The real New York was out of the question because it would be too difficult to make it look semi-ruined on the film’s relatively paltry $6 million budget. So Carpenter, producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves searched for a city that, to be brutally frank, already looked destroyed.
Location manager Barry Bernardi suggested East St. Louis, a rundown area sitting across the Mississippi River from the more affluent parts of St. Louis. There had been a tremendous fire in the neighborhood in 1976, with Hill telling Cinefantastique, “Block after block was burnt-out rubble.”
“Around the turn of the century New York City and St. Louis were very much the same architecturally,” Alves told Starlog in a May 1981 interview. “John and I eventually came [to St. Louis] to inspect a bridge…we looked around at the old buildings and thought they were fantastic. These were structures that exist in New York now, and have that seedy, run-down quality that we’re looking for.”
The movie was shot at night in East St. Louis, from 9pm to 6am, and Carpenter recalls it was a productive but difficult experience. “It was amazing, unbelievable. We were there in the summertime when it’s blistering hot. They had this big fire there in the ’70s. It burned out the place. But they were very cooperative. They turned off all the streetlights, and let us move stuff, and that was just great.”
The film also shot in New York (at Liberty Island), Atlanta (for an unused subway sequence) and on soundstages in Los Angeles before wrapping in November 1980. Upon its release the following July, it grossed $25.2 million at the box office — one of the bigger hits of Carpenter’s career. It also scored well with critics, and like many of Carpenter’s films, its stature has only grown over the years.
Although the 1996 sequel, Escape from L.A., proved to be far inferior and less successful, Escape from New York has gained classic status and has been a candidate for a remake in recent years. 20th Century Fox hired Robert Rodriguez to direct it in 2017, although that never happened; The Invisible Man writer/director Leigh Whannell was tapped in 2019 to script it, but little has been heard on that either.
Source: Den of Geek