Con Air

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Con Air
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Simon West
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
Written by Scott Rosenberg
Music by
Cinematography David Tattersall
Edited by
Distributed by Buena 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, written by Scott Rosenberg and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. The film stars Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and John Malkovich, with Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Colm Meaney, Mykelti Williamson, Dave Chappelle, Rachel Ticotin, Danny Trejo, Nick Chinlund, Jesse Borrego, Jose Zuniga, and Monica Potter in supporting roles. The film borrows its title from the nickname of the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System.


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, though the cast and action sequences were praised.


Former Army Ranger sergeant Cameron Poe returns home to his pregnant wife Tricia after a series of combat deployments during Desert Storm. However, he gets into a fight with a drunk who attacks Tricia, and unintentionally kills him; he is sentenced to seven-to-ten years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

Eight years later, Poe is paroled and boards a flight to Alabama on the Jailbird, a converted prison transport plane. Poe is flying alongside his diabetic cellmate Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell. 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 undercover to get information from drug lord Francisco Cindino, who is being picked up en route.

Most of the inmates are being transferred to a supermax prison: mass murderer William "Billy Bedlam" Bedford, serial rapist John "Johnny 23" Baca, Black Guerrilla member Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones, and criminal mastermind Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom. After taking off, inmate Joe "Pinball" Parker sets another prisoner on fire 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 then fly to a non-extradition country. Sims tries to retake control, but Grissom kills him.

The plane arrives at Carson City and the inmate exchange commences, the ground crew unaware that hijackers are disguised as guards. 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 don't stop the plane from taking off. Meanwhile, Pinball, sent to dispose of the plane's transponder, tries but fails to make it back to the plane.

The inmates plan to land at Lerner Airport, an abandoned desert airstrip, and transfer onto another plane owned by Cindino and his cartel. Poe finds Pinball's corpse trapped in the landing gear, writing 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 toy bunny 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, and thus 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. Greene encounters a little girl, but resists the urge to kill her.

Meanwhile, Johnny 23, the lookout in the control tower, spots a National Guard convoy approaching and gives the alarm. The inmates find a cache of fully loaded shotguns and rifles in the cargo hold and prepare an ambush. As the National Guard arrives, the inmates launch an assault, resulting in a number of 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 leads to the deaths of all three escapees. Poe meets his daughter for the first time and gives her the bunny. The only criminal unaccounted for is Greene, who is seen gambling at a casino.



C-123 used for taxi scenes at Wendover Airport, c. 2011. Jailbird.jpg
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. [3] 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." [4] 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. [5]

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". [6]

After filming, the filmmakers donated the Jailbird movie model used for the taxi scenes to the Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation, where it is currently on display at the ramp as an attraction for visitors. [5]

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. 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 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. [4]

Crash site of the C-123 from Con Air, Mount Healy, Denali National Park, Alaska ConAirC123crashdenali.JPG
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. [7] On August 1, 2010, the C-123 was destroyed when it crashed into Mount Healy within Denali National Park in Alaska. [8] The three member flight crew was killed in the crash. [9] [10] [11]

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. [12]

Aircraft used in the film

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, [Note 1] the following aircraft were prominently featured in Con Air:


Con Air: Music from the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedJune 17, 1997
Genre Soundtrack
Label Hollywood Records
Producer Paul Linford, Mark Mancina, Trevor Rabin
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svgStar empty.svgStar empty.svg [14]

The film featured the Diane Warren-penned LeAnn Rimes hit single "How Do I Live", performed by Trisha Yearwood for the film. [15] [Note 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." [16]

  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


Home media

An unrated extended edition of the film was released on DVD on May 15, 2006. Jason Morgan of gave the film 1 star out of 5, claiming the added scenes slowed down the film, and criticized the high price of the DVD for its lack of bonus content. [17]

The theatrical version was released on Blu-ray Disc on January 8, 2008. [18]


Box office

Con Air 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]

The film made $24.1 million in its opening weekend, topping the box office. It made $15.7 million in its second weekend and $10.4 million in its third, finishing second and third, respectively. [19]

Critical response

According to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 56% of 66 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 5.67/10. 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." [20] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 52 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews." [21] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale. [22]

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." [23] Janet Maslin, reviewer for The New York Times considered Con Air an exemplar of the "thrill ride genre." [24] In contrast, Rolling Stone reviewer Peter Travers decried the "flip, hip" and ultimately, "depressing ... pandering" present in the treatment. [25] 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." [26]


Con Air was nominated for Best Original Song (for "How Do I Live") and Best Sound (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Art Rochester) at the 70th Academy Awards, but lost to Titanic in both categories. [27]

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. [28]

Other media

In the webcomic Homestuck , the character John Egbert is a fan of the film, and there are numerous references to Con Air throughout the story. This includes published covers of the song "How Do I Live". [29]

The popular movie podcast How Did This Get Made? featured a live episode covering the film, which was largely positive, in contrast to most movies the podcast covers. Jason Mantzoukas in particular was enthusiastic about the film, suggesting that the podcast should change its name to "Thank God This Got Made."

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  1. A Convair C-131 Samaritan transport aircraft and Piasecki H-21 helicopter were prominent among the scattered wreckage of the boneyard scene. [13]
  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. [10]
  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. [15]


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  19. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 4, 2021. Retrieved February 16, 2021.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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