Con Air

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Con Air
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySimon West
Written byScott Rosenberg
Produced byJerry Bruckheimer
CinematographyDavid Tattersall
Edited by
Music by
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
  • June 6, 1997 (1997-06-06)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$75 million[1]
Box office$224 million[1]

Con Air is a 1997 American action thriller film directed by Simon West and starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and John Malkovich in the lead roles. Written by Scott Rosenberg and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the film centers on a prison break aboard a JPATS aircraft, nicknamed as "Con Air". It features an ensemble supporting cast of Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Colm Meaney, Mykelti Williamson and Rachel Ticotin.

Con Air was released theatrically on June 6, 1997 by Buena Vista Pictures through Touchstone Pictures and was a box office success, grossing over $224 million against a production budget of $75 million. The film received mixed reviews from critics with praise for its acting, musical score and action sequences. The film achieved cult following among Nicolas Cage's aficionados.[2][3][4][5][6] It received Oscar nominations for Best Sound and Best Original Song for "How Do I Live", performed on the soundtrack by Trisha Yearwood.


Honorably discharged Army Ranger Cameron Poe returns home from Desert Storm to his hometown of Mobile, Alabama, and reunites with his pregnant wife Tricia. That night, three intoxicated men attempt to assault Tricia, which leads Poe being given a ten-year prison sentence for accidentally killing one of them in self-defense. Eight years later, Poe is paroled and boards a flight to Alabama on the Jailbird, a converted JPATS prison transport plane. Accompanying Poe is his diabetic cellmate and best friend Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell.

Most of the inmates boarding the flight are high-risk convicts being transferred to a supermax prison, including mass murderer William "Billy Bedlam" Bedford, serial rapist John "Johnny 23" Baca, Black Guerrilla former general Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones, and professional criminal Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom. The flight is overseen by U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin, who is approached by DEA agents Duncan Malloy and Willie Sims; the latter plans to go on an undercover mission to get information from drug kingpin Francisco Cindino, who is being picked up en-route.

After taking off, inmate Joe "Pinball" Parker sets another prisoner on fire using smuggled kerosene as a distraction, allowing Grissom and Diamond Dog to take over the plane. They plan to land at Carson Airport as scheduled, pick up and transfer other prisoners and fly to a non-extradition country. Sims tries to retake control, but Grissom kills him and takes his gun. Poe and Grissom also put a halt to Johnny 23's assault attempts on Sally Bishop, the plane's female guard.

The plane arrives at Carson City and the inmate exchange commences. The ground crew is unaware that hijackers are disguised as guards and the real guards are forcibly disguised as inmates, gagged to prevent them from revealing the scheme. Amongst the new passengers are Cindino, pilot Earl "Swamp Thing" Williams and serial killer Garland Greene. The authorities discover the hijacking upon finding evidence in Grissom's old cell and a tape recorder planted by Poe on one of the disguised guards, but cannot stop the plane from taking off. Meanwhile, Pinball disposes of the plane's transponder, but dies trying to re-board during takeoff.

The inmates plan to land at Lerner Airfield, a remote desert airstrip, and transfer onto another plane owned by Cindino and his cartel. Poe finds Pinball's corpse trapped in the landing gear and writes a message to Larkin on the body before throwing it out. Larkin learns of the news and heads to Lerner after contacting the National Guard. Bedford, raiding the cargo, discovers Poe's identity when reading his parole letter and finding the stuffed rabbit Poe intends to give to his daughter, forcing Poe to kill him.

The Jailbird is grounded at Lerner, with no sign of the transfer aircraft. Poe warns the others of Cindino's past acts of deceit and betrayal; Grissom orders the others to fuel up the plane and get it ready for takeoff. Poe leaves to find Baby-O a syringe to give him insulin, meeting Larkin and informing him of the situation. They discover Cindino planning to escape on a hidden private jet, which Larkin sabotages. Grissom executes Cindino by igniting the plane's fuel. Meanwhile, Greene meets a little girl, but resists the urge to kill her. As the other inmates prepare the plane, Johnny 23 spots a National Guard convoy approaching and gives the alarm. The inmates find a cache of shotguns and rifles in the cargo hold and prepare an ambush. As the National Guard arrives, the inmates launch an assault, resulting in various casualties, but Larkin defends the surviving troops using a bulldozer as a makeshift shield, while the surviving inmates flee back onto the Jailbird and take flight.

Poe's identity is revealed when Bedford's body is found. Grissom is about to execute him and Baby-O, when Larkin and Malloy arrive in attack helicopters, damaging the Jailbird's fuel tank. Though Larkin orders the plane to land at McCarran International Airport, Swamp Thing is forced to land it on the Las Vegas Strip, causing mass destruction and killing Johnny 23. Grissom, Diamond Dog and Swamp Thing escape on a fire truck, pursued by Poe and Larkin on police motorcycles; the chase results in the deaths of all three escapees. Poe and Larkin form a friendship before the former meets his daughter for the first time and gives her the bunny. As the surviving inmates are apprehended, the only one unaccounted for is Garland Greene, who gambles in a casino.


Additional actors include Ty Granderson Jones as "Blade", Emilio Rivera as Carlos, Doug Hutchison as Guard Donald, Jeris Lee Poindexter as Watts, David Ramsey as Londell, Conrad Goode as white supremacist inmate "Viking", John Diehl as Poe's defense attorney, and Don S. Davis as the motorist whose car Pinball's corpse falls on. Powers Boothe makes an uncredited voice-over cameo in the opening credits as the Army officer at Poe's leaving ceremony. John Cusack's brother Bill Cusack appears as a Las Vegas EMT.

Malkovich was considered early for the role of Cyrus. Jason Isaacs, Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe and Tom Sizemore auditioned for the role. Bruce Willis turned down the role.[7][8]


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 in Salt Lake City, on July 1, 1996 and continued until October 29, 1996, at a number of locations.[9] 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.[10] 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."[11] 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.[12]

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".[13]

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 (which later played host to the film's premiere), was filmed using a replicated guitar sign and a Jailbird miniature model. The crash site was filmed in the Sands Hotel before its demolition on November 26, 1996.[14]Producer Jerry Bruckheimer found the right spot for the climactic finale, originally planned for a crash at the White House, but Las Vegas was more in keeping with the theme and visual pun 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.[11]

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

Three C-123's were used during production and were painted with the Jailbird livery. The actual flying C-123 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.[15] On August 1, 2010, the C-123 was destroyed when it crashed into Mount Healy within Denali National Park in Alaska.[16] The three member flight crew was killed in the crash.[17][18][19] Another C-123, formerly registered as N94DT, was used for the crash scene in Las Vegas and then scrapped following production. The third Jailbird movie model used for the taxi scenes was later donated by the filmmakers to the Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation, where it remains on display at the ramp as an attraction for visitors.[12]

The film used several highly detailed models at 1/15th scale, and a multitude of military and private aircraft assembled for the desert boneyard scene.[Note 1]


Con Air: Music from the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedJune 17, 1997
LabelHollywood Records
ProducerPaul Linford, Mark Mancina, Trevor Rabin
Professional ratings
Review scores

The film featured the Diane Warren-penned LeAnn Rimes hit single "How Do I Live", performed by Trisha Yearwood for the film.[22][Note 2]

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."[23]

  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" – 0:59
  10. "Cons Check Out Lerner" – 1:56
  11. "Poe Saves Cops" – 2:25
  12. "The Fight" – 0:23
  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]

Con Air opened June 6, 1997 on 2,824 screens in the United States and Canada and grossed $24.1 million in its opening weekend, topping the US box office above The Lost World: Jurassic Park.[24] For its second weekend, the film dropped into second place behind Speed 2: Cruise Control, but still made $15.7 million.[25] It also opened in the UK, Hong Kong, Israel and parts of Latin America including Brazil and Mexico grossing $5 million for the weekend, for a total worldwide opening of $29 million.[26] In the US and Canada, it grossed $15.7 million in its second weekend and $10.4 million in its third, finishing second and third, respectively.[27]

The film grossed $101.1 million in the United States and Canada, and $122.9 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $224 million.[1]

Critical response[edit]

According to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 58% of 71 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 5.7/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Con Air won't win any awards for believability – and all involved seem cheerfully aware of it, making some of this blockbuster action outing's biggest flaws fairly easy to forgive."[28] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 52 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[29] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[30]

Roger Ebert, reviewing the film for the Chicago Sun-Times, awarded it three out of four stars, saying it "moves smoothly and with visual style and verbal wit."[31] Janet Maslin, reviewer for The New York Times considered Con Air an exemplar of the "thrill ride genre".[32] In contrast, Rolling Stone reviewer Peter Travers decried the "flip, hip" and ultimately, "depressing ... pandering" present in the treatment.[33]

Andrew Johnston, reviewer for Time Out New York, stated: "Leaving The Rock last summer, I thought it seemed physically impossible for a more over-the-top action movie to be made. That was pretty short-sighted of me, since it was only a matter of time until producer Jerry Bruckheimer topped himself as he does with the wildly entertaining Con Air."[34]

Maxim put the film's climactic Las Vegas plane crash at the top of their 2007 list of "The Top Ten Most Horrific Movie Plane Crashes", a decision that was derided by Wired.[35]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[36] Best Original Song "How Do I Live"
Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren
Best Sound Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Art Rochester Nominated
ALMA Awards Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film Rachel Ticotin Nominated
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures "How Do I Live"
Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards Favorite Actor – Action/Adventure Nicolas Cage (also for Face/Off) Won
Favorite Supporting Actor – Action/Adventure John Cusack Won
Favorite Supporting Actress – Action/Adventure Rachel Ticotin Nominated
Favorite Song from a Movie Trisha Yearwood – "How Do I Live" Nominated
BMI Film & TV Awards Film Music Award Mark Mancina Won
Bogey Awards Won
Golden Raspberry Awards[37][38] Worst Original Song "How Do I Live"
Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren
Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property Won
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing – Dialogue & ADR David Williams, Robert Ulrich, Gail Clark Burch, Jeff Clark, Richard Corwin,
Susan Kurtz, Carin Rogers, Zack Davis, Stephen Janisz and Kerry Dean Williams
Best Sound Editing – Sound Effects & Foley Nominated
Grammy Awards[39] Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television "How Do I Live"
Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren
Jupiter Awards Best International Actor Nicolas Cage (also for Face/Off) Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards[40] Best Original Song "How Do I Live"
Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren
Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actor Steve Buscemi Nominated

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.[20]
  2. ^ Walt Disney Motion Picture Group (which 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.[22]


  1. ^ a b c "Con Air (1997)." Archived March 4, 2022, at the Wayback Machine Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: December 29, 2009.
  2. ^ "Muscles, mullets and Malkovich: Has Con Air got even weirder with age?". June 6, 2017. Archived from the original on April 21, 2022. Retrieved April 21, 2022.
  3. ^ "Con Air: An Unmatched '90s Action Movie". June 6, 2019. Archived from the original on April 21, 2022. Retrieved April 21, 2022.
  4. ^ "The 25 Best Nicolas Cage Movies". February 7, 2022. Archived from the original on April 21, 2022. Retrieved April 21, 2022.
  5. ^ "12 Best Nicolas Cage Films, Ranked". November 20, 2021. Archived from the original on April 21, 2022. Retrieved April 21, 2022.
  6. ^ "The 20 Best Nicolas Cage Movies Ranked - /Film". April 15, 2022. Archived from the original on April 16, 2022. Retrieved April 21, 2022.
  7. ^ Miller, Liz Shannon (January 7, 2021). "Here's Jason Isaacs' Wild 'Con Air' Audition Story (That Led to Him Getting Cast in 'Skyfire')". Collider. Valnet, Inc. Archived from the original on April 23, 2023. Retrieved April 25, 2023.
  8. ^ Godfrey, Alex (June 6, 2022). "Con Air At 25: The Anarchic Making Of Nicolas Cage's Action Classic". Empire. UK: Bauer Media Group. Archived from the original on December 9, 2022. Retrieved April 25, 2023.
  9. ^ "Con Air (1997): Miscellaneous notes." Archived March 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
  10. ^ Rigoulot, Leslie. "Con Air: About The Production." Archived April 26, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Film Scouts, 2008. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  11. ^ a b Girod, Russell W. "Con Air: About The Locations." Archived January 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Touchstone Pictures & Five Star Publishing,1997. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  12. ^ a b Bateman 2004, p. 248.
  13. ^ "Plane Crushes Worker on Disney Film Set." Los Angeles Times, August 31, 1996. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  14. ^ "Con Air At 25: The Anarchic Making Of Nicolas Cage's Action Classic". Empire Magazine. June 6, 2022. Archived from the original on June 6, 2022. Retrieved June 7, 2022.
  15. ^ "Accident Report: Fairchild C-123K Provider, August 1, 2010." Archived October 26, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved: December 21, 2011.
  16. ^ Rettig, Molly. "Federal investigators arrive at Denali crash site; victims identified." Archived August 7, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  17. ^ "Authorities identify victims of Alaska "Con Air"-movie plane crash." Archived August 6, 2010, at the Wayback Machine BNO News, August 3, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  18. ^ van der Voet, Aad. "C-123 Providers starring in 'Con Air'." Archived May 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  19. ^ "Probe starts into deadly crash at Denali." Archived August 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Anchorage Daily News via, August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  20. ^ "Con Air." Archived February 8, 2012, at the Wayback Machine The Internet Movie Plane Database. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  21. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Mark Mancina / Trevor Rabin: Con Air [Music from the Motion Picture]". Archived from the original on December 11, 2015. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
  22. ^ a b "Leann Rimes, Music: How Do I Live / My Baby." Archived February 2, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved: December 21, 2011.
  23. ^ LaSalle, Mick. "Con Job: Nicolas Cage drives his newest action vehicle into a wall, where it explodes." Archived February 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine San Francisco Chronicle, June 6, 1997. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
  24. ^ "'Con Air' Flies Over 'Lost World'". Los Angeles Times. June 10, 1997. Archived from the original on April 7, 2023. Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  25. ^ Horn, John (June 18, 1997). "Despite armada of naysayers, 'Speed 2' debuts in first". Chicago Tribune. Associated Press. p. 51. Archived from the original on October 15, 2023. Retrieved October 15, 2023 – via Open access icon
  26. ^ Carver, Benedict (June 13, 1997). "Hollywood spends more bucks for bangs". Screen International. p. 29.
  27. ^ "Con Air". Archived from the original on July 4, 2021. Retrieved February 16, 2021.
  28. ^ "Con Air (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on February 24, 2021. Retrieved November 16, 2022.
  29. ^ "Con Air Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on October 24, 2017. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  30. ^ "CinemaScore". Archived from the original on December 10, 2019. Retrieved July 4, 2021.
  31. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Con Air Review." Archived January 1, 2021, at the Wayback Machine Chicago Sun-Times, June 6, 1997.
  32. ^ Maslin, Janet. "Signs and Symbols on a Thrill Ride: Con Air (1997)." Archived July 4, 2021, at the Wayback Machine The New York Times, June 6, 1997.
  33. ^ Travers, Peter. "Con Air." Archived August 31, 2017, at the Wayback Machine Rolling Stone, June 6, 1997. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
  34. ^ Time Out New York, June 5–12, 1997, p. 67
  35. ^ "Flotsam, Jetsam for 01/25/2007". Wired. January 25, 2007. Archived from the original on January 24, 2023. Retrieved August 1, 2022 – via
  36. ^ "The 70th Academy Awards (1998) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. AMPAS. Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  37. ^ Wilson, John (March 23, 1998). "1997 Archive". Wayback Machine. Archived from the original on April 26, 2012.
  38. ^ Wilson, John. "1997 Archive." Archived October 17, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Golden Raspberry Awards. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  39. ^ "1997 Grammy Award Winners". Archived from the original on August 17, 2018. Retrieved May 1, 2011.
  40. ^ "2nd Annual Film Awards (1997)". Online Film & Television Association. Archived from the original on October 16, 2020. Retrieved May 15, 2021.


External links[edit]