Escape from New York Movie Poster Image

Escape from New York



Extremely dark '80s sci-fi classic is too intense for kids.
  • Review Date: August 4, 2010
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 1981
  • Running Time: 99 minutes

What parents need to know

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

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.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that violence in this bleak vision of the future includes 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.

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. 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?


The Elmo word of the day here is "dystopia," the opposite of "utopia," which sums up ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. 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, it's 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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Snake Plissken. 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

Theatrical release date:July 10, 1981
DVD release date:November 21, 2000
Cast:Ernest Borgnine, Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef
Director:John Carpenter
Genre:Science Fiction
Run time:99 minutes
MPAA rating:R

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What parents and kids say

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Parent Written byPredatorman April 3, 2014

Really Awesome Movie

Really f****ing awesome
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Teen, 17 years old Written bydavyborn January 18, 2012

Black as night 80's action pic if for older teens and up, only

John Carpenters 1981 cult classic, Escape from New York, is one very dated movie. But, that is not to say that it still can't manage to work it's charms on you, even if though you are watching it nearly thirty-years after it's initial release into cinemas. So, the simple story is made complicated by legions of side characters, side stories and sidetracks, but, this is the main ring of it: Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russel) is a professional badass, who must infiltrate the now completely rundown prison city off New York, which is overrun by seedy thugs, punks and gangs. He must trudge through the cities underworld, deeper and deeper, so that he will be able to rescue the president of the United States, who is now being held hospital by the biggest gang in New York City. See, the nice thing about Escape from New York, is that it still sounds quirky, quaint and lovably old-fashioned, all these years later, which makes it all the more effective as a sci-fi\action\thriller. So, even though it is rated R, it is still very, very tame by today's standards of the same exact rating, but, that is not to say that it isn't deserved, because it is: There is infrequent but strong violence including several very brutal fistfights, gunfights, torture and even one very explicit image of mutilation. Also, there is one very graphic but very quick seen of a group of thugs attempting to rape a unconscious woman, with her bare breasts revealed very quickly. And, finally, there is infrequent but moderate profanity as well, including f--k, sh-t, b-tch, a--hole, b-st-rd and jesus christ. So, with that all being said, this movie is still entertaining in it's own right, to this day. So, John Carpenter's and cult fan's still see much to love in it. Reccomended.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
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.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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