Kurt Russell has stated that this is his favorite of all his films, and Snake Plissken is his favorite of his characters.
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Snake Plissken's eyepatch was suggested by Kurt Russell.
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John Carpenter purchased the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis for one dollar from the government, and then returned it to them for the same amount, after filming was completed.
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The model of the city set was repainted and reused for Blade Runner (1982).
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The wire-frame computer graphics on the display screens in the glider were not computer-generated, as computers capable of 3-D wire-frame imaging were too expensive when the film was made. To generate the "wire-frame" images, special effects designers built a model of the city, painted it black, attached bright white tape to the model buildings in an orderly grid, and moved a camera through the model city.
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The opening narration, and the computer's voice in the first prison scene, were provided by an uncredited Jamie Lee Curtis.
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The shot where the helicopter flies over Central Park was actually filmed in San Fernando, California. The buildings in the background were matte-paintings by James Cameron.
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The night street scenes were filmed in East St. Louis, Illinois, which had entire neighborhoods burned out in 1976 during a massive urban fire. Across the Mississippi River from the more prosperous St. Louis, Missouri, East St. Louis is filled with old buildings that are seedy and run down.
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One night, while shooting on location in St Louis, Kurt Russell (in costume) encountered some local toughs. He had unwittingly strayed into their territory but they were suitably intimidated by his appearance not to give him any trouble.
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Kurt Russell pitched himself hard for the role of Snake Plissken as he was very keen to shake off his Disney image.
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Donald Pleasence drew on his own wartime experiences as a prisoner of war for his performance as the imprisoned President.
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John Carpenter originally wrote the film between 1974 and 1976 as a reaction to the Watergate scandal, but no studio wanted to make it because it was deemed to be too dark and too violent. That all changed after the success of Halloween (1978).
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John Carpenter and his crew convinced St. Louis authorities to shut off the electricity for ten blocks at night.
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John Carpenter was interested in creating two distinct looks for the movie. "One is the police state, high tech, lots of neon, a United States dominated by underground computers. That was easy to shoot compared to the Manhattan Island prison sequences which had few lights, mainly torch lights, like feudal England."
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Kurt Russell kept all his costumes from the film and was very pleased 17 years later when Escape from L.A. (1996) was being made that he still managed to fit into them. (Although ultimately both he and John Carpenter decided to change the costume for the sequel.)
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Adrienne Barbeau and John Carpenter were married at the time the film was released, as were Kurt Russell and Season Hubley.
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The manhole covers in the film were all made out of wood. Real ones would have been far too heavy for the actors.
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Ox Baker struck Kurt Russell very heavily with some of his blows during the boxing ring fight scene. Russell had finally had enough and asked Baker to take it easy, tapping him in the groin to let him know he was serious. Baker then calmed down.
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The President's downed plane was an old Convair 580 bought from an airplane graveyard in Tucson, Arizona. The plane was carved up into three separate pieces, and trucked into the film's St. Louis locations in the dead of night, as they didn't have the requisite paperwork.
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Popular video game director Hideo Kojima has referred to the movie frequently as an influence on his work, in particular the Metal Gear series. Solid Snake is partially influenced by Snake Plissken. In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001), Snake actually uses the alias "Pliskin" to hide his real identity during most of the game.
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Kurt Russell found it necessary to remove the eyepatch between takes, as wearing it constantly seriously affected his depth perception.
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This was the first film to be shot on Liberty Island beneath the Statue of Liberty. The Liberty Island scene, along with the morning shot of Manhattan (where a helicopter is seen), were the only scenes of the film shot in New York City.
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The film's setting proved to be a potential problem for John Carpenter, who needed to create a decaying, semi-destroyed version of New York City on only a shoe-string budget. He and production designer Joe Alves rejected shooting on location in New York City, because it would be too hard to make it look like a destroyed city. Carpenter suggested shooting on a movie backlot, but Alves nixed that idea "because the texture of a real street is not like a backlot." They sent Barry Bernardi, their location manager (and associate producer), "on a sort of all-expense-paid trip across the country looking for the worst city in America," producer Debra Hill remembers. Bernardi suggested East St. Louis, Illinois, because it was filled with old buildings "that exist in New York City now, and have that seedy run-down quality" that the team was looking for.
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The original negative was considered lost, but later found by the current owner of the film: MGM. It was subsequently used to create new elements for the Special Edition DVD.
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Studio executives wanted Tommy Lee Jones for the role of Snake Plissken. They didn't think Kurt Russell was right for the role, based on his prior work.
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The production design department would get their props by taking several dump trucks to the local landfills and filling them up with junk like broken refrigerators and car shells.
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When it came to shooting in New York City, John Carpenter managed to persuade federal officials to grant access to Liberty Island. "We were the first film company in history allowed to shoot on Liberty Island at the Statue of Liberty at night. They let us have the whole island to ourselves. We were lucky. It wasn't easy to get that initial permission. They'd had a bombing three months earlier, and were worried about trouble."
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The film's budget of $7 million was the largest that John Carpenter had worked with up to that point.
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The film was shot from August to November 1980. It was a tough and demanding shoot for John Carpenter, as he recalls. "We'd finish shooting at about six a.m., and I'd just be going to sleep at seven, when the sun would be coming up. I'd wake up around five or six p.m., depending on whether or not we had dailies, and by the time I got going, the sun would be setting. So for about two and a half months, I never saw daylight, which was really strange."
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Cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson credits the film as an influence on his novel Neuromancer. "I was intrigued by the exchange in one of the opening scenes where the Warden says to Snake 'You flew the Gullfire over Leningrad, didn't you?' It turns out to be just a throwaway line, but for a moment it worked like the best science fiction, where a casual reference can imply a lot."
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The fight scene in the boxing ring was filmed in the abandoned grand hall of St. Louis Union Station several years before the building's renovation. While the hall was extremely dilapidated, viewers can make out the stained glass window representing New York City, St. Louis, and San Francisco in the background. This window is still above the front entry into the grand hall from Market Street.
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Director of photography Dean Cundey used a special lens - new at the time - to extract the maximum amount of light from night time shoots.
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The original lobby poster art for the film shows the head of the Statue of Liberty laying in the middle of a NYC street, even though this is completely absent from the film and the statue is shown very much intact multiple times. The 2008 "found footage" monster film Cloverfield (2008), which involves an unseen force destroying NYC, actually "answers" the poster and pays homage to Escape from New York by including a shot where the statue's head is lopped off and does actually wind up in the street. Says Cloverfield producer J.J. Abrams on Escape from New York: "I loved that movie as a kid, but one of the things that drove me crazy is the poster had this picture of the head of the Statue of Liberty sitting in the middle of a New York street - but it was never in the movie, and I always felt that was such a crazy, scary image that it had to be in our movie." The poster art for Cloverfield displays a headless Statue of Liberty in NYC harbor.
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Infamous for bad movie retitling, the German dub of the movie is known as "Die Klapperschlange" (The Rattlesnake). Snake has a cobra tattooed on his abdomen.
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The idea of putting a wig on at one point in the film was improvised by Donald Pleasence.
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In 1981, Bantam Books published a movie tie-in novelization written by Mike McQuay that adopts a lean, humorous style reminiscent of the film. The novel is significant because it includes scenes that were cut out of the film, such as the Federal Reserve Depository robbery that results in Snake's incarceration. The novel provides motivation and backstory to Snake and Hauk - both disillusioned war veterans - deepening their relationship that was only hinted at it in the film. The novel explains how Snake lost his eye during the Battle for Leningrad in World War III, how Hauk became warden of New York, and Hauk's quest to find his crazy son who lives somewhere in the prison. The novel fleshes out the world that these characters exist in, at times presenting a future even bleaker than the one depicted in the film. The book explains that the West Coast is a no-man's land, and the country's population is gradually being driven crazy by nerve gas as a result of World War III.
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The line "I thought you were dead" was probably borrowed from Big Jake (1971). Every time John Wayne tells someone his name, the standard response is "I thought you were dead." This suggests that parts of this film were inspired by two legendary western stars, or their films; John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, the latter of whom Kurt Russell based his performance on.
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Warren Oates was originally set to play Brain but took ill. He recommended Harry Dean Stanton for the part instead. (Oates would die later that year, felled by a premature heart attack.)
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Studio executives also wanted Charles Bronson for the role of Snake Plissken, but John Carpenter refused, on the grounds that he was too old.
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The scene where Snake and an accomplice rob a high-security bank, leading to his arrest and sentence to New York City, was in the original script, but was cut before release.
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The name "Snake Plissken" was changed to "Hyena" for the Italian release, and "Cobra" in South Korea.
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"Everyone's Coming To New York" is the song being sung at the stage show where Snake first meets Cabbie. The lyrics are as follows: Shoot a cop/With a gun/The Big Apple is plenty of fun/Stab a priest/With a fork/And you'll spend your vacation in New York/Rob a bank/Take a truck/You can get here by stealing a buck/This is bliss/It's a lark/Honey, everyone's coming to New York!/No more Yankees/Strike the word from your ears/Play the roulette/There's no more opera at the Met/This is hell/This is fate/But now this is your home and it's great/So rejoice/Pop a cork/Honey, everyone's coming to New York!
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Kurt Russell decided to wear the eye patch at the last second before shooting. He did not tell John Carpenter beforehand; but Carpenter liked the look for the character so they kept it.
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Although appearing as President of the United States, Donald Pleasence still retains his unmistakable British accent. According to John Carpenter, Pleasence, possibly feeling self-conscious about his accent, suggested the script include a backstory to explain this glaring Constitutional faux pas. Pleasence came up with the idea of the dystopian United States having rejoined the British empire, in which case the president no longer need be a natural-born citizen. Carpenter thought the idea was interesting but would be both distracting and unnecessary to the story, opting instead to simply not mention anything about his accent at all.
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The role of the President was pitched to Donald Pleasence as "the love child between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher".
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Lee Van Cleef flew in from Los Angeles for a one-night shoot, and flew out the next day. When John Carpenter watched the dailies, he discovered that some of Van Cleef's close-ups were out of focus. Carpenter was forced to use some of the close-ups in the movie, since they couldn't afford to get the actor back. Van Cleef had also suffered a knee injury prior to filming, and wasn't fully recovered when it came time to film his scenes. Van Cleef's wife Barbara Havelone was on set to make sure the actor could get through his scenes.
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John Carpenter was inspired by Death Wish (1974). He did not agree with the film's philosophy, but liked how it conveyed "the sense of New York City as a kind of jungle, and I wanted to make a science fiction film along these lines".
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The name Snake Plissken was actually taken from a real person. When writing the screenplay John Carpenter struggled over assigning a memorable name to his main character. A friend of a friend suggested using the name of someone he knew in high school who he described as a "sort of a tough guy" who bore a large snake tattoo on his abdomen; his last name was Plissken and went by the nickname "Snake". Said Carpenter "Anybody with a snake tattooed on them some place ... that's my kinda hero."
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The character of Maggie was written with Adrienne Barbeau in mind.
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The entire crew was plagued by persistent mosquitoes during a very hot and sticky St. Louis summer.
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Avco Embassy approached John Carpenter after the success of Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980) to make a film based on a novel that they had acquired titled "The Philadelphia Experiment". When Carpenter got stuck on that project, he proposed instead his idea for "Escape from New York". Avco liked the idea and green-lit the project almost immediately.
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Kurt Russell's then-wife Season Hubley had just given birth to their son Boston Russell prior to doing this film. 'The Girl in the Chock Full O'Nuts' was her first role after Boston's birth.
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The film shot in St. Louis, Missouri, Los Angeles, California, New York City, New York, and Atlanta, Georgia. Barry Bernardi selected St. Louis to double for Manhattan, due to the city's eager co-operation, its aesthetic similarity to a "major east coast city", and its proximity to the Chain of Rocks Bridge, which was conveniently closed and could double as New York City's famed Queensborough (59th Street) Bridge. Carpenter elaborated on the selection of St. Louis as a surrogate locale for New York City: "St. Louis, due to a major fire they had there in 1977, now just has the right amount of emptiness in the downtown area. Also the right architecture. So much of the city looks vacant and dead; perfect for our needs, since we couldn't use anything looking new or fresh." St. Louis' Union Train Station simulated Madison Square Garden, while the city's downtown area, after being littered with "junked cars" and trash, became the decrepit streets of a 1997 Manhattan. Four separate locales in Los Angeles were used to recreate the World Trade Center, and Liberty Island was among the New York City shooting sites. Atlanta's MARTA mass-transit system, which was originally featured in the film as a "futuristic trans-continental train," was cut from the final edit.
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The only scene actually filmed in New York City was the opening dolly shot, which follows a character past the Statue of Liberty.
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In the backstory behind why Snake wears an eye patch over his left eye, Snake's helmet was cracked during WWIII leaving the iris in his left eye paralyzed due to poison gas, meaning Snake wears the eye patch due to extreme light sensitivity.
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Back in June 2003, Production I.G. started pre-production on an eighty to ninety minute anime feature film, based off of this movie. Mitsuru Hongo was attached as director, and a script was written by Corey Mitchell and William Wilson, under the supervision of John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Kurt Russell. Carpenter was also going to score the music, and Russell would have provided the voice of Snake Plissken. The film was meant to be released back in 2005. However, the project ended up being shelved, and the only thing that remains is a thirty-second teaser trailer and a collection of character designs and storyboards.
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Snake Plissken's weapon, used throughout the movie, is a Mac-10 fitted with a rifle scope, that is mounted on a sound suppressor, he also uses a Smith and Wesson Model 67 with a scope mounted on it.
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Joe Unger is listed in the end credits as playing the character of Taylor, although his scenes (the bank robbery/escape prologue) were deleted.
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Having worked with Kurt Russell on the TV movie Elvis (1979), John Carpenter lobbied hard for him to take the role of Snake Plissken.
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The film's opening weekend take of $9 million was the biggest ever for Avco Embassy.
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Shooting began in late summer, 1980, with a $7 million budget co-financed by AEPC, International Film Investors, Inc., and Goldcrest Films International. The budget was the largest either John Carpenter or Debra Hill had ever worked with, and the shooting schedule, which lasted three months, was their longest and most "logistically complex" to date. The production employed a 180-person, fully union crew, another benchmark for Carpenter and Hill, who were used to smaller crews of either non-union or partially unionized personnel.
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Co-writer Nick Castle played the psychopathic killer Michael Myers throughout most of John Carpenter's earlier film Halloween (1978).
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The shorter prison guards that are seen patrolling the island or part of the incursion to the President's escape pod are actually female extras.
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Studio executives pressured John Carpenter to cast a seasoned "tough guy" actor for the role of Snake. Among their preferences were Chuck Norris, Nick Nolte, Tommy Lee Jones, and Charles Bronson. However, Carpenter dismissed these choices as either too old (Bronson was sixty years old) or too typecast or simply not right for the part. At the time, 29-year-old Kurt Russell was best known for light-hearted Disney roles such as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) and had no experience playing gritty action roles. However, Carpenter had directed Kurt Russell in Elvis (1979) and they had had a very positive relationship working together. Producer Debra Hill agreed his youth, looks, athleticism, and freshness to the action genre made him the ideal choice for the part.
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John Carpenter was inspired to write this film when he took a trip to Manhattan and saw the seedier parts of New York City.
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Co-writer Nick Castle came up with the idea for the Cabbie character and also the film's ending.
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The Elicon Camera Control System was used to capture roughly twelve to fourteen visual effects segments, including the sequence in which Snake pilots a jet glider down Wall Street. The exceedingly precise "computer-controlled camera movement repetition device," which earned its developers, Peter Regla and Dan Slater, an Academy Award in Technical Achievement, allowed for the creation of in-camera mattes. In this movie, the device was predominantly used to recreate the film's New York City backdrop. This eased and expedited the matting process by eliminating the need for more complex bluescreen matting techniques. As a result, the sequences captured using the Elicon Camera Control System were completed nearly a month ahead of schedule.
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Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges were both approached to play Snake Plissken, but were uninterested. Bridges later worked with John Carpenter on Starman (1984), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Kris Kristofferson was considered as a possible candidate for the lead, but was not approached, due to the failure of Heaven's Gate (1980).
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As originally produced, the film opens with an extensive scene of Snake and an accomplice robbing a federal depository and ultimately getting captured. Test audiences thought the scene was long and confusing, resulting in it getting cut entirely.
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The final credit is a reference to a strip club and the dancers across the river in St. Louis.
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In December 2016, it was announced Hollywood would not remake the film, but instead opted to do a prequel set before this film and it was rumored Chris Hemsworth would play Snake Plissken and the film would co-star Summer Glau.
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Isaac Hayes's '77 Cadillac Fleetwood sedan with the fender-mounted chandeliers has been used as an influence for the modern-day art car - a vehicle decorated or customized as works of art. Two other vehicles used in the film (a late 1970s Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon fitted with rebar around the windshield and windows, along with Cabbie's Checker Cab with wire mesh cages) were the ancestors of the mutant vehicles seen at Burning Man (a public art festival outside Reno, Nevada), or during the annual Houston Art Car Parade.
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Bill Bartell was the pilot in the glider sequence at the start of the movie. He sold the glider to the production company, and then flew it. The glider used had the designation N2927B and was a Romanian-made IS28-B2.
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Entertainment Weekly ranked this number one on their "Guilty Pleasures: Testosterone Edition" list in their March 30, 2007 issue.
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Dean Cundey reunited with John Carpenter for the fourth time. On the set, Cundey introduced a "computerized light modulator," which he and Joy Brown had invented and built. Using the modulator for the first time ever, Cundey was able to mimic the light patterns of fire instead of relying on actual fire during photography. Cundey also utilized a Panaglide image stabilization rig, which he helped popularize on Carpenter's Halloween (1978), for approximately 25 percent of the production, to capture the smooth moving camera shots, indicative of the technology.
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The character of Cabbie was written with Ernest Borgnine in mind.
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Scenes of the movie were filmed in the Swift Printing Company building, in downtown St. Louis, abandoned since Swift moved out in 1969. The building was renovated in 1991, and is now the home of the St. Louis Brewing Company - the makers of the Schlafly brand of beers.
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Coincidentally, Lee Van Cleef appeared in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) in which Bing Russell (Kurt's father) also had a small part.
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Kurt Russell based Snake Plissken in part on Bruce Lee, Darth Vader, Clint Eastwood and the Exterminator character that Robert Ginty made famous in the title role of The Exterminator (1980).
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Snake, being based on Clint Eastwood, has the added irony that Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef were in several "spaghetti westerns" together.
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The original German one-sheet poster prominently misspells Snake's last name as "Plessken".
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Tom Atkins's character's name "Rehme" is a reference to the President of AVCO Embassy pictures at the time, Robert Rehme.
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The skeletal weapons being carried by the police in the beginning of the movie are M16A1 rifles with the ventilated hand-guards and gas tubes removed. In reality, though the rifles can fire without the handguards, they are unable to fire with the gas tube removed. Cocking manually, the M16 can fire single shots even with the gas tube removed, but not in semi-automatic, full automatic, or three-shot burst modes.
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The two months following principal photography were reserved for editing, scoring, and mixing, and ongoing visual effects work at Roger Corman's Venice, California studio, to be concluded by April or May of 1981, in preparation for a July 1981 release date. According to production notes, Corman's New World Pictures utilized several different optical effects, including "matte paintings, glass paintings, 3-D models, time-lapse photography, and model animation" to create all of the film's visual effects. Among the models built was a "ten-foot by ten-foot scale miniature" of Manhattan, with surrounding water and Brooklyn visible in the distance. Roy Arbogast oversaw the "live" effects, such as explosions and the operation of mechanical devices like the President's escape pod. Arbogast and Carpenter would work together again on several future projects, including Carpenter's follow-up film, the visual effects-heavy The Thing (1982).
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This film previewed to an enthusiastic audience as an unannounced feature at Filmex, the former-annual Los Angeles film festival. The film had been set to screen at the USA Film Festival in Dallas, but was pulled from the schedule because they did not have the equipment to screen the film's "double system work print."
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Kurt Russell's stunt double was Dick Warlock on this feature. George Wilbur was also listed as one of the stuntmen. In Halloween II (1981), also written by John Carpenter, Warlock played Michael Myers. Wilbur would go on to play Michael Myers in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988).
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Some movie posters for the film featured a fallen Statue of Liberty, which was a design concept that has been used for other films as well. They are Planet of the Apes (1968), Escape from New York (1981), The Jupiter Menace (1982), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and Cloverfield (2008).
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Produced during a highly sensationalized era of the Cold War, the story envisions the United States at war with the Soviet Union in 1997. Hauk mentions Snake having flown the Gullfire glider into Leningrad. At the time of the film's production, Leningrad was still the name of the 18th-century Russian city of Saint Petersburg. Saint Petersburg was changed to Petrograd in 1914 (a literal Russian translation of the German name Petersburg, as anti-German sentiment was very high), then to Leningrad in 1924, after the death of V.I. Lenin, and then reverted to Saint Petersburg in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed.
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Kurt Russell also wore long hair and a patch over his left eye in Captain Ron (1992). He appears to be playing the Captain Ron character as a comically drunk version of Snake Plissken.
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Kurt Russell had recently become a father to his first child, Boston Russell. Often when he got back from a day's shooting, he would have to bottle feed his son which must have looked rather incongruous seeing as he was generally still in costume.
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Tom Atkins and Adrienne Barbeau also costarred in John Carpenter's The Fog (1980). In both movies, their characters never meet.
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Season Hubley's character, the Girl in "Chock Full of Nuts," was originally named "Maureen." Said name was revealed only in the tie-in novel, never in the movie.
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Several cast members of Escape from New York were also in John Carpenter's The Fog (1980): Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Jamie Lee Curtis, George 'Buck' Flower, and John Strobel.
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Donald Pleasence and Tom Atkins starred in the Halloween franchise, although they never starred in the same film. Pleasence starred in the Michael Myers storyline, while Atkins starred in the stand-alone Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982).
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The Hartford, Connecticut Summit mentioned in the film had two visiting Communist nations (People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). In reality, the USSR/Soviet Union ceased to exist in late 1991.
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Season Hubley received a "special appearance" credit.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 2001 list of 400 movies nominated for the top 100 Most Heart-Pounding American Movies.
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Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones, who were considered to play Snake Plissken, later worked together in Blown Away (1994).
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John Carpenter claimed that the 1962 sci-fi novel "Planet of the Damned" by Harry Harrison was the inspiration behind the plot of Escape from New York: The novel is about a man named Brion Brandd whom is forced to leave his home planet Anvhar and goes to the hellish planet Dis to prevent a global nuclear holocaust.
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Every character that says "I heard you were dead" to Snake dies.
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The shot of Maggie's corpse under the Duke's car was added after principal photography was done as John Carpenter felt the audience wouldn't get it that she had been killed by the impact. Carpenter and Adrienne Barbeau filmed the shot in their garage with her under their own car. During a 2011 interview with Terry Gross on her National Public Radio program "Fresh Air," J.J. Abrams said that as a teenager, he was the one who had first suggested to Carpenter that Maggie's death was unclear; Abrams, whose father was a movie producer, got to see an early rough cut of the movie, and when Carpenter asked the small screening audience for notes or suggestions, the then-15-year-old Abrams told him that there needed to be an extra shot of Maggie that established that she was definitely dead.
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John Carpenter had originally considered a scene where Hauk reveals that the explosive charges in his neck were a hoax intended to coerce Snake into rescuing the President, but decided not to use it. Carpenter did, however, use a similar plot device in the sequel Escape from L.A. (1996).
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