Because of its recognizable iconography, New York City is an easy target for all sorts of disasters in cinema. From King Kong climbing the Empire State Building to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man crushing a Central Park church in “Ghostbusters,” it seems no borough is safe from Hollywood. When John Carpenter decided to turn an entire city into a prison, why not Manhattan?
After making a name for himself with the horror films “Halloween” and “The Fog,” Carpenter shifted genres with the sci-fi action movie “Escape From New York.” In the movie, criminal Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is cajoled to venture into the lawless prison city of Manhattan Island to rescue the president after an Air Force One plane crash.
Carpenter told It Came From that he got the idea for the movie years earlier when watching “Death Wish.” He said:
“New York was having some big, giant problems at the time, I’m thinking bankruptcy and a crime problem. And this Charles Bronson movie, ‘Death Wish,’ came along and he was a vigilante architect, of all things. And something about the movie struck a chord with me….I read a Harry Harrison story, there was this planet, the toughest, most evil place in the universe. So who’re you going to choose to go in there and do something with some mission? The most evil guy in the universe. That idea stuck with me, and I thought of writing this kind of dystopian future story about New York as a prison and a guy has to go in to rescue the president.”
But with a meager $6 million budget, building practical sets in New York City wasn’t an option. Instead, Carpenter looked to another city that had already faced its own disaster.