Escape From New York (1981)

Escape From New York (1981)

“You go in, find the president in less than 24 hours, and you’re a free man.”

In the near future, a group of rebels kidnap the president (Donald Pleasence) and hold him hostage on the island of Manhattan, which has been turned into a maximum security prison. A convict named Snake (Kurt Russell) is promised immunity in exchange for bringing the president back safely to the mainland, but must fight against the island’s ruthless leader, the Duke (Isaac Hayes).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Donald Pleasence Films
  • Ernest Borgnine Films
  • Harry Dean Stanton Films
  • Hostages
  • John Carpenter Films
  • Lee Van Cleef Films
  • New York City
  • Prisoners
  • Race-Against-Time
  • Science Fiction

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “mindless ‘escapism’ by John Carpenter” features “an intriguing premise and [a] good cast”, but fails to capitalize on its “political possibilities”, instead simply opting for “trite story points… and unreal, cliché characters.” Ken Russell’s blatant imitation of Clint Eastwood will indeed “get on your nerves”:

and none of the supporting actors are particularly impressive or memorable.

While Carpenter and his team make good use of a low budget to convincingly portray a decaying, blight-filled Manhattan, the city is ultimately more of a backdrop than a true “character” in the story. Plus, as Peary points out, “surely the bridges would have been destroyed by the government if Carpenter didn’t want to utilize one… in his escape plot” — it’s impossible to believe that a maximum security prison island would maintain such overt links to the outside world, albeit heavily mined ones. As a longtime cult favorite, Escape From New York deserves at least a look, but ultimately it’s a disappointment; most of its entertainment value these days stems from its over-the-top scenarios and dialogue (“I heard you were dead!”).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Impressive sets and props on a low budget

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look for its status as a cult favorite.


2 thoughts on “Escape From New York (1981)

  1. Not must-see.

    I saw this once, years ago, and had forgotten it completely until now. Seeing it again, I can see why it easily left my mind. Apparently whatever appeal it has escaped me then, and it escapes me now.

    (By the way, who actually ‘escapes’ from New York in this movie? No one, that I can see.)

    The high-concept premise is given no mileage. The script meanders. The film has no style. And there’s no real acting going on. It’s a movie that arrives DOA.

    The *only* nice touch comes at the very end, with a joke involving a cassette tape.

    The oft-repeated “I thought you were dead.” line to Russell – no doubt meant as a running ‘gag’ that would keep the audience tickled – gets tired fast.

    I see absolutely no camp value in this film at all.

  2. ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Terrific sci-fi thriller with an amusing lead performance from Kurt Russell and plenty of great characters in support all well played; love the look Adrienne Barbeau gives Russell when they first meet.

    Love the central concept even of it is bobbins but I’ll forgive it because the original script was written in 1973 as a response to all the cynicism about the US government at the time coupled with the awful crime rate then.

    Typical of Carpenter; bags of visual and musical style and overall it’s memorable and a fine film. However, apart from being a box office hit and a cult item these days it’s only historical impact is to have inspired a fun but inferior sequel; Escape from LA (1996).

    Not must see.

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