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Con Air

Not to be confused with Comair.
This article is about the film. For other uses, see Conair (disambiguation).
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
Edited by Chris Lebenzon
Steve Mirkovich
Glen Scantlebury
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[1]
Box office $224 million[1]

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, 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." [2]


Former Army Ranger Cameron Poe is sentenced to 7–10 years in prison for manslaughter for using excessive force on a drunk man while trying to protect his pregnant wife Tricia. Poe is paroled eight years later, and is to be released after being flown to Alabama on the Jailbird, a C-123K transport prison aircraft. Along with Poe, are several other prisoners including his diabetic cellmate and friend Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell,who is also being released with Poe.The transfer is being overseen by U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin, as the transfer includes notorious criminal mastermind Cyrus "Cyrus The Virus" Grissom, gangster and Nation of Islam member Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones and mass murderer William "Billy Bedlam" Bedford for their transfer to a new Supermax prison.Larkin is approached at the last minute by DEA agents Duncan Malloy and Willie Sims, who ask for Sims to be brought aboard disguised as a prisoner so that he can extract more information from drug lord Francisco Cindino, a prisoner that is to be picked up at Carson City, Nevada en route. Larkin agrees, unaware Malloy has hidden a gun on Sims' body.

As the Jailbird takes off, another prisoner Joe "Pinball" Parker incites a riot, allowing him to set free Diamond Dog and Grissom. Cyrus, after being set free, runs up to the cockpit and grabs a gun from the co-pilot, and shoots him. He then forces the pilot to say over the radio that there was a disturbance but everything is under control. After Pinball starts uncuffing the prisoners, Sims draws his weapon and is shot by Cyrus. Poe feigns cooperation with the other prisoners as they prepare to offload guards disguised as prisoners at Carson City; Poe is able to sneak a recording device Sims had onto one of the guards. The transfer proceeds, among the new prisoners are Cindino, pilot "Swamp Thing" and serial killer Garland Greene, whose murders make "The Manson family look like the Partridge family". Pinball takes the aircraft's transponder and plants on a small sightseeing aircraft. The aircraft takes off before the recording device can be found, but Larkin and Malloy are alerted to the situation. Malloy chases off after the transponder, while Larkin discovers information in Grissom's cell that indicates this escape attempt has been planned with Cindino. On the Jailbird, Grissom reveals that they will be going to the small Lerner Airfield where Cindino has arranged passage for them all to a non-extradition country. Poe finds Pinball's body stuck in the landing gear, the convict not having made it back in time, and secretly writes a message to Larkin about Lerner Airfield before pushing it out of the aircraft. The body lands in the middle of Fresno, California, and Larkin is alerted, ordering the National Guard there while he drives there himself in Malloy's sports car.

Billy Bedlam discovers Poe's true identity after going through his personal possessions, identifying him as a parolee and former Ranger. Poe discovers Billy Bedlam and kills him. At Lerner, the aircraft overruns the small runway. There is no immediate sign of Cindino's aircraft and Grissom orders the prisoners to start to dig out the Jailbird. Poe uses the time to locate insulin shots for O'Dell, and happens upon Larkin. The two brief each other on the situation before Poe has to return before suspicion is raised. Larkin encounters Cindino with his agents preparing a small jet for departure and is able to sabotage it on takeoff. Grissom realizes Cindino had tricked him and kills him, and then spots the approaching National Guard. The prisoners prepare to massacre the troops in an aircraft graveyard, but Larkin is able to save most of the troops using a bulldozer as a bullet shield, forcing the prisoners to retreat to the Jailbird and prepare for take off. Poe, after giving O'Dell his shots, tries to escape with him and a female guard who had been protecting herself from serial rapist Johnny "Johnny-23" Baca aboard, but the aircraft has taken off by the time they are ready.

Poe's identity is revealed to the prisoners when Diamond Dog discovers Billy Bedlam's corpse and Poe's possessions. As Grissom is about to kill Poe, Malloy arrives with assault aircraft and fire upon the Jailbird, damaging its engines. Swamp Thing is forced to crash-land the aircraft in the only open paved surface nearby, The Las Vegas Strip. The aircraft causes a great deal of destruction as it skids to a stop on the road, creating a mass of chaos that allows Grissom, Diamond Dog and Swamp Thing the opportunity to escape on a fire truck while the police recapture the other prisoners. Poe and Larkin team up to chase down the three. Poe manages to get on board and knock Grissom to the floor, allowing him to handcuff the villain to the fire truck's ladder. Poe raises the ladder up by using its mechanism. The force of the impact blasts Cyrus out of the other side of a flyover, and he is killed by a rock crusher. Poe and Larkin eventually kill Diamond Dog and Swamp Thing through the high-speed chase. Poe thanks Larkin and tells him he is now someone whom he can trust, and then goes to reunite with Tricia and his daughter whom he has never met.

Garland Greene's fate after the crash is revealed as he is seen playing at a casino and drinking while on a winning streak.



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.[3] 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.[2] 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 and 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, 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 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

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 during 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] 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

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:

  • 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) [Note 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.[10][13]


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.[14][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."[15]

  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

The film was box office hit, grossed $224,012,234 worldwide, of which $101,117,573 was in North America.[16]


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.[17] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 52 out of 100, indicating "mixed or average reviews."[18] Roger Ebert awarded the film three out of four stars, saying it "moves smoothly and with visual style and verbal wit."[19] Janet Maslin, reviewer for The New York Times considered Con Air an exemplar of the "thrill ride genre." [20] In contrast, Rolling Stone reviewer Peter Travers decried the "flip, hip" and ultimately, "depressing ... pandering" present in the treatment.[21]

As acknowledged by repeated requests for West to stage a sequel, Con Air has become a cult classic with an action movie audience.[22]

Awards and honors

Con Air 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.[23]

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.[24]

Extended version

Con Air: Unrated Extended Edition (2006) is an extended DVD version that includes many scenes that may have been possibly cut to prevent an NC-17 rating.[25]

See also



  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.[14]


  1. ^ a b "Con Air. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: April 23, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Rigoulot, Leslie. "Con Air: About The Production." Film Scouts, 2008. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  3. ^ "Con Air (1997): Miscellaneous notes." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Girod, Russell W. "Con Air: About The Locations." Touchstone Pictures & Five Star Publishing,1997. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Bateman 2004, p. 248.
  6. ^ "Plane Crushes Worker on Disney Film Set." Los Angeles Times, August 31, 1996. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  7. ^ "Accident Report: Fairchild C-123K Provider, August 1, 2010." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved: December 21, 2011.
  8. ^ Rettig, Molly. "Federal investigators arrive at Denali crash site; victims identified.", August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  9. ^ "Authorities identify victims of Alaska "Con Air"-movie plane crash." BNO News, August 3, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  10. ^ a b c van der Voet, Aad. "C-123 Providers starring in 'Con Air'.", August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  11. ^ "Probe starts into deadly crash at Denali." Anchorage Daily News via, August 2, 2010. Retrieved: December 17, 2011.
  12. ^ "Dave Chappelle On Inside The Actors Studio." Inside the Actors Studio, February 12, 2006. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
  13. ^ a b "Con Air." The Internet Movie Plane Database. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  14. ^ a b "Leann Rimes, Music: How Do I Live / My Baby." Retrieved: December 21, 2011.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Con Air (1997)." Box Office Mojo. Retrieved: December 29, 2009.
  17. ^ "Con Air (1997)." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: December 29, 2009.
  18. ^ "Con Air ." Metacritic. Retrieved: September 20, 2012.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Con Air Review." Chicago Sun-Times, June 6, 1997.
  20. ^ Maslin, Janet. "Signs and Symbols on a Thrill Ride: Con Air (1997)." The New York Times, June 6, 1997.
  21. ^ Travers, Peter. "Con Air." Rolling Stone, June 6, 1997. Retrieved: December 19, 2011.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ "The 70th Academy Awards (1998) Nominees and Winners." Retrieved: December 18, 2011.
  24. ^ Wilson, John. "1997 Archive." Golden Raspberry Awards. Retrieved: December 20, 2011.
  25. ^ 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