- Anti-Hero: He is a convict, although he has a strong sense of morality and is in jail because a Crime of Self-Defense.
- Apple of Discord: Attempts this when asking why a militant black man like Diamond Dog is taking orders from a skinhead white guy. It fails when Diamond Dog explicitly says he's The Starscream.
- Armor-Piercing Question: To Agents Simms after his cover as DEA agent is blown:Poe: You know you're in a situation you can't control, right?
- Badass Boast: In other movies, his "I'm gonna show you that God does exist." would be a Blasphemous Boast. But given he is saying this to a morally wounded Baby-O, Cage manages to make this boast as an actual kickass boast.
- Berserk Button: Threatening his family or messing with her daughter's stuffed bunny will make him mad.
- Do not assault or attempt to rape women.
- Big Damn HeroesPoe: What do you think I'm gonna do? I'm gonna save the fuckin' day.
- Bond One-Liner: Delivers one after killing Billy Bedlam.Poe: Why couldn't you just put the bunny back in the box?
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: Can't get himself to leave Baby-O or the remaining guards to die.
- Cold Ham: Speaks with a soft, Southern drawl, which is all kinds of amazing considering this is Nicolas Cage we're talking about.
- Crime of Self-Defense: He's attacked by three guys who try to make a move on his wife. He kills one of them when they pull a knife on him. The others flee, taking the knife, thus hiding the evidence that he used necessary force. As a result, the judge gives him 7-10 years, of which he serves 8.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Implied he had one and he joined the army to straighten himself out.
- Deadpan Snarker:Pinball: Armed robber, arsonist, dope fiend. I'm a hell of a nice guy. I just got caught.Poe: Aw, shucks.
- Determinator: He will do whatever it takes to save Bishop and Baby-O and get home with his family.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: He's not a regular Army private, he's a Ranger.
- The Hero: The main character whos gonna save the fucking day.
- Honor Before Reason: He's questioned by several people as to why he didn't get off the plane when he had the chance. He simply refused to leave diabetic Baby-O behind with no insulin.
- And could not live with himself if his daughter found out he left a defenseless Bishop at the mercy of "Johnny 23."
- Large Ham: He is played by Nicolas Cage, after all.
- Made of Iron / Major Injury Underreaction: Gets shot in the arm without even flinching.
- Messy Hair: Poe meant to get a haircut that day.
- Nice Guy: Decides to stay onboard the plane and look after Baby-O and Bishop even though he has the opportunity to leave and return to his family.
- No One Gets Left Behind: He won't leave the plane when he has the chance because he's afraid of what will happen to Baby-O and Bishop.
- Not So Different: Cameron and Cyrus are both prisoners, each with a Dark and Troubled Past, and both men academically-enriched themselves behind bars (Cyrus earned a University Doctorate in Law, and Cameron becomes fluent in the Spanish Language through Self-Study Book-and-Audio-Tape Courses). Both are also notably opposed to the rapist Johnny 23, and they seem to share the same wry sense of humour, which endears Cameron to Cyrus for a while. However, Cameron got sent to prison for one manslaughter, while Cyrus killed multiple inmates while inside said prison.
- Papa Wolf"You ain't gettin' near my daughter. Buckle up!"
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:YOU! DON'T! TREAT! WOMEN! LIKE! THAT!!!
- Sleeves Are for Wimps: Poe ditches his prison shirt in favour of a sleeveless skivvy halfway through the movie, and never changes out of it.
- Spanner in the Works: Cyrus' escape plan might have worked without a hitch if Poe hadn't intervened.
- Sympathetic Murderer: Larkin thinks so.Got in a drunken brawl defending his wife and he killed a guy. Could have happened to any one of us, including you and me.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: He keeps his cool even when surrounded by the dangerous criminals on the plane. One hand his training probably taught him to keep cool. Other hand he's seen so much in his time in prison he's probably used to it to an extent. When he sees he's sitting next to famous serial killer Garland Greene on the plane his reaction amounts to "Sure, why not."
- What Have I Done: Had this after killing Billy Bedlam.
- Wife-Basher Basher: He won't tolerate violence against women, which is what gets him locked up in the first place. He also beats the shit out of Johnny 23 for attempting to rape Bishop.
Mike Baby-O ODell
- Crisis of Faith: After getting shot, he admits that he's no longer sure he believes in God.
- Determinator: Tries to rescue Bishop from Johnny 23 while in the late stages of dying from lack of insulin.
- Ill Guy: He's diabetic, and a scene has Poe going after insulin.
- Living MacGuffin: One of the reasons Poe refused to leave the plane was getting his insulin.
- Real Men Love Jesus"God's got my back."
- Senseless Sacrifice: Ends up Taking the Bullet for Poe (after finally getting his insulin) even after Cyrus already figured he's The Mole. He survived, but still...
Cyrus The Virus Grissom
- And Your Little Dog, Too!: Threatens to kill Casey Poe.
- Ax-Crazy: This guy is an absolute maniac willing to slaughter everyone around him at any given moment. In all, he's responsible for almost 30 deaths in the film, most of them prison guards or National Guard members.
- Bald of Evil: He's a maniacal serial killer with no hair.
- Beard of Evil: Sports an evil looking goatee.
- Big Bad: His actions are the impetus for the film's plot. He put together the whole hijacking, looking to get away.
- The Chessmaster: Gives the orders on a plan he's clearly thought out well in advance. See The Evil Genius.
- Crazy-Prepared: Somehow built a bomb in his cell in case his jailbreak plan is found.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: He dies by being chained to the ladder of a speeding fire engine, hurled through a bridge and onto some electrical wires paralyzing him and finally getting his head crushed in a rock crusher.
- Deadpan Snarker: Despite being Evil Is Hammy, he has his moments.Cyrus: (after hearing that Garland Greene will be among the prisoners transferred onto the plane) This could be interesting.
- Death by Looking Up: Gets his head crushed by a pile driver.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Uses a prison guards uniform and windbreaker to meet with the guards at a prison stop.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Despises rapists.
- The Evil Genius: If Poe hadn't been on the plane, he likely would have gotten away with his plan flawlessly.
- Evil Is Hammy: John Malkovich is clearly having fun playing Cyrus.
- Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: He's spent twenty-five years of his life in prison. He's thirty-nine. Best-case scenario is that he got locked up at fourteen and managed to piss off the guards enough for his sentence to be extended... except that it's stated that he's escaped — twice — and commit a laundry list of crimes; kidnapping, robbery, murder, extortion.Larkin: He's a true product of the system.
- Horrible Judge of Character: Kept trusting Poe, until the boneyard escape.
- Large Ham: As is to be expected, considering who plays him.
- Omnicidal ManiacLarkin: Likes to brag that he's killed more men than cancer.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Hes mildly racist, although he may have been using the N-word just to shake up Willie Sims when he takes Pinball hostage. He also told Baby-O to call the Affirmative Action Office when he complains.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: He hates rapists.
- Rasputinian Death: Gets stabbed in the foot, handcuffed to a fire truck's ladder, tossed off it, dropped on some electrical cables and finally has his head smashed in by a piledriver.
- Red Baron: "The Virus"
- Unfriendly Fire: While struggling with the co-pilot in the initial takeover, Cyrus accidentally shoots Carls and Benson, two of the three convicts he was planning on dumping at the next prison stop.
- Villainous Breakdown: He loses his composure first when Poe stabs him in the leg, then when he is cuffed just as the fire truck crashes.
- Wicked Cultured: He is a psychopath who brags about having killed "more men than cancer". He also earned a Law degree from Harvard while in prison and is (somewhat) fluent in Spanish.
Nathan Jones AKA Diamond Dog
- Affably Evil: One of the most cheerful characters in the film, and downright friendly to Poe... at first.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: The "Black Guerrilla Families" are a very real group (though they're more akin to a street gang than a terrorist organization), who are infamously responsible for the murder of Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton.
- Angry Black Man: He believes white people are inherently evil.
- Bald, Black Leader Guy: He is a prominent black militia leader, and his head is totally shaven.
- Bald of Evil: Completely bald, and one of the main players in Cyrus' escape plan.
- The Dragon: To Big Bad Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom. Although, in his own words, he is only "a means to an end".
- Even Evil Has Standards: He looks genuinely shocked when Cyrus blows up Cindino.
- Genius Bruiser: A tough fighter and an excellent writer.
- Horrifying the Horror: Seems genuinely scared when he's removing Garland Greene's restraints.
- Informed Attribute: His militant racism doesn't really show aside from some (very mild) racial slurs and occasional verbal jabs. He never shows any real animosity toward his Caucasian colleagues aside from par-for-the-course petty disagreements, and seems to have no trouble taking orders from Cyrus, a white man.
- Mind you, it's implied his prejudice has mellowed out a bit during his incarceration, and he's characterized as being one of the more level-headed of the group.
- Leeroy Jenkins: Was the first of the cons to escape and he tackles a bunch of cops by himself shouting "Allah u Akbar!"
- Malcolm Xerox: He's an eloquent black militant who hates whites. Poe even calls him out on it, wondering why he's taking orders from a white guy.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Calls white folk "pig" and "hillbilly".
- Red Baron: "Diamond Dog"
- Scary Black Man: A given since hes a criminal played by Ving Rhames.
- Shout-Out: His memoir Reflections in a Diamond Eye is one to Reflections in a Golden Eye.
- Slashed Throat: Cuts one of the guards' throats with his cuffs.
- The Starscream: Explicitly says he is.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Wrote a book which critics called a wake up call for the black race. As a result, there were plans to have a movie adaptation with Denzel Washington playing as him.
- Western Terrorists: He bombed a NRA convention.
Garland Greene AKA the "Marietta Mangler"
- Affably Evil: He's one of the most dangerous men on the plane - but calm, snarky and seemingly harmless.
- Brick Joke: Unaccounted for after the ending plane crash. We don't see any of him until right before the credits... when he turns out to have made an absolute fortune gambling in Vegas.
- The Butcher: He is known as "The Marietta Mangler".
- Chewing the Scenery: When he sings "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands" during the plane crash.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Definitely gives off this vibe.
- Creepy Monotone: Most of his scenes.
- Deadpan Snarker: With quotes such as "Define irony. Bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash."
- Dissonant Serenity: A plane crash couldn't crack this man.
- The Dreaded: The most dangerous criminals in the country get trumped by a little man in white.
- Genuine Human Hide: Mentions sawing a womans head off and wearing it as a hat for days.
- Informed Attribute: Had supposedly killed more people than any convict on the plane, and had the absolute highest amount of security for transporting him. However, whilst he definitely alludes to having formerly killed people, we never really see any of his murderous aspects on-screen, to the point where it looks like he just might have been cured of them. It's still implied that he murdered one of the guards, and that doing so made him "feel better".
- Karma Houdini: Though all his villainy is in his backstory. During the movie Garland instinctively realizes Poe is a good guy pretending to be a hard con, and has a lengthy dialogue about ironic situations about how a good man has to act evil to survive. The fact that Garland intentionally leaves a little girl alive during the plane refueling hints that by the end of the movie Garland has decided to act good.
- Lunatic Loophole: Besides Poe and Baby-O, he is the only passenger of the plane who survives and doesn't get arrested at the end.
- Serial Killer: With a body count of 30.
- The Stoic: Even when the plane is crashing, he sings "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands" while other prisoners are panicking and shouting at him to shut up. He even seemed to enjoy it
- Wild Card: It's unclear what he's going to do at any given time, acting more like a ticking time bomb everyone is slightly wary of.
William "Billy Bedlam" Bedford
- Ax-Crazy: He's not called "Billy Bedlam" for nothing. See Disproportionate Retribution.
- Beard of Evil: Like Cyrus, he sports a goatee.
- Dies Wide Open: After getting impaled in his fight with Poe.
- Disc-One Final Boss: Gets killed midway through the film despite being touted as one of the big bad trio, and replaced by Swamp Thing in the climax.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Our Billy caught his wife in bed with another man. He left them alone, but drove four towns over to his wife's family's house. He proceeded to kill her parents, her brothers, her sisters, and even her dog.
- Evil Laugh: He has an intimidating chuckle.
- Famous Last Words: "Die, punk!"
- Guttural Growler: Tends to speak in a low, rough manner.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: He's constantly angry. As noted by Garland Greene:"Happiness for this gentleman hurts".
- He Knows Too Much: Finds the info on Poe's status as a parolee in the cargo hold. A minute after that, he's dead.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: During a fight with Poe in an enclosed space, he's pushed back onto bent-outward pipe.
- Jerkass: Even outside of being a serial killer, he is just a dick in general.
- Red Baron: "Billy Bedlam"
- Revenge by Proxy
- Slasher Smile: Billy is usually wearing a big, horrible grin.
- Villainous Friendship: Seems to be the only one who likes Cyrus, without fearing him.
Earl "Swamp Thing" Williams
- Accidental Murder: Caused Pinballs death when the latter failed to get on board the plane in time. Pinball tried to get back into the plane by clinging onto the landing gear; when Swamp Thing closed the landing gear doors, Pinball got crushed to death.
- Affably Evil: He seems like a fun guy except for the company he keeps. MC Gainey, who has a history of playing mostly villains, considers him a favourite.
- Beard of Evil: Again, due to being played by legendary beard-haver MC Gainey.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Larkin floods the fire truck Swamp Thing drives. He smashes through the windshield and probably got run over.
- The Evil Genius: He's a pilot and knows how to bypass and remove the plane's transponders so that it can't be tracked.
- Iconic Outfit: His helmet.
- Mr. Fixit: Knows quite a bit about planes and how to keep them going.
- Southern-Fried Genius: He's a Southern redneck, and also one of the most intelligent characters and certainly the most technically proficient.Pinball: What's up, man. So, you Swamp Thing?Swamp Thing: That's right.Pinball: Flyin' the plane?Swamp Thing: That's right.Pinball: It's amazing the shit you white trash know.Swamp Thing: [laughs] That's right!
Johnny Baca AKA Johnny 23
- An Arm and a Leg: Loses his tattoo arm, not to mention his life, in the plane crash.
- Apocalypse Anarchy: While the convicts engage the sheriff deputies and National Guard troops in a massive shootout in the boneyard, Johny decides now is the time to march into the "Jail Bird" and rape Bishop with impunity.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Dies (or so we must assume) when one or both of his handcuffed arms are torn from the rest of his body. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
- Hate Sink: On both sides of the Fourth Wall. It's a given that a Nice Guy like Cameron Poe would hate Johnny; but says a lot about how rotten Johnny is when every other mass-murderer and psychopath on a plane stuffed with mass-murderers and psychopath loathe breathing the same air that he does. Rape truly is the last line you do not cross if you want to be regarded as an actual human being by the prison code of honor.
- Karmic Death: Is chained up after trying to rape Bishop. When the plane has crashed he is found dead, with his still-restrained arms ripped off.
- Meaningful Name: So named because he was convicted of 23 counts of rape. He claimed to raped more than 23 women, though.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: He's a misogynist who refers to his victims as "marranitas"; "little piggies", as in "squeals like." It's a common misogynist insult in Latin America, referring to women who enjoy sex, particularly degrading or hard sex.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: In a plane filled with criminals, Cyrus considers him to be the worst.Cyrus: I despise rapists. For me, you're somewhere between a cockroach and that white stuff that accumulates at the corner of your mouth when you're really thirsty. But, in your case, I'll make an exception.
- Serial Rapist: The number in his nickname is for each woman he has raped.
- Tattooed Crook: Courtesy of being played by Danny Trejo. Notably, Johnny states that the 23 hearts tattooed on his arm each represent a woman he's raped. He boasts that the real count is more like six hundred — the hearts are just for the rapes he's been convicted of.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Both the good guy and the main bad guy hate this man. No one bats an eye when Poe cuffs him.
Joe "Pinball" Parker
- Affably Evil: Pinball is a pretty fun guy and doesn't seem overly malicious.Pinball: Armed robber, arsonist, dope fiend. I'm a hell of a Nice Guy. I just got caught.
Poe: Aw, shucks.
- Apologetic Attacker"If you get through this alright, hope you don't hold a grudge."
- Bald of Evil: A convicted criminal sporting a shaved head.
- Black Dude Dies First: Of the inmates directly involved in the takeover of the Jailbird, he's the first to die.
- Butt-Monkey: He's on the receiving end of most racist jokes from Cyrus.
- Car Cushion: He falls from the plane onto a moving car.Diamond Dog: Bye, Pinball!
- Chekhov's Skill: His skills in arson was important in the hijacking.
- Deadpan Snarker: Well, he is a Dave Chappelle character.
- Distracted by the Sexy: He meets a cute girl while stashing the transponder and forgets to get back on the plane.
- Freudian Slip:"I work for the Department of Erec... Corrections."
- Karmic Death: He tries to get back on the plane. Unfortunately for him, the only guy who sees him is the guy he burnt earlier, who simply smiles as he gets caught in the plane's landing gear.
- Playing with Fire: Pinball is an arsonist.
- Reality Ensues: It's not a good idea to run alongside a plane.
- Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Tries this on Cyrus when Larkin foils his escape attempt by wrecking his plane. Cyrus doesn't buy it and burns him.
- Asshole Victim: The coward definitely deserved death after betraying Cyrus.
- Blatant Lies: He desperately tries to bluff Cy about his attempted escape.Cindino: "We were coming... to get you."
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: From what Poe knows of Cindino's history, he guesses that the drug lord's probably not the best of allies. He was right.
- Killed Mid-Sentence:Cindino: "Cy-"
Cyrus: "-onara!" (Lights the gasoline from the plane)
- Man on Fire: An enraged and betrayed Cy sets him on fire.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Decides to leave the rest of the cons when things start to get hectic. Though he was planning to do so in the first place.
Ramon "Sally-Can't-Dance" Martinez
- Camp Gay: You don't really get more limp-wristed than him.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Of the Queer People Are Funny variety.
- Sissy Villain: To the point where Poe slaps him instead of punching him during a fight.
- The Smurfette Principle: The closest thing to the only female prisoner. He's referred to as "girl" and "sister" by other inmates and a cop calls him "lady" when he gets caught.note
- He even refers to men as a separate gender.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Dons a lavender dress he finds right after the cons land at Lerner Airfield.
Guard Sally Bishop
- Damsel in Distress: Bishop may be able to handle many convicts on a one on one basis, but being chained in a cage, left her vulnerable to Johnny 23's assault. She didn't get raped because of Poe's timely intervention. She's able to knock out Cyrus only because Poe kicked a lot of Neo-Nazi ass as he made his way to the cockpit, and because Malloy ordered the attack helicopters to open fire on the "Jail Bird."
- Defiant Captive: Spends most of the movie handcuffed, but she remains absolutely FEARLESS against the cons, including kicking away Johnny-23 when he tries to rape her.
- The Smurfette Principle: She's the only female guard of the Jailbird staff.
- Deadpan Snarker: He fancies himself as this."The in-flight movie is I'll Never Make Love To A Woman On The Beach Again and it's preceded by the award-winning short No More Steak For Me, EVER."
- Jerkass: He treats prisoners under his watch with utter contempt. Not that most of them don't deserve it, but he even abuses Poe; despite being fully aware Poe's a parolee, he still shoves him around like any other convict and confiscates his daughter's picture. This is one of the few times in cinematic history that such behavior not only isn't punished but actually turns out to be a good thing; Poe is able to plant Agent Simms' tape recorder on him while retrieving the picture, alerting the authorities to the situation.
US Marshal Vince Larkin
- Deadpan Snarker: He's played by John Cusack, so this is a given. He's most snarky when Malloy fucks up.
- Description Porn: Describes Billy Bedlam, Diamond Dog and Cyrus the Virus but skimps when it comes to Poe. Justified, considering that compared to the others, Poe is a freaking saint who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Deuteragonist: Plays this role to Poe's Protagonist.
- Mr. Exposition: He gives us the backstories of the Carnival of Killers who are on board the plane.
- The Lancer: The Deuteragonist and the only ally among the law enforcement that Poe has.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: He doesn't want to shoot the plane down as there are innocents on board.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Lampshaded. Malloy refers to him as "Dictionary Boy" to which he responds that "Thesaurus Boy" would be more appropriate.
- Strawman Political: An interesting case. He's every bit the liberal stereotype, showing empathy even for Cyrus himself by describing him as "a true product of the system"... except he's also the competent, on-point badass Deuteragonist.
DEA Agent Duncan Malloy
- Cool Car: His car is awesome. Larking borrows it to get to Lerner Airfield, where it gets destroyed.
- Inspector Javert: Considers all of the cons to be monsters.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Malloy is aggressive, short-tempered, irritable and downright bloodthirsty, not to mention the level of vitriol he levels at Larkin. When it comes down to it, however, he does the right thing.
- Large Ham: He's pretty much constantly shouting, which suits his Hot-Blooded nature.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Colm Meaney's heavy Dublin accent is fairly hard to conceal, to be fair.
- Officer O'Hara: It's never made clear if he's supposed to actually be Irish or just of Irish descent, though Colm Meaney's accent is difficult to cover up anyway.
- Pet the Dog: He cancels his order to shoot down the plane when he talks to Poe directly via radio and is told of his plight.
- Rabid Cop: He pursues the cons with complete disregard for the Jailbird staff hostages.
- Vanity License Plate: "AZZ KIKR"
DEA Agent Willie Simms
Molloy's partner who goes undercover so he can glean information from Cindino, but gets caught up in the prison break.
- Character Death: Shot by Cyrus in a stand-off.
- Hero Antagonist: He's a DEA agent, but he's not there to help Poe.
- Too Dumb to Live: Blows his cover, takes Pinball hostage and tries to single-handedly to take back the plane armed only with a single shot Derringer.
- Villainous Breakdown: He seems at first to be the opposite of Malloy, smooth and calm. That doesn't last long in a crisis.Simms: "I can't control it? I can't control it!?"