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Leaving Las Vegas

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Title: Leaving Las Vegas  
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Subject: 53rd Golden Globe Awards, Nicolas Cage, 2nd Screen Actors Guild Awards, New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor, List of Golden Globe Award winning films
Collection: 1990S Erotic Films, 1990S Romantic Drama Films, 1995 Films, American Erotic Films, American Films, American Independent Films, American Romantic Drama Films, English-Language Films, Erotic Romance Films, Films About Alcoholism, Films About Prostitution, Films About Sexuality, Films About Suicide, Films Based on Biographies, Films Directed by Mike Figgis, Films Featuring a Best Actor Academy Award Winning Performance, Films Featuring a Best Drama Actor Golden Globe Winning Performance, Films Set in the Las Vegas Valley, Films Shot in Nova Scotia, Independent Films, Independent Spirit Award for Best Film Winners, Studiocanal Films, United Artists Films
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Leaving Las Vegas

Leaving Las Vegas
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mike Figgis
Produced by Lila Cazès
Annie Stewart
Screenplay by Mike Figgis
Based on Leaving Las Vegas 
by John O'Brien
Starring Nicolas Cage
Elisabeth Shue
Julian Sands
Richard Lewis
Valeria Golino
Music by Mike Figgis
Cinematography Declan Quinn
Edited by John Smith
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • October 27, 1995 (1995-10-27)
Running time 112 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.6 million[1]
Box office $32,029,928

Leaving Las Vegas is a 1995 romantic drama film written and directed by Mike Figgis and based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by John O'Brien. Nicolas Cage stars as a suicidal alcoholic who has ended his personal and professional life to drink himself to death in Las Vegas. Whilst there, he develops a relationship with a hardened prostitute played by Elisabeth Shue, which forms the center of the film. O'Brien committed suicide two weeks after principal photography of the film began.

Leaving Las Vegas was filmed in super 16mm[2] instead of 35 mm film, which is most commonly used for mainstream film; although 16 mm is common for art house films. After limited release in the United States on October 27 1995, Leaving Las Vegas was released nationwide on February 9 1996, receiving strong praise from both critics and audiences. Cage received the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama and the Academy Award for Best Actor, while Shue was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. The film also received nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Development 3.1
    • Casting 3.2
    • Filming 3.3
  • Themes 4
  • Release 5
  • Reception 6
    • Awards 6.1
  • Home media releases 7
  • In popular culture 8
  • Soundtrack 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12


Ben Sanderson (Cage) is a Hollywood screenwriter whose alcoholism costs him his job, family, and friends. With nothing left to live for, he moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. As he drives drunkenly down the Las Vegas Strip, he nearly hits a woman, Sera (Shue), on the crosswalk. Sera chastises him and walks away. Sera is a prostitute working for an abusive pimp, Yuri Butso (Julian Sands), a Latvian immigrant. Polish mobsters are after Yuri, so he breaks his relationship with Sera in fear that the Poles may hurt her. Yuri is murdered (off-screen) shortly afterwards.

On his second day in Las Vegas, Ben meets Sera, introduces himself and offers $500 to go to his room for an hour. Sera agrees but Ben does not want sex. Instead, they only talk and form a bizarre romantic relationship. They move in together shortly afterward. Ben instructs Sera to never ask him to stop drinking. Sera reciprocates and instructs Ben to not criticize her occupation. At first the two are stable as Ben is "totally at ease with this (Sera's prostitution)". However, each becomes frustrated with the other's behavior. Sera begs Ben to see a doctor. Furious, Ben returns to their shared home with another prostitute (Mariska Hargitay). Sera returns home and throws Ben out. Shortly afterward, while working, she is approached by three college students at the Excalibur hotel and casino. She initially rejects their offer by stating that she only "dates" one at a time, but eventually acquiesces when she is offered an increased price. When she enters their hotel room, the college students change the deal and request anal sex, which Sera refuses. When she attempts to leave, she is brutally attacked and raped as one of the college students films the entire event on a video camera. The next morning, Sera returns with injuries that make her occupation obvious, resulting in her eviction. She then receives a call from Ben, who is on his deathbed. Sera visits Ben and he dies while they make love. His last word is "wow". In the final scene, Sera explains to her therapist that she accepted Ben for who he was, liked his drama, and loved him.




Mike Figgis based Leaving Las Vegas on a 1990 autobiographical novel by John O'Brien, who committed suicide in April 1994, shortly after finding out his novel was being made into a film.[3][4] Despite basing most of his screenplay on O'Brien's novel, Figgis spoke of a personal attachment with the novel, stating "Anything I would do would be because I had a sympathetic feeling towards it. That's why I did Mr. Jones, because I think manic-depression is a fascinating, sad, and amazing phenomenon. It's not a coincidence that some of the greatest artists have been manic-depressive[s]. That made it, to me, a fascinating subject that, alas, did not come out in the film".[5]


Figgis encouraged the lead actors to experience their characters' ordeals first-hand by extensive research. He told Film Critic: "It was just a week and a half of rehearsal. A lot of conversations. A lot of communication in the year before we made the film. Reading the book. I encouraged them [Cage and Shue] to do their own research, which they wanted to do anyway, and then ultimately the three of us got together and just started talking...talking about anything, not necessarily about the film or the script, about anything that came up".[5] Cage researched by binge drinking in Dublin for two weeks and had a friend videotape him so he could study his speech. He also visited hospitalized career alcoholics.[6] He said "it was one of the most enjoyable pieces of research I've ever had to do for a part."[6] Shue spent time interviewing several Las Vegas prostitutes.


The limited budget dictated the production and Figgis ended up filming in super 16mm and composing his own score.[2][7] He remarked, "We didn't have any money, and we weren't pretending to be something we weren't. We couldn't shut down The Strip to shoot".[5] Figgis had problems because permits were not issued for some street scenes.[8] This caused him to film some scenes on the Las Vegas strip in one take to avoid the police, which Figgis said benefited production and the authenticity of the acting, remarking "I've always hated the convention of shooting on a street, and then having to stop the traffic, and then having to tell the actors, 'Well, there's meant to be traffic here, so you're going to have to shout'. And they're shouting, but it's quiet and they feel really stupid, because it's unnatural. You put them up against a couple of trucks, with it all happening around them, and their voices become great".[5][8]

The film was shot in Burbank, California, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Laughlin, Nevada, and Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada.


Leaving Las Vegas is a bittersweet love story of dependence and obsession. Ben and Sera build their relationship on the foundation that neither of them can change who they are if they are going to continue pursuing a life together, further validating the theme of a tragic love story born in a desperate world between two self-destructive people (Ben with alcohol and Sera with prostitution). Nicolas Cage called Ben "crumbled elegance", and viewed him as a man who once had it all; Cage thus tried to give the character a kind of "continental elegance when he was in a bad situation". Cage continued by saying that the elegance is imploding on him because of the booze, causing it to fall apart, "But you still get the idea of what it used to be". There is hope, however, with Sera's character, who, despite having nobody to turn to, is less unfortunate and dependent. Shue perceived her character in a similar light, stating "She is a wounded soul. She is clinging to hope in the midst of desperation. I think they are not of the world, there is a mythical nature to their love. A couple with a positive energy. A contradiction to other elements".


Leaving Las Vegas had a limited release on October 27, 1995. After praise from critics and four Academy Award nominations, the film was released nationwide February 9, 1996. United Artists company distributed the film in North America, RCV Film Distribution with Atalanta Filmes in Europe, and in Australia 21st Century Film Corporation distributed the film.


Leaving Las Vegas was received very well by critics, scoring 82 metapoints out of 100 on Leaving Las Vegas was #8).[10] Leonard Klady from Variety said Leaving Las Vegas was "certainly among a scant handful of films that have taken an unflinching view of dependency".[11] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received 90% overall approval out of 48 reviews.[12] Overall, the film was a success at the box office, particularly considering its budget, grossing $32,029,928.[13]


Award Category Subject Result
Academy Award Best Actor Nicolas Cage Won
Best Actress Elisabeth Shue Nominated
Best Director Mike Figgis Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
BAFTA Award Best Actor Nicolas Cage Nominated
Best Actress Elisabeth Shue Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Mike Figgis Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Director Nominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Nicolas Cage Won
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Elisabeth Shue Nominated
Best Motion Picture – Drama Lila Cazès & Annie Stewart Nominated
Independent Spirit Award Best Film Won
Best Director Mike Figgis Won
Best Screenplay Nominated
Best Female Lead Elisabeth Shue Won
Best Male Lead Nicolas Cage Nominated
Best Cinematography Declan Quinn Won

Home media releases

Video cassettes and DVD of the film were distributed by MGM.[14] The video cassettes were distributed on November 12, 1996 in two languages, English and Russian, while the DVD was distributed on January 1, 1998 in English for USA and Canada. Australian and UK editions were later released.[15][16] The DVD contains a supplemental "Hidden Page" menu feature.[14] The film is also released on Blu-ray, HD DVD and LaserDisc.

In popular culture

The success of Leaving Las Vegas has had a moderate effect on the media. It spawned a direct-spoof, Eating Las Vegas, about a binge eater who travels to Las Vegas to eat himself to death, and the film is also alluded to in the documentary Super Size Me (2004). It was also briefly mentioned in the Family Guy episode "Movin' Out (Brian's Song)". The Spanish pop band Amaral based their song "Moriría por vos", included in their 2002 album Estrella de mar, upon the film.


A soundtrack album, consisting mainly of film score composed and performed by Mike Figgis, was released November 7, 1995.[17] The soundtrack also included three jazz standards performed by Sting and excerpts of dialogue from the film. A version of "Lonely Teardrops" performed by Michael McDonald that features in the film is not included.

All songs written and composed by Mike Figgis except as noted. 
No. Title Writer(s) Performer Length
1. "Intro Dialogue" (dialogue)   Nicolas Cage as Ben
Elisabeth Shue as Sera
2. "Angel Eyes"   Matt Dennis, Earl Brent Sting 4:02
3. "Are You Desirable?"     Mike Figgis 2:43
4. "Ben & Bill" (dialogue)   Nicolas Cage as Ben 0:30
5. "Leaving Las Vegas"     Mike Figgis 3:12
6. "Sera's Dark Side"     Mike Figgis 1:26
7. "Mara"     Mike Figgis 4:28
8. "Burlesque"     Mike Figgis 2:40
9. "On The Street" (dialogue)   Nicolas Cage as Ben
Elisabeth Shue as Sera
10. "Bossa Vega"     Mike Figgis 3:14
11. "Ben Pawns His Rolex/Sera Talks to Her Shrink" (dialogue)   Nicolas Cage as Ben
Elisabeth Shue as Sera
12. "My One and Only Love"   Robert Mellin, Guy Wood Sting 3:36
13. "Sera Invites Ben to Stay" (dialogue)   Nicolas Cage as Ben
Elisabeth Shue as Sera
14. "Come Rain or Come Shine"   Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer Don Henley 3:41
15. "Ben and Sera - Theme" (dialogue)   Nicolas Cage as Ben
Elisabeth Shue as Sera
16. "Ridiculous"   Phil Roy, Nicolas Cage Nicolas Cage 1:03
17. "Biker Bar"     Mike Figgis 3:44
18. "Ben's Hell"     Mike Figgis 1:37
19. "It's a Lonesome Old Town"   Harry Tobias, Charles Kisco Sting 2:37
20. "Blues For Ben"     Mike Figgis 1:56
21. "Get Out"     Mike Figgis 1:49
22. "Reunited"     Mike Figgis 3:28
23. "Sera Talks to the Cab Driver" (dialogue)   Elisabeth Shue as Sera
Lou Rawls as Concerned Cabbie
24. "She Really Loved Him"     Mike Figgis 1:17
25. "I Won't Be Going South For a While"   Angelo Palladino The Palladinos 4:27


  1. ^ "Leaving Las VegasBox Office "Information for .  
  2. ^ a b  
  3. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (1995-11-10). "Grieving 'Las Vegas' –". Entertainment Weekly. 
  4. ^ Scott, A. O. "FILM REVIEW;Lurching Through a Life Of Alcoholic Abandon". NY Times. Retrieved 2007-01-16. 
  5. ^ a b c d Noll, Christopher. "Viva, "Las Vegas!" - Interviewing Director Mike Figgis". Film Critic. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  6. ^ a b "Cage Did Serious Research For Alcoholic Role". WENN. Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  7. ^ Boyar, Tracy. "Leaving Las Vegas"It's Worth Watching for .  
  8. ^ a b Ryan Lampe. Leaving Las Vegas' reminds us performance counts"'". The Stanford Daily. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13. Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  9. ^ The score from "Leaving Las Vegas". Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  10. ^ Roger Ebert (1995-11-10). "'Leaving Las Vegas'". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  11. ^ Leonard Klady (1995-09-18). "Leaving Las Vegas". Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  12. ^ "Leaving Las Vegas". Rotten Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  13. ^ "'Leaving Las Vegas'". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  14. ^ a b "DVD details for Leaving Las Vegas". Retrieved 2006-01-08. 
  15. ^ "Leaving Las Vegas (1995) VHS". Retrieved 2006-01-08. 
  16. ^ "Leaving Las Vegas (1995) DVD". Retrieved 2006-01-08. 
  17. ^ "Leaving Las Vegas CD". CD Retrieved 2006-12-09. 

Further reading

  • Litch, Mary M. (2010) [1st ed. 2002]. (1995) [pp. 209-226]"Leaving Las Vegas (1988), and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1957), The Seventh Seal"9. EXISTENTIALISM - . Philosophy Through Film (2nd ed.). London:  

External links

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