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"Warriors! Come out to plaaaay!"
There is such little glory in a poor man's lifeWith a fist full of anger, and the will to fight
He works for his money, and he takes a wife
But a poor man's son can be a hero in the night
—Desmond Child, "Last of an Ancient Breed"
The Warriors is a cult 1979 crime/action movie that tells the story of nine members of New York street gang known as the Coney Island Warriors.
The movie starts with the Warriors going to the Bronx to attend a summit called by Cyrus, the intelligent and charismatic leader of New York's most powerful street gang. Cyrus has an ambitious proposal: unite every single street gang into an army capable of taking on the cops, the mob, and anyone else who gets in their way. In the midst of his speech to the mass of assembled gangsters, however, Cyrus is shot and killed, and the Warriors are framed for it. As the police converge on the scene, all of the Warriors except for their leader Cleon manage to escape, but they are now faced with a nearly impossible task: trying to make their way from literally one end of New York City to the other while being hunted by every gang member in the city, as well as the cops.
The 1979 film features examples of:
- Action Film Quiet Drama Scene: Mercy spills an account of her woeful life to Swan while the two are wandering through an empty subway tunnel.
- Ambiguously Brown: Mercy, the girl who tags along and with the Warriors and for whom Swan falls in love, looks and sounds Puerto Rican, but the movie never makes this clear. Actress Deborah Van Valkenburgh is of Dutch descent, making this possible Fake Nationality as well. Van Valkenburgh was reportedly surprised when she was cast in the film, assuming that the producers wanted the character to be played by "some blonde."
- Ambiguously Gay: The Lizzies are hinted at being a lesbian gang, due to two members who are seen dancing with each other during the party scene. Their name might be a play on "lezzies," or a reference to Lizzie Borden, or maybe even both.
- Announcer Chatter: DJ Lynne Taylor.
- Anti-Hero: The heroes of the film are a street gang, who probably do some pretty lousy things when they're not running for their lives. We sympathize with them because they're honorable and unjustly accused.
- Anyone Can Die: Out of the nine Warriors at the start of the film, only six of them make it to the end. Cleon is implied to be killed by the Riffs, Fox is run over by a train, and Ajax gets arrested.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: Cleon and Swan appear to be the most capable fighters of the Warriors.
- Ax Crazy: Luther. Ajax isn't far behind him, though.
- Badass: The Warriors. Pound-for-pound, they prove to be one of the toughest gangs in NYC.
Masai: You Warriors are good. Real good.
Swan: The best.
- Badass Crew: Nine guys, outnumbered 1000 to 1, chased from Van Cortland to Coney Island. And they do it Crazy Awesome style.
- Batter Up: The Baseball Furies use bats as their signature weapon. The Warriors pick up a few of their bats during their rumble.
- Big Applesauce: Naturally.
- Big Bad: Luther.
- Black Dude Dies First: Cleon, the black Decoy Protagonist, dies first to make room for the real hero of the film, Swan, whose name even reflects his whiteness.
- Brooklyn Rage: the Movie.
- Chairman of the Brawl: Used in the skirmish with the Lizzies.
- Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: One of the most-quoted scenes of the film is Luther calling out the Warriors to "come out to play" while clinking beer bottles together. This was mostly improvised by the actor. He originally wanted two dead pigeons, but beer bottles are easier to get.
Luther: Wa-a-a-rior-r-rs... come out to pla-a-a-ay!
- Counter Attack: This seems to be Swan's preferred style of combat. Nearly every single attack he does in the movie is either a counter to someone else attacking him, or disarming a foe.
- Cue the Sun: The Warriors, having reached home and had their name cleared, play on the beach while the sun rises during the credits.
- Death by Sex:
- While not killed, Ajax is arrested when he gets rough with a woman (who turns out to be an undercover cop) he's trying to pick up.
- Three of the Warriors are seduced and then ambushed by the Lizzies, but they all manage to escape. Originally Vermin was supposed to get killed by the Lizzies, but this was changed when the filmmakers were forced to kill Fox instead due to his actor's departure.
- Decoy Protagonist: Cleon, the gang's leader, is the first to go. The focus then shifts on Swan, the former second-in-command.
- Did Not Do the Research: Sol Yurick, author of the original novel, was a Californian who didn't really know New York City's geography.
- Dirty Coward: Luther, the leader of the Rogues, and the one who framed the Warriors in the first place.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Fox. The character was originally written as the love interest for Mercy, but the actors did not get along. Swan was rewritten as the love-interest and Fox gets hit by a subway train halfway through the film. The actor had already quit by the time his death scene was filmed.
- Dueling Movies: Released the same year as The Wanderers with both films sparking discussion about youth gangs. The studios raced to beat each other to the punch, but The Warriors came out first and had the more lasting impact.
- Enemy Mime: The Baseball Furies paint their faces similar to mimes and never speak. There's also the Hi-Hats, who wear more traditional mime attire and are seen in the background of the gang conference. They're major characters in the video game.
- Extremely Short Timespan: All the action takes place over the course of a single night/morning.
- The Faceless: All we see of the DJ is her mouth next to the microphone.
- Fight Magnet
- For the Evulz: Luther kills Cyrus and blames it on the Warriors. When asked why, he responds, "No reason. I just like doing things like that."
- Gang of Hats: New York's streets are apparently ruled by these. Each gang has a theme, which carries into their dress and behavior. The Orphans dress shabbily and are total wimps. The Turnbull ACs are a large gang of skinheads. The Baseball Furies never speak, wear face-paint and baseball uniforms and wield baseball bats. The Lizzies are all female. The Warriors themselves wear red leather vests and Native American accessories. Needless to say, the New York underworld comes across as very surreal. In any case, this movie is definitely one of the Trope Codifiers.
- Gangsterland: Nearly every character is a gangbanger.
- Giant Mook: One of The Punks is notably taller than anyone else in the film.
- Grandfather Clause: The book that ultimately inspired The Movie was published in 1965, and in various ways The Warriors is a 1960s film made about a decade too late. The youthful impulse of the various gangs to seize control of their collective destiny, as well as their naive belief that they can affect sweeping social change through their sheer numbers alone, reflects many of the famous factions of The Sixties, from the Berkeley Free Speech Movement to the various antiwar movements to Black Power. By the time the movie was actually made, American street gangs had generally moved away from political activism and were more concerned with exploiting the then-burgeoning market in illegal drugs. Despite what the film seems to imply, they had started openly using guns by this point. The clause could have been avoided by making the film a period piece, but then Walter Hill would probably not have been able to introduce the various fantastical elements.
- Greek Chorus: The DJ, in Deadpan Snarker mode.
- Harmless Villain: The Orphans weren't even invited to the meeting in the park and lamely try to intimidate the Warriors with newspaper clippings detailing their misdeeds, all while holding weapons like belts and straight razors. The video game uses them as villains for the early, easier levels.
- Homage Shot: Swan's showdown with Luther is a shot-for-shot reference to a scene from Yojimbo.
- I Am Not Shazam: In the original Sol Yurick novel, the main gang was actually called the Dominators. The film avoided this trope by renaming them "the Warriors".
- "I Am" Song: "Last of An Ancient Breed".
- Improvised Weapon: Characters are occasionally seen whacking each other with objects they grab in the middle of a fight. Just before the final showdown, several Warriors rip off a piece of metal or wood from the alley they're standing in. Few guns and blades are actually seen in the movie. In the video game, random items such as beer bottles and bricks come in handy during street fights.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The Lizzies, who only manage to graze a single Warrior after ambushing them at close range. In the original script, Vermin was supposed to die.
- Fake Shemp: The actor who played Fox left during filming, so a stand-in was used when they recorded Fox's death scene.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ajax is a real Jerkass who doesn't seem to get along with anyone. Still, Cowboy has to admit, "He saved my ass back there." He and Snow even try to save Ajax from the police, but without success. In the video game, Ajax is protective of Rembrandt, the youngest and weakest member. In the comic book mini-series The Warriors: Jailbreak, a flashback by Rembrandt during an art class shows that a supportive Ajax was the one who recruited Rembrandt into the gang with the promise that he would be protected.
- Jive Turkey: The film features a small lexicon of slang terms with somewhat dubious authenticity. To "bop" is to fight, and gang-bangers are called "boppers." To "soldier" means to keep your mouth shut and move with your gang. The words "waste" and "wasted" are almost always used instead of "kill" or "dead." Cyrus's triumphant rallying cry to the assembled gangs is, "Can you dig it?"
- Large Ham: Cyrus. CAN YOU DIG IT??
- Laser-Guided Karma: Luther gets ratted out by his own man, and his murder of Cyrus gets avenged by Cyrus's own gang. The game takes it further by letting you beat the crap out of him while playing as Masai (Cyrus's second-in-command) as the credits roll.
- Last Of Their Kind: The Warriors are one of the last gangs on the street still living by a traditional tribal code, with leadership being informal and decided by consensus. This is emphasized by their theme song "Last of an Ancient Breed" and further developed in the video game, where a different man serves as the boss for each mission and will gladly cede his powers to another if the situation becomes too large for him to handle.
- Let's Get Dangerous: At least two examples. Cowboy, who comes off as whiny and a little cowardly in earlier scenes, kicks major ass in the subway men's room brawl. And Rembrandt, the smallest and weakest of the crew, punches a guy out in that very same scene.
- Lighter and Softer: The original book is far bleaker. The Coney Island gang is composed of Villain Protagonists who murder an innocent man and commit multiple rapes and various acts of vandalism on the way back to their territory. The other gangs are never particularly gunning for them; the fights they get into are primarily instigated by themselves.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Arnold McCuller's rather upbeat rendition of "Nowhere To Run" is a naked threat to the Warriors' lives.
- Meaningful Name: Ajax is the Dumb Muscle, as was his mythical namesake. Rembrandt is in charge of tagging, making him the gang's "artist." Fox is the gang's scout. Snow always stays cool. Swan is calm and dignified. Cleon is named after a famous Greek general. Cyrus's namesake was a powerful king in Anabasis who was killed trying to reclaim a Persian empire.
- New Old West: There are a lot of Western plot elements. The NYPD are the U.S. cavalry, complete with dark blue uniforms (although they're the Designated Villains here). Cyrus is Tenskatawa, the famed Shawnee prophet and revolutionary in the early 19th century. The Warriors themselves operate according to a tribal system of government, and they have the whole Native American theme.
- New York Subway: Since its the middle of the night, it's basically the only way across town.
- One-Scene Wonder: Cyrus.
- Opening Narration: Present in the special edition.
- Overcrank: A truly awesome yet restrained use by Walter Hill during the fight scenes. Specifically, the Lizzies and Subway bathroom fight scenes combine Slow Motion Fall with Dramatic Shattering (of a chair and a stall door, respectively) to incredible effect.
- Pimp Duds: Worn by The Boppers.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Ajax: "I'm gonna shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a Popsicle!"
- Real Men Wear Pink: Swan must be a pretty tough guy to get nicknamed "Swan" and still command respect.
- Revolvers Are for Amateurs: An alternative to Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy diplomas for the Lizzies and Luther. Street kids in NYC in the late 70s would have found revolvers much easier to acquire than semi-autos, but finding a place to practice would've been problematic.
- Rollerblade Good: The (possible) leader of The Punks moves around with rollerblades.
- Searching the Stalls: The Punks line up in a bathroom to kick all the stalls open at the same time. The Warriors open the doors first and a brawl ensues.
- Sinister Shades: Masai wears these.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: On this particular axis, the film's ideology shifts all over the place. In one sense, The Warriors is about as anti-progressive and nihilistic as a movie can get: the leaders of modern society are full of it, but the unwashed masses have been so barbarized by their mistreatment that if they ever did take over, they'd just become the same sort of hypocritical oppressors that have always been. ("We could tax the crime syndicates, and the police! Nothing would move without us allowing it to happen!") On the other hand, the film demonstrates that even cheap thugs can have a sense of honor, and if they're for real then they will certainly not tolerate anyone violating their particular moral code.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Joe Walsh's "In The City" over the closing credits.
- Subverted Innocence: A fairly common motif here. The Warriors' hideout is the old, abandoned section of the Coney Island amusement park. Cyrus addresses his congregation from atop what appears to be a crude jungle gym. The Turnbull A.C.'s run down their prey in a graffiti-strewn school bus. The Furies have a baseball theme. The Punks wear overalls and travel around on roller skates. And then, there's a gang known as "The Orphans."
- The Theme Park Version: Played straight and averted. The film offers a somewhat cartoonish vision of gang life in New York, with gangs wearing elaborate costumes and getting up-to-the-minute coverage on rumbles from the local radio station. However, the film is also rather brutal, with a number of characters getting killed. One particular scene, in which the surviving members of the gang are contrasted to some suburbanites coming from prom, emphasizes the relative grittiness of the setting. The film became infamous when real gang members attended showings and got into fatal fights.
- This Is Sparta: Cyrus's rallying cry of "Can you dig it?" gets repeated and emphasized until it fits this trope.
- Too Dumb to Live: Ajax, He decides to break away from the group to score with a lone woman in the park, despite the others' warnings over how stupid the idea was.
- Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: The whole premise.
- Travel Montage: The movie opens with The Warriors going to the big meeting in one of these.
- Unintentional Period Piece: Particularly ironic since - at least according to director Walter Hill - the film was supposed to be set Twenty Minutes Into the Future.
- Walking Shirtless Scene: The Warriors' outfit includes a vest worn open, exposing their manly chests in the New York heat. Strangely, Ajax wears a black tank-top beneath his vest in spite of having the best physique.
- We ARE Struggling Together!: This is basically Cyrus' message at the Bronx summit.
- What Happened to the Mouse?:
- We never do find out to whom Luther was speaking during those phone conversations. It might be the DJ, seeing as how she's getting constant updates. Whoever it is, it has to be someone Luther knows very well ("Yeah, take care of yourself") and who is relatively unacquainted with the gang scene but still knows the lingo ("This guy, Cyrus... had an... "accident").
- Because of the time frame of the film, we never find out what become of Ajax after getting arrested.
- White Gang-Bangers: The Warriors gang is mixed-race. On the DVD, the director admits that he bowed to executive pressure to cast some white actors. Most of the other gangs appear to be homogenous, though not all are. Even the apparently all-black Riffs can be seen to include a white member or two in the background of some scenes, possibly due to a limited supply of black extras.
- Yeah! Shot: A relatively restrained example, with Swan, Mercy, Vermin, Cowboy, Snow, Cochise, and Rembrandt walking off into the sunrise just after the end credits. If you look closely, you can see (far off in the distance) Swan and Mercy raise their hands in a "Yeah!" gesture just before the fade to black.
"Gonna stand our ground, on this part of town...."