Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.
When the Cinapse team programmed our first theatrical event, we didn’t know if there’d ever be a second, so we picked a double feature that we felt truly represented our brand. The first was John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. The other? The other was The Warriors.
Hard as it may be to believe, The Warriors began life as a ‘realistic’ answer to over-the-top Hollywood depictions of gang life. Novelist Sol Yurick worked in the welfare office, and he wanted to write a book that would accurately depict the inner lives of poor, angry young men in gangs versus the romantic, toothless vision seen in films like West Side Story.
Yurick pulled heavily from “Anabasis” by the ancient Greek writer Xenophon for his story about one long, bad night in the lives of some boys in a street gang trying to make their way home. Walter Hill took that story and went in a… different direction.
Heavily influenced by comic books and fantasy, Hill’s film takes place in a New York City that is at once overwhelmingly grimy and utterly otherworldly. The armies of gangs in their elaborate matching costumes and make-up owe a greater debt to the warring species of Middle Earth than they do to the actual face of street level crime in NYC in the ‘70s.
At the start of The Warriors, the messianic Cyrus (Roger Hill) has called all the gangs in the city to a peaceful summit. There, he proposes that the individual gangs put aside their petty beefs and turf wars and instead unite into a single brotherhood that could, with their amassed arms and strength, overthrow the crime syndicates and police forces to rule the city themselves.
Heck of an idea, but before any revolution can get underway, Cyrus is assassinated by the psychotic Luther (David Patrick Kelly), who promptly blames a random group of Coney Island toughs known the Warriors.
With every gang and every cop hard on their tail, the Warriors have to battle their way across the entire city if they want to see dawn, and home, ever again.
The Warriors enjoyed some popular success out of the gate, but its theatrical fortunes grew muted after multiple incidents of real-life violence between gangs in theaters. Nervous exhibitors yanked the movie from showing, so while The Warriors still turned a decent profit on its tight budget, it wasn’t quite a blockbuster.
But The Warriors has remained extremely influential since its release, particularly in the designs and costumes of the various gangs, not to mention Kelly’s climatic chant of, “Warriors, come out and play-aaaaaay!”
A Director’s Cut was released in 2005, adding comic book panels and illustrations. No one besides Walter Hill likes that version.
For years, a remake has been kicked around town. Prior to his death, Tony Scott spoke frequently about his desire to create a new version of The Warriors, this time blown out to the scale of something like Lord of the Rings. Maybe someday, someone’ll actually make that.
Until then, let’s venture out once more into the permanently rain-slick streets of this dream-like New York City, stuffed to bursting with all manners of freaks and furies.
Next Week’s Pick:
It’s weird to remember that there’s a movie where Christian Bale (pre-Batman) and Matthew McConaughey (pre-McConaissance) battle dragons.
But…you know…there is.
Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co anytime before midnight on Thursday!
The opening fifteen minutes of The Warriors work as an effective example of a movie establishing its tone and setting. Up to the moment Cyrus is shot and the plot proper kicks into gear, we’re given everything we need. Dialogue between the Warriors to establish why the meeting’s a big deal and the fragile peace that’s about to be broken. A montage of different colorful gangs on their way to the event establishing the heightened New York City we’ll be watching for the next 90 minutes. Rembrandt going over the subway map communicates the geography the gang’s journey back home will be following. Cyrus’ speech exemplifies himself as a charismatic figure, the place in the world these gangs exist in relative to everyone else, and how his vision of them all operating united could change that. Finally, Luther killing Cyrus and the police arriving to break up the gathering form a point of no return where the Warriors don’t know if they can trust anyone but each other. By the time all that’s wrapped up, we understand what situation the characters are in and how they’re most likely to manage it.
That effective setup allows the rest of the movie to be based around a series of vignettes that occur as the Warriors go through the struggle to get back home on a path bombarded by gangs and cops alike. It allows space for the, admittedly broadly drawn, characters to show off what makes them an effective gang. Like how Rembrandt’s situational awareness makes up for him being the least capable fighter in the group. The movie combining that awareness with the clear intention of the character to be read as gay saving part of the group from the trap set by the Lizzies. Alternatively, when things go wrong, we understand why, like how Ajax gets caught by the police because he’s a piece of shit, sexual assaulter, who’s wrong about everything all the time, and is generally The Worst (how much the movie is aware he’s a piece of shit is another matter.)
The energy of the world Walter Hill presents in The Warriors and its effective exploration of that through the simple story setup are what has kept it such an influential film in comics, anime, rap music, and video games. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time and always find myself appreciating it a little more with each viewing. (@WC_WIT)
It has a wonderful timeless energy that matches some of the most well-established speculative fiction — in part because of the look, and mostly because of the language and sound.
It straddles the line between Camp and Gritty Realism with an effortlessness that is remarkable. (@BrianTheFuzzy)
I love virtually everything about how The Warriors looks and sounds and feels. It’s a vision of NYC that has never actually existed but that feels totally true. And Hill’s none-more-stripped down approach to characterization and narrative hits me absolutely dead-center. It’s an approach to action/fantasy that no one besides George Miller would ever really try, much less get quite as right as these gentlemen do.
That being said, there’s one choice in how Hill has set up this movie that drives me up a tree whenever I watch it. The Warriors is a chase movie, with the gang fleeing for their lives through a hostile city. But the Warriors don’t realize they’re being chased until 70 minutes deep into a 90 minute movie. For the most part, they’re just blundering around with no sense of urgency, at multiple points stopping cold so they can try and score with various girls they meet around the city. Hell, half their fights and skirmishes aren’t even with gangs trying to catch/kill them, but instead with complete randos and anonymous cops.
I’ve never understood why Hill approached this story this way, and honestly it leaves me feeling every time like The Warriors really should be remade, but this time by a filmmaker who will keep their finger on the innate tension of the premise and squeeze it for all its worth. Someone see if the Safdie Brothers are around.
For my tastes, everything that Hill flubs here, he nails with Streets of Fire. Now there’s a rock’n’roll fairy tale that knows what it’s about. (@TheTrueBrendanF)
I love gritty NYC-set movies, and this is one of the most entertaining of them all. I’m really intrigued by the city’s unique geography, and watching this movie, which finds the Warriors trekking back home to Coney Island, was the spark that lit that fire.
Ultimately it’s the unrealistically colorful novelty gangs — at odds with the gritty setting and otherwise realistic tone — that make the film so much fun, along with several rowdy brawls, a killer soundtrack, and of course a very young David Patrick Kelly’s famous “Come Out to Play” taunt. James Remar is also a standout, playing a real piece of trash who gets what’s coming to him — one of the film’s commitments to an internal moral code, despite the gang-glorifying theme.
It’s unfortunate that the (vastly inferior) Director’s Cut is the only version available on Blu-ray, but I’m glad that HBO Max has the original so we could feature it as this week’s pick. (@VforVashaw)
Next week’s pick: