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Midnight Express (1978)

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Billy Hayes, an American college student, is caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and thrown into prison.



(screenplay), (book) (as William Hayes) | 1 more credit »
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Won 2 Oscars. Another 14 wins & 14 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Hamidou (as Paul Smith)
Franco Diogene ...
Gigi Ballista ...
Peter Jeffrey ...
Joe Zammit Cordina ...


On October 6, 1970 while boarding an international flight out of Istanbul Airport, American Billy Hayes is caught attempting to smuggle 2 kilos of hashish out of the country, the drugs strapped to his body. He is told that he will be released if he cooperates with the authorities in identifying the person who actually sold him the hash. Billy's troubles really begin when after that assistance, he makes a run for it and is recaptured. He is initially sentenced to just over four years for possession, with no time for the more harsh crime of smuggling. The prison environment is inhospitable in every sense, with a sadistic prison guard named Hamidou ruling the prison, he who relishes the mental and physical torture he inflicts on the prisoners for whatever reason. Told to trust no one, Billy does befriend a few of the other inmates, namely fellow American Jimmy Booth (in for stealing two candlesticks from a mosque), a Swede named Erich, and one of the senior prisoners having already ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


A story of triumph. See more »


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






| | |

Release Date:

6 October 1978 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Expreso de medianoche  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$1,800,000 (estimated)


$35,000,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


(still photographs)| (Eastmancolor) (uncredited)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The film was released just about a year after its source book of the same name by Billy Hayes was first published in 1977, but the story told by Hayes in his book is very different from the movie: Nearly all the villains and most dramatic events in the film are made up. See more »


Muslim prayer is depicted incorrectly. Muslim prayer has definite steps and rules, and there's always a leader to the prayer when more than two are praying. See more »


[first lines]
[Susan makes her way through a line at an airline checkpoint]
Susan: Excuse me... Excuse me... Excuse me... Excuse me.
[she reaches Billy in line]
Susan: Nervous?
Billy Hayes: No.
Susan: Geez, I hate flying.
Billy Hayes: It's something I ate. I think I've been poisoned.
Susan: Or you're just excited about getting home.
Billy Hayes: No, I think it's the baklavas.
See more »


Featured in Prison Night (2015) See more »


Istanbul Blues
Vocals by David Castle
Written By Oliver Stone, Billy Hayes (as William Hayes)
Arrangement and lyrics by David Castle
Acoustic / Electric Guitars by Patrick McClure
Drums, Percussion: Jerry Summers
Strings: Fritz Sonnleitner, Sid Sharp
Bass: Rick Tierney
Piano, Electric Piano, Clavinet: David Castle
Published by Rick's Music, Inc./Gold Horizon Music Corp. (BMI)
(p) 1978 Casablanca Record and FilmWorks, Inc.
© 1978 Columbia Pictures
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User Reviews

A Contemporary "Jude Suess"
4 February 2002 | by See all my reviews

Artistically, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS is quite well made... I do recall several media reports at the time of the film's release that led to contrary impressions, supporting the deliberate attempt by the filmmakers to do a hatchet job on the setting of this film. The first was Billy Hayes himself, when he first arrived on native soil, having pulled off his alleged escape; he said on TV, "I like the Turks...it's the prison I had a problem with" Easy to understand; few prisons are a joy ride, regardless of nation of origin. From this, I gathered he personally didn't have an animosity against the Turks, although MIDNIGHT EXPRESS goes out of its way to make everything negative about the country and culture. Only the "Western" characters are good and attractive, and the folks selected to play the Turks are corrupt, physically ugly and basically sub-human. The exterior scenes in Turkey itself have a grayish tint, implying the land is a hell-hole, and even the near-universally acclaimed cuisine gets a black eye.

The second thing from the (film's release) period I recall was a discussion on radio that claimed the prison Billy served time in was relatively modern, built in the mid-sixties... and not the Devil's Island PAPILLON setting depicted in the movie. (A 19th-Century British barracks in Malta was used for the prison.) Naturally, some artistic leeway is allowed here, since the movie's purpose is to paint a picture of a living nightmare.

I recall reading the book years ago, and when our hero got his unfair sentence, naturally he was in despair... but at that moment, he felt an almost gallant, resigned acceptance. In contrast, when Billy gave his courtroom speech in the movie (which certainly was a defining moment of the film's ill-naturedness... to quote part of the speech: "For a nation of pigs, it sure seems funny that you don't eat them! Jesus Christ forgave the bastards, but I can't! I hate! I hate you! I hate your nation! And I hate your people! And I f**k your sons and daughters because they're pigs! You're all pigs!"), the three ugly judges actually hung their heads in shame. I wonder if there's a courtroom in any nation that would permit such a prolonged and loud outburst.

The August 30th post mistakenly referred to Turkey as an Arab nation.... so the user must not have seen "Lawrence of Arabia," where the Arabs were the heroes and the Turks were the villains. It's interesting that in the rare Hollywood film where Arabs are portrayed "positively," Turks still come across as barbaric.

A Turkish-American friend has told me, contrary to what others here are thinking that the film couldn't really prejudice the viewer, that the film has achieved one of its purposes, to leave a sore, anti-Turkish taste in mouths. Keeping in mind that Americans are generally ignorant of the ways of many foreign nations, this film continues, even today, of being the only source of information most Americans have about Turkey. As cinematically effective and wonderfully made this film is, there's a disturbing side to MIDNIGHT EXPRESS that makes it mildly resemble a contemporary "Jude Suess," or THE ETERNAL JEW ("Der Ewige Jude").

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