Escape from New York

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Escape from New York Movie Poster Image
Extremely dark '80s sci-fi classic is too intense for kids.
  • R
  • 1981
  • 99 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 8 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The rotten Big Apple here represents the worst that could happen under a harsh, uncaring government. Along with that comes a theme of mistrusting authority and "the Man." There are no real heroes; the closest thing is a commando-turned-robber, motivated entirely by self-interest (or other people coercing him). Even he is disgusted by the callous attitude of the hostage US president (and, by extension, the society that president represents).

Positive Role Models & Representations

Plissken is a hard-bitten, surly punk throughout. While most every character is a criminal, freak, or government bully of some sort (except for the friendly Cabbie), "good guys," for lack of a better word, are all white folks. Main villain is big black dude. The US president's personality is not well established, but we suspect he -- like his country -- isn't very nice.


Gunfire, explosions, beat-downs, and gladiatorial death bouts with fists and clubs. A severed head. Characters stuck with arrows and knives. Implication that high-tech tiny time bombs are implanted in someone's head. A hijacked plane crashes into a Manhattan skyscraper as in 9/11, but only a radar-readout is shown.


Blink-and-you'll-miss-them bare breasts, as NYC prisoners manhandle a girl. Low-cut outfits for the leading lady. Plissken makes an angry joke about "playing with myself." He has a suggestive tattoo around his crotch.


The s-word, the f-word, "a-hole," "Jesus Christ," "bastard," SOB.


Chock-Full-a-Nuts and Coca-Cola signs visible.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Tough-guy cigarette smoking. Drunken-derelict type characters in a skid-row setting, mention of junkies.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know Escape from New York presents a bleak vision of the future and has violence including that violence gunfire, crossbows, thrown knives, land mines, and gladiatorial death bouts with fists and clubs (though except for a severed head there's little explicit gore). Do-not-do-this-at-home stuff includes whiskey used as a firebomb. Swearing is at the typical R-level. The hero smokes cigarettes. There's a quick glimpse of bare breasts. An atmosphere of cynicism and darkness pervades, including a negative depiction of a US president and a police-state America.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byleonard p. April 3, 2014

Great Movie

Really good has one scene of nudity but its in the background and blurry. Also, you see a man holding a chopped off hand. Not much cursing
Adult Written bylemonlover July 19, 2012

Consider that...

The movie has some scens of nudity. F**k is used a lot. There are moments where you view gunfire, beatings, etc. Smoking is seen in this movie.
Teen, 17 years old Written byThe Mighty Neb April 24, 2021
Kid, 11 years old February 12, 2021

Really Good, Really Dark

This movie is great, but soooooo dark. it is also violent. and very very brief nudity.

What's the story?

In a brutal, "near-future" America -- 1997, for this 1981 production -- crime has risen astronomically, coincident with a war against Russia in ESCAPE TO NEW YORK. The island of Manhattan, apparently given up as unsalvageable, has been turned into a giant prison compound, guarded and mined to prevent escape, and so hellish that convicts can opt for execution rather than enter. Then kamikaze leftist terrorists hijack Air Force One and crash it in Manhattan (a 9/11-shudder in that scene!) stranding the US president (Donald Pleasance) somewhere in this lawless zone on the eve of vital peace talks. The warden turns to a new prisoner, ex-war hero Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), to single-handedly retrieve the VIP from the walled-off nightmare city and its gangs. As an extra incentive, the unwilling Plissken is injected with miniature explosive charges that will kill him if he fails to complete the mission in 24 hours.

Is it any good?

This movie is summed up by the word "dystopia," the opposite of "utopia," but in fairness, filmmaker John Carpenter, never meant this as an uplifter. Filmed in the purposeful, plain style of the old-school (pre-MTV, pre-video game) movie directors he professed to admire most, Escape from New York is a compelling but relentlessly sour and pessimistic actioner whose only levity comes from the inherent dark humor (a running "joke" that everyone thought Plissken  was dead) and a jolly Ernest Borgnine as comic-relief, a lone, cheery yellow-cab driver still picking up fares despite mean streets full of savage lunatics and barbarians. Other filmmakers might have gone for "escapism" in the Hollywood sense and made this a thrill-ride roller-coaster. Instead, Carpenter (shooting on a low budget, using a burnt-out St. Louis standing in for ghost-town NYC) makes it painfully plain that this alternative Manhattan is really not a nice place to visit and you wouldn't want to live there. Kids most likely won't have much interest, and it's not meant for them, anyway.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Snake Plissken in Escape from New York. Is he a "hero" or, as some have suggested, a character with no redeeming social value? What does his final dialogue with the president mean?

  • Research the real-life pathologies that assailed New York in the 1960s and '70s, like crime, decadence, drugs, blackouts, riots, economic turmoil, and punk rock, extrapolated to create this dire scenario.

  • .

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love action and adventure

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