It is the 40th anniversary of the release of Escape From New York, and its legacy is strewn all across the movies that have come out since then. Few movies have been as bold and distinct as Escape From New York, and few have left such a lasting impression on their audiences. More specifically, few have left such an impression on future creators in their own genres.
Escape From New York stars Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a former special forces operative turned criminal. It is set in a post-apocalyptic near-future identified as 1997, though it has both advanced technology and infrastructural decay that did not come to pass in real life. In the movie, New York City is one giant prison where law-abiding citizens fear to go, and Plissken is sent in to retrieve the President of the United States, whose plane has crash-landed there.
The movie is full of throw-away lines about recent history, references to scientific developments and plenty of incredible one-liners. It effortlessly builds a fictional world that is believable and captivating, so it's no wonder that writers, directors and other creators have emulated it for years.
The movie is also zany and over the top, making it ripe for parody. This is true even for fans of the movie, who have sometimes expressed their love for it by poking fun in their own work. Tropes established in Escape From New York are now sci-fi staples in some cases.
Escape From New York has arguably influenced every dystopian story to come out in the last four decades, but its fingerprints are much clearer in some places than in others. If you want to see the movie for yourself, it's streaming now on HBO Max. Here are all the most overt references to the movie to celebrate its 40th birthday.
First and foremost, Snake Plissken was a major influence on Solid Snake, the protagonist of the Metal Gear video game series. Video game director Hideo Kojima has cited Escape From New York as a reference before, but the strongest reference comes in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty when Snake uses the alias "Pliskin" to go undercover. The crossover of fans between these two franchises is vast.prevnext
Novelist William Gibson is credited with creating — or at least widely popularizing — the cyberpunk genre with his 1984 novel Neuromancer, but Gibson names Escape From New York as a major inspiration on the book. Like other fans, Gibson honed in on the way the movie fleshed out its fictional world with throw-away references to history that didn't need to be explained.
"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 SF where a casual reference can imply a lot," Gibson said in an interview with Larry McCaffery for the book Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction.
Given Gibson's towering status in the science fiction genre, it's safe to say that by influencing him, Escape From New York influenced all of sci-fi for the last four decades.prevnext
Now on to more recent and lighthearted send-ups, like the Hulu original series Solar Opposites. The cartoon centers around a family of petty aliens stranded on earth, but it reserves lots of time for a B-plot that could be called a direct parody of Escape From New York: "The Wall."
On Solar Opposites, the teenage alien Yumyulack uses his shrink ray to capture humans who displease him and imprison them in a terrarium inside his bedroom wall. The people inside develop their own barbaric society, which they themselves compare directly to the situation of Snake Plissken. In many ways, references like this show the most love for the source material.prevnext
A similar but more subtle take on Escape From New York came in American Dad's episode "Escape From Pearl Bailey." It combined parodies of Escape From New York, The Warriors, Batman (1989), Pulp Fiction and Mean Girls.
In case there was any doubt that the writers of this satirical spy show love Escape From New York, there's a reference in the Season 1 episode "Con Heir" as well. When he first meets Stan's dad, Jack, Roger refers to him as "Snake Plissken" automatically, a sure sign that Jack is based on the original badass with an eyepatch.prevnext
J.J. Abrams' 2008 monster movie Cloverfield was a pretty obvious riff on Godzilla, but it shared more subtle DNA with Escape From New York. According to a report by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Abrams was inspired by Escape From New York, and gave it an homage in the form of the Statue of Liberty's head crashing into a city street below.prevnext
'Escape From L.A.'
Obviously, the belated Escape From New York sequel Escape From L.A. is "inspired" by its predecessor in some ways. Many fans go even further, treating Escape From L.A. as if it's a parody or meta-textual response to the original. The vast difference in tones between the two movies serves an implicit description of how Hollywood itself changed in the years between — taking Snake Plissken from post-apocalyptic firefights to pick-up basketball games.prevnext
Looks *much* better to me than the earlier teaser. Has "dirt in the corners" texture. https://t.co/s0wzyNIi1Z— William Gibson (@GreatDismal) August 27, 2018
Finally, one more video game with undeniable roots in Escape From New York is the recent hit Cyberpunk 2077 by CD Projekt RED, which is based on the tabletop RPG Cyberpunk. The game plays on every trope in the cyberpunk genre, which can be traced back to Escape From New York if not directly, then at least through Gibson as mentioned above. Incidentally, Gibson watched the development of the game closely and he did not like what he saw at first.
"The trailer for Cyberpunk 2077 strikes me as GTA skinned-over with a generic 80s retro-future. But hey, that's just me." he tweeted when the first look came out. He later recanted, tweeting: "Looks *much* better to me than the earlier teaser. Has 'dirt in the corners' texture."prevnext
The Real World
Four decades after its release, we can thankfully say that Escape From New York did not make many literal predictions about the future. Although New York City is not a prison and the president does not host international peace summits in Hartford, Connecticut, writer and director John Carpenter's vision still resonates with the feeling of impending — or ongoing — doom. You can stream Escape From New York now on HBO Max.prev