The Warriors (film)
The Warriors is a 1979 American action film directed by Walter Hill. It is based on Sol Yurick's 1965 novel of the same name, which was, in turn, based on Xenophon's Anabasis. The story centers on a New York City gang who must make an urban journey of 30 miles (48 km), from the north end of The Bronx to their home turf in Coney Island in southern Brooklyn, after they are framed for the murder of a respected gang leader. It was released in the United States on February 9, 1979.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Walter Hill|
|Produced by||Lawrence Gordon|
|Based on||The Warriors|
by Sol Yurick
|Music by||Barry De Vorzon|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$22.5 million|
After reports of vandalism and violence, Paramount temporarily halted their advertising campaign and released theater owners from their obligation to show the film. Despite its initially negative reception, The Warriors has since become a cult film, and it has spawned multiple spinoffs, including video games and a comic book series.
Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs, the most powerful gang in New York City, calls a midnight summit of all the city's gangs, requesting them to send nine unarmed delegates to Van Cortlandt Park. The Warriors, from Coney Island, attend the summit. Cyrus proposes to the assembled crowd a permanent citywide truce and alliance that would allow the gangs to control the city since they outnumber the police by three to one. Most of the gangs applaud his idea, but hidden in the crowd, Luther, leader of the Rogues, shoots Cyrus dead. In the resulting chaos, Luther frames the Warriors' leader Cleon for the murder, and Cleon is beaten down and most likely killed by the Riffs. Meanwhile, the other Warriors have escaped, unaware that they have been implicated in Cyrus' murder. The Riffs put out a hit on the Warriors through a radio DJ. Swan, the Warriors' "war chief", takes charge of the group as they try to make it back home.
Almost immediately the Warriors are spotted by the Turnbull ACs who attempt to run them down with their bus, but the Warriors manage to escape and board the subway. On the ride to Coney Island, the train is stopped by a fire on the tracks, stranding the Warriors in Tremont, in the Bronx. Setting out on foot, they come across a group called the Orphans who were not invited to Cyrus' meeting and who are insecure and belligerent about their low status in the city gang hierarchy. Swan makes peace with the Orphans' leader, Sully, who agrees to let the Warriors pass through their territory unharmed. However, a young woman named Mercy mocks Sully as a "chicken" and instigates a confrontation. Mercy's goading convinces Sully to demand that the Warriors take off their colors and go as civilians before walking through their neighborhood. Swan and the Warriors flatly refuse Sully's demand, and the Orphans challenge them to a fight. Outnumbered and unarmed, Swan and the Warriors throw a Molotov cocktail at a car, blowing it up and using the opportunity to escape to the subway station. Impressed, and desperate to escape her depressed neighborhood, Mercy follows the Warriors.
When they arrive at the 96th Street and Broadway station in Manhattan, they are chased by police and separated. Three of them, Vermin, Cochise, and Rembrandt, make the train to Union Square, while Fox, struggling with a police officer, falls onto the tracks and is run over by a train as Mercy escapes. Swan and the remaining three Warriors - Ajax, Snow, and Cowboy - are chased by the Baseball Furies into Riverside Park, where a brawl ensues in which the Warriors easily defeat the Baseball Furies. After the fight, Ajax notices a lone woman named Chloe in the park, becomes sexually aggressive and is arrested when Chloe turns out to be an undercover police officer. Arriving at Union Square, Vermin, Cochise, and Rembrandt are seduced by an all-female gang called the Lizzies and invited into their hideout. The trio manages to escape the Lizzies' subsequent attack, learning in the process that everyone believes they murdered Cyrus.
Having scouted ahead on his own, Swan returns to the 96th Street station and finds Mercy there. More police show up and Swan and Mercy flee into the tunnel. They have an argument and Swan continues to Union Square where he reunites with the other Warriors. A fist-fight ensues with the Punks in a public restroom, which the Warriors win. Meanwhile, the Riffs are visited by a gang member who attended the earlier gathering and saw Luther shoot Cyrus.
The Warriors finally arrive at Coney Island at dawn, only to find the Rogues are waiting for them. When asked, Luther tells Swan he shot Cyrus for no reason, because he gets a thrill out of things like that. Swan challenges Luther to a one-on-one fight, but Luther pulls his gun instead. Swan throws a knife into Luther's wrist, disarming him. The Riffs arrive and apprehend the Rogues, taking a moment to acknowledge the Warriors' courage and skill. As the Warriors leave, Luther screams in anguish as the Riffs descend upon the Rogues.
The radio DJ announces that the big alert has been called off and salutes the Warriors with a song, "In the City". Swan, Mercy, and the rest of the gang walk down the beach, illuminated by the rising sun.
- Michael Beck as Swan, the Warlord and the former Main Lieutenant.
- Deborah Van Valkenburgh as Mercy, a former prostitute for the Orphans, who eventually joins the Warriors.
- James Remar as Ajax, a Heavy Muscle.
- Brian Tyler as Snow, the radio man who becomes the Main Lieutenant.
- David Harris as Cochise, a native American-themed Soldier.
- Tom McKitterick as Cowboy, a Soldier.
- Marcelino Sánchez as Rembrandt, the Graffiti Artist.
- Terry Michos as Vermin, the gang's bearer and co-founder.
- Thomas G. Waites as Fox (uncredited), the Scout.
- Dorsey Wright as Cleon, the gang's Warlord and co-founder.
- Roger Hill as Cyrus, the Warlord of the Gramercy Riffs.
- David Patrick Kelly as Luther, the Warlord of the Rogues.
- Lynne Thigpen as D.J., an unnamed D.J. who reports on the gang activities.
- Edward Sewer as Masai, the Warlord of the Gramercy Riffs, succeeding Cyrus. An error in the cast listed Dennis Gregory as Masai.
- Joel Weiss as Cropsy, the Main Lieutenant of the Rogues.
- Kate Klugman as Starr, the Warlord of the Lizzies.
- Paul Greco as Sully, the Warlord of the Orphans.
- Apache Ramos as Jesse, the Main Lieutenant of the Orphans.
- Konrad Sheehan as Vance, the Warlord of the Punks.
- Rob Ryder as Ed, the Main Lieutenant of the Punks.
- Mercedes Ruehl as Chloe, an undercover police officer in Riverside Park who arrests Ajax.
Rights were then obtained by producer Lawrence Gordon who commissioned David Shaber to write a script. Gordon had made Hard Times (1975) and The Driver (1978) with Walter Hill; he sent the script to 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 remembers "it came together very quickly. Larry had a special relationship with Paramount and we promised to make the movie very cheaply, which we did. So it came together within a matter of weeks. I think we got the green light in April or May 1978 and we were in theaters in February 1979. So it was a very accelerated process."
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 Hill 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. Hill was finally able to include this type of scene transition in the Ultimate Director's Cut released for home video in 2005.
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 and she was eventually cast. The filmmakers wanted to cast Tony Danza in the role of Vermin but he was cast in the sitcom Taxi and Terry Michos was cast instead. While there were white characters in Yurick's book, none of the central characters or protagonists were white: according to Hill, Paramount did not want an all-black cast for "commercial reasons".
Thomas G. Waites was cast as director Walter Hill's James Dean, and the director "invited the young actor to the Gulf and Western to watch movies like Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden for inspiration." During the screening, Hill offered Waites a drink, which Waites refused, resulting in a rift between the two that grew worse during the grueling summer shoot. At one point, Waites threatened to report the working conditions to the Screen Actors Guild, forcing Paramount to provide a second trailer for the eight Warriors to share.
Finally, after eight weeks into principal photography, when the tension on set between Waites and Hill reached the breaking point, Hill demanded that stunt coordinator Craig Baxley improvise a stunt scene in which Waites' character would be killed. "Stunned, Baxley demurred. Such a critical scene would take careful planning. But Hill was insistent. 'I don't give a shit how you kill him,' Baxley recalls the director saying. 'Kill him.'" Baxley found a crew member who resembled Waites and staged a scene in which the character is thrown off a subway platform in front of an approaching train. “It was like someone cut my soul out and left a shell,” Waites remembers. He would later demand that his name be removed from the cast altogether; he remains uncredited to this day.
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 was 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, while Swan was captured by a rival, homosexual 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.
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 improvised by clinking three bottles in his right hand and ad-libbing his famous line, "Waaaaarriors, 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. However, this sequence was finally included in the 2005 Ultimate Director's Cut, with Hill providing the narration himself.
"I wanted to take it into a fantasy element, but at the same time add some contemporary flash," said Hill. "Those were some of the hard ideas we had to get the studio to understand. But we did not get along very well with our parent company. After the movie came out and it did well, everybody was sort of friends. But up until then there was a lot of misunderstanding. They thought it was going to be Saturday Night Fever or something."
Violence at screeningsEdit
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.
Hill later reflected, "I think the reason why there were some violent incidents is really very simple: The movie was very popular with the street gangs, especially young men, a lot of whom had very strong feelings about each other. And suddenly they all went to the movies together! They looked across the aisle and there were the guys they didn't like, so there were a lot of incidents. And also, the movie itself is rambunctious — I would certainly say that."
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." At Seattle's Grand Illusion Cinema, programmer Zack Carlson remembers, "people were squeezed in, lying on the floor, cheering." In its sixth week, The Warriors had grossed $16.4 million, well above its estimated $4 million to $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.
"Hollywood forgives a lot when you have a hit," he added. "I don't know what to say about it, other than the fact that it was just a gift in terms of getting it. The studio hated it, and didn't even want to release it. There was a lot of friction with management at the time. Some of it might have been my fault."
The Warriors received negative reviews from contemporary critics, who derided its lack of realism and found its dialogue stilted. In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave it two out of four stars and wrote 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." However, Ebert later wrote during a review of Hill's film Southern Comfort that he felt he overlooked some positive qualities in The Warriors out of his dislike for Hill's general approach to broad characterizations. Gene Siskel gave the film one star out of four, likening the dialogue to that of "Harvey Lembeck in those silly '60s motorcycle pictures" and concluding, "You would think after watching 'The Warriors' that gang membership was a victimless crime, save for the occasional sadist who pops up as comic relief. This entire film is a romantic lie."
Linda Gross of the Los Angeles Times called the film "an inciteful, stylized and shallow portrayal of gang warfare that panders to angry youthful audiences." 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 of Time wrote that, "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.
Hill reflected in 2016:
I love the fact that people still enjoy something I did what, 37 years ago? It makes an old man happy. I'm surprised by it. But I loved working with my cameraman Andy Laszlo in shooting it, and I loved working with my cast, who were incredibly trusting of this crazy old fucker that was making the movie. They didn't get it, I don't think — costumed gangs running around New York? — but they just went with it.
The film was first released on VHS in the 1980s and 1990s and DVD in 2001. The DVD contained the theatrical cut unrestored; this release has since fallen out of print. Then, in 2005, Paramount Home Video released the "Ultimate Director's Cut" DVD of The Warriors. In addition to remastered picture quality and a new 5.1 surround remixed soundtrack, the film was re-edited with a new introduction and comic book-style sequences between scenes. In July 2007, the "Ultimate Director's Cut" was released on Blu-ray and has since been available for online streaming rentals and purchases through Amazon, Apple's iTunes Store and Vudu.
In other mediaEdit
The Warriors video game, based on the movie, was released by Rockstar Games on October 17, 2005. Levels 1 through 13 act as a prequel to the film, creating backstory and elaborating on the characters from the film. Levels 14 through 18 recreate 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 film 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 2005, Roger Hill, the actor who portrayed Cyrus, sued Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive for royalty fees, claiming the video game used his voice and depiction of his likeness without his consent or paying him royalties. Take-Two asserted its claims that the voice and likeness of Cyrus were a component of its licensing agreement for the film. Hill died in 2014 and the outcome of the case is unknown.
Tony Scott had planned a remake of the film. In an interview in 2005, Scott said that the remake would be set in modern-day New York City; gangs such as the Baseball Furies and Hi-Hats would not be included in the remake. After the death of Scott, Mark Neveldine has showed interest in directing a remake.
In popular cultureEdit
- The band The Outfield took inspiration for their name from the Baseball Furies gang in the film. After seeing the film, guitarist John Spinks had dubbed the band "The Baseball Boys," but this was later changed to The Outfield based on the advice of their American manager.
- The title track of the 1985 album Come Out and Play by heavy metal band Twisted Sister features Dee Snider clinking bottles together as he recites "Twisted Sister, come out and play..." in reference to Luther's chant during the film.
- On the 1993 rap album by the Wu-tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, the track "Shame on a Nuh" features the line "Warriors, come out and plaay-aay" as rapped by Ol' Dirty Bastard.
- In the 1994 music video for the remix of Craig Mack's song "Flava in Ya Ear," Sean John Combs, then known as Puff Daddy, pays homage to the film by tapping bottles together and saying "Bad Boy, come out and play."
- In 2001, Detroit-based hip-hop group D12 released the single "Fight Music," whose music video was heavily inspired by The Warriors.
- The film is referenced in the 2008 American Dad episode "Escape from Pearl Bailey." Using a mask, Steve exacts his revenge on the cool girls in a parody of Navajo Joe. Steve is then caught out after an argument with his friends Snot, Barry and Toshi. However, the only way to get out of the school is escape together after Principal Lewis abuses his power and makes an announcement to the various cliques in the school to catch them, offering a $500 dollar reward. The escape is inspired by The Warriors.
- The film is referenced in the 2012 Bob's Burgers episode "Full Bars."
- The signature line from the film is adapted in the 2012 Archer episode "Space Race: Part II", complete with beer bottles but replacing "Warriors" with "Archer."
- The film is referenced in the 2014 The Simpsons episode "The Winter of His Content," where Bart and his bullies escape other bullies when they are framed for attacking the bully that organized the meeting.
- The 2014 Black Dynamite episode "Warriors Come Out (or The Mean Queens of Halloween)" is an homage to the film.
- On September 13, 2015, there was a "Last Subway Ride Reunion" festival in Coney Island celebrating the film, organized by Eric Nyenhuis. Several actors from the film also recreated the subway ride home, filmed by Rolling Stone Magazine, including Michael Beck (Swan), David Harris (Cochise), Dorsey Wright (Cleon), Thomas G. Waites (Fox) and Terry Michos (Vermin). Other cast members that attended the event included: Bryan Tyler, David Kopland, Furies gang actors Jery Hewitt, Eddie Hatch, Bill Anagnos, Harry Madsen, Leon Delaney and Rob Ryder, as well as Apache Ramos, Konrad Sheehan and Ginny Ortiz. The promotional website indicated that Deborah Van Valkenburgh and David Patrick Kelly could not attend due to scheduling conflicts. Scheduled events included a cosplay contest, an autograph session and photo opportunities, panel discussion, a screening of the film, and musical performances by Gotham City Mashers and Sick of It All. A premium "Warchief" pass included a replica of the vests worn by the Warriors in the film as well as VIP seating and express lines for autographs.
- Luther's chant is quoted by Diamondback in the eighth episode of the 2016 Netflix series Luke Cage.
- The film is parodied in the 2018 Bunnicula episode "Up to Our Ears," where the various monster gangs of New Orleans call a truce to get Bunnicula and his gang, the Bunny Boyz. After making them run into the various gangs to reclaim Bunnicula's stolen ears, it is revealed that it's actually a surprise party being thrown for him by the monsters.
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- Fear, David (September 16, 2016). "Walter Hill on Controversial Revenge Thriller '(Re)Assignment'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
- Mulholland, Garry (2011). Stranded at the Drive-In: The 100 Best Teen Movies. Hachette UK. p. 80. ISBN 1409122514. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
Presumably, Hill was stung by some of the bad reviews at the time, which sneered at the film's lack of realism and stilted dialogue...
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