- "In 1988, the crime rate in the United States rises four hundred percent. The once great city of New York becomes the one maximum security prison for the entire country. A fifty-foot containment wall is erected along the New Jersey shoreline, across the Harlem River, and down along the Brooklyn shoreline. It completely surrounds Manhattan Island. All bridges and waterways are mined. The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped around the island. There are no guards inside the prison, only prisoners and the worlds they have made. The rules are simple: once you go in, you don't come out."
The USPF successfully stops an escape-in-progress from the Manhattan Island prison by executing the prisoners.
Rehme reports to commissioner Bob Hauk of a nearby jet facing trouble. It is soon learned that the jet is Air Force One, which holds the President of the United States, who is en route to the Hartford Summit with a tape concerning nuclear fusion. It has been hijacked by the National Liberation Front of America, who plan to crash the plane. The President is taken to a safety pod, which is ejected from the plane as it crashes.
Hauk rounds up a group of policemen to retrieve the President, but once they enter the penitentiary, they find the pod empty and are confronted by Romero. Romero presents to them the President's severed finger, telling them the President will be killed if they harm him or fail to leave within thirty seconds. Hauk and the policemen promptly leave the prison.
The Vice President contacts Hauk, who gets permission to go forward with his plan to send Snake Plissken into the prison to retrieve the President. Plissken is brought to his office and is offered a Presidential pardon in exchange for rescuing the President within twenty-four hours. During this meeting, Plissken requests that Hauk call him "Snake."
Snake is briefed on his assignment, and to ensure that he follows his orders, he is injected with microscopic capsules designed to explode and kill him in twenty-two hours. Snake is assured that once he completes his mission, the explosives will be deactivated.
Snake flies a Gullfire glider into the penitentiary, landing on top of the World Trade Center. He takes the elevator down and reaches the streets, following a homing signal from the President's vital signs bracelet.
This search leads Snake through an opera house, where he meets the enthusiastic cab driver Cabbie. He continues alone, fends off hostile prisoners, and finds that the President's bracelet is being worn by a drunk. Snake tells Hauk about this development, but he is ordered to continue his search.
He is pursued by a group of crazies and seeks refuge in a Chock full o'Nuts, where he encounters a woman who begs him to get her out of the prison. However, crazies pull her through the floor and kill her as Snake escapes.
As Snake exits an alley, Cabbie – who listens to "Bandstand Boogie" on his radio – finds him and fends off the crazies with a molotov cocktail. Cabbie tells him that the President has been taken prisoner by the Duke of New York.
Cabbie takes Snake to meet Brain and Maggie, who may help Snake meet the Duke. Upon meeting Brain, Snake recognizes him as Harold Hellman, a former associate who left him and Fresno Bob for dead four years prior. Snake offers to get them out of the prison in exchange for their help in finding the President.
Back in the streets, Cabbie drives away as the Duke approaches with his entourage, searching for Brain's diagram of the mined 69th Street bridge. Snake manages to commandeer a vehicle belonging to the entourage and escapes with Brain and Maggie.
After a treacherous run down Broadway, Brain leads them to a train yard. Snake sneaks in and finds the President, but is ambushed and captured by the Duke's men. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State orders the Police Force to invade the prison as little to no activity is detected within the prison.
The President's tape is taken from his briefcase, which is retrieved from Central Park by a group of Police, containing a note demanding amnesty in exchange for the President.
Brain figures that Snake landed his glider atop the World Trade Center and decides to use it to escape the prison.
Brain and Maggie retrieve the President from Romero, who is stabbed by Brain. Meanwhile, with just under two hours left, Snake is forced to fight to the death with Slag, ultimately managing to kill him.
Snake manages to activate his tracer as the Duke learns of the President's rescue. Snake reaches the World Trade Center, where Brain attempts to commandeer the Gullfire, which is pushed off of the building by prisoners.
The Duke waits at the bottom floor, but Snake manages to escape with the President, Brain, and Maggie. Cabbie waits for them outside in his cab, having traded Romero his hat for the President's tape.
With twenty-three minutes left and being pursued by the Duke, Snake drives the cab to the 69th Street bridge, managing to evade mines until accidentally hitting one, splitting the cab in half and killing Cabbie. They continue on foot until Brain missteps and dies. Stricken by Brain's death, Maggie stays with Snake's revolver, shooting at the Duke until he runs her over.
Reaching the containment wall, the President is sent over as the Duke reaches Snake and attacks him. Snake manages to subdue the Duke and begin his ascent over the wall, but the President stops the lift to shoot the Duke to death. He then allows Snake to continue over the wall and hand over the tape. The injected explosives are then deactivated with only seconds to spare.
Snake asks the President how he feels about the deaths that occurred to rescue him, but the politician responds with a nearly-dismissive regret. Hauk offers him a job, but Snake does not answer, instead telling him, "the name's Plissken."
The President begins his speech for the Hartford Summit and asks his tape to be played, learning that Snake instead gave Hauk Cabbie's "Bandstand Boogie" tape. Snake walks away, tearing up the real tape.
- Snake Plissken .... Kurt Russell
- Bob Hauk .... Lee Van Cleef
- Cabbie .... Ernest Borgnine
- President .... Donald Pleasence
- The Duke .... Isaac Hayes
- Girl in Chock full o'Nuts .... Season Hubley
- Brain .... Harry Dean Stanton
- Maggie .... Adrienne Barbeau
- Rehme .... Tom Atkins
- Secretary of State .... Charles Cyphers
- Taylor .... Joe Unger
- Romero .... Frank Doubleday
- Cronenberg .... John Strobel
- Gypsy #1 .... John Cothran
- Gypsy #2 .... Garrett Bergfeld
- Gypsy Guard .... Richard Cosentino
- Gypsy #3 .... Robert John Metcalf
- Gypsy #4 .... Joel Bennett
- First Indian .... Vic Bullock
- Second Indian .... Clem Fox
- Third Indian .... Tobar Mayo
- Stewardess .... Nancy Stephens
- Secret Service #1 .... Steven Gagon
- Secret Service #2 .... Steven Ford
- Secret Service #3 .... Michael Taylor
- Red Bandana Gypsy .... Lonnie Wun
- Helicopter Pilot #1 .... Dale House
- Helicopter Pilot #2 .... David R. Patrick
- Duty Sergeant .... Bob Minor
- Controller .... Wally Taylor
- Computer Operator .... James O'Hagan
- Trooper .... James Emery
- Police Sergeant .... Tom Lillard
- Theater Manager .... Borah Silver
- Theater Assistant .... Tony Papenfuss
- Punk .... John Diehl
- Bum .... Carmen Filpi
- Drunk .... Buck Flower
- Helicopter Pilot #3 .... Clay Wright
- Helicopter Pilot #4 .... Al Cerullo
- Slag .... Ox Baker
- Dancers .... Lowmoan Spectacular, Ronald E. House, Alan Shearman, Joseph A. Perrotti, Roger Bumpass, Ron Vernan