Home » Close Reading, Current, Featured

The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)

1 March 2011 3 Comments

By Alexandra Edwards

I’ve been thinking a lot about New York lately — specifically, Times Square in the late 70s and early 80s.  It was a different time.  What was once a booming theatre district in the early part of the century had fallen on hard times following the Great Depression.  The theatres remained, though they began running more scandalous fare in an effort to attract viewers and stay in business.  By the 1970s, Times Square was a den of pornography, with sex shops and go-go bars lining the block, prostitutes and drug dealers on every corner.  What is now a scrubbed-clean tourist trap and advertisers’ paradise was once a no man’s land featuring every dark desire humans can imagine.

I couldn’t tell you why it’s been on my mind lately, but I see the Times Square panic everywhere these days: Iris Owens’ stunning book After Claude and Margaret Atwood’s classic The Handmaid’s Tale; Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Tim Burton’s Batman; Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel Watchmen; and, of course, our March film, The Warriors.

“By 1975, many people considered Times Square to be the epitome of urban and moral decay,” says a brief history of the area.  Just four years later, Walter Hill would direct a film that gets directly at that urban and moral decay, by creating a dystopian picture of a near-apocalyptic fantasy New York, controlled by gangs and ravaged by street violence.  Based on Sol Yurick’s 1965 book of the same name, but updated to reflect cultural shifts from the intervening 14 years, The Warriors is something like fear distilled.  It is our world, and yet not our world at the same time.

It’s a worst-case scenario.  It’s also a cult classic of epic proportions, drawing on Greek military history and an intimate knowledge of NYC geography and cultural cool.

Such a classic cannot be approached lightly.  There’s a lot of ground to cover with The Warriors, from its source material to its enduring appeal, video game and comic book adaptations, historical reality and apocalyptic extrapolation, production difficulties and rival films, not to mention all of its memorable characters and their gangs.

References to the movie itself have been popping up recently as well — my personal favorite was the well-known Community shout-out in the show’s first season.  Clearly, it’s time to reexamine this film and its cult popularity.

We hope you’ll join us for this month of writing and art about The Warriors.  As always, we welcome your submissions!


  • Sammy Perez said:

    To happen to stumble upon a column, which discusses not only my favorite film of all-time, but also 1970’s New York, is quite a pleasant surprise. As a native New Yorker, who now resides in Pennsylvania, early to mid 1970’s Times Square has pleasant memories for me, although I remember it through an adolescents pre-teen eyes.

    Although I kind of knew it was a place not necessarily suited for an 11 or 12 year old, I do have fond memories of my older cousin, (surrogate older brother), taking me there more than once to treat me to a night of fun at the legendary arcade ‘Playland’. Strange how when you’re 12, pinball machines and air hockey blindfold you from the hookers and pimps that were abound.

    As for ‘The Warriors’, it’s cult classic status has surpassed that and more in my life. Released the summer before my senior year in high school in 1979, it along with ‘Cooley High’ (1975), remain my two favorite movies of all-time. To this day, 32 years later, after countless viewings over the years, I will watch it with the same excitement, reverance and anticipation as if it were the very first time.

    Realizing it is a time piece that is quite dated when you watch it now, I am still shocked when I come across someone, especially of today’s younger generation, who admits they’ve never seen it. I instantly acclaim it to be required viewing for any movie fan and recommend it with the highest regard. “Can you dig it!”

  • On The Warriors | Alexandra Kingsley said:

    […] at The Film League […]

  • Vin said:

    A true cult classic and one of the best movies of all time. Late 60’s through 1979 I lived in the Flatbush portion of Brooklyn off of Coney Island Avenue. Day trips to Coney Island amusement park and beach during the 1970’s were a pleasure to spend the day but still dangerous. The area was starting to take change for the worst. Drugs, thieves/pick pockets, gangs, graffiti were all too common on every corner. Night trips were out of the question because you simply wouldn’t survive if you weren’t a gang member. The urban blight for New York in general was apparently getting worse throughout all 5 boroughs.

    Times square was just as bad and I can remember going into the city with my parents and we would avoid that area like the plague. The film recalls some good memories like our train ride to go to the beach which of course living in Brooklyn there weren’t many choices so Coney Island was it. It Also recalls the decay. The abandoned buildings, the excessive graffiti on buildings and train cars, the drugs and the violence. “The Warriors” adaptation of Coney Island was spot on.
    I could never get tired of watching this film. It only reminds us of what a future New York can be like if serious changes aren’t made and it’s made more frightening because the shreds of the present that are depicted are dark enough to plant the seed.
    Just like other cult classics “Escape from New York” or “Clockwork Orange” , it’s pretty scary when you think about how close we are because that future isn’t so distant. Those shreds of the present that can’t be ignored is what promotes change for our better future. We can only hope.

Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.