Snake Plissken's eyepatch was suggested by Kurt Russell.
Kurt Russell has stated that this is his favorite of all his films, and Snake Plissken is his favorite of his characters.
The model of the city set was repainted and reused for Blade Runner (1982).
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.
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.
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.
The opening narration, and the computer's voice in the first prison scene, were provided by an uncredited Jamie Lee Curtis.
Donald Pleasence drew on his own wartime experiences as a prisoner of war for his performance as the imprisoned President.
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 was filled with old buildings that look seedy and run-down.
In an interview, John Carpenter said the story was inspired by the science fiction novel "Planet of the Damned" by Harry Harrison, which was about a man with no choice, but to do a job for the government.
The Secret Service Agent attempting to break into the cockpit of Air Force One, at the beginning of the movie, is Steven Ford, son of President Gerald Ford.
John Carpenter and his crew convinced St. Louis authorities to shut off the electricity for ten blocks at night.
The manhole covers in the film were all made out of wood. Real ones would have been far too heavy for the actors.
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." Which would mean that parts of this film were inspired by two legendary western stars, or their films; John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, the latter, on whom Kurt Russell based his performance.
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.
John Carpenter originally wrote the film in the mid 70s, 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).
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.
Adrienne Barbeau and John Carpenter were married at the time the film was released, as were Kurt Russell and Season Hubley.
Clint Eastwood was considered for the role of Snake Plissken. Kurt Russell based his performance on Eastwood.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
Donald Pleasence came up with a backstory, to explain how he became President with his English accent, but John Carpenter didn't use it.
The film's budget of seven million dollars was the largest that John Carpenter had worked with, up to that point.
The idea of putting a wig on at one point in the film, was improvised by Donald Pleasence.
Kurt Russell found it necessary to remove the eyepatch between takes, as wearing it constantly seriously affected his depth perception.
Popular videogame 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.
Director of Photography Dean Cundey used a special lens - new at the time - to extract the maximum amount of light from night time shoots.
Studio executives also wanted Charles Bronson for the role of Snake Plissken, but John Carpenter refused, on the grounds that he was too old.
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.
DIRECTOR_TRADEMARK(John Carpenter): [names]: Minor characters Cronenberg, Romero, and Taylor, named after fellow science fiction and horror directors David Cronenberg, George A. Romero, and Don Taylor.
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."
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.
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."
"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!
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 back lot." 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.
The name "Snake Plissken" was changed to "Hyena" for the Italian release, and "Cobra" in South Korea.
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.
The entire crew was plagued by persistent mosquitoes during a very hot and sticky St. Louis summer.
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.
The only scene actually filmed in New York City, was the opening dolly shot, which follows a character past the Statue of Liberty.
Back in June 2003, Production I.G. started pre-production on an eighty to ninety minute animé 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.
Joe Unger is listed in the end credits as playing the character of Taylor, although his scenes (the bank robbery/escape prologue) were deleted.
The character of Maggie was written with Adrienne Barbeau in mind.
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.
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).
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".
Snake, being based on Clint Eastwood, has the added irony that Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef were in several "spaghetti westerns" together.
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. 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.
Co-writer Nick Castle came up with the idea for the Cabbie character and also the film's ending.
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.
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.
Chuck Norris was also considered to play Snake Plissken, but turned it down.
The final credit is a reference to a strip club and the dancers across the river in St. Louis.
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.
Coincidentally, Lee Van Cleef appeared in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) in which Bing Russell (Kurt's dad) also had a small part.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
Entertainment Weekly ranked this Number One on their "Guilty Pleasures: Testosterone Edition" list in their March 30, 2007 issue.
The original German one-sheet poster prominently misspells Snake's last name as "Plessken".
The character of Cabbie was written with Ernest Borgnine in mind.
Shooting began in late summer, 1980, with a seven million dollar 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.
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.
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.
John Carpenter was inspired to write this film when he took a trip to Manhattan and saw the seedier parts of New York City.
Tom Atkins' character name "Rehme" is a reference to the President of AVCO Embassy pictures at the time, Robert Rehme.
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.
Some movie posters, for the film, featured a fallen Statue of Liberty, which was a design concept which has also 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).
Donald Pleasence and Tom Atkins starred in the Halloween franchise, however, 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).
In the backstory behind why Snake wears an eyepatch over his left eye. Snake's helmet was cracked during WW3 which the iris in his left eye was paralyzed due to poison gas and Snake wears the eyepatch due to extreme light sensitivity.
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."
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).
Tom Atkins and Adrienne Barbeau also costarred in Carpenter's The Fog (1980). In both movies, their characters never meet.
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) - the USSR/Soviet Union ceased to exist in late 1991.
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.
Season Hubley received a "special appearance" credit.
John Carpenter wrote the first draft of the script in 1974.
Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones who were considered to play Snake Plissken, later worked together in Blown Away (1994).
John Carpenter wrote the screenplay in 1976 as a reaction to the Watergate scandal.
Kurt Russell pitched himself hard for the role of Snake Plissken as he was very keen to shake off his Disney image.
Nick Nolte was also in the running for the lead role.
Having worked with Kurt Russell on the TV movie Elvis (1979), John Carpenter lobbied hard for him to take the role of Snake Plissken.
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.
The role of the President was pitched to Donald Pleasence as "the love child between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher".
The film's opening weekend take of $9 million was the biggest ever for Avco Embassy.
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.)
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.)
Kurt Russell had recently become a father to his first child, Boston. 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.
John Carpenter had cited the Harry Harrison science fiction novel "Planet of the Damned" as an inspiration behind the film. The novel was about a man called Brion Brandd whom leaves the planet Anvhar and travels to the desert planet Dis on a mission to prevent a global nuclear holocaust.
Every character that says "I heard you were dead" to Snake, dies.
The additional shot of Adrienne Barbeau's corpse (shot in John Carpenter's driveway long after principal shooting was completed) was added after a then teen-aged J.J. Abrams suggested it to Carpenter. Abrams saw an early cut because his father worked for the studio that produced the film, and pointed out to Carpenter that Maggie's death was never fully established.
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 said plot device in the sequel Escape from L.A. (1996).