Deconstructing Con Air

Con Air Las Vegas Crash

Hollywood Loves Las Vegas and Las Vegas loves when Hollywood comes calling.  Like in the movie Con Air.  This popular 1997 action movie took advantage of the shuttered Sands Casino, as well as other popular Las Vegas landmarks to film the final scenes of the movie.

In the video, I will go over the Las Vegas scenes, where they were filmed, and what is there now or what should have been there now. Many of the casinos shown in this movie no longer exist, with one that never existed, yet looks like it was.

Las Vegas in the Movies

As you can imagine, Las Vegas is a popular setting for many films, video games, and television shows.  It seems like if any tv show gains in popularity, they end up doing at least one episode in Las Vegas!

On my tours, as well as on many of the Las Vegas forum boards, people love to ask about Las Vegas in the movies. And I love to help out, showing them where a certain scene was filmed or what was used for the backdrop of a movie. Con Air does an excellent job of hitting all the popular spots on and around the Las Vegas Strip. The scenes at the end of the movie show what many Vegas fans like to call “classic Vegas”.  Many of the resorts that were famous ( or infamous) before corporate America took over the strip and ruined it all.

With movie magic, it looks like they are all in a proper row from north to south.  In reality, they bounce from one end of the Strip to the other than off to downtown with a quick tunnel scene in Los Angeles then back to the Fremont Street Experience before finally ending back on the Strip!  As you can see in the thumbnail, they managed to put the Hard Rock in front of  Circus Circus!

Edited Script from the YouTube video

Con Air made in 1997 starring Nicholas Cage, John Cusack, and John Malkovich, amongst others.  This is one of those movies where you go in, turn off your brain and just sit back and be entertained by the violence and some funny dialog.

The plot is about how you have some of the worst prisoners in our prison system being moved to a supermax facility by government aircraft. Nicolas Cage plays a guy who is hoping a ride after serving a 7-year sentence for manslaughter.  Just wanting to serve his time, and get on with his life, wanting to see his wife and to finally meet his daughter who was born while he was incarcerated.

The ironic thing is that this really exists. Con Air is a nickname for a real prison transport aircraft!

After take-off, the bad guys get control of the plane and that’s when things go bad.  They need to make an emergency landing in Las Vegas. Aiming for McCarren International Airport but instead, need to ditch the big bird on the Las Vegas Strip.

Technology Alert!  This was made in 1997 and at the time, this was the state of the art special effects and they use it all to the best of their ability.  Green screen, computer animation mixed with real-life video and film making. For the time, they did a good job of it!

There are some great videos on YouTube showing how they made this movie.   I will post a link to them in the notes

I’m going to focus on the Las Vegas landmarks presented here, not so much on the characters or the movie plot.

Las Vegas Strip Map

Crashing on The Las Vegas Strip

They start their descent north of the Stratosphere, heading south. As they curve around the Strat, what do we see?  Harrah’s and the Imperial Palace! In reality, these two resorts are further south. Like right across from Caesars Palace.  Imperial Palace is now the Linq.

As they realign the aircraft to the Strip, what do we see in front of Circus Circus? Why it’s the Hard Rock guitar about to be clipped!!  The Hard Rock is actually 2 miles further south and a mile east of the Strip.

The plane clips the giant guitar atop the Hard Rock Casino as it continues going down the Strip.

Now we see the Riviera, the Sahara, Circus Circus, the El Rancho, even a touch of Westward Ho. All classic Vegas resorts.

Quick cut as the aircraft is now just about to hit the famed boulevard pavement right in front of the Boardwalk Casino. And it is pointing north!

City Center sits where the Boardwalk used to sit.  Right across from the Aladdin/Planet Hollywood.

A quick right-hand turn and we see the plane on the ground, moving east on Flamingo Road.  Behind it, we see what was the Barbary Coast. Now it’s the Cromwell.

You also see the Stage Door Casino.  Bally’s Resort would be on the right in the dark area. Mardi Gra is in the front right. That is now a giant parking lot.

Now we see the plane passing the non-existent Moonlight Casino. Then for a couple of seconds, we get a shot of the plane facing south on Las Vegas Boulevard, right next to the Stratosphere!

From all of that, we are getting set up for the ultimate crash scene as it plows into the once legendary Sand Casino. From the south, pointing north! The Sands had been closed for a while They demolished everything on the site except for the main tower that they electrified for the movie.

The plane is plowed into the casino through the valet area.  Fourteen cameras were used to capture this scene because there would be no retakes.

John Malkovich/Cyrus the virus, escapes on a firetruck.  The two good guys (Cusak and Cage) meet again.  Acquiring two patrol motorcycles and head off in hot pursuit.

Two right turns and they are now on the Fremont Street Experience. Actuality, they are four miles apart. One left-hand turn and they are barreling through a tunnel in Las Angeles.  Coming out of the tunnel and back in Downtown las Vegas. Cyrus gets killed by a stone crushing machine as the fire truck plows into an armored car stranded in the middle of the street.

On one side of the street is Binions Casino and on the other side is the Debbie Reynolds Casino.   Yes, there really was a Debbie Reynolds Casino. It lasted about one year before going bankrupt.  It actually sat just off the Las Vegas Strip, by the convention center, and became the Majestic Resort after being owned for a short time by the World Wrestling Federation.  It is now an empty lot.

After the crash, with the Fremont Street Experience in the background, the two good guys meet again, shake hands, become friends.  Nicholas Cage turns to find his wife and spots her talking with a federal agent in front of the Sands Casino.  They meet, take, kiss and they cue the music.

One last scene remains and it is one of my favorite.

With Lynyrd Skynyrd playing in the background, we see Steven Buscemi who nailed it as the psychotic child molester, is at the craps table about to shoot the dice. Next to him ais an actress that I swear I know but can not place her.  Not sure if she is a local resort worker, local actress, or what. But it has been bothering me because I swear I do know her, just can’t place her.. any help??

And they roll the credits…

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