Leaving Las Vegas

Not to be confused with Fear and Loathing in 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
Music by Anthony Marinelli
Mike Figgis[1]
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[2]
Box office $32,029,928

Leaving Las Vegas is a 1995 romantic drama film written and directed by Mike Figgis and based on the semi-autobiographical novel Leaving Las Vegas 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. While 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[3] instead of 35 mm film; while 16 mm is common for art house films, 35 mm is most commonly used for mainstream film. 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.


Ben Sanderson (Cage) is a Hollywood screenwriter whose alcoholism costs him his job, family, and friends. With nothing left to live for, he heads 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 goes looking for Sera, introduces himself and offers her $500 to come to his room for an hour. Sera agrees but Ben does not want sex. Instead, they only talk and form a bizarre romantic relationship and Sera invites Ben to move into her apartment. Ben instructs Sera never to ask him to stop drinking. Sera asks Ben not to criticize her occupation. At first the two are happy, 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 which makes him furious. While Sera is out working Ben goes to a casino and returns with another prostitute (Mariska Hargitay). Sera returns to find them in her bed and throws Ben out. Shortly afterward Sera 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. The next morning, she is spotted by her landlady returning home battered and is evicted. Sera receives a call from Ben, who is on his deathbed. Sera visits Ben, and the two make love. He dies shortly thereafter. In the final scene, Sera explains to her therapist that she accepted Ben for who he was 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.[4][5] 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".[6]


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".[6] 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.[7] He said "it was one of the most enjoyable pieces of research I've ever had to do for a part."[7] 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.[3][8] 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".[6] Figgis had problems because permits were not issued for some street scenes.[9] 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".[6][9]

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 Metacritic.[10] Critics such as Roger Ebert from Chicago Sun-Times and Rick Groen from The Globe and Mail gave the film high marks. Ebert wrote, "They [the characters] are the drunk and the whore with a heart of gold. Cage and Shue make these clichés into unforgettable people". Ebert named the film 'best of 1995' and included it with his 'best of the decade' list (Leaving Las Vegas was #8).[11] Leonard Klady from Variety said Leaving Las Vegas was "certainly among a scant handful of films that have taken an unflinching view of dependency".[12] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received 90% overall approval out of 48 reviews.[13] Overall, the film was a success at the box office, particularly considering its budget, grossing $32,029,928.[14]


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.[15] 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.[16][17] The DVD contains a supplemental "Hidden Page" menu feature.[15] The film was also released on Blu-ray, HD DVD and LaserDisc.

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).


A soundtrack album, consisting mainly of film score composed and performed by Mike Figgis, was released November 7, 1995.[18] 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 tracks written by Mike Figgis except as noted. 

No. TitleWriter(s)Performer Length
1. "Intro Dialogue" (dialogue) Nicolas Cage as Ben
Elisabeth Shue as Sera
2. "Angel Eyes"  Matt Dennis, Earl BrentSting 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 WoodSting 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 MercerDon Henley 3:41
15. "Ben and Sera - Theme" (dialogue) Nicolas Cage as Ben
Elisabeth Shue as Sera
16. "Ridiculous"  Phil Roy, Nicolas CageNicolas 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 KiscoSting 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 PalladinoThe Palladinos 4:27


  1. "LEAVING LAS VEGAS: A Finding Aid to the Collection in the Library of Congress". (1995). Washington, DC: Library of Congress Manuscript Division. Retrieved 12 May 2015.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. Box Office "Information for Leaving Las Vegas" Check |url= value (help). The Wrap. Retrieved 2014-08-24.
  3. 1 2 Roger Ebert. "Cage relishes operatic role in tragic 'Leaving Las Vegas'". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2006-12-09.
  4. Nashawaty, Chris (1995-11-10). "Grieving 'Las Vegas' – EW.com". Entertainment Weekly.
  5. Scott, A. O. "FILM REVIEW;Lurching Through a Life Of Alcoholic Abandon". NY Times. Retrieved 2007-01-16.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Noll, Christopher. "Viva, "Las Vegas!" - Interviewing Director Mike Figgis". Film Critic. Archived from the original on September 6, 2011. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  7. 1 2 "Cage Did Serious Research For Alcoholic Role". WENN. Retrieved 2006-12-09.
  8. Boyar, Tracy. "It's Worth Watching for Leaving Las Vegas". The Free Lance Star. Retrieved 2010-08-16.
  9. 1 2 Ryan Lampe. "'Leaving Las Vegas' reminds us performance counts". The Stanford Daily. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13. Retrieved 2006-12-09.
  10. The score from "Leaving Las Vegas". MetaCritic.com. Retrieved 2006-12-09.
  11. Roger Ebert (1995-11-10). "'Leaving Las Vegas'". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2006-12-09.
  12. Leonard Klady (1995-09-18). "Leaving Las Vegas". Variety.com. Retrieved 2006-12-09.
  13. "Leaving Las Vegas". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Retrieved 2006-12-09.
  14. "'Leaving Las Vegas'". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2006-12-09.
  15. 1 2 "DVD details for Leaving Las Vegas". IMDB.com. Retrieved 2006-01-08.
  16. "Leaving Las Vegas (1995) VHS". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2006-01-08.
  17. "Leaving Las Vegas (1995) DVD". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2006-01-08.
  18. "Leaving Las Vegas CD". CD Universe.com. Retrieved 2006-12-09.

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