‘The Warriors’ 40th Anniversary: Looking back at an Action Cult Classic

CAN YOU DIG IT?! 

 

Yes, yes I can dig it. Growing up, I remember flipping past a copy of The Warriors every now and then in my parents’ extensive collection of movies. I remember even seeing bits and pieces of it when my dad landed on it during his channel surfing. It wasn’t until a few years ago after I decided movies weren’t just entertainment to me, when I learned that I’d been passing by a cult classic for a good chunk of my childhood, and when I watched it, boy was I not disappointed.

Released in 1979, Walter Hill’s crime film The Warriors follows the titular street gang as they are framed for the murder of Cyrus, who was trying to unite all of New York’s gangs under one strong truce. To make it out alive, the gang have to make their way from Brooklyn to their home base of Coney Island, all while fighting several gangs. but that’s where The Warriors stops being like any other crime flick. These gangs aren’t your average street gangs; these are the type of gangs to skate around on roller blades in denim overalls or the kind to cling onto a graffiti-laden bus dressed in head to toe leather.

What struck me most about the movie is how it effectively creates its own universe, one that steers very much into the campy while still keeping a solid footing on reality. It’s a New York that very much exists in the reality we live it, with the neighborhoods being the same and all, but with reality skewed just enough to make things interesting. In this world, there’s still cops and civilization, but nobody bats an eye at a gang of face-painted baseball players or a street gang on roller skates. I think it also relies heavily on the time period; if there were to be a Warriors remake set in today’s time, there would be an overabundance of guns and violence and less of the deliciously campy hand-to-hand fight scenes.

Showdown with the Baseball Furies.

The film manages to pull off just the perfect level of campiness to fit it into not only the action classic category but the cult classic category as well. It manages to balance on the paper-thin line between cheesy and tonally sound. The Warriors never takes itself too seriously, and that’s what I think makes this film so special. Everything from the synth-heavy score to the one-line heavy, slightly cheesy dialogue forms into a mega-fun ninety-two minutes. Director Walter Hill isn’t concerned about creating a think-piece or a high-budget action extravaganza; he just wants to have fun and wants you to have fun as well.

Where I think the film lacks in power is with its characters. Hill creates these characters that, although tough, don’t contain any sense of personality. They all seem to have the same tough, gritty mentality to differing degrees. Despite the film not aiming to be a think-piece in the slightest, I think the film would greatly benefit from some fleshing out of some of the characters.

Showdown on the beach.

What I did not realize is how much of a legacy The Warriors has left us with. I had no idea that, twenty-six years after the film came out, Rockstar Games decided to release a video game adaptation of The Warriors, which went on to earn vast critical praise. In all honesty, if someone told me that The Warriors was going to be made into a video game, I think my reaction would have been rather lukewarm, considering that video games and movies don’t exactly mix together. Then there’s the amount of endlessly quotable lines that come from this film, the biggest being when David Patrick Kelly klinks some beer bottles together and yells, “Warriors, come out and play!” I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve seen this parodied in an episode of the Simpsons or by Puff Daddy in a Craig Mack music video.

I also believe that The Warriors left us with a legacy within the film world. One film series that comes to mind is the John Wick films. Much like The Warriors, the John Wick franchise carries with it a strong sense of atmosphere and tone. Although the films vary drastically physically (largely due to the advancement of special effects and stunt work), John Wick borrows the same world-building style as The Warriors: create a world similar to ours but containing just enough to make it fantastical and perfectly outlandish. John Wick does it with assassins like The Warriors does with street gangs.

The Warriors is definitely a must watch for any fan of off-kilter cult cinema. In honor of its 40th anniversary, I think a great way to honor this classic would be to go out into the streets with some empty beer bottles, clank them together, and yell “Warriors, come out and play!” If the police get called, then you should stop.

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