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The Warriors is a 1979 American cult action/thriller film directed by Walter Hill and based on Sol Yurick's 1965 novel of the same name. Like the novel, the film borrows elements from the Anabasis by Xenophon.
Cyrus, the leader of the most powerful gang in New York City, the Gramercy Riffs, calls a midnight summit for all the area gangs, with all asked to send nine unarmed representatives for the conclave in Van Cortlandt Park. The Warriors, from Coney Island, Brooklyn, are one such gang.
The eloquent and intelligent Cyrus tells the assembled crowd that a permanent citywide truce would allow the gangs to control the city, pointing out there are 60,000 of them and only 20,000 officers in the NYPD. Most of the gangs laud his idea, but members of the Rogues gang, who have smuggled a gun in, pass it to their leader, Luther, who then kills Cyrus. Panic ensues. Luther is seen in the act by one of the Warriors, Fox. Immediately after, the NYPD rushes in from all sides. During the chaos, Luther screams that the Warriors are responsible for killing Cyrus. While the Riffs beat and kill the Warriors' leader Cleon, the other eight Warriors escape the melee and debate their next move, knowing they are deep in enemy territory.
Meanwhile, the other locally-based gangs regroup at their respective headquarters. Masai, second-in-command of the Riffs, takes charge as their new leader, and declares a bounty on the Warriors. This sets the entire city's gang population out hunting for them, with a seemingly omniscient radio D.J. reporting on the events.
Regrouping in Woodlawn Cemetery, the Warriors begin their long journey from the Bronx back to Coney Island. The second-in-command, Swan, takes charge, though the hot-headed Ajax openly voices "his" desire to be acting gang Warlord. The Warriors slowly cross the dangerous Bronx and Manhattan territories, narrowly escaping police and other gangs every step of the way.
On their way to the subway, the Warriors find another gang, the Turnbull AC's, looking for them. They have no choice but to make a run to the train. The Turnbull AC's almost reach them but the Warriors make it to the train, just in time for the doors to close. However, on the ride back to Coney Island, the train is stopped by a fire on the tracks, dumping the Warriors in Tremont, in the Bronx. In the Bronx, they come across a gang called the Orphans. Parleying for safe passage, the Warriors convince the Orphans to let them through peacefully until they come across Mercy, a feisty girl who convinces the Orphans to try and put up a fight with the Warriors when they refuse to give her one of their gang-vests. When she challenges the manhood of the Orphans' leader, he, to save face, tells the Warriors to remove their gang colors for safe passage. The Warriors refuse, resulting in a near fight quelled only by the Warriors' use of a Molotov cocktail. Mercy, impressed, follows the Warriors on impulse.
When the Warriors arrive at the 96th Street and Broadway station in Manhattan, they are separated when they are chased by the numerous patrolling cops who are trying to round up all the gangs after the "rumble" in the Bronx. Vermin, Cochise and Rembrandt make the train to Union Square. Fox is seen with Mercy running to catch up with the others. He is then tackled by a police officer and is struggling to escape but can't. Instead, he tells Mercy to go on without him. Mercy runs to catch up but then goes to Union Square with the police claiming they are looking for a, "female in a pink top." Fox is seen again struggling with the cop but the cop notices a train is coming so he then throws Fox in the tracks. The train then runs him over. Swan, Ajax, Snow and Cowboy run outside, where a rival gang, the Baseball Furies, lay in wait for them. The gang chases the four into Riverside Park, where a fight ensues with the Warriors victorious.
Arriving at the Union Square station, Vermin, Cochise and Rembrandt are seduced by members of an all-female gang called Lizzies. Back at the Lizzies' apartment, the women draw weapons to kill them, but the trio narrowly manages to escape again (with only Rembrandt's arm badly cut by a Lizzie gang member), learning in the process that everyone believes they killed Cyrus.
Leaving the park, Ajax breaks from the group in order to 'make it' with a woman on a park bench, in spite of the others' warnings. The woman is really an undercover police officer who handcuffs Ajax to the bench, and Ajax is arrested and taken to jail.
Swan arrives back at the 96th Street station and meets up with Mercy, who tells him of Fox's fate. On the platform, more police show up and Swan and Mercy flee into the subway tunnel. While there, Mercy expresses her interest in Swan, who doesn't like her because she doesn't respect herself. The pair end up kissing, but Swan pushes her away and leaves without her.
Swan makes it to the Union Square station, but is promptly tailed by members of the Punks. Mercy also arrives, followed by the remaining members of the Warriors who re-group. They lead the Punks into a nearby male public restroom, where another fight ensues. The Warriors, hurt but victorious once more (with Swan also picking up a knife dropped by the Punks' leader), then catch the last train on their journey back to Coney Island.
The Riffs are visited by a gang member who attended the earlier gathering, a witness to Luther firing the gun. Meanwhile, on the train, the Warriors gripe that Cyrus' plan was all "a load of crap". When four clean-cut types, couples who are returning home from their senior prom, board the train, one of the prom dates drops her corsage upon leaving the train, and Swan gives it to Mercy.
When day breaks, the Warriors finally arrive home, but find Luther and the Rogues waiting for them (with Luther clinking empty bottles on his fingers and intentionally drawing the words, "Warriors, come out to play-yay!!!"). The two gangs meet on the beach, where Luther reveals he had no reason for killing Cyrus, other than his own gratification. Swan suggests he and Luther fight a one-on-one duel. Luther, rejecting this, pulls his gun, but Swan quickly throws a knife into Luther's wrist, disarming him the second he fires. Before more violence ensues, the Riffs arrive on the beach and acknowledge that they have learned the truth of Cyrus's murder. Masai compliments the remaining Warriors on their skills and lets them go. The Riffs then swarm onto the doomed Rogues.
The D.J. makes her final appearance and informs everyone that the early reports were wrong. She announces that she is sorry for the Warriors and that "the only thing we can do is play you a song." She plays them Joe Walsh's "In The City" as Swan, Mercy, and the rest of the gang walk down the beach, illuminated by the sunrise.
- Michael Beck as Swan
- James Remar as Ajax
- Dorsey Wright as Cleon
- Brian Tyler as Snow
- David Harris as Cochise
- Tom McKitterick as Cowboy
- Thomas G. Waites as Fox (Uncredited)
- Terry Michos as Vermin
- Marcelino Sánchez as Rembrandt
- Deborah Van Valkenburgh as Mercy
- Pamela Poitier as Lincoln (Uncredited)
- Roger Hill as Cyrus
- David Patrick Kelly as Luther
- Lynne Thigpen as D.J.
- Ginny Ortiz as Candy Store Girl
- Mercedes Ruehl as Policewoman
- John Snyder as Gas Station Man
- Edward Sewer as Masai
- Joel Weiss as Cropsy
- Paul Greco as Sully
- Apache Ramos as Jesse
Film rights to Sol Yurick's novel were bought in 1969 by American International Pictures but no film resulted.
Rights were then obtained by producer Lawrence Gordon who commissioned David Shaber to write a script. Gordon sent the script to director Walter Hill with a copy of Sol Yurick's novel. Hill recalls, "I said 'Larry, I would love to do this, but nobody will let us do it.' It was going to be too extreme and too weird."
Gordon and Hill were originally going to make a western but when the financing on the project failed to materialize, they took The Warriors to Paramount Pictures because they were interested in youth films at the time and succeeded in getting the project financed.
Hill was drawn to the "extreme narrative simplicity and stripped down quality of the script". The script, as written, was a realistic take on street gangs but the director was a huge fan of comic books and wanted to divide the film into chapters and then have each chapter "come to life starting with a splash panel". However, Hill was working on a low budget and a tight post-production schedule because of a fixed release date as the studio wanted to release The Warriors before a rival gang picture called The Wanderers. As a result, Hill was unable to realize this comic book look until the making of the Ultimate Director's Cut.
The filmmakers did extensive casting in New York City. Hill had screened an independent film called Madman for Sigourney Weaver to cast her in Alien and it also featured Michael Beck as the male lead. The director was impressed with Beck's performance and cast him in The Warriors. Hill initially wanted a Puerto Rican actress for the role of Mercy, but Deborah Van Valkenburgh's agent convinced the film's casting directors to see her. The filmmakers wanted to cast Tony Danza in the role of Vermin but he was cast in the sitcom Taxi and Terrence Michos was cast instead. None of the central characters in Yurick's book were white, but according to Hill, Paramount did not want an all-black cast for "commercial reasons".
Stunt coordinator Craig R. Baxley put the cast through stunt school because Hill wanted realistic fights depicted in the film. In preparation for his role, James Remar hung out at Coney Island to find a model for his character. The entire film was shot on the streets in New York City with some interior scenes done at Astoria Studios. They would shoot from sundown to sunrise. The film quickly fell behind schedule and went over budget. While they shot in the Bronx, bricks were tossed at the crew. Actor Joel Weiss remembers that filming of his scene at Avenue A being canceled because there was a double homicide nearby. For the big meeting at the beginning of the film, Hill wanted real gang members in the scene with off duty police officers also in the crowd so that there would be no trouble.
The studio would not allow Baxley to bring any stunt men from Hollywood and he needed someone to double for the character of Cyrus so he did the stunt himself dressed as the character. Actual gang members wanted to challenge some of the cast members but were dealt with by production security. The actors playing The Warriors bonded early in the shoot, on and off the set. Originally, the character of Fox was supposed to end up with Mercy, and Swan was captured by a rival gang known as the Dingos only to escape later. However, Hill watched the dailies and realized that Beck and Van Valkenburgh had great chemistry; the script was rewritten so that their characters ended up together. This resulted in Thomas G. Waites being difficult on the set and arguing with Hill, and so Waites was fired eight weeks into principal photography.
The Rogues' car in the Coney Island confrontation was a 1955 Cadillac hearse. Originally, at the Coney Island confrontation at the end of the film, actor David Patrick Kelly wanted to use two dead pigeons but Hill did not think that would work. Instead, Kelly used three bottles and improvised his famous line, "Waaaaariors, come out to plaaaay". Kelly was influenced by a man he knew in downtown New York who would make fun of him. Hill wanted Orson Welles to do a narrated introduction about Greek themes, but the studio did not like this idea and refused to pay for it.
The Warriors opened on February 9, 1979 in 670 theaters without advance screenings or a decent promotional campaign and grossed USD $3.5 million on its opening weekend.
The following weekend the film was linked to sporadic outbreaks of vandalism and three killings - two in Southern California and one in Boston - involving moviegoers on their way to or from showings.
This prompted Paramount to remove advertisements from radio and television completely and display ads in the press were reduced to the film's title, rating and participating theaters. In reaction, 200 theaters across the country added security personnel. Due to safety concerns, theater owners were relieved of their contractual obligations if they did not want to show the film, and Paramount offered to pay costs for additional security and damages due to vandalism. After two weeks free of incidents, the studio expanded the display ads to take advantage of reviews from reputable critics including Pauline Kael of The New Yorker. She wrote, "The Warriors is a real moviemaker's movie: it has in visual terms the kind of impact that 'Rock Around the Clock' did behind the titles of Blackboard Jungle. The Warriors is like visual rock". In its sixth week, The Warriors had grossed $16.4 million, well above its estimated $6–7 million budget.
Hill later reflected:
What made it a success with young people... is that for the first time somebody made a film within Hollywood, big distribution, that took the gang situation and did not present it as a social problem. Presented them as a neutral or positive aspect of their lives. As soon as you said in the old days gang movies it was how do we cure the pestilence and how do we fix the social waste. We want to take these kids, make sure they go to college... This was just a movie that conceptually was different. Accepted the idea of the gang, didn't question it, that was their lives, they functioned within that context. And the social problem wasn't were they going to college, but were they going to survive. It's the great Hawksian dictum, where is the drama? Will he live or die? That's the drama.
A mild commercial success on its initial release, the film was panned by many critics as exploitative and superficial. In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave it two out of fours stars and said that, despite Hill's cinematic skill, the film is implausible in a mannerist style that deprives the characters of depth and spontaneity: "No matter what impression the ads give, this isn't even remotely intended as an action film. It's a set piece. It's a ballet of stylized male violence." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, "None of Hill's dynamism will save The Warriors from impressing most neutral observers as a ghastly folly".
In his review for Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, "Another problem arises when the gang members open their mouths: their banal dialogue is jarringly at odds with Hill's hyperbolic visual scheme". Frank Rich, in his review for Time, wrote, "Unfortunately, sheer visual zip is not enough to carry the film; it drags from one scuffle to the next ... The Warriors is not lively enough to be cheap fun or thoughtful enough to be serious".
Yurick expressed his disappointment and speculated that it scared some people because "it appeals to the fear of a demonic uprising by lumpen youth", appealing to many teenagers because it "hits a series of collective fantasies". President Ronald Reagan was a fan of the film, even calling the film's lead actor, Michael Beck, to tell him he had screened it at Camp David and enjoyed it.
In recent years, The Warriors has acquired the status of a cult film, along with a re-examination of its standing with some film critics. As of February 19, 2015, the film has garnered a 94% approval rating at review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews.
In 2005, Paramount Home Video released the "Ultimate Director's Cut" DVD of The Warriors. Aside from a remastered picture quality and a new 5.1 surround remixed soundtrack, the film has been re-edited with a new introduction and comic book-style sequences between scenes. In July 2007 the "Ultimate Director's Cut" was released onto Blu-ray.
Over the years, The Warriors has developed a significant cult following. At Seattle's Grand Illusion Cinema, programmer Zack Carlson remembers, "people were squeezed in, lying on the floor, cheering". Entertainment Weekly named The Warriors the 16th-greatest cult film on their "Top 50 Greatest Cult Films" list. The magazine also ranked it 14th in the list of the "25 Most Controversial Movies Ever".
While The Warriors was adapted from a novel (itself adapted from the Ancient Greek text Anabasis by Xenophon), the film has been adapted into a number of other products as well. The film's soundtrack was released in the same year as the film. In 2005, Mezco Toyz released Warriors action figures, including Swan, Cleon, Cochise, Ajax, Luther, and a Baseball Fury.
The Warriors video game, based on the movie, was released by Rockstar Games on October 17, 2005. Levels 1 through 13 acts as a prequel to the film, creating backstory and elaborating on the characters from the film. Levels 14 through 18 recreates much of the film's events. In addition, there are extra levels explaining how each main character joined the gang. Several of the actors from the movie returned to perform the voices for their original characters.
Warner Bros. Entertainment released a downloadable title for the Xbox 360 titled The Warriors: Street Brawl. The game plays differently from the Rockstar Games version, being a side-scrolling brawler.
In 2009, Dabel Brothers Productions began a five issue comic book adaption of the film. Following that is a four issue mini series entitled The Warriors: Jailbreak which takes place several months after the film's events.