Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (complete title), Escape From New York City (script title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1981 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Issac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, Nancy Stephens, Buck Flower, Ox Baker, John Diehl, Carmen Filpi, Jamie Lee Curtis (voice)
Embassy Pictures, International Film Investors, Goldcrest Films International, 99 Minutes, 106 Minutes (extended version)
“It’s the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don’t give a shit about.” – Bob Hauk
When I was a really young kid, walking up and down the aisles of mom and pop video stores throughout Florida, I always used to come across the box art for Escape From New York and stare in awe. It’s one of the coolest and most iconic posters of all-time. Luckily for those who have seen the movie, it actually lives up to the incredible art that adorned the walls of movie theaters and video cassette boxes.
In fact, I’d call this the second most quintessential Kurt Russell movie just behind Big Trouble In Little China. The reason that other film gets the slight edge is because it shows the fun, comedic side of Russell more so than his gruffer more badass performance as Snake Plissken in this movie. Still, this is Kurt Russell at his absolute best and it’s not a surprise to me that he views this film as his favorite.
What’s great about this movie though, is that it doesn’t need to be carried by Russell. You’ve got a pretty solid ensemble cast of great character actors, all of whom bring their A-game and make this a much better picture than it would have been otherwise.
John Carpenter tapped the well of talent that he’s familiar with in Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins, Frank Doubleday, Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis (doing a voice cameo) but he also brought in legends like Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine and Issac Hayes. There are even bit parts for guys who are in a ton of flicks, most notably John Diehl, whose death I still haven’t gotten over in Miami Vice, and Carmen Filpi, who always played the old crazy guy in everything.
The film is about a post-apocalyptic New York City that is walled off from the rest of America and is now run by ruthless gangs. Snake is sent in to rescue the President, who is being held hostage by the baddest of all the gangs. If he fails, he will be killed by an implant that was injected into him. Honestly, that’s a little plot detail that was probably stolen for the Suicide Squad comics and movie. But then again, the whole concept of a walled off metropolis run by gangs was also stolen for the superb Batman story No Man’s Land.
That being said, this film created a lot of urban post-apocalyptic tropes that other films, television shows, books and comics would heavily borrow from.
John Carpenter really made magic with this film though. It was one of those perfect storm scenarios where everything seemed to go right, at least if you’re looking at the final product.
The film looks great, sounds great and has such a thick, brooding atmosphere that there really isn’t anything else like it. Sure, people have tried to emulate and recreate what this movie was but no one else has come close to it. Not even Carpenter, who gave us the sequel Escape From L.A., fifteen years later.
It’s hard to peg what makes this film so great but if I had to, I’d say that it’s everything. From the cast, the visual style, the story and the musical score, which was done by Carpenter, himself, and Alan Howarth, every thing just works and comes together like a perfect casserole.
Escape From New York is moody and cool. It’s a great example of Carpenter using all of his strengths and sort of misdirecting away from his weaknesses. While this isn’t his best film, it’s in his top two or three and definitely takes the cake out of his action flicks.
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as other ’80s and ’90s John Carpenter movies.