15 Things You Might Not Know About Con Air

The story of Cameron Poe, a recently paroled ex-Army Ranger who must battle psychopaths who have hijacked a prison transport plane, is the story of all of us. That's why Con Air has been an action favorite since it was released 18 years ago, on June 6, 1997—that and the lunatic performances by Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, and a plane full of others. Before your next viewing, put the bunny back in the box and enjoy these behind-the-scenes details you may not have heard before.  

1. It was director Simon West's first film, but you'd probably seen his work before.

In fact, you've probably seen at least one thing West directed against your will. The Englishman directed many TV commercials for A-list companies like McDonald's and Pepsi. Before that, he made the video for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," the first few seconds of which have been viewed by anyone who's ever been Rickrolled.

2. The transport system the movie is about was pretty new at the time.

The Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (or JPATS) was formed in 1995. It combined and simplified systems that were previously run by the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and was immediately nicknamed "Con Air." Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg tagged along on a few flights for research purposes, and evidently survived the experience. Though he did note that "it was very unsettling, and a bit terrifying."

3. It was nominated for two Oscars!

Con Air scored Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song ("How Do I Live") and for Best Sound, but lost 'em both to Titanic, like everything else that year. Oh, and the song was also nominated for Worst Song at the Razzies (but lost there too, to the entire score from The Postman). Con Air did win the Razzie for Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property—quite an achievement, considering Volcano, Turbulence, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Batman & Robin were also nominated.

4. Dave Chappelle improvised most of his lines.

Actually, that's probably not surprising to anyone who has seen his comedy. But he confirmed it on Inside the Actors Studio in 2006. 

5. Someone died while making the movie.

On the set in Wendover, Utah (where the desert scenes in the second half of the film were shot), a 39-year-old welder named Phillip Swartz was killed when a plane he was working on fell over on him. The closing credits include a mention in his honor. 

6. John Cusack and Steve Buscemi's characters were written with them in mind.

The screenwriter, Scott Rosenberg, was friends with the actors, and he always wanted Cusack for the U.S. Marshal and Buscemi for the serial killer

7. That was a real Las Vegas casino they smashed up at the end of the movie. 

The film's memorable climax, which has the Con Air plane landing in Vegas and crashing through the front of a casino, benefited from real-life serendipity: the Sands Hotel was about to be demolished. The filmmakers simply had to persuade the hotel's owners to wait a few weeks and let them help with the destruction. They only got one take, obviously. Good thing they nailed it. (The plane hitting the giant neon guitar at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino was accomplished using models, though.)

8. The director's semi-serious idea for a sequel would be set in space.

Simon West told an interviewer in 2014 that he would do a sequel "if it was completely turned on its head. Con Air in space, for example—a studio version where they're all robots, or the convicts are reanimated as super-convicts, or where the good guys are bad guys and the bad guys are good guys. Something shocking. If it was clever writing, it could work." The best thing about this idea is that it's clearly not too insane for Nicolas Cage to say yes to it.  

9. Nic Cage did most of his own stunts. 

In a making-of TV special, Cage said: "Whether I wanted to or not, I did most of my own stunts in this movie. There were explosions five feet behind me, flaming helicopters dropping right behind me, ball-bearing bullets over my head. So there was a level of intensity, fear, you might say."

10. It was the first movie Jerry Bruckheimer produced after the death of his long-time collaborator Don Simpson. 

Hollywood uber-producers Bruckheimer and Simpson made 11 movies together—including Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, and Days of Thunder—before Simpson's drug-related death on January 19, 1996. Their final project, The Rock, was in production at the time, and Bruckheimer had already declared his intention not to work with the troubled Simpson anymore after that. 

11. Most of it was filmed in Utah. 

The Oakland Airport and the U.S. Marshals' hangar were actually at Salt Lake City International Airport. A smaller airport in Ogden, Utah (about 40 miles north of SLC), stood in for Carson City, where the prisoner exchange happens. And the abandoned airstrip supposedly found in Death Valley was actually in the vast salt flats of western Utah, near the small town of Wendover that straddles the Utah/Nevada border. West said he chose that location "because it looked like the surface of the moon."

12. The Las Vegas climax was originally set at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bruckheimer said one version of the script had the plane crashing into the White House. "I said the guys would really rather crash into Las Vegas," Bruckheimer said—which makes more sense anyway, as Vegas is much closer to the plane's starting point of Oakland.

13. It inspired a very unusual bit of customer service at a San Antonio hotel.

Earlier this year, when the concierge at San Antonio's Hotel Indigo texted a guest after check-in to ask if she needed anything, she jokingly requested "a framed picture of Nicholas [sic] Cage in Con Air on my bed by 6." (Some fan she is, not knowing he spells it without the "h"!) Sure enough, the hotel staff delivered exactly that, and followed up on subsequent Cage-related requests as well. 

14. As of this writing, the three men who shared the Oscar nomination for best sound have 41 Oscar nominations among them—and no wins.

Greg P. Russell has 16 noms (including Skyfall, Spider-Man, and Pearl Harbor); Art Rochester has five (including The Conversation and Clear and Present Danger); and Kevin O'Connell has 20 (including Dune, Top Gun, A Few Good Men, and Transformers). O'Connell is actually the record-holder for most Oscar nominations without a win. Someday, Kevin! Someday ...

15. Cage helped flesh out his character, including the idea of the stuffed bunny rabbit.

When an interviewer guessed that the bunny had been Cage's idea, he copped to it: "I'm proud of that. The whole bunny thing was mine ... I wanted that to be symbolic of all the pain and loss he had gone through just for protecting his pregnant wife—protecting her too well, and getting thrown into prison." Cage said he also contributed the detail of Cameron Poe being a Southerner ("they have a strong sense of chivalry when it comes to women").

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
13 Great Jack Nicholson Quotes
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Jack Nicholson turns 81 today. Let's celebrate with some of the actor's wit and wisdom.


"I hate advice unless I'm giving it. I hate giving advice, because people won't take it."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"


"Not that I can think of. I’m sure there are some, but my mind doesn’t go there. When you look at life retrospectively you rarely regret anything that you did, but you might regret things that you didn’t do."

From an interview with The Talks


"I'm Irish. I think about death all the time. Back in the days when I thought of myself as a serious academic writer, I used to think that the only real theme was a fear of death, and that all the other themes were just that same fear, translated into fear of closeness, fear of loneliness, fear of dissolving values. Then I heard old John Huston talking about death. Somebody was quizzing him about the subject, you know, and here he is with the open-heart surgery a few years ago, and the emphysema, but he's bounced back fit as a fiddle, and he's talking about theories of death, and the other fella says, 'Well, great, John, that's great ... but how am I supposed to feel about it when you pass on?' And John says, 'Just treat it as your own.' As for me, I like that line I wrote that, we used in The Border, where I said, 'I just want to do something good before I die.' Isn't that what we all want?"

From an interview with Roger Ebert


''There's a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don't know what in the world I'm going to do. It's free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.''

From an interview with The New York Times


"Almost anyone can give a good representative performance when you're unknown. It's just easier. The real pro game of acting is after you're known—to 'un-Jack' that character, in my case, and get the audience to reinvest in a new and specific, fictional person."

From an interview with The Age


"I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life and I always think in all relationships, I've always thought that it's counterproductive to have a theory on that. It's hard enough to get to know yourself and as most of you have probably found, once you get to know two people in tandem it's even more difficult. If it's going to be successful, it's going to have to be very specific and real and immediate so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful."

From an interview with


“You only lie to two people in your life: your girlfriend and the police. Everybody else you tell the truth to.”

From a 1994 interview with Vanity Fair


"They're prescription. That's why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you've experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can't look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can't emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"


"I think people think I'm more physical than I am, I suppose. I'm not really confrontational. Of course, I have a temper, but that's sort of blown out of proportion."

From an interview with ESPN


"I'm a different person when suddenly it's my responsibility. I'm not very inhibited in that way. I would show up [on the set of The Two Jakes] one day, and we'd scouted an orange grove and it had been cut down. You're out in the middle of nowhere and they forget to cast an actor. These are the sort of things I kind of like about directing. Of course, at the time you blow your stack a little bit. ... I'm a Roger Corman baby. Just keep rolling, baby. You've got to get something on there. Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe you can fix it later. Maybe you can't. You can't imagine the things that come up when you're making a movie where you've got to adjust on the spot."

From an interview with MTV


"There's nobody in there, that he didn't, in the most important way support. He was my life blood to whatever I thought I was going to be as a person. And I hope he knows that this is not all hot air. I'm going to cry now."

From the documentary Corman's World


"This would be the character, whose core—while totally determinate of the part—was the least limiting of any I would ever encounter. This is a more literary way of approaching than I might have had as a kid reading the comics, but you have to get specific. ... He's not wired up the same way. This guy has survived nuclear waste immersion here. Even in my own life, people have said, 'There's nothing sacred to you in the area of humor, Jack. Sometimes, Jack, relax with the humor.' This does not apply to the Joker, in fact, just the opposite. Things even the wildest comics might be afraid to find funny: burning somebody's face into oblivion, destroying a masterpiece in a museum—a subject as an art person even made me a little scared. Not this character. And I love that."

From The Making of Batman


"I've always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn't the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. ... Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

There's a Simple Trick to Sort Movies and TV Shows by Year on Netflix

Netflix is stocked with so many movies and TV shows that it’s not always easy to actually find what you’re looking for. And while sorting by genre can help a little, even that’s a bit too broad for some. There’s one helpful hack, though, that you probably didn’t know about—and it could make the endless browsing much less painful.

As POPSUGAR reports: By simply opening Netflix up to one of its specific category pages—Horror, Drama, Comedy, Originals, etc.—you can then sort by release year with just a few clicks. All you need to do is look at the top of the page, where you’ll see an icon that looks like a box with four dots in it.

Screenshot of the Netflix Menu

Once you click on it, it will expand to a tab labeled “Suggestions for You.” Just hit that again and a dropdown menu will appear that allows you to sort by year released or alphabetical and reverse-alphabetical orders. When sorted by release year, the more recent movies or shows will be up top and they'll get older as you scroll to the bottom of the page.


This tip further filters your Netflix options, so if you’re in the mood for a classic drama, old-school comedy, or a retro bit of sci-fi, you don’t have to endlessly scroll through every page to find the right one.

If you want to dig deeper into Netflix’s categories, here’s a way to find all sorts of hidden ones the streaming giant doesn’t tell you about. And also check out these 12 additional Netflix tricks that should make your binge-watching that much easier.



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