Retrospective: Is John Carpenter’s “Escape from L.A.” Secretly ‘Based’?


In the early 21st century, an American presidential candidate wins a highly unorthodox election by leveraging a national disaster. As the front man for an extreme moralizing movement, he oversees the implementation of sweeping neo-puritanical directives to enforce his sect’s moral vision nationwide. Federal law enforcement is tasked with prosecuting Americans whose speech and actions were tolerated before the election. Citizens guilty of no crime are stripped of their rights and assets without due process and are exiled from society for retroactive violations of the new moral precepts. The government uses an engineered virus purported to be lethal, but which turns out to be a slightly enhanced version of the flu, to coerce citizens.


Meanwhile, mass immigration has overrun American cities, especially Los Angeles, with a plague of poverty and crime. Despite the construction of a wall on part of the southern border, a full-scale third world invasion of America looms.



But enough current events.


Let’s talk about John Carpenter’s 1996 Escape from New York sequel/remake/parody, Escape from LA.



For an Escape from LA plot synopsis, reread the beginning of this post. Then add a find-the-MacGuffin plot crossed with a prison break caper and plentiful Western influences. Or just watch Escape from New York, because both plots are almost exactly the same.


Now best known as a notorious whipping boy of Pop Cult hipsters who deride its lack of originality and bad CG, Escape from LA may deserve a reevaluation. Counterculture dissidents in particular may find a few pearls of wisdom in the trash heap.


Be it known that the rest of this post will include spoilers. This movie is 25 years old. You probably already know the plot anyway, whether or not you’ve seen it.



When the daughter of America’s autocratic president absconds with a weapon capable of EMPing any location on Earth back to the stone age, the feds bring in outlaw “Snake” Plissken. The government compels Snake’s cooperation by infecting him with a virus they say will kill him in a matter of hours. Only if he infiltrates the penal colony of Los Angeles–rendered an island by a 9.6 magnitude earthquake, retrieves the weapon, and executes the president’s seditious daughter, will they give him the cure.


The movie’s setup, as shown in the opening infodump, goes pretty much as you’d expect from a pre-Ground Zero flick written by libertine Boomers and produced in Hollywood. The president who forces Snake into service is a spittle-flecked Christian fundamentalist. Installed as dictator for life, he turns the US into a fascist theocracy where strict morality is enforced by law. No more free love, street drugs, or rock ‘n’ roll. Bummer, man.



When the movie started on that footing, I expected the rest of it to be a running commentary on how intolerant and square those uptight Christians were. You know–the Moral Majority types who’d already faded to irrelevance when Escape from LA came out in 1996. It’s mind-boggling now, but that was near the end of Bill Clinton’s first term. He and his wife had already remade Washington in their image by then, cementing the real bi-factional establishment that rules us now.


But still, better keep an eye on those Christians! If they get power back, they might make laws based on their morals, which means no more fun!


It’s the old lie you used to hear constantly from Pop Cultists, usually of the Boomer-to-Gen X variety. “You can’t legislate morality, man! Everybody’s gotta be free, bro! Like, who are you to tell me what’s right and wrong? Good and evil are, like subjective.”


And the Christians that these proto-coomers saw as the main opposition to getting their rocks off warned, “Unless you can objectively define the good, freedom has no meaning. When you live to indulge every appetite, you’re not free. You’re a slave to your vices. By removing the shared Christian understandings of right and wrong from public life, you’re stripping freedom of all its content and making it easier for real tyrants to oppress you. Your worship of freedom will end in the loss of your liberty.”


Now go online, turn on your TV, or better, look outside.



It’s not a militant Christian theocracy restricting your right to assembly, compelling you to consume specific companies’ products, and destroying your livelihood if you disagree with them.


Granted, a lot of Christian organizations are going along with the first two tyrannies. But only to the extent that their members have adulterated ancient Christian doctrine with the same Modernist heresy that’s driving the current madness.


The Boomer libertines have been had. If a fascist dictatorship had seized power despite their warnings and instituted the same oppression, the coomers could at least have the comfort of saying, “We told you so.”


But no. It’s their guys who’ve turned America into a de facto one-party state. They supported candidates who voted for open borders. Now California really is the tyrannical hellhole portrayed in Carpenter’s 1996 movie. And it was his Hollywood Boomer buddies who made it that way.




And watching Escape from LA, you catch hints that Carpenter was smart enough to see which way the wind was blowing. He may deserve credit for having the self-awareness to realize he and his generation got conned.


  • The president’s moral directives include outlawing fornication, but also smoking, wearing fur, and eating red meat.
  • A self-identified Muslim character who waxes poetic about how LA is really a multicultural paradise of total freedom is shot to death immediately after delivering these lines.
  • The inmates of LA Island really are immoral criminal degenerates like the president says.
  • Among these moral criminals are a gang of skinheads, who are the first people in the movie Snake kills.
  • Main villain Cuervo Jones, a poor man’s Che Guevara, claims he wants to liberate the third world from US hegemony, but he’s really a thug with delusions of grandeur and no sense of loyalty.
  • Said villain seduces the president’s daughter to his cause through online gaming.
  • Everyone–even the inmates of LA-carries an iPod-like device (though optical-based) that ends up destroying civilization.
  • Transsexual character played for laughs. Is dispatched in a perfunctory manner.
  • When he gains control of the EMP weapon, Snake is warned that using it will erase the last 500 years of history–though not explicitly stated, this is the period since the Protestant Reformation. Snake chooses to EMP the world.


The verdict: Is Escape from LA secretly based? Provisionally, and perhaps unintentionally, yeah. Kind of.


Should you watch it? This movie might be worth throwing on in the background while you’re building a Gunpla or something, but you can watch the same plot unfold for free in the news.


Don’t pay people who hate you. Support creators who entertain you.



Originally published here.

Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is a best selling science fiction author and a John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer finalist. His second book, Souldancer, won the first ever Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel., and its sequel, The Secret Kings, became a 2017 Dragon Award finalist for Best Science Fiction Novel. He's currently crowdfunding his latest work Combat Frame XSeed: CY 40 Second Coming on Indiegogo. Read more of his work at or pick up his books via Amazon.