In 1998, Los Angeles has become immensely crime-ridden and decadent, ultimately being directly governed and patrolled by the recently created United States Police Force. Two years later, on August 23, 2000, a massive earthquake strikes Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley floods, and the Los Angeles area turns into an island from Malibu to Anaheim. An American presidential candidate who is also an outspoken theocrat has been saying that L.A. is sinful and has been punished by God.
When he is elected President for life, he declares that anyone not conforming to the new "Moral America" laws he creates, which ban such things as tobacco, alcoholic beverages, recreational drugs, red meat, firearms, profanity, atheism, freedom of religion and extra-marital sex, will be stripped of their citizenship and deported to Los Angeles Island unless they repent and choose death by electrocution. A containment wall is built around the island, armed guards and watchtowers are posted, and those sent to the island are exiled permanently.
In 2013, Cuervo Jones, a Shining Path Peruvian Revolutionary, seduces the President's daughter, Utopia, via a holographic system and brainwashes her into stealing her father's remote control to the "Sword of Damocles" super weapon—a series of satellites capable of rendering all electronic devices anywhere on the planet useless. The President intends to use the system to destroy America's enemies' ability to function and eventually dominate the world. While traveling aboard Air Force Three, Utopia leaves the plane in an escape pod and lands on L.A. Island to join with Cuervo.
With the satellites under his control, Cuervo promises to take back America with the assistance of an allied invasion force of third world nations that are standing by to attack. Cuervo claims that if the President tries to stop him, he will "pull the plug" on the country and black out the capital. Cuervo also knows the secret world code that can knock out power for the entire planet.
Snake Plissken is captured for another series of crimes and is scheduled to be exiled to Los Angeles Island. Upon his arrival for deportation, Snake meets the President and is offered the mission of retrieving the weapon. The President says he will give him a full pardon if he is successful. The President indicates he does not care if Utopia is returned or not, declaring her a traitor. To ensure his compliance, Snake is infected with the man-made Plutoxin 7 virus that will kill him within ten hours. If he completes the mission, Snake will be cured.
Snake is given an assault rifle, a personal holographic projector, a thermal-camouflage overcoat, and a countdown clock for how long he has to live. Snake sneaks into the city with a mini submarine that he loses when the platform it landed on crumbles, causing the sub to sink. Making his way across the island, Snake meets "Map to the Stars" Eddie, a swindler who sells interactive tours of L.A..
Snake defeats Cuervo at his staging area of The Happy Kingdom By The Sea in Anaheim and takes the remote control. Snake leaves the island with Utopia and some other Cuervo resistors in a helicopter. Cuervo shoots at it with a rocket launcher just before Eddie kills him, but seeing the incoming rocket, Eddie leaps off the chopper, landing on an awning. The rocket hits the chopper and kills those in the back of the chopper but also causes a fire; Snake and Utopia bail out before it crashes. When the President's men reach the crash site, Snake intentionally hands off the wrong remote to the President while Utopia is taken to the electric chair despite her pleas for forgiveness. The Plutoxin 7 virus is revealed to be nothing more than a fast, hard-hitting case of the flu. The President tries using the satellites to stop a Cuban invasion force threatening Florida. Activating the remote, the President hears only Eddie's "Map to the Stars" intro over "I Love L.A.".
The President orders Snake's execution but Snake previously activated his hologram projector and the Snake that gets shot is an illusion. Snake activates the real control device, entering the world-code and ending all technological activity on the planet, against pleas to stop. At the deportation center, Utopia expresses her surprise that Snake shut down the Earth and thus saved her. In the final scene Snake lights a cigarette and blows out the match used to light it, upon which he utters "Welcome to the human race," and the film ends.Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken
Steve Buscemi as Map to the Stars Eddie
Peter Fonda as Pipeline
Cliff Robertson as President
Valeria Golino as Taslima
Stacy Keach as Cmdr. Malloy
Pam Grier as Hershe Las Palmas
Bruce Campbell as Surgeon General of Beverly Hills
Georges Corraface as Cuervo Jones
Michelle Forbes as Brazen
A. J. Langer as Utopia
Ina Romeo as Hooker
Peter Jason as Duty Sergeant
Jordan Baker as Police Anchor
Caroleen Feeney as Woman on Freeway
Paul Bartel as Congressman
Tom McNulty as Officer
Jeff Imada as Saigon Shadow
Breckin Meyer as Surfer
Robert Carradine as Skinhead
Shelly Desai as Cloaked Figure
Leland Orser as Test Tube
The film was in development for over ten years. At one point, a script was commissioned in 1987, being written by screenwriter Coleman Luck, with Dino De Laurentiis's company producing. Carpenter would later describe the script as "too light, too campy". The project remained dormant following that time until the 1994 earthquake and the L.A. riots revived it. Carpenter and Kurt Russell got together to write with their long-time collaborator Debra Hill. Carpenter insists that it was Russell's persistence that allowed the film to be made, since "Snake Plissken was a character he loved and wanted to play again".
Escape from L.A. grossed $25,477,365 from its $50 million budget—about as much as its predecessor, but little more than half its significantly higher budget.
The film received mixed reviews and has a 53% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes based on 47 reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of a possible four and wrote that the movie felt it was an attempt to satirize the genre while exploiting it: "[Escape from L.A.] has such manic energy, such a weird, cockeyed vision, that it may work on some moviegoers as satire and on others as the real thing."
Todd McCarthy of Variety wrote, "A cartoonish, cheesy and surprisingly campy apocalyptic actioner, John Carpenter's Escape From L.A. is spiked with a number of funny and anarchic ideas, but doesn't begin to pull them together into a coherent whole."
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly rated it C+ and wrote, "Carpenter never was the filmmaker his cult claimed him to be, but in Escape From L.A., he at least has the instinct to keep his hero moving, like some leather-biker Candide."
Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that the film's in-jokes "go a long way toward keeping afloat a hopelessly choppy adventure spoof that doesn't even to try to match the ghoulish surrealism of its forerunner".
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "With much humor and high adventure, John Carpenter's Escape From L.A. brilliantly imagines a Dante-esque vision of the City of Angels".
Peter Stack of The San Francisco Chronicle rated it 3/4 stars and called it "dark, percussive and perversely fun". Esther Iverem of The Washington Post wrote that the film "tries but fails to be an action-hero flick or even a parody of one".
Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle rated it 3/5 stars and wrote, "Loud, rollicking, alternately ultra-violent and hilarious, Escape from L.A. is Snake redux, and what more do you need, really?" Nigel Floyd of Time Out London wrote, "After 15 years of computer-generated effects, apocalyptic sci-fi and Arnie movies with flippant kiss-off lines, the sequel feels hackneyed and pointless." Kim Newman of Empire rated it 2/5 stars and wrote, "Apart from a few good characters, this is really not up to scratch in most departments especially the ludicrous plot."
In a 2013 retrospective, Alan Zilberman of The Atlantic called Snake Plissken "a pro-nostalgia antihero, disgusted by the world around him". While contrasting the film's then-futuristic plot elements against modern day reality, Zilberman writes that the film's ending is more profound today, as Plissken would be annoyed by our fascination with technology, citing the example of two friends who ignore each other while transfixed with their smart phones.
John Carpenter later reflected:
Escape from L.A. is better than the first movie. Ten times better. It’s got more to it. It’s more mature. It’s got a lot more to it. I think some people didn’t like it because they felt it was a remake, not a sequel... I suppose it’s the old question of whether you like Rio Bravo or El Dorado better? They’re essentially the same movie. They both had their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t know–you never know why a movie’s going to make it or not. People didn’t want to see Escape that time, but they really didn’t want to see The Thing... You just wait. You’ve got to give me a little while. People will say, you know, what was wrong with me?
The film was released on Blu-ray on May 4, 2010.
- "Dawn" – Stabbing Westward
- "Sweat" – Tool
- "The One" – White Zombie
- "Cut Me Out" – Toadies
- "Pottery" – Butthole Surfers
- "10 Seconds Down" – Sugar Ray
- "Blame (L.A) Remix" – Gravity Kills
- "Professional Widow" – Tori Amos
- "Paisley" – Ministry
- "Fire in the Hole" – Orange 9mm
- "Escape from the Prison Planet" – Clutch
- "Et Tu Brute?" – CIV
- "Foot on the Gas" – Sexpod
- "Can't Even Breathe" – Deftones
The film's score has been released twice, the first on both CD and cassette by Milan Records in 1996 and again as an expanded CD release by specialty label La-La Land Records in 2014 which featured pieces of music which were recorded for (but ultimately cut) use in the film.
Marvel Comics released the one-shot The Adventures of Snake Plissken in January 1997. The story takes place sometime between Escape from New York and his famous Cleveland escape mentioned in Escape from L.A.. Snake has robbed Atlanta's Centers for Disease Control of some engineered metaviruses and is looking for buyers in Chicago. Finding himself in a deal that's really a set-up, he makes his getaway and exacts revenge on the buyer for ratting him out to the United States Police Force. In the meantime, a government lab has built a robot called ATACS (Autonomous Tracking And Combat System) that can catch criminals by imprinting their personalities upon its program in order to predict and anticipate a specific criminal's every move. The robot's first test subject is Snake. After a brief battle, ATACS copies Snake to the point of fully becoming his personality. Now recognizing the government as the enemy, ATACS sides with Snake. Snake punches the machine and destroys it, reasoning, "I don't need the competition."
An Escape from L.A. video game was announced for the Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, Panasonic M2, and PC. It was later cancelled.