When John Carpenter released Escape from L.A. in 1996, the world looked like it was going to end. The IRA, Taliban, Hamas, Chechen rebels and Tamil Tigers took turns terrorizing the globe. The Unabomber was arrested just before a bomb exploded in Atlanta during the Summer Olympics. Every month boasted both a massively deadly plane crash and a massively deadly natural disaster. Dolly the sheep was cloned and scientists realized Mad Cow disease had spread to humans. Even Prince Charles and Princess Diana divorced.
So it's no wonder when Carpenter imagined 2013, the year Snake Plissken surfed a wave larger than the Grand Canyon, he figured things could only get worse. But one week into the New Year, the most exciting thing Kurt Russell has done is go on holiday in Aspen with Goldie Hawn. How accurate was John Carpenter's vision of the future? We break it down.
POLITICS AND CRIME
In 1995, Time Magazine named Newt Gingrich “Man of the Year” for wresting control of Congress back to the GOP. It's no wonder Carpenter thought that conservatives might control the Earth. In Escape from L.A., America is headed by a moralistic theocracy led by a president who thinks nothing of killing his daughter for treason or moving the Capitol from D.C. to Lynchberg, Virginia (Carpenter's dig at Lynchberg's favorite son Reverend Jerry Falwell).
Much of what Carpenter feared did in fact come to pass—the last decade and a half has seen the rise of politicians who would gladly ban premarital sex and freedom of religion, and cigarette smoking is now verboten in most major cities. (As for meat, however, Americans still eat 171 pounds every year. The balance is tipping back towards sanity, but Carpenter still gets bonus psychic points for having Valeria Golino get expelled to Los Angeles for the moral crime of being a Muslim a full five years before 9/11.
Truth Score: 7/10
Sorry, Snake—sleeveless leather tank tops still aren't in style. Not even Justin Bieber has made those happen. And wearing a spangled bra in public stopped being cool when Selena died. But some of what Carpenter thought cool kids and celebrities would be wearing in 2013 did come to pass: Joan Jett haircuts, extreme plastic surgery, and high-waisted camo pants. His apocalyptic vision of a city where people stick baby-doll heads and disco balls on their cars and cruise around dirt bars did in fact come to pass, but 575 miles to the northeast at Burning Man, which was at the time still a smallish festival of less than 8,000. But where Carpenter really went wrong was the music. Sugar Ray, Tool, Gravity Kills and Stabbing Westward? That aggro rock might have been cool in 1996—but it stopped being cool in 1997. Only one soundtrack cue is still spot-on: the City of Angels' theme song is still Randy Newman's “I Love L.A.”
Truth Score: 5/10
Why is it so hard for Snake Plissken to escape L.A.? Because it's an island, thanks to a 9.6 earthquake that shattered California, brought the tides up to Mulholland Canyon, and shoved everything from Malibu to Disneyland—sorry, lawyers, the “Happy Kingdom by the Sea”—into the Pacific. (As an aside, this future-world Disney had long since gone bankrupt. “That thing in Paris killed them,” explains Steve Buscemi.)
Carpenter has lived in Los Angeles since 1969 and wrote this film just after the 1994 quake that rumbled Northridge, a suburb just north of the city. He pegged his fictional crusher to strike Los Angeles in 2000, but the last 16 years of seismic activity have been pretty darned peaceful. As for the fiery Santa Ana winds that Plissken glides on like Icarus, they're still bad but not, you know, tongues-of-lava bad. Elsewhere in the world, the weather has gone hysterical. New Orleans nearly got wiped out in 2005, and this winter, a series of blizzards and hurricanes and tornadoes threatened to destroy New York. But in 2013, Los Angeles is still intact. For now.
Truth Score: 2/10
By the end of 1996, only 44 million Americans owned cell phones—less than a sixth of the population—and Hotmail was only five months old. Only 20 million people in the U.S. used the Internet and the average time online was just half an hour per month. Yet Carpenter presciently realized that people would soon become addicted to virtual connection, which is why his grand weapon in Escape from L.A. is a remote device that would disconnect the world and send us all back to the pre-technology Stone Age.
How smart was Carpenter's insight? Just check Twitter whenever Gmail is down and watch the panic. Virtual reality, here a minor plot point as something that introduces the president's daughter (A.J. Langer of My So-Called Life) to a Peruvian criminal, never took off the way he and Keanu Reeves dreamed. But Carpenter also reckoned that by 2013, we'd have awesome holograms that looked exactly like real people—and Hologram Tupac beat him to it a year early.
Truth Score: 9/10
In John Carpenter's 2013 Los Angeles, the Memorial Coliseum still isn't being used by an NFL franchise, which is totally true, dammit. Instead, the field is the site of gladiatorial bloodshed and proto-reality TV humiliation. Survivor wouldn't air in America until 2000, but Carpenter was already clued-in to our timeless and soon-to-be-trendy obsession with watching people suffer through stunts, like, say, shooting six baskets in 60 seconds without missing once. Speaking of which, despite the Lakers' rotten 2012-'13 season, sucking at basketball still won't get you shot. But it will get your coach fired.
Truth Score: 6/10
Crunch the numbers and 16 years after it was released, Escape from L.A. proves to be merely 58% accurate in its prediction of the future. Thinking positive, that means 2013 is barely more than half of John Carpenter's violent, cruel nightmare. Way to go, America! And Kurt Russell, this means it's safe to go back to the ski lift.
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