Escape from New York is a 1981 American science fiction action film directed and scored by John Carpenter. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Nick Castle. The film is set in the near future in a crime-ridden United States that has converted Manhattan Island in New York City into a maximum security prison. Ex-soldier and legendary fugitive "Snake" Plissken (Kurt Russell) is given 24 hours to find the President of the United States, who has been captured by inmates after Air Force One crashed on the island. Carpenter originally wrote the film in the mid-1970s as a reaction to the Watergate scandal, but no studio wanted to make it because Carpenter proved unable to articulate just how this film could relate to the Watergate scandal. After the success of Halloween, he had enough influence to get the film made and shot most of it in St. Louis, Missouri, where significant portions of the city were used in place of New York City. The film's total budget was estimated to be US$6 million. It was a commercial hit, grossing over $50 million worldwide. It has since developed its own cult following, particularly around the anti-hero Plissken. A sequel, Escape from L.A., was released in 1996.
In a dystopian 1997, World War III is nearing an end. Both the United States and Soviet Union have suffered greatly in the conflict and are looking for a peaceful resolution. Due to a nationwide crime increase of 400%, Manhattan was turned into one giant maximum security prison in 1988. Surrounded by a 50 foot containment wall, and mines on all bridges and waterways, nobody is allowed in the prison, not even guards. Because there are no guards inside the prison there is only "prisoners and the worlds they have made. The rules are simple: once you go in, you don't come out. " Travelling to a three-way summit between the United States, the Soviet Union and China, Air Force One, the plane of the President of the United States, is hijacked by a lone member of a left-wing revolutionary organization, called the National Liberation Front of America, opposed to the government. The militant terrorist, disguised as a stewardess, crashes the plane into Manhattan, but the President (Donald Pleasence) is placed in an escape pod and survives. The inmates quickly find him and take him hostage, cutting off one of his fingers to present as evidence and ordering all United States Police Force officers to leave Manhattan immediately or they will kill him. USPF Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) offers a deal to a newly arrived prisoner, an infamous special forces-soldier-turned-criminal named "Snake" Plissken (Kurt Russell) who was apprehended after robbing the Federal Reserve Depository. If Snake rescues the president, and retrieves a cassette tape that contains important information on nuclear fusion, Hauk will give him a full pardon. However, Plissken must complete his mission before the international summit that the President was due to attend, which begins in 24 hours. By the time Plissken has reluctantly agreed to attempt the rescue, Hauk has discreetly (Snake is told he is being injected with something routine) had him injected with microscopic explosives that will rupture his carotid arteries once 24 hours have passed. The explosives cannot be defused until within 15 minutes before detonation, as a way of ensuring that Snake does not abandon his mission and escape, or find another way to remove them. If he returns with the President and the tape in time for the summit, Hauk will save him. Snake promises to kill Hauk when he returns. "Snake" Plissken (played by Kurt Russell) is escorted to the maximum security prison on Manhattan Island by armed USPF officers. Snake covertly lands atop the World Trade Center in a glider, and then locates the hijacked plane wreckage and the escape pod, but the President is gone. Snake tracks the President's life-monitor bracelet signal to the basement of a dilapidated theater, only to find it on the wrist of an incoherent old man (George "Buck" Flower). He meets a friendly inmate nicknamed "Cabbie" (Ernest Borgnine), who offers to help. Cabbie takes Snake to see Harold 'Brain' Close (Harry Dean Stanton), a savvy and well-educated inmate who has made the New York Public Library his personal fortress. Brain, who knows Snake from some heists they did in the past, tells Snake that the self-proclaimed "Duke of New York" (Isaac Hayes), the leader of the Gypsies, the largest and most powerful gang in Manhattan, has the President and plans to lead a mass escape across the mined and heavily guarded 69th Street Bridge, using the President as a human shield. When the Duke unexpectedly arrives to obtain a diagram of the bridge's land mines, Snake forces Brain and his girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) to lead him back to the Duke's compound at Grand Central Station. Snake finds the President being held in a railroad car, but his rescue fails and he is captured after Brain apparently betrays Snake. While Snake is forced to fight with a giant brute (Ox Baker), Brain and Maggie trick the Duke's men into letting them have access to the President. After killing the guards, they free the President and flee to Snake's glider. Meanwhile, Snake defeats his opponent. When the Duke learns the President has escaped with Brain, he is furious, and he rounds up his gang to chase them down. In the confusion, Snake slips away and manages to catch up with Brain, Maggie and the President at the glider, but during their attempted getaway, a gang of inmates push it off the building. Snake and the others soon find Cabbie, and Snake takes the wheel of his cab, heading for the bridge. When Cabbie reveals that he has the nuclear fusion tape, the President demands it, but Snake takes it. With the Duke chasing in another car, Snake and the others drive over the mine-strewn bridge. After the taxi hits a land mine, the cab is destroyed and Cabbie is killed. As the others flee on foot, Brain is killed by a mine and Maggie refuses to leave him. She attempts to hold off the Duke's car by firing at him with a revolver, but he crashes into Maggie and kills her, and continues on foot. Snake and the President reach the containment wall, and the guards raise the President on a rope. The Duke then attacks Snake, but the President shoots the Duke, killing him. Snake is then lifted to safety, and the explosives implanted in his body are deactivated with seconds to spare. As the President prepares for a televised speech, he distractedly thanks Snake for saving him. Snake asks him how he feels about the people who died saving his life, but the President only offers half-hearted regret that visibly disgusts Snake. The President's speech commences and he offers the content of the cassette to the summit; but to the President's embarrassment, the tape has been switched for a cassette of the swing song "Bandstand Boogie" (the theme from American Bandstand), Cabbie's favorite song. After Snake is pardoned, he decides he will not kill Hauk at this time and leaves the prison, tearing apart the all-important nuclear fusion tape and smiling as he leaves.