How John Carpenter's "Escape From New York" Made Kurt Russell A Star

By | June 24, 2022

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One of the all time one sentence movie pitches. fangirlish

1981’s “Escape From New York” helmed by iconic director/writer John Carpenter transformed Kurt Russell from “Jungle Boy” on Gilligan’s Island into a bonafide action star. The film also gave life to a string of sci-fi flicks like “Blade Runner”, which actually borrowed various set pieces from “Escape From New York.”

While the film ranks as an all-time cult classic without Carpenter's legendary “Halloween” success in 1978, “Escape From New York” might never have been made. These are the behind-the-scenes stories that made “Escape From New York” an unforgettable film.

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Few believed at the time that Russell could be an action star. Avco-Embassy

The Fight For “Escape From New York”

When Carpenter originally pitched “Escape From New York” to the studios, everyone passed. Executives felt it was too dark and violent. Ironically their criticisms were exactly what made the film great but back then no one wanted to bet on an unproven director with an unproven script. However, when Carpenter struck gold with “Halloween,” banking $47 million against a paltry budget of just $325,000, executives had a change of heart.

Casting Battle

Even with the massive success of “Halloween” on his resumé, Carpenter still had to fight for the casting of Kurt Russell. The actor, for his part, desperately wanted to play Snake Plissken:

“So I read it and said, ‘This is exactly what I want to do. It’s something that I know I can do that I know nobody is going to think of me for except for you, John.’ They wanted Charlie Bronson to do it, and John fought for me. A couple of times in my life, I’ve gotten to read something – “Tombstone” was like that – and I just said, ‘I’d love to do this.'”

After shooting down suggestions like Chuck Norris and Tommy Lee Jones, Carpenter thankfully got his way. His faith in Russell immediately paid off when the actor came to work with a crucial suggestion. As he remembered, “I said to John, ‘I think it’d be cool to wear an eyepatch.’ I think a lot of guys would have gone, ‘Well, I don’t know …’ but John immediately went, ‘That’s great! I don’t think anybody’s worn an eyepatch since John Wayne in True Grit!’”