Con Air

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Con Air
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Simon West
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
Written by Scott Rosenberg
Starring Nicolas Cage
John Cusack
John Malkovich
Music by Mark Mancina
Trevor Rabin
Cinematography David Tattersall
Editing by Chris Lebenzon
Steve Mirkovich
Glen Scantlebury
Studio Touchstone Pictures
Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • June 6, 1997 (1997-06-06)
Running time 115 minutes (original)
122 minutes (extended)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $75 million
Box office $224,012,234

Con Air is a 1997 American action film directed by Simon West and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of The Rock. It stars Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Colm Meaney and John Malkovich. The film borrows its title from the nickname of the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System. While scanning a newspaper article, Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg first learned of the special program, then visited its Oklahoma City base "to get an eyewitness perspective of the incredible operation, which quickly formed the genesis for Con Air." [1]


Gulf War veteran and former Army Ranger Cameron Poe is sentenced to 7–10 years in prison for using excessive force and killing a drunk man who attempted to assault his pregnant wife, Tricia. Eight years later, Poe is paroled from San Quentin on good conduct, and eager to see his daughter Casey whom he has never met. The convict is to be flown back home to Alabama, on the Jailbird, a C-123K, where he will be released on landing. Several other prisoners, including his diabetic cellmate and friend Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell, and criminal mastermind Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom, as well as Cyrus' right-hand man, Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones, are being transported to Feltham Penitentiary, a brand-new Supermax prison. DEA agent Duncan Malloy wishes to have aboard one of his agents, Willie Sims, disguised as a prisoner to coax more information out of drug lord Francisco Cindino before he is incarcerated. Vince Larkin, the U.S. Marshal overseeing the transfer, agrees to it, but is unaware that Malloy has armed Sims with a gun, despite rules that prohibits weapons on the plane.

Shortly after takeoff, convict Joe "Pinball" Parker incites a riot that releases Cyrus and Diamond Dog from their separate containers, allowing them to takeover the Jailbird; Sims is killed when he attempts to stop them. Cyrus orders the aircraft to continue to Carson City, Nevada for a scheduled prisoner transfer, where they will offload the guards and pilot disguised as prisoners in the middle of a dust-storm (three of the six transferees were killed). Although he could have left the Jailbird during the transfer, Poe decides to stay in order to protect Baby-O, who is starting to become seriously ill from his untreated diabetes. Poe feigns cooperation with Cyrus but leaves Sims' tape recorder on one of the guards being offloaded. Among the new prisoners boarding the aircraft are Cindino, who masterminded their escape, their new pilot "Swamp Thing", and infamous serial killer Garland Greene, the "Marietta Mangler."

Cyrus orders Pinball, to remove the transponder and plant it on another aircraft. Moments before the Jailbird takes off, the guards discover the clue Poe left behind and alert Malloy and Larkin. Pinball is unable to make it aboard the Jailbird on time when the security forces are alerted and his body is lodged in the landing gear as the aircraft takes off. When Larkin and Malloy find out the plane has been hijacked, Malloy angrily demands justice for Sims' death, but Larkin says that he shouldn't have had a gun on board in the first place, and that he got himself killed by blowing his cover. Meanwhile, the convicts blame the guards for Sims's presence on board as an undercover agent, which puts the guards being held hostage at risk. Malloy calls in attack choppers, planning to go after the plane and destroy it, despite Larkin's warnings that there are innocent hostages on board, which Malloy, still angry over his agent's death, refuses to heed. Poe secretly writes a message to Larkin explaining Cyrus's plan on Pinball's shirt and pushes the body out of the plane, where it lands in the middle of Fresno, California. Larkin calls for the National Guard to go to Lerner Airfield, an abandoned airbase, while using Malloy's Chevy Corvette Stingray to beat the Jailbird there. Poe kills mass murderer and fellow convict "Billy Bedlam", who had found Poe's parole letter, which indicated he was a free man and therefore a traitor to the criminals' cause.

The Jailbird lands at Lerner but overshoots the runway and grounds itself in the sand, near a large tank of propane. Seeing no evidence of Cindino's jet, Cyrus orders the prisoners to dig the Jailbird free. Meanwhile, Poe, seeking a syringe to give Baby-O a much-needed insulin injection, meets Larkin, and the two run down their respective situations, while Garland wanders off and finds a small girl that he talks with. Larkin finds Cindino boarding his private jet with his men, and manages to disable the jet before it leaves. Cyrus discovers Cindino's treachery and kills him. Another inmate, serial rapist "Johnny 23," sees the National Guard forces approaching the airfield and alerts the prisoners, who open the weapons locker on the Jailbird and set up an ambush. The Guardsmen initially fall into the trap, with several being killed, but Larkin manages to hotwire a large construction vehicle to shield the friendly forces from the convicts' fire and press forward with the assault. Cyrus and the remaining prisoners, including Garland, retreat to the Jailbird and take off before Poe is able to escape with Baby-O and female guard Sally Bishop. Garland is carrying the girl's doll, seemingly implying that he has probably killed the girl, but the girl is shown shortly afterwards waving to the plane from the ground.

Cyrus soon discovers Poe's true identity and prepares to kill him after shooting Baby-O in the stomach. Malloy, having tracked down the Jailbird after being led astray by the transponder, opens fire on it, disabling an engine and causing the aircraft to begin leaking fuel. Larkin, who is in another attack chopper, tries to stop Malloy by telling him to cease fire, but Malloy ignores him. Larkin then flies his chopper in front of Malloy's and tells him about Poe's identity as a parolee, after which Malloy orders the gunner to hold fire. They both order the Jailbird to land at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas but a lack of fuel forces Swamp Thing to crash-land on The Strip instead, destroying landmarks and ripping the plane apart, the fuselage ending up at the lobby of the Sands Hotel. Amidst the chaos, Poe is thanked by both Baby-O and Bishop for his help. Cyrus, Diamond Dog, and Swamp Thing escape on a fire truck. Larkin and Poe spot them and give chase, eventually killing all three escapees; Diamond Dog being hit by a motorbike, Swamp Thing hurtling through the windshield and being run over, and Cyrus' head crushed by a pounder in a construction site. Poe finally reunites with Tricia and Casey, as Larkin watches on.

All of the surviving convicts are recaptured, except for Garland Greene, who escapes and is last seen playing craps in a casino while a police officer finds the doll in the wreckage.



C-123 used for taxi scenes at Wendover Airport, c. 2011.

With second-unit work beginning on June 24, 1996, principal photography began shortly after at Salt Lake City, on July 1, 1996 and continued until October 29, 1996, at a number of locations.[2] While most of the interiors of the Fairchild C-123 Provider transport aircraft were filmed in Hollywood Center Studios soundstage #7, Wendover Airport in Utah, as the stand in for the fictional Lerner Airfield, was used for the C-123 flying and taxi scenes.[1] Director Simon West chose the barren and remote Wendover area "because it looked like the surface of the moon ... My idea was that it was perfect for the convicts who had been locked up for 10, 20, 30 years in little cells." [3] The old wartime bomber base was also used for the aircraft boneyard scenes while the original swimming pool at the base was used in a scene where Garland Greene was talking to a young girl.[4]

On August 29, 1996, Phillip Swartz, a welder employed by Special Effects Unlimited, a Los Angeles-based firm, was crushed to death at Wendover when a static model of the C-123 used in the film, fell on him. The film credits end with "In Memory of Phil Swartz".[5] After filming, the filmmakers donated the Jailbird movie model used for the taxi scenes to the Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation and is currently on display at the ramp as an attraction for visitors.[4]

Other filming locations included Ogden Airport where the exchange of prisoners is seen. The scene where the aircraft's left wing hits the Fender Stratocaster sign of Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, the place where its premiere was held, was filmed using a remodeled guitar of the hotel and a Jailbird miniature model. The crash site was filmed in the Sands Hotel before its demolition on November 26, 1996. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer found the right spot for the climatic finale, originally planned for a crash at the White House, but Las Vegas was more in keeping with the dichotomy of convicts "cashing in." "We got very lucky ... The Sands was going to be demolished anyway. They blew up the tower on their own. We arranged to blow up the front of the building." The 2nd Street Tunnel in Los Angeles was also used for the tunnel chase scene near the end of the film.[3]

Crash site of the C-123 from Con Air, Mount Healy, Denali National Park, Alaska

The Jailbird movie model used during flight scenes in the film had a series of both military and private owners. In December 2003 it was sold to All West Freight Inc. in Delta Junction, Alaska.[6] On August 1, 2010, the C-123 was destroyed when it crashed into Mount Healy within Denali National Park in Alaska.[7] The three member flight crew was killed during the crash.[8][9][10]

On the DVD commentary of Chappelle's Show, and later, on Inside the Actors Studio, Dave Chappelle recounted that he improvised most of his lines in Con Air.[11] Jerry Bruckheimer wanted to cut the final scene of Greene at the craps table in Las Vegas and end the film with the heartfelt family reunion[citation needed]. The screenwriters (Jonathan Hensleigh did an uncredited re-write on the script[citation needed]) and director convinced Bruckheimer to include the scene and in test screenings, audiences loved it, thus it stayed[citation needed].

Aircraft used in the film[edit]

Along with using several highly detailed models at 1/15th scale, and a multitude of military and private aircraft assembled for the desert boneyard scene [N 1], the following aircraft were prominently featured in Con Air:

  • Beechcraft Model 18, no serial numbers visible, painted as "Uncle Bob's Scenic Tours" in scene at Wendover Airport, has the transponder planted on it.
  • Bell 206B JetRanger III (two helicopters, one marked N5739V), seen at DEA headquarters.
  • Bell AH-1F Cobra (two helicopters painted in military camouflage, one with "022734" visible on tail), used by Malloy to track the transponder-equipped aircraft and later catch the Jailbird.
  • Bell UH-1D Huey (helicopter painted in military camouflage), used by Malloy to track the transponder-equipped aircraft.
  • Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight (serial number unknown) seen briefly in Army Ranger rescue scene.
  • Cessna 150F (unknown markings), lands at "Lerner Airfield" in midst of the landing of the Jailbird.
  • Fairchild C-123K Provider N709RR (ex-USAF 54-0709, MSN#20158), used for the flying sequences (crashed after filming).
  • Fairchild C-123K Provider N94DT (ex-USAF 54-0706, MSN#20155), used for crash scene in Las Vegas (scrapped after filming) [N 2].
  • Fairchild C-123K Provider, painted as "N709RR", (ex-USAF 56-4361), used for static and taxi scenes at Wendover (left at Wendover Airport).
  • North American 75A Sabreliner (serial number "HK-723"), used for Cindino's escape.
  • Rockwell Aero Commander 500, seen in the hangar at Wendover Airport.
  • Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion (serial number unknown) seen briefly in Army Ranger rescue scene.[9][12]


Con Air
Soundtrack album by Trevor Rabin, Mark Mancina
Released June 17, 1997
Genre Soundtrack
Label Hollywood Records

The film featured the hit single "How Do I Live", performed by Trisha Yearwood for the movie but originally recorded by LeAnn Rimes.[13][N 3]

The Con Air soundtrack album omits two songs featured in the film: "How Do I Live", written by Diane Warren and performed by Trisha Yearwood and "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Although a key element of the film, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, "the soundtrack kicks into loud, obtrusive gear ... (and) remains so loud throughout the picture that it practically functions as a distancing device."[14]

  1. "Con Air Theme" – 1:34
  2. "Trisha" – 1:04
  3. "Carson City" – 3:05
  4. "Lear Crash" – 4:44
  5. "Lerner Landing" – 3:28
  6. "Romantic Chaos" – 1:23
  7. "The Takeover" – 3:52
  8. "The Discharge" – 1:09
  9. "Jailbirds" – :59
  10. "Cons Check Out Lerner" – 1:56
  11. "Poe Saves Cops" – 2:25
  12. "The Fight" – :23
  13. "Battle In The Boneyard" – 7:41
  14. "Poe Meets Larkin" – 1:16
  15. "Bedlam Larkin" – :49
  16. "Fire Truck Chase" – 4:22
  17. "Overture" – 4:19


Box office[edit]

The film grossed $224,012,234 worldwide, of which $101,117,573 was in North America.[15]


Con Air has received mixed reviews from critics. The film currently holds a 55% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 5.7/10.[16] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 52 out of 100, indicating "mixed or average reviews."[17] Roger Ebert awarded the film three out of four stars, saying it "moves smoothly and with visual style and verbal wit."[18] Janet Maslin, reviewer for The New York Times considered Con Air an exemplar of the "thrill ride genre." [19] In contrast, Rolling Stone reviewer Peter Travers decried the "flip, hip" and ultimately, "depressing ... pandering" present in the treatment.[20]

As acknowledged by repeated requests for West to stage a sequel, Con Air has become a cult classic with an action movie audience.[21]

Awards and honors[edit]

The film was nominated for Best Original Song (for "How Do I Live") and Best Sound Mixing (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Art Rochester) at the 70th Academy Awards, losing to Titanic in both categories.[22]

Conversely, the film won the Golden Raspberry Award for "Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property" at the 18th Golden Raspberry Awards. "How Do I Live" was nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Razzie Award Worst Original Song, but won neither.[23]

Extended version[edit]

Con Air: Unrated Extended Edition (2006) is an extended DVD version that includes many scenes that may have been possibly cut to prevent an R-rating.[24]

Popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ A Convair C-131 Samaritan transport aircraft and Piasecki H-21 helicopter were prominent among the scattered wreckage of the boneyard scene.[12]
  2. ^ There were two non-flying prop aircraft, the static model used in the filming of the aircraft crashing into the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino guitar sign and another static model that crushed Philip Swartz at Wendover.[9]
  3. ^ Walt Disney Motion Picture Group (who owns Touchstone Pictures) chose Rimes' version but thought the version had too much of pop feeling, with Trisha Yearwood's version used instead. Both versions were released on May 27, 1997.[13]


  1. ^ a b Rigoulot, Leslie. "Con Air: About The Production." Film Scouts, 2008. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  2. ^ "Con Air (1997): Miscellaneous notes." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
  3. ^ a b Girod, Russell W. "Con Air: About The Locations." Touchstone Pictures & Five Star Publishing,1997. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Bateman 2004, p. 248.
  5. ^ "Plane Crushes Worker on Disney Film Set." Los Angeles Times, August 31, 1996. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  6. ^ "Accident Report: Fairchild C-123K Provider, August 1, 2010." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved: December 21, 2011.
  7. ^ Rettig, Molly. "Federal investigators arrive at Denali crash site; victims identified.", August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  8. ^ "Authorities identify victims of Alaska "Con Air"-movie plane crash." BNO News, August 3, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  9. ^ a b c van der Voet, Aad. "C-123 Providers starring in 'Con Air'.", August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  10. ^ "Probe starts into deadly crash at Denali." Anchorage Daily News via, August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  11. ^ "Dave Chappelle On Inside The Actors Studio." Inside the Actors Studio, February 12, 2006. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
  12. ^ a b "Con Air." The Internet Movie Plane Database. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  13. ^ a b "Leann Rimes, Music: How Do I Live / My Baby." Retrieved: December 21, 2011.
  14. ^ LaSalle, Mick. "Con Job: Nicolas Cage drives his newest action vehicle into a wall, where it explodes." San Francisco Chronicle, June 6, 1997. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
  15. ^ "Con Air (1997)." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: December 29, 2009.
  16. ^ "Con Air (1997)." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: December 29, 2009.
  17. ^ "Con Air ." Metacritic. Retrieved: September 20, 2012.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Con Air Review." Chicago Sun-Times, June 6, 1997.
  19. ^ Maslin, Janet. "Signs and Symbols on a Thrill Ride: Con Air (1997)." The New York Times, June 6, 1997.
  20. ^ Travers, Peter. "Con Air." Rolling Stone, June 6, 1997. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
  21. ^ Lesnick, Silas. "Exclusive: Director Simon West on 'The Mechanic' on remaking the 1972 film and how he'd love to do a sequel to 'Con Air'.", January 24, 2011. Retrieved: March 29, 2012.
  22. ^ "The 70th Academy Awards (1998) Nominees and Winners." Retrieved: December 18, 2011.
  23. ^ Wilson, John. "1997 Archive." Golden Raspberry Awards. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  24. ^ Morgan, Jason. "Con Air: Unrated Extended Edition.", 2006. Retrieved: April 20, 2012.


  • Bateman, Ronald R. Wendover Wings of Change: A History. Wendover, Utah: Ronald R. Bateman, 2004. ISBN 0-9745983-2-1.

External links[edit]