Snakes on a Plane

In this campy action thriller, FBI agent Nelville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) must escort the key witness in a mob murder on a flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles. The peaceful journey across the Pacific takes an unexpected turn when hundreds of aggressive snakes, high on pheromones, get loose and start a vicious rampage from cockpit to tail fin. With nowhere to run and victims dying left and right, Flynn rallies passengers and crew to fight off these serpentine scoundrels.

  • Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies and Nathan Phillips
  • Director(s): David Ellis
  • Producer(s): Gary Levinsohn, Don Granger, Craig Berenson
  • Screenwriter(s): Sebastian Gutierrez, John Heffernan, Chris Morgan
  • Distributor: New Line Cinema
  • Animal Coordinator: Reptile Rentals, Inc.
  • Release Date: Friday, August 18, 2006
  • Rating: Believed Acceptable (Rating prior to 8/25/06)

Featured Animal Action

American Humane’s Film & Television Unit monitored this film. The Film & TV Unit’s work is funded by a grant from the Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund, which is administered by trustees from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). This grant allocates resources solely to cover SAG domestic projects working under the SAG/Producers codified agreement.
Because much of Snakes on a Plane was filmed outside the United States, New Line Cinema Productions made arrangements for American Humane’s Certified Animal Safety Representatives to supervise the animal action both at home and abroad. During pre-production, we received a copy of the script and the daily call sheets. Safety Representatives carefully reviewed those materials to determine whether any scenes or situations appeared to put animals at risk. In addition to monitoring the action filmed domestically, Representatives also traveled to Canada to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals throughout production.
This film met the Guidelines established by American Humane, received the Monitored-Acceptable rating, and was awarded the ""No Animals Were Harmed”® End Credit Disclaimer. American Humane applauds productions that commit to the humane treatment of the animals in their films even beyond our borders, and encourages other producers filming internationally to make the same commitment.
Featured Animal Scenes
In the interior cargo hold, a contraband-detecting dog sniffs around a crated cat. The trainer hid treats in strategic places to encourage the dog’s seemingly random olfactory search. Footage with the cat was filmed separately. Trainers had a folded blanket filling the back of the cat’s crate to keep her more visible. While filming, the handler touched the cat through the crate door, and she responded with the hiss and growl seen in the film.
In a scene where a bull snake enters the cat’s crate, the snake had been dropped into frame from six inches above and the cat was no longer inside. A special effects person wiggled the crate carefully to make it look like the snake was attacking the cat. The snake was never on set with the feline.
Petrified Pooch
Two Chihuahuas, Romeo and Chico, were interchanged for the role of Mercedes’ (Rachael Blanchard) pampered pup, Mary Kate. Early on in the film, Mary Kate is seen in a chic carrier wearing a stylish vest; both Chico and Romeo were acclimated to these items prior to filming. The simulated turbulence during the flight was created with a special hydraulic system, and the Chihuahuas were prepped in a puppy pen on the set to help them adapt to the motion.
In one scene, a snake slithers into Mercedes’ bag. Wranglers alternated three Sinaloan milk snakes for this action. Just before the cameras rolled, head wrangler and reptile expert Jules Sylvester put the snake’s head in the bag, and cameras filmed the snake continuing the trajectory by going in and coming out the other side. A separate animal handler used verbal cues to get Mary Kate to bark as though in response to the snake, and a safe distance was maintained between both animals at all times.
When Mary Kate revives a knocked-out Mercedes with kisses, the lure was actually baby food smeared on the actress’ face -- not puppy love. In another scene featuring Mary Kate, an animatronic snake “attacked” a stuffed puppy.
Snakes on the Plane
This film employed a mixture of animatronic, rubber, computer-generated imagery (CGI) and live snakes throughout. All of the intense, violent action came courtesy of the fake snakes; the real reptiles were merely filmed as they slithered around for close-up shots or dropped into frame for shock value. Only people-friendly, non-venomous snakes were used around the actors. When the script called for the actors to hit the snakes, rubber ones took the beating, and no real snakes were on the floor when extras or actors ran or fell down in the cabin.
A multitude of safety precautions were in place on the set due to the delicate nature of working with snakes. Expert reptile wranglers counted and inventoried all snakes before and after each shot and were just out of frame the entire time to reposition or collect them as needed. Production set up lightweight cardboard fencing in strategic areas to keep the snakes in a controlled space, and trainers were scrupulous about spotting and plugging up any potential escape holes they discovered. The filmmakers held several safety meetings with cast and crew to familiarize them with the do’s and don’ts of working around these reptiles, and the “snake room” on set was locked at all times unless the trainers were present.
In addition to the special effects snakes, live snakes were used in a chaotic scene where the slithery menaces fall from oxygen masks and luggage compartments in the main cabin. Trainers hidden on top of the plane body dropped several snakes through PVC tubes installed in the cabin ceiling down onto the seats below. Sylvester coached all stunt people and extras on how to respond to these surprise drop-ins without making careless movements while pretending to be terrified.
For the oxygen mask deployment in front of boys Curtis (Casey Dubois) and Tommy (Daniel Hogarth), Sylvester dangled one real corn snake from the ceiling above while a special effects person shook the mask. Meanwhile, two other off-screen handlers dropped six real snakes approximately three feet onto a nearby empty seat. To get the shot of a corn snake hanging from the oxygen mask, Sylvester tied a knot in the sturdy surgical tubing that held the mask, and when ready, gently inserted the snake through the loop and let it hang down. A second wrangler, below frame, was ready to catch the snake if it fell.
Just two scenes in the film involved live venomous snakes. For shots of a cobra hooding up and striking, and of a rattlesnake coiling and striking at air, crew members mounted a wall of Plexiglas in front of the camera and installed 4 x 8 foot plywood walls flush with the airplane fuselage. The American Humane Safety Rep reported that Sylvester gave an excellent safety talk prior to setup and shooting, and no actors or unnecessary crew members were allowed near the scene.
Wranglers placed the cobra under a plastic bin on a seat to create a nesting area. As the cameras were about to roll, Sylvester removed the bin and waved a cloth soaked in hot water in front of the cobra’s face to simulate warm prey. The trainer also waved his hand near the snake’s head to get it to strike. The same setup was in place for the rattlesnake, except the rattler was positioned on the floor of the plane cabin. In both cases, trainers stood on either side of the plywood box with snake hooks to recapture the reptiles on cut.
When agent Hank Harris (Bobby Cannavale) leads a raid at Kraitler’s (Darren Moore) barn, various snakes can be seen in terrariums. Most of those cages were filled with rubber snakes and ropes that looked like snakes, in addition to a few real snakes. There were no snakes in the terrarium that a stuntman falls on and breaks, and the ammunition in Harris’ fired gun was a quarter load only and not a concern for the snakes.