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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 »
3,645 ( 415)
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 »


Crime | Drama | Thriller


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






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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
See  »

Did You Know?


Reportedly, the Turkish authorities still, allegedly, have a warrant out for the arrest for Billy Hayes who is, apparently under their laws, technically still classified as a prison escapee. See more »


The movie is set in 1970. When Billy Hayes makes a visit to the toilet at the airport to wash his face, there is a poster on the wall showing a shot of the Bosphorus Bridge which was built in 1973. 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 »


Spoofed in The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror II (1991) See more »


The Chase
by Giorgio Moroder
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User Reviews

I'm Billy Hayes, well at least I used to be.
16 February 2012 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Midnight Express is directed by Alan Parker and adapted to screenplay by Oliver Stone. It is loosely based on Billy Hayes' book of the same name. It tells of American Hayes' (Brad Davis) arrest and subsequent conviction for trying to smuggle hashish out of Istanbul, Turkey, for which he was sent to a hellish Turkish prison to serve his time. It also stars Randy Quaid, John Hurt, Paul L. Smith and Irene Miracle. Music is scored by Giorgio Moroder and cinematography is by Michael Seresin.

Although controversy followed it due to its portrayals of the Turkish people, Midnight Express is today still a raw and uncompromising experience. In fact if we strip away Moroder's Oscar winning electro bubbling score, the film holds up as a fresh and pertinent piece of film making. Parker doesn't cut corners or attempt any sort of Hollywood gloss, he keeps it grimy, oppressive and harsh in its telling, whilst the hand-held camera work keeps things jittery, harmonising with Billy Hayes and his fellow cons' state of mind. The narrative unfurls from Billy's POV, and it's mostly in a downwards direction, with that it's hard to call the picture essential entertainment, we are after all observant to mental and physical abuse, with the disintegration of the human spirit front and centre. Billy's alienation is deftly crafted by Parker, where the non use of subtitles for the Turkish characters helps us to feel as isolated as Billy was. However, there's the odd glimmer of hope and humanity, courtesy of Billy's interactions within the few friendships he forms, and of course there's the overriding urge to see him escape his hell.

Stone won the Academy Award for his screenplay, and even though it has been frowned upon for some of the perceived bile unleashed on the Turks, it mostly excels on a human's under duress basis. The interactions between prisoners is often solemn and edgy, due to the characters being from different walks of life, while much of Hayes' outpourings of emotion have conviction by way of the words; even if one particular "speech" is ill advised and over the top. Cast are excellent, where Davis calls on the sadness in his real life upbringing to give a performance of real intensity, while Hurt and Quaid are beaten down by drug fuelled resignation and tempestuousness respectively. It has flaws, and the over dramatising of certain events tends to deviate from a real story that hardly needed extra oomph, but always Midnight Express remains a harrowing and potent piece of cinema. 8/10

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