake wakes up sometime later surrounded by The Duke's thugs. It is daytime and The Duke is enjoying target practice with Snake's gun and using the President chained to a wall as the target. Brain and Maggie watch nearby. The Duke has the frightened President repeat honors to him - "You're the Duke of New York, you're 'A' Number One!" The Duke suddenly shoots open the briefcase and the cassette tape falls to the ground. One of The Duke's thugs picks up the tape and puts it in his pocket while another thug arrives to tell The Duke that Plissken is awake.

Plissken is taken to the main subway terminal, now a makeshift gladiatorial arena surrounded by shouting inmates. Snake is thrown into a boxing ring and faces off with a brute twice his size as the Duke watches from a balcony. The Duke announces that everyone will get to watch the famous Snake Plissken die, and he will walk them to freedom with the President leading the way. The inmates cheer and the fight begins.

Outside, one of the patrol helicopters lands in Central Park after being waved down by a group of inmates. They find the prisoners have left the President's briefcase on a rock and armed soldiers run to retrieve it. Inside the case is a note from The Duke explaining he will use the President to lead the inmates to freedom across the 69th Street Bridge. Any attempt to stop them and the President dies. Hauk is informed of the find and can only hope that Plissken is still alive somewhere to finish the job.

Back in the arena, the fight continues. Snake is thrown nearly out of the ring and he finds a thug near him is wearing his personal locator. He reaches down and rips the locator off the prisoner's arm and manages to activate it. Back on Ellis Island, Snake's locator shows up on the monitor. With time running out, and no contact for hours, Hauk was wondering if Snake was even alive. A technician says he believes that anyone could have activated the locator, but Hauk won't underestimate Plissken's resolve. He orders his men to prepare to extract Plissken and the President.

Back in the city, Plissken is still battling in the arena. Elsewhere, Maggie and Brain decide to rescue the President and bribe the guards to let them past. Brain pretends to search the President for cyanide capsule that he might take instead of allowing the prisoners escape. A guard doesn't believe Brain's story and tells him to leave, but then Brain drives a knife into him. The guard falls while Maggie knocks out the other. Brain frees the President and just before heading out, he reacquires the cassette tape from the dead guard who originally took it.

Back in the arena, Snake finishes off his opponent by driving a spiked baseball bat into the man's head and instantly killing him. A storm of cheers and shouts erupts from the crowd as it chants, "Snake!" On the balcony, a guard tells The Duke that the President is gone, and Brain has taken him. Furious, The Duke leads his men to find them allowing Snake to slip away in the confusion. Snake manages to catch up with Brain, Maggie and the President, at the WTC. They are on the roof fighting off a band of inmates. During the fight, an inmate chops the cable holding the Gulfstream glider, and the plane tumbles off the roof of the building. They need now to figure out a new escape plan since he cannot contact Hauk for extraction by helicopter. Brain decides their only hope of escape is the 59th Street Bridge, after all, he knows where the land mines are.

The group runs down to the ground floor only to find The Duke and his men waiting for them. Suddenly, Cabbie's taxi arrives on the scene and the group piles in while Snake blows up a steam engine to cover their escape. Snake drives, pushing Cabbie aside, while the other three squeeze in the back. Snake demands that Brain hand over the President's summit tape. It is discovered that Cabbie actually has it. He had traded it from the thug for a music tape. Snake checks to make sure it's the right tape by playing it in Cabbie's tape deck. He now has the original and decides to hold onto it despite the President's demand of it.

Soon they come to the land mine bridge. The Duke is in hot pursuit, and they can see he is nearly upon them. Snake checks his life clock. He has only a few minutes left to get across the bridge before he dies. He decides to drive across despite Brain's objections and orders him to shut up and just tell him where the mines are. Cabbie's taxi is battered by near misses with some of the bombs. Now halfway across, Snake takes a wrong turn and hits a mine. The taxi explodes and tears in half. Snake climbs out of the wreckage finding Cabbie has been killed in the blast. The others, including the President, have miraculously survived. Back on Ellis Island, Hauk gets word that several people are on foot across the bridge and a spotter believes the President is with them. Hauk orders his men to the bridge and follows behind them.

On the bridge, The Duke is gaining. He drives his car through the blasts and road debris like they weren't even there. Running for their lives, it is Brain who takes the next wrong turn and steps on a land mine. He is killed instantly. Maggie stops and runs to her lover's side, but Snake tells her there is no time. Maggie refuses to continue on and instead takes Snake's gun and covers his escape by shooting at The Duke as he approaches. Maggie manages to damage his car and the Duke crashes into her. She is also killed. The Duke gets out and chases after Snake and The President on foot.

Plissken and the President reach the containment wall where Hauk and his men lower a rope. They drag the president up first, and when Snake is about to be saved, he is jumped from behind by The Duke. The Duke knocks Plissken down and grabs the rope. Snake manages to get up and pulls The Duke down. The rope begins to lift but suddenly stops and Plissken dangles helplessly. Suddenly machine gun fire erupts and The Duke is gunned down by vengeful President who shouts "Hey DUKE!!! You're the Duke!!! You're 'A" Number One!!!" as he fills him with bullets.

With The Duke dead, Plissken is raised to safety. He immediately demands to have the explosives neutralized, but Hauk has Snake hand over the summit tape first. With seconds remaining on the timer, Snake hands Hauk the tape and the medic runs up to apply the X-Ray charge. Snake checks his life clock which has run to zero. He is still alive.

The President is rushed for medical treatment. They bandage up his finger and prepare him for an immediate news broadcast. Before going on the camera, The President thanks Plissken for his help, but Snake would like to know how he feels about the others who were killed getting him out. The President simply says he would like to thank them too, they sacrificed themselves for the good of the country. Snake walks away, passing Hauk, who asks if he'd like to kill him now. Snake replies "I'm kinda tired, maybe later."

The President takes his position behind a podium ready to give his speech. The camera broadcasts to the world and the President apologizes for not being able to make the historic meeting in person. However, he has something to share with everyone, in hopes that the great nations of the world can work together toward peace. He turns on the tape now which plays Cabbie's bandstand music.

As Snake walks out of Ellis Island gates, he destroys the President's summit tape.


  • Certain matte paintings were rendered by James Cameron, who was at that time a special effects artist with Roger Corman's New World Pictures.
  • When Snake is piloting the glider into the city, there are three screens on the control panel displaying wireframe animations of the landing target on the WTC and surrounding buildings. What appears on those screens was not done on computer. Carpenter wanted "high-tech" looking computer graphics, which were very expensive at the time (even for such a simple animation). To get the animation he wanted, the effects crew filmed the miniature model set of New York City they used for other scenes under blacklight with reflective tape placed along every edge of the model buildings. Only the tape shows up and appears to be a 3D wireframe animation.
  • Most of the movie was filmed in St. Louis, Missouri.
  • Avco-Embassy Pictures, the studio behind the film, preferred either Charles Bronson or Tommy Lee Jones to play the role of "Snake" Plissken to director/co-writer John Carpenter's choice of Kurt Russell, who at the time was trying to overcome his "lightweight" screen image gained through his appearance in several Disney comedies.
  • While many sources write that the film's production budget was $7 million, John Carpenter himself says the budget was more around $5.5 million.
  • The film grossed $25.2 million in American theaters in the summer of 1981, with same amount grossed in foreign markets, making an over $50 million mega box-office hit in ratio to John Carpenter's production budget of $5.5-7 million.
  • After the smash success of Halloween, the small studio of Avco-Embassy signed filmmaker John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill to a two-picture deal. The first film from this contract was 1980s The Fog and this film finished out the contract.
  • Initially, the second film that Carpenter was going to make to finish the contract out was The Philadelphia Experiment but because of script-writing problems, Carpenter junked it for this project, which its initial script-draft he had penned back in the 1970s, and the studio greenlighted it.
  • The final scenes were filmed at the Sepulveda Dam, in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, California.
  • The Duke's Cadillac Fleetwood with the fender-mounted chandeliers is a direct influence in the art car community.
  • John Carpenter and Kurt Russell teamed up again for the belated sequel, Escape from L.A. (1996) set in 2013. Another sequel has also been proposed (it was Escape from Earth), but will not likely materialize due to the poor box office performance of ...L.A.
  • Escape From New York is a legendary pizza parlor on Portland, OR's artistic 23rd St. It features huge wall murals with a New York City theme and pizzas (whole or by the slice) with slices over a foot in length. It's popular among Portlanders and tourists from all walks of life.
  • Jamie Lee Curtis has an uncredited part as the voice-over of the computer in the intro.
  • Snake Plissken was the inspiration for Solid Snake, hero of the Metal Gear series, and the plot was also the inspiration for Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (sneak into an indomitable fortress to rescue a VIP and an important tape/cartridge that determines the fate of the world). To push it even more, in the sequel (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty), Solid Snake goes by the alias of Iroquois Pliskin. Metal Gear also uses the same font in its logo for the first game as Escape From New York.

External link

de:Die Klapperschlange fr:New York 1997 pl:Ucieczka z Nowego Jorku