Escape from New York (1981) - Rotten Tomatoes

Escape from New York1981

Escape from New York (1981)



Critic Consensus: Featuring an atmospherically grimy futuristic metropolis, Escape from New York is a strange, entertaining jumble of thrilling action and oddball weirdness.

Escape from New York Photos

Movie Info

It's 1997 and Manhattan has been turned into a maximum security prison. When the United States president crash lands into the city after fleeing a hijacked plane, a ruthless prison warden bribes ex-soldier and criminal Snake Plissken to rescue the president, who is being held hostage.

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Kurt Russell
as Snake Plissken
Lee Van Cleef
as Bob Hauk
Donald Pleasence
as President of the United States
Isaac Hayes
as Duke of New York
Season Hubley
as Girl in Chock Full O'Nuts
Charles Cyphers
as Secretary of State
Joe Unger
as Taylor
Tobar Mayo
as Third Indian
Nancy Stephens
as Stewardess
Steven Ford
as Secret Service #2
Lonnie Wun
as Red Bandana Gypsy
Dale E. House
as Helicopter Pilot #1
Bob Minor
as Duty Sergeant
Wally Taylor
as Controller
James O'Hagen
as Computer Operator
Tom Lillard
as Police Sergeant
Borah Silver
as Theater Manager
Tony Papenfuss
as Theater Assistant
Clay Wright
as Helicopter Pilot #3
Ron House
as Dancer
Ron Vernan
as Dancer
Jamie Lee Curtis
as Narration and Computer Voice
Steven M. Gagnon
as Secret Service #1
Al Cerullo
as Helicopter Pilot #4
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News & Interviews for Escape from New York

Critic Reviews for Escape from New York

All Critics (66) | Top Critics (15)

1997 is the year in which the film's events are set, but far from being a bright, progressive future, it is a hyperbolic deterioration of 1981's here and now

November 19, 2018 | Full Review…

The film plays its social satire broad but strings it along a rail of self-awareness.

October 25, 2018 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
Top Critic

It has got an intriguing premise, an effective cast, and it has been expertly mounted.

July 10, 2017 | Full Review…

The movie proudly wears its affection for crusty Sergio Leone archetypes and countdown-clock suspense sequences; Carpenter was Tarantino long before Tarantino was.

July 23, 2013 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Most of the images are elaborate confections of urban blight, etched against a nearly unlit soundstage, and the sound mix, until the finale, is rarely louder than Snake's elbow busting out an old windowpane.

July 17, 2013 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Has a surprisingly measured pace, its set pieces choreographed with a deliberateness at odds with the frantic nature of Snake's quest.

April 14, 2011 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Escape from New York

In the distant future of 1997 the world has dissolved into a dystopian hell. so much so that the Island of Manhattan has been turned into a huge prison. Enter the man with the coolest name since Clint Eastwood's character which was cool enough to not even have a name. 'call me Snake' Probably the roughest toughest coolest badass since Bob Fett and he has an eye patch. Not only is Snake one cool son of a bitch but he is hired for the mission by another cool son of a bitch. Lee Van Cleef is Hauk, the guy in charge of this operation and is one hardass leather faced amigo...even at this ripe old age. The mission, we all know it, get into Manhattan, get the President and bounce back across the prison walls before anyone knows they were there, simple. 'the name's Plissken!' What can I say about this action thriller? its the best damn flick Carpenter made, its got everything you could need. For a start the cast in this film is truly epic, I mean look at it! some massive cult names there and this film was still a small budget affair! Carpenter having made some already great small budget films continued to hammer out top class thrills whilst utilizing basic simple ideas and without the aid of top effects. The atmosphere of the film is electric all the way through, so dark, creepy and almost medieval in appearance as Plissken wades through the criminal scum. Naturally the bad guys are your typical cliched 80's bunch of fantasy cyberpunk fetish gear wearing bikers that wouldn't look too outta place in the 'Mad Max' universe. Stereotypical now...twas how it was then. The visuals for the film are bleak and gloomy, plenty of shadow, not much is shown despite the sky high concept. Much is clever use of lighting camera angles models matte work sets and hard work. You really have to give it to Carpenter and his team for the way they managed to get this film looking so flippin' good, at no point would you think your not on the grimy streets of NY. On top of that the film does have that near futuristic feel as though it could be accurate. Its not over the top with silly gadgets, weapons or robots etc...a reachable possible apocalyptic future which makes it more scary. 'When I get back, I'm going to kill you' To be honest this film is all about Plissken, the new sheriff in movie town at the time, the new 'Dirty Harry'. If it wasn't for this character the film would never have been as good, this character makes the film. Not only is he ice cool with deadly smartass verbal, he dresses uniquely (for the time), looks butch, plenty of stubble, doesn't give a shit and is a complete loose cannon. Cinematic history was made when this fellow stepped out from the shadows, the ultimate anti hero. Always amused me how Russell's costume kinda looked as if Carpenter and co simply threw it together at the last minute. Some military cargo pants, a vest and those odd silver shin pads...job done. Such a simple almost crappy look but its now iconic. Not only is the main character a legend the musical score is also probably Carpenter's best. Previous horror flick 'Halloween' set the bar for its spine tingling tunes, his next film 'The Fog' was also haunting but did seem too similar to 'Halloween'. Before all that 'Assault' had a great videogame-like score which in my opinion is more on track with 'Escapes' theme. For this film you still have the now classic electric tones but its much deeper than 'Assault', less of a videogame sense and more of a pending doom sense. Its pretty much Snake's theme tune really, his personal track as he swaggers slowly across this crumbling earth. 'The president of what?' Like all Carpenter films the plot is simple and straight forward, visuals are just enough but the cast make it work. The fact Plissken is on a health related time limit really adds some tension to the whole plot and keeps you glued to the action. The fact you don't know who will survive, no guarantees for anyone, makes the film even more fun and original for the time. The action keeps going right to the bitter end and Snake gets his sweet anarchic last word/gesture. The film almost corrupts you as you watch, Snake's badassery is so infectious, you can't help but cheer as he strides away after fudging over the President and what he stands for. An almost anti-authoritarian vibe that runs right through this film which always works well in films. Ps. Not only is the film tops but the films poster is also excellent. 'No human compassion'

Phil Hubbs
Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer

John Carpenter makes action-adventure sci-fi films that use small budget resources to create fantastical and unparallel worlds. In this dystopian future (which isn't overtly stated, but it must be seeing as Manhattan is a prison island) Snake Plissken, a merchant of fortune finally caught by the US government, must save the PUSA from the wrath of exiled prisoners. While this setting doesn't make much sense, and a lot about our characters isn't revealed to us throughout the course of the film, we as the audience only need to know what Snake plans to do next, and how he will escape the island. Isaac Hayes as the villain was perfect casting, Adrienne Barbeau plays a steely and hard headed woman who protects her man, and Kurt Russell gives a performance that is over the top in the extreme, and yet he still comes off as the underdog. The film makes a case for empathy from our society, and a denouncement of the prison system, but does so while Ernest Borgnine throws Molotov cocktails, and Kurt Russell gets grabbed through the floor by insane subway marauders. It's a mixed bag of the best in weird and schlocky but is presented in the best possible way, something Carpenter has replicated in all his films.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer


This is John Carpenter's low-budget cult classic that introduced the world to one of the coolest anti-heroes ever: Snake Plissken. Set in the then near distant future of 1997, the world has become a messy dystopia, and Manhattan island has become an isolated prison. When Air Force One crashes there, the President (and a valuable audio tape) are taken hostage by a ruthless gang leader, and the decision is made to have the rescue mission be conducted by Snake Plissken- a war hero turned criminal who is promised a full pardon if he can complete the task. To ensure he'll cooperate, Snake is implanted with an explosive device that will go off if not deactivated within 24 hours. What follows is a tense jaunt through a desolate wasteland populated by colorful character played by the likes of Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, and Donald Pleasence. As Snake, Kurt Russell absolutely dominates, and this is easily one of his best and most iconic roles. As a Missourian, it makes me proud to see St. Louis used as a stand in for Manhattan a majority of the time. The cinematography and set design are great, and you really believe that this place has become a really dangerous world. The music is typical Carpenter, but fun, and the set pieces are decently executed. The film has aged a bit better than I figured, and, even though it's not glossy, it has a lot of charm due to the creativity employed to counteract the low-budget. All in all this is a great genre movie, and easily one of Carpenter's best. Strongly recommended.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

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