It’s now been four decades since Snake Plissken sought to make his way out of the Big Apple as John Carpenter’s classic movie Escape From New York was released in theaters 40 years ago today. Starring Kurt Russell as Snake, the eyepatch-wearing action hero at the center of the story, the movie marked just one of many collaborations between the actor and Carpenter. Some might say it’s the duo’s best movie together of them all, and all this time later, the iconic flick still holds up.
Released in 1981, Escape from New York is set in an alternate-reality 1997 where the United States has been completely decimated by crime. Manhattan Island has since been converted into a maximum security prison, and trouble arises when Air Force One makes a crash landing into the area. Prisoner Snake Plissken (Russell) is given 24 hours to help the president of the United States escape the city/prison, and if he succeeds, he’ll earn a pardon for his troubles.
The movie features an all-star cast alongside Russell, including Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, and Tom Atkins. Also starring in the movie is horror genre fan favorite Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, one of the few female action heroes of the 1980s. At the time of her casting, the legendary scream queen was not yet known for her horror work, though she previously worked with Carpenter on a TV project. Clearly, the director saw the potential in Barbeau by casting her in such an important role in Escape from New York, though the actress didn’t realize it at the time.
“I never thought of her [as a trailblazing character],” Barbeau told Variety in a new interview looking back at the movie. “I first worked with John on the TV movie Someone’s Watching Me in 1978, so I knew from the beginning that the type of women’s roles he wrote were the Howard Hawks women, as he called them. They were the kind of characters Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn often played. Strong, assertive, take-no-prisoners types of women, so it never crossed my mind that Maggie was unique. But then again, I’ve always played strong women, whether on television, in movies, or on stage.”
Of Escape from New York later becoming a cult classic, Barbeau added: “At the time, it just felt like a really good role in a really fun film, with a bunch of truly great actors. Of course, visually it was remarkable, but I didn’t think, ‘Oh my god, this movie is breaking new ground!’ or anything like that.”
In recent years, there have been rumblings of a remake of Escape from New York. It was announced in 2017 that Robert Rodriguez would direct the planned remake with John Carpenter returning to serve as a producer. An update in 2019 brought about news that Leigh Whannell would be rewriting the script following a prior draft by Luther creator Neil Cross. Per THR, Rodriguez had also departed the project with the door open for Whannell to potentially direct as well. There have been no major updates on the project since.
Meanwhile Kurt Russell and John Carpenter would go on to collaborate in many other projects over the years after the release of this movie, including the Escape from New York sequel Escape from LA. Just recently, we also celebrated the 35th anniversary of Big Trouble in Little China, another acclaimed project from the two. Maybe, just maybe, the pair might work together again someday, as Carpenter has said he’s up for collaborating with Russell once again. If you want to revisit Escape from New York, the movie is currently streaming on HBO Max.
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