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Film / Escape from New York

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The original mulleted, eyepatched badass named Snake. No relation to that other one.
Bob Hauk: You go in, find the President and bring him back in 24 hours, and you're a free man.
Snake Plissken: 24 hours, huh?

Released in 1981, Escape from New York is a cult-classic action film featuring the dream team of director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell.

20 Minutes into the Future (well, sixteen years, as the film takes place in the year 1997), the President's plane crashes in New York City — specifically Manhattan, which has become a giant penal colony filled with savage gangs that are led by "The Duke of New York" (Isaac Hayes). The commissioner of the United States Police Force, Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef), is left without any realistic options for a rescue, so he recruits the most badass criminal he can find to get the President out: Snake Plissken (Russell). When Plissken says he wants nothing to do with the mission, Hauk forces Snake into compliance with an Explosive Leash — if Snake doesn't get the President out of New York within a certain amount of time, the leash goes boom and Snake goes with it.

This film is a classic of the dystopian future genre, and Snake himself is a classic Jerk with a Heart of Gold Anti-Hero. Snake's history is mostly just hinted at, but an out-of-print Novelization fills in some of the details.

The supporting cast includes a lineup of memorable character actors, including the aforementioned Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine, and Adrienne Barbeau.

Fifteen years later, Russell and Carpenter reunited for a sequel, Escape from L.A., which dispensed with much of this film's grittiness to lampoon Los Angeles and Hollywood culture. It was not met with nearly the same level of acclaim as this film.

A remake currently sits in Development Hell.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Maggie is pretty handy with a pistol.
  • Action Politician: The President seizes an M-16 from a soldier and shoots Duke with it, taunting him with an Ironic Echo of the humiliation the President endured as Duke's hostage.
    President: You're the Duke! (chuckles) You're A-Number One...
  • Afraid of Needles: Snake. He flinches and growls "I don't like needles" before the physician Cronenberg injects him with a supposed anti-viral and bacterial serum. Turns out he was right to be untrusting, as the injection was actually an Explosive Leash.
  • Air Force One: A terrorist crashes it into New York, and the President survives only by getting into an Escape Pod.
  • A.K.A.-47: The United States Police use M16s with their handguards removed, presumably to give the rifles an unfamiliar 'futuristic' look, rather than because the police like scorching their hands after a few bursts.
  • The Alcatraz: New York Maximum Security Penitentiary, AKA Manhattan Island Prison. All bridges to the island are mined, and the entire island is surrounded by a wall, and the perimeter is patrolled by helicopters and monitored 24/7. Escape is essentially impossible, and once prisoners go in, they never come out.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: In 1997, all crimes are punished by life on Manhattan Island, whether state or federal apparently, since the rule is once people enter they don't leave alive.
  • All There in the Manual: 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.
  • All There in the Script: The original shooting script suggests that Snake has been personally asked by the government for a favor before, partially due to his reputation as a war hero. He indicates this thought to himself during his initial conversation with Hauk. The following scene (as Snake is shown his armaments) also indicates that he's dismissive of the Crazies in New York.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Romero, as seen from his painted fingernails and some camp body movements.
  • An Aesop: That Humans Are Bastards when they have power over many, no matter how much they try to whitewash over it. The President is a shining example of humanity's savage murderous asshole nature. His ordeal as a prisoner of the Duke turns him from a typical Corrupt Bureaucrat into a Laughing Mad killer taking revenge on the man who held and humiliated him, showing that he is no different from the scum that were thrown away and forgotten by the rest of the country. And the fact that he can go right back to being a stuffy bureaucrat again in the blink of an eye drives the point home that everyone with power is one step away from being a complete bastard in this dystopia - especially in the name of "peace" (of which Manhattan was turned into a prison to keep its most violent away from America as a whole, and the 'energy source' that America was supposed to deliver at the peace conference). Contrast with Cabbie who is a simple, friendly, honest man with no agenda and winds up dead for it. Also contrast with Snake who's a selfish bastard, but he doesn't want power and doesn't commit acts of violence for pleasure. He is also honest about who and what he is.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: The government injects something into Snake's neck and tell him he can either go in and rescue the President in a set amount of time, or else have his carotid arteries exploded.
  • Anti-Hero: Snake. Also counts as a Unscrupulous Hero at best, and a Nominal Hero at worst.
  • Arch-Enemy: The Duke of New York to Snake Plissken.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: The self-proclaimed Duke of New York. He isn't a real aristocrat but behaves as if he is.
  • Artistic License – History: The real 69th Street Bridge in New York City was actually a dock and was meant for transferring rail cars across the Hudson, not for automobile traffic as the movie depicts (this may be an example of 20 Minutes into the Future).
  • B-Movie: John Carpenter proudly thinks of the film as one. It indeed has the cheesy plot and dialog, but thanks to the inventive use of practical effects and heartfelt acting by the principals, it stands alongside higher budgeted sci-fi flicks.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Hauk never raises his voice, doesn't so much as blink when face to face with Plissken, and goes into the heart of the prison (albeit with armored troops) with no sidearm and wearing a t-shirt. Conversation with Plissken reveals that Snake recognized him and that he's former Special Forces.
  • Backseat Driver: Maggie critiques Brain's choice of route when driving from the Library to The Duke's HQ.
  • Batter Up!: Snake fights Slag with baseball bats in a Blood Sport for the amusement of the Duke. In the second round, they're given bats with nails driven into the heads and trashcan lids for shields.
  • Big Bad: The Duke of New York, who captures the president and uses him as a hostage in a plan to get himself and his followers out of Manhattan without being killed by the police force surrounding the island.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: By the early 80s, most major American cities had seen anyone who could afford it flee to the suburbs, infrastructure was decaying, cities were bankrupt, and of course crime was out of control. New York, as America's largest and most prominent city, was the ultimate symbol of this urban decay. In the late 70s, the federal government refused to bail the city out. This led many New Yorkers to declare "America has given up on New York." The film takes the situation to its logical conclusion - all of Manhattan's residents have fled, and the island has been turned into a giant penal colony where gangs battle for supremacy.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The President.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sure, Snake saves the day and the POTUS is back, but his New York allies are dead, including Cabbie (a guy Snake generally seemed to care about). At the very least, Snake's a free man again and the secret of how to convert nuclear fusion into power generation is lost.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Snake's throwing knife is always right on target. It helps that it has two blades, allowing it to land anyway.
  • Blood Sport: The Duke arranges for an entertaining deathmatch between his Giant Mook and Snake. First they fight with baseball bats, then with baseball bats with huge nails.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: The terrorists who crash Air Force One into New York.
    "We, the soldiers of the National Liberation Front of America, in the name of the workers and all the oppressed of this imperialist country, have struck a blow to the fascist police state. What better revolutionary example than to let their President perish in the inhuman dungeon of his own imperialist prison."
  • Bond One-Liner: The President of all people gets one when he kills the Duke. Doubles as a Call-Back and an Ironic Echo.
    President: You're the Duke of New York! You're A-Number One!
  • Book Ends:
    Hauk: I'm not a fool, Plissken!
    Plissken: Call me "Snake."

    Hauk: We'd make one hell of a team, Snake!
    Plissken: The name's Plissken.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Snake's MAC-10 is never reloaded once, and it fires about ten times as many bullets as he apparently brought with him. This also applies to Snake's revolver; not only does it only get reloaded once (and Snake only seems to have brought two speedloaders if the loadout on the table is any indication), but when Maggie gets charged at by the Duke, the revolver with six chambers is fired seven times.
  • Boxed Crook: Snake, at the beginning of the film. He's about to be sent into Manhattan as a prisoner but gets roped into rescuing the president by Hauk.
  • Break the Haughty: The POTUS is a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing and the tortures and humiliations inflicted upon him by the Duke were harsh, yet justifiable. When the President finally, snaps out of his mental torture from the Duke and kills him, it's justifiable. He does seem shell-shocked afterwards, but nevertheless returns to his normal state of mind after a few moments of being treated by presidential aides.
  • Broken Bird: Maggie has the attitude, although the audience learns very little about her past.
  • Bullethole Door: During his escape from the Crazies, Snake makes one of these in a dilapidated apartment wall and kicks it in.
  • The Cameo: Gerald Ford's son Steven appears as a Secret Service agent.
  • Cast Full of Crazy: Nobody in this film could be called completely sane. Even the President gets in on the lunacy in the end when taking his vengeance on the Duke.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Subverted. Snake takes a wide array of weapons with him, but doesn't get a chance to use them all.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Brain acts just loyal enough to Snake and the Duke on different occasions to avoid being shot, but doesn't hesitate to screw them both over if it helps him get away.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Cabbie has been driving his taxi in Manhattan for 30 years; he tells Snake that he's not even there for any crime — he just refused to leave when the city was walled up.
    Cabbie: Ahh, Snake Plissken in my cab! Wait til I tell Eddie!
  • Contrived Coincidence: It's pretty fortunate for the guards that Snake was being processed to enter the prison just moments after Air Force One crashed in the city. Made even more apparent in the novelization, where Snake is moments away from being forcibly castrated (via a box that is placed around the victim's hips) when Hauk orders the guard to bring him to his office.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Snake. For example, when surrounded, he shoots at some steam pipes in order to create an opening for everyone to escape.
  • Cool Car: The Duke's Cadillac Fleetwood with hydraulic suspension and chandeliers on the hood.
  • Cool Chair: At one point, Snake, feeling uncertain of what to do next, picks a chair out of post-apocalyptic rubble and briefly sits on it to rest. As plain as the chair might've been, he looked chill and cool enough that this was among the scenes that got echoed in the sequel.
  • Cool Guns:
    • Snake Plissken uses a MAC-10 with a suppressor (that, surprisingly realistically, stopped working well towards the end of the film, since it was likely a wipe/wet system instead of one with a baffle system).
    • He also carries a Model 67, a Stainless Steel version of the Model 15, which seems to never need reloading and comes with a scope. Maggie makes use of it at various points in the film, with Snake giving it to her to make her Last Stand against the Duke. Hauk is briefly seen doing a brass check on a Model 10 snubnose before he meets Snake as well.
    • The guards carry M16s and the President uses one to take down the Duke. For some reason, the handguards have been removed from all of them.
  • Cool Old Guy: Cabbie, who drives a taxi in the middle of the New York City prison and has done so for 30 years—suggesting he's a native New Yorker who won't let the City's new status as a maximum security penitentiary stop him from living there. He's always on the lookout for his friends, and not even the violence common on its streets can dampen his optimism.
  • Covers Always Lie: Look at any poster and one of the big things they often show is the head of the decapitated Statue of Liberty lying in the street. In actuality, the statue only appears very briefly in the opening scene (the only moment in the film actually shot in New York), during which it is perfectly intact. Other minor details, such as the location of Snake's tattoo and the weapon he carries, are off-model too.
  • Crapsack World: The United States seems to have become this, with the crime rate rising by 400% in 1988 and Manhattan island being converted to a maximum security prison. When the movie was made in 1981, this didn't seem too unreasonable to expect of the future.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: The line "You flew the Gullfire over Leningrad, didn't you?" hints at Snake's past and a possible war with the Soviet Union.
  • Dangerous Deserter: Snake Plissken. Implied disillusionment with the events in Leningrad is what caused him to go from war hero to criminal.
  • David Versus Goliath: Snake versus Ox Baker's Giant Mook character, Slag. Snake is obviously at a disadvantage in terms of raw strength, but he manages to beat Slag due to his superior speed.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Snake.
    Hauk: About an hour ago, a small jet went down inside New York City. The president was on board.
    Snake: The president of what?
    Hauk: That's not funny, Plissken.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Conversed; the Duke plans on heading across the 69th Street Bridge with his motorcade, and he says he'll have Snake leading the way..."from the neck up...on the hood of my car!" However, Snake escapes in the uproar after Brain & Maggie spring the President and Snake's head stays on his body.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The woman Snake meets in the Chock Full O'Nuts is set up to be Snake's sidekick, but she gets killed (and eaten?) by the Crazies in the very same scene.
  • Deranged Taxi Driver: Cabbie is a friendly, enthusiastic Cloudcuckoolander who seems to have no problem being trapped in a city full of violent criminals, driving an armored taxi and using Molotov cocktails to drive off crazies who threaten his customers; when he meets Snake Plissken (an infamous gunfighter and thief) he reacts like a little kid meeting his football hero. At the end, when the President shows little regard for Cabbie and others who died getting him out of New York, an enraged Plissken humiliates him by tricking the President into playing Cabbie's copy of "Bandstand Boogie" at a summit instead of a tape about nuclear fusion, while Snake destroys the real tape.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Being sent to Manhattan Island means a life sentence with no chance of release. Once you go in, you don't come out. There is only one monthly drop of supplies by the government. Besides that, there are no provisions, with the prisoners simply left to fend for themselves in any way that they can. It's heavily implied that everyone who commits a crime in the United States gets thrown in there.
    • Subverted with Cabbie: He's just a cab driver who refused to leave.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul":
    • In both Escape from New York and Escape from L.A., the U.S. government is on a Last-Name Basis with protagonist Snake Plissken, to which he consistently replies, "Call me Snake." However, during the respective climaxes of both movies, when one of the government's men finally does call him Snake, he reverses his previous attitude with the reply, "The name's Plissken".
    • Also, Brain really doesn't care to be called by his given name, "Harold."
  • The Dragon: Romero for the Duke, as he's the one the Duke sends to deliver the ultimatum to Hauk, and the one guarding the president when the Duke holds him hostage.
  • The Dreaded: The Duke of New York, A-Number-One. As Cabbie says: "You can't meet the Duke! Are you crazy? Nobody gets to meet the Duke. You meet him once and then you're dead!"
  • The Driver: Called, appropriately enough, Cabbie. He provides transportation for Snake, Brain, and Maggie, and the president after he's rescued.
  • Dub Name Change: In Italy, Snake is known as "Jena" (hyena), due to "Serpente" (snake) being too long to properly sync up with the video (oddly enough, the Spanish dub averts this, in spite of their word for snake - Serpiente - being even longer).
  • Duel to the Death: Snake is forced to fight a very large man to the death.
  • Dwindling Party: When escaping along the 69th Street Bridge, each of Snake's party dies one by one; Cabbie is killed when the cab drives over a mine, Brain steps on another mine and Maggie gets run over by the Duke while attempting a Last Stand with Snake's revolver. Only Snake and the President manage to make it out alive.
  • Escape Pod: Air Force One has one for the President only, enabling him to survive the crash.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Brain hates being called by his actual name, Harold.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Snake's not evil, but he's a criminal. However, he's genuinely disgusted about the President's obtuse, half-hearted lip service of appreciation after he asked him how he felt about the people who died saving his life.
  • Event Title: It's a cool title and explains the plot!
  • Everybody Calls Him "Barkeep": Cabbie, who actually identifies himself as "Cabbie" when visiting Brain.
  • Evil Laugh: Romero, The Dragon to the Duke has a high-pitched, mocking cackle.
  • Exact Time to Failure: The explosives planted near Snake's carotid artery will kill him at a pre-set time unless he returns with the president.
  • Explosive Leash: The government ensures that Snake won't give up his mission by implanting explosives into his body that will kill him if he doesn't return within approximately 24 hours.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entire movie takes place over the course of just a little more than 24 hours.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Snake sports one.
  • Faceless Mooks: The United States Police have face-concealing visors that they mostly keep down.
  • Failed Future Forecast: By 1997, the United States has become a totalitarian dictatorship, and the high crime rate of the 70s and 80s continued to escalate to the point where Manhattan Island would be turned into a penal colony for containing all the convicts. The Cold War has also turned hot and the USA is fighting a (presumably conventional) war against the USSR.
  • Female Gaze: Come on, you know where you were looking during Snake's Shirtless Scene...
  • Finger in the Mail: Romero taunts the government troops with the kidnapped President's severed finger (complete with a ring with the Presidential Seal).
  • Flaying Alive: According to the novelization, this is what happened to Fresno Bob.
  • Forced Prize Fight: Snake is forced to fight a Giant Mook after he's captured by The Duke, but he manages to win the fight despite his leg wound.
  • Futuristic Jet Injector: To keep Snake Plissken from escaping once he's loose, a gun-like jet injector is used to insert a miniature explosive device into his neck. If it isn't removed within 24 hours, it will kill him.
  • Giant Mook: Ox Baker's character, a huge, bearded, shirtless guy (called "Slag" in the script) who battles Snake in a makeshift arena, for the amusement of the Duke and his men.
  • Giggling Villain: Romero, added with a heavy dollop of Ambiguously Gay.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: Snake Plissken has a lovely mane of light brown hair, which makes him look a little wild and a little noble at the same time. Romero, on the other hand, has a teased-up shock of spiky hair that makes him look obviously evil.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Snake smokes through the movie, and actually got the final shot with a Power Walk and a cigarette.
  • The Government: Fascist and totalitarian.
  • Gray-and-Grey Morality: Our hero, a hardened convict, is saving lives only because he's been pressured into it on threat of death by a fascist government led by a corrupt, if not wholly unsympathetic, president who cares little about the human cost necessary to save his own skin. The bad guy is a brutal gang leader who is at least slightly concerned about his men's wellbeing.
  • Gun Accessories:
    • The United States Police use M16's with their handguards removed, rather than with any additions. That was probably to give them an unfamiliar 'futuristic' look, rather than because the police liked scorching their hands.
    • Snake's own armament, a MAC-10 and a Smith & Wesson Model 67, are sporting a suppressor and scope, respectively.
  • Guttural Growler: Snake Plissken, although there's a bit of a Clint Eastwood hiss in there, too.
  • Handcuffed Briefcase: After a terrorist takes control of Air Force One, the President handcuffs a briefcase to his wrist and enters the plane's Escape Pod. Later on it's revealed that the briefcase holds a tape which explains the secret of nuclear fusion.
  • Handicapped Badass: Snake Plissken may have but one eye, but in no way does that impair his status as a legendary badass. He also winds up limping due to an injured leg, but not even that slows him down long.
  • Heroic Neutral: Snake, obviously. "I don't give a fuck about your war, or your president." He would prefer to just take the Gullfire and fly straight to Canada, letting the US, China, and the Soviet Union blow each other to hell, but he can't because of the Explosive Leash he's injected with.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Maggie. Later, Snake asks the President if he knew how many people died to save him. The President's rote response doesn't please Snake.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Snake's old worn out leather coat.
  • Hidden Depths: Snake does prove to legitimately care about Brain, Maggie, and Cabbie.
  • The Hyena: Romero. His laugh itself is quite reminiscent of a hyena's.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: Snake's entire motivation is that he just want to get away and be left alone to his own devices.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The "Crazies" come out at night at the end of the month when they run out of food, and the Cabbie claims that they'll "kill you and strip you in ten seconds flat."
  • Improperly Placed Firearms: The United States Police are armed with M16s with the handguards removed (which would burn the hands of the people using them).
  • Inexplicably Awesome: The movie tells us that Snake is an ex black ops soldier twice decorated who turned his back on his country and tried to rob the Federal Reserve. No reasons for Snake's choices that led him down that path are ever presented, at least in the movie. The novelization says he feels betrayed by the government for the "Leningrad Ruse" (the military action that cost him his eye), and that his parents were burned alive in their home by the United States Police Force.
  • Insufferable Genius: Brain. It's a minor miracle he's still alive in Manhattan since everyone hates him, save Maggie and Cabbie. Brain is also the only person in Manhattan who can produce gasoline, possibly refined from crude oil obtained from the pump briefly shown while panning through his base (the New York Public Library).
    Mook #1: That Brain is a real pain in the ass. He's always sniffing around like a dog.
    Mook #2: He comes up with the gas...
  • It's All About Me:
    • Snake cannot be persuaded to give a shit about anything but his own interests. Considering there is no particularly good side for him to be on, one can hardly blame him.
    • Every single supporting character is like this. Brain just wants to escape. The Duke, Romero, and his army of goons will happily murder anyone on their way to busting out. The President is a selfish uncaring asshole too. The only character who's even remotely nice or thinks of anyone but himself is Cabbie, and even he will cut and run if the Duke is nearby. In the end, caring about Snake gets Cabbie killed along with nearly everyone else.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Snake. He only wants his freedom, though he is shown to be remorseful for the innocents (relatively speaking) who died to get the President out.
  • Kazoos Mean Silliness: At one point, Snake is moving through Manhattan, which has been turned into a prison colony. He comes across a group of prisoners singing a song called "Everyone's Coming to New York", which prominently features kazoos as part of its Stylistic Suck.
  • Keep the Reward: After the rescue, the president is willing to give Snake anything he wants as a reward. Snake wants only one thing.
    The President: I want to thank you. Anything you want, you just name it.
    Snake: Just a moment of your time.
    The President: Yes?
    Snake: We did get you out. A lot of people died in the process. I just wondered how you felt about it.
  • Kick the Dog: After the rescue, the President gives a tepid and distracted answer when Snake asks how he feels about the lives lost during his rescue. This convinces Snake to destroy the MacGuffin.
  • Kill the Cutie: Cabbie. He spends most of the whole movie as a happy-go-lucky, overly friendly wide-eyed optimist who looks out for Plissken (even to the extent of throwing a molotov cocktail at some thugs, driving him for free and coming back for him just in time). Then, despite being in an explosion that leaves the others inexplicably unscathed, he dies horribly. Thankfully, Snake gets some justice for his unnecessary death by screwing the ungrateful president.
  • Knife Outline: The Duke of New York has the President tied to a wall, and is casually chatting with his fellow prisoners in between shots. We only see him fire two or three times, but the unfortunate President is surrounded by bullet holes.
  • Laughing Mad: Romero, who cackles maniacally in one scene, in keeping with his general camp demeanor.
  • Lens Flare: Carpenter uses them in a more subdued manner, but they're quite stylish nonetheless and add some much-needed color to the otherwise bleak city.
  • Living Legend: Everyone knows Snake Plissken, even the inmates of Manhattan. Everyone Snake talks to knows about the Kansas City incident and thought Snake was dead. Even Cabbie, who's been in New York since before it became a prison and couldn't have heard about Snake's activities except by rumor from other inmates.
  • The Load: The President is pretty clueless.
    Snake: We have to move fast.
    The President: You're goddamn right I'll move fast! [He doesn't.]
  • MacGuffin: The tape with the secret of nuclear fusion.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Snake has... quite a following.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie.
  • Mugging the Monster: As Snake is wandering through the back of an old theater, tracking the President's homing beacon, he runs across an old man next to a fire. ("Hi Chief... Nice night. *looks down* Nice boots... Nice boots...") That's when the old man's henchmen step out of the shadows, only to find out the hard way why one should never mug a muscular guy wearing an eyepatch. The old man himself takes the hint when Snake puts him in the sights of his Uzi. (*flinches* "Easy now, chief... I'm walking... I'm walking...")
  • Molotov Cocktail: Cabbie lights one and throws it at approaching Crazies. It explodes in front of them, stopping them.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: The President gets even with the Duke terrorizing him for the last couple of days by emptying an M-16 into him and screaming the Badass Boast the Duke forced him to say as an Ironic Echo.
    President: (just fired a long rifle burst on the Duke, dropping him on top of a car, chuckles) You are the Duke of New York! You're the Duke! (rifle burst) You're the Duke! (rifle burst) You're A-number one!
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Snake Plissken.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Hauk is a classic Reasonable Authority Figure (a rarity for the outspokenly anti-authoritarian John Carpenter), and is genuinely happy to be working with a Living Legend like Snake Plissken.
    • Cabbie is the only character who consistently sports a sunny smile and disposition, and he's always willing to help out.
  • Nineties Antihero: Snake exemplifies this despite being nine years ahead of his time, making him an Ur-Example. Possibly Trope Maker?
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Kurt Russell based Snake Plissken on Clint Eastwood.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Cabbie is the only genuinely nice guy in the entire film, and helping Snake and the President escape gets him killed by a landmine in the end. Snake avenges him, in a way.
  • Nominal Hero: Snake, established as a hardened criminal, only agrees to rescue the President of the United States because an Explosive Leash will kill him if he doesn't return with the President in a day. Otherwise, Snake would be happy to hijack his glider, fly off to Canada and let the world conflict take care of itself.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • There has to be a reason everybody thinks Snake is dead.
    • The Kansas City incident where Brain abandoned Snake and Fresno Bob is another one. It's possible that Snake could have almost died there, as he asks Brain, "Do you know what they did to Bob?" In the novelization, Bob's fate is revealed - he was skinned alive in front of Snake.
    • The reason why Snake was arrested and sent to Manhattan Island in the first place is only mentioned fleetingly. It would have been revealed in the film's original opening sequence, which is included as a deleted scene on most modern copies. In it, Snake robs a bank in Colorado and manages to escape with his old war buddy and partner in crime, William "Bill" Taylor, but they are captured and Bill is shot dead before Snake is arrested.
  • No Name Given:
    • The woman played by Season Hubley that Snake meets in the Chock Full O' Nuts. She doesn't give her name and is listed in the credits as "Woman in Chock Full O' Nuts".
    • The President, Cabbie, and the Duke are never given full names. In the novelization (and the BOOM! Comic series, the President's last name is revealed to be "Harker").
  • No Party Given: The President's political party is never mentioned or indicated. There's no mention of his political positions: he's just an uncaring self-absorbed bastard. Though given the film takes place after a nuclear war and he has an English accent... the question may well be academic in this case.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The tape with the secret of nuclear fusion. Apparently every shred of data that was involved in creating it was destroyed and everyone involved in making it either given amnesia or killed, because absolutely no attempt was made to obtain a backup copy after it was lost in New York.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: Snake absolutely despises the authorities who literally have to coerce him into working for them with a tailor-made "kill you in 24 hours" device in his body or he'd just bail on them in a heartbeat.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: What appeared to be an impressive (for 1981) wire-frame CGI image of Lower Manhattan was actually a physical model with the buildings outlined with glow-in-the-dark green tape and filmed in black light. Courtesy of none other than James Cameron. At the time, real CGI was still a nascent technology and too expensive for indie film-makers like John Carpenter.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The President when he discovers that Snake's switched the nuclear fusion tape with Cabbie's, and thus he's playing the dignitaries "Bandstand Boogie".
    • Hauk and his second-in-command when the flight code ID for the plane trespassing over the prison airspace comes through — revealing that it's Air Force One.
  • One Last Smoke: The girl Snake meets in "Chock full o'Nuts" receives a "real one" after asking Snake for a smoke (making the correct assumption that he just got in). She gets pulled through the floor and killed unceremoniously by the Crazies shortly after.
  • One Riot, One Ranger: The government send in Snake as a last resort.
  • The Only One: Snake is told he's the man for the job due to his prior black ops experience and his expendability.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Donald Pleasence at least tries to do a Southern accent, but more often than not, it just sounds like his normal speaking voice.
  • Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future:
    • The film is set in 1997, but is forced to use 1981 graphics.
    • The glider computer's green wireframe graphics were too expensive to do back then, so the model of Manhattan made for different scenes in the movie was painted black, outlined with green reflective tape and filmed. Truly, the past is another country.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: Well for starters, he sounds British. An in-universe reason was given, but seriously it was to give Donald Pleasance the role.
  • The Pardon: Snake is offered a Presidential pardon for all of the federal crimes he committed. The catch: the President is currently held prisoner inside the New York Maximum Security Penitentiary, so Snake has to rescue him before he can get the pardon.
  • Parrot Exposition: An example occurs early on in the film. Also Hilarious in Hindsight.
    Hauk: You go in, find the President and bring him back in 24 hours, and you're a free man.
    Snake: 24 hours, huh?
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The President definitely enjoys shooting the Duke to save Snake.
  • Penal Colony: New York has become this.
  • Perma-Stubble: Snake Plissken, though the film takes place over a day and a night, so naturally it never changes.
  • Phrase Catcher: Everyone who knows about Snake greets him with a variant of, "Snake Plissken! I thought you were dead."
  • Place Worse Than Death: The future Manhattan has been walled off as a prison and turned over entirely to the dregs of society.
  • Plot Armor: A landmine neatly bisects a car between the front and back seats, with only one out of the five passengers being killed.
  • Precision F-Strike
    • Snake's initial response to Hauk's proposal:
      Snake: I don't give a fuck about your war, or your president.
    • And again when Brain tries to dodge his questions:
      Snake: [holding his gun to Brain's chest] Where's the president?!
      Brain: Swear to God, Snake, I don't know—
      Snake: Don't fuck with me!
  • President Evil: The President isn't really evil, but he is a scheming little crook.
  • Prisoner Performance: Cabbie is seen attending a Broadway-esque drag show put on by other Manhattan prisoners. Later he tells Snake that ordinarily he wouldn't spend time in such a dangerous neighborhood, but the show was worth it.
  • Product Placement: Chock full o'Nuts was the Starbucks of New York City during the late 70's and early 80's. Presently, there's only one store left in New York.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Snake, although kinda motivated since he has microscopic explosives that will rupture his carotid arteries in 24 hours.
  • The Quincy Punk: A few of The Duke's henchmen sport this getup.
  • Race Against the Clock: Snake has 24 hours to save the President, or the tiny explosives they injected him with would detonate, open up his jugular veins, and kill him.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Hauk, as he keeps his word about letting Snake go after he rescues the president. Even Snake seems to think this, despite the Teeth-Clenched Teamwork.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Snake is offered his freedom in exchange for rescuing the President.
  • Red Right Hand: The Duke has a twitch in his right eye.
  • Refusal of the Call: Snake attempts this at the start of the film, but Hauk manages to convince him to go along with the plan, then deploys an Explosive Leash.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: "I heard you were dead." For some reason everyone thinks Snake Plissken is dead. He's most assuredly not.
  • La Résistance: A woman from the communist resistance/terrorist organization named the National Liberation Front hijacked Air Force One somehow and crashes it into Manhattan Island in hopes of killing the US President.
  • Running Gag
    • "Snake Plissken? I thought you were dead." Lampshaded later in the film, where Snake meets up with Brain and the others after they ditched him to get to the glider.
      Brain: Listen, Snake, I thought you were dead-!
      Snake: Yeah, you and everybody else!
    • "Call me Snake". followed up by later "The name's Plissken".
  • Sanity Slippage: The President suffers one, combined with a Roaring Rampage of Revenge when he stops the winch that's bringing Snake to safety (keep in mind, he's about to be killed by explosives in his neck), to machine gun The Duke, screaming, "You're the Duke! You're the Duke! You're the Duke!... You're the Duke - you're ''A-Number One''."
  • Say It:
    The Duke: What did I teach you?
    President: Y-You are the... Duke of New... New York. You're A-Number One.
    The Duke: I can't hear you!
    President: Y-You... You are the Duke of New York! You're A-Number One!
  • Scary Black Man: The Duke of New York (played by Isaac Hayes), who is not only physically imposing but has a fearsome reputation throughout the city-prison.
    Snake: I want to meet the Duke.
    Cabbie: You can't meet the Duke! Are you crazy? Nobody gets to meet the Duke. You meet him once and then you're dead!
  • Secret Test: After the rescue, Snake asks the President how he feels about the lives that were lost rescuing him. Snake uses the President's answer to decide whether he'll give him the real tape with the secrets of nuclear fusion. It turns out that the President is rather indifferent about the loss of life, failing the test, so Snake destroys the tape.
  • The '70s: Despite being released in 1981, the film still predates the optimism of The '80s and is very much a product of 70s grit and pessimism. John Carpenter wrote the script in the mid-70s in response to the Watergate scandal.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Snake decides to humiliate the President and destroy the nuclear tape because he decides that the President isn't worthy of the power.
  • Shirtless Scene: Snake is stripped to the waist before engaging in a Blood Sport with a huge guy, revealing the upper part of a large cobra tattoo on his stomach. Makes you wonder what the rest of the tattoo looks like...
  • Shonen Hair: Romero's wild, spiky upswept 'do.
  • Shout-Out
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Snake, the antihero, spends most of the rescue mission wearing a shirt with no sleeves, showing off his powerful arms.
  • Sliding Scale of Alternate History Plausibility: Type III: In 1988, after the crime rate in the United States shot up by 400%, Manhattan Island was sealed behind a 50-foot containment wall and transformed into the one maximum security prison for the entire country. Sometime between then and 1997, World War III broke out, though apparently wasn't (or not completely) nuclear in nature; Snake is a veteran of both the Battles of Leningrad and Siberia.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The woman who hijacks Air Force One and crashes it into New York on behalf of the “National Liberation Front of America”. Only seen very briefly in the beginning, but without her, the whole plot could not have happened.
  • Sociopathic Hero: The only hint that Snake might care is when he asks the president how he felt about all the people who died to rescue him and is not impressed with the president's flippant response.
  • Soul Brotha: The Duke of New York. Did you expect anything less from a character played by Issac Hayes?
  • State Sec: The United States Police Force, who despite their name has arms and equipment on par with the military.
  • Stealth Pun: The abandoned store where Snake and a woman are attacked by crazies is called Chock Full O' Nuts.
  • Stolen MacGuffin Reveal: Snake is sent on a deadly mission to rescue the president and recover a tape that contains the secret of nuclear fusion. He succeeds but several good people die on the way. Snake then asks the president how he feels about that and figures he's a Ungrateful Bastard. He hands out the wrong tape and destroys the true one on his way out — despite knowing this will further aggravate the ongoing international conflicts.
  • Stylistic Suck: The song "Everyone's Coming To New York" is sung by various criminals, and even on the soundtrack CD, the singers sing slightly out of tune, and various interludes are played on kazoos. Why yes, hilarity most certainly does ensue.
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Snake is a macho, grizzled and handsome Anti-Hero dressed in black and prone to snide remarks.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Snake and Brain openly dislike each other but they're forced to work together to rescue the President in order to escape from the prison and avert a potential nuclear war.
  • The Thunderdome: The Duke has an enclosed boxing ring where he forces prisoners to fight to the death with baseball bats.
  • Tracking Device:
    • Snake is given a tracer. When he pushes a button, his position can be tracked for 15 minutes.
    • The President wears a vital signs bracelet that broadcasts a "sync pulse." Snake is given a device that can home in on the signal, showing direction and distance to the device.
  • Trashcan Bonfire: In the scene where Romero approaches Bob Hauk to deliver an ultimatum.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: This film takes place in 1997. In 1988, the US crime rate rose 400%; Manhattan was turned into the maximum security prison for the whole country and the US became an authoritarian nation as a result. There is a (presumably non-nuclear) war going on with the Soviet Union, and the whole film begins as Communist terrorists skyjack Air Force One. Cold War-phobia was very popular in The '80s.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The president shows no respect for any of the people who died in the process of getting him out of New York. Snake responds by humiliating him as he's giving a speech.
  • Ur-Example: Snake Plissken was a Darker and Edgier '90s Anti-Hero in 1981!
  • Walk into Mordor: Snake must para-glide onto the roof of the World Trade Center in order to infiltrate Manhattan without detection.
  • War Hero: When Snake Plissken arrives at the facility, he is taken to a meeting with Police Commissioner Bob Hauk. Plissken was a U.S. soldier during a war with Russia. He received two Purple Hearts and was the youngest man ever to be decorated by the President. However, Plissken robbed a Federal Reserve depository and was sentenced to the Manhattan prison. Hauk tells Plissken "I'm ready to kick your ass out of the world, war hero."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • "You wanna know what they did to Fresno Bob?" You'll never know. It's actually revealed in the Novelization. He was skinned alive.
    • The Duke's gang (who are all chasing after the taxi across the city during the final sequence) disappear just before Snake drives the cab onto the 59th Street Bridge, with no explanation as to where they went and no one besides the Duke still pursuing the group. This was explained in a deleted scene - Snake's driving causes a multi-car pileup that stalls out all of the gang's vehicles except for Duke's.
  • Why Am I Ticking?: This was how Snake gets roped into all the shenanigans, although in his case, he not only knows the bomb is there but has a handy-dandy countdown timer.
  • World War III: The Cold War apparently became hot at some point. Snake Plissken is noted to be a decorated veteran from the Battles of Leningrad and Siberia, and the main plot revolves around retrieving the President so he can present an offer to Russia and China that could end the war.
  • Wretched Hive: Technically, in this film the island of Manhattan is a prison if you observe it from the outside, but if observed from the inside, it's a Wretched Hive. The film was shot in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. and East St. Louis, Illinois. the former of which was a real life wretched hive at the time (the area has since been cleaned up and restored) and the latter still is.
  • Zeerust: While cassette tapes were still widely used in 1997, telex were gone by then. The wireframe guidance images in the glider might raise some eyebrows, but it's conceivable that such a light aircraft would use simple computer graphics.