Film: The Warriors

There is such little glory in a poor man's life
He works for his money, and he takes a wife
But a poor man's son can be a hero in the night
With a fist full of anger, and the will to fight
Desmond Child, "Last of an Ancient Breed"

The Warriors is a 1979 crime/action movie, based on the 1965 novel by Sol Yurick, that tells the story of nine members of a New York street gang known as the Coney Island Warriors as they fight for survival throughout one very bad night.

The movie starts with the Warriors arriving in the Bronx to attend a summit called by Cyrus, the intelligent and charismatic leader of New York's most powerful street gang. Cyrus makes an ambitious proposal to the assembled delegates of the city's various gangs: if they all unite under his leadership into an army, they can rule New York City and take out the cops, the mob, and anyone else who gets in their way. The gangs all seem eager to unite and make Cyrus's dream a reality — but in the midst of his speech, Cyrus is shot and killed. The Warriors are framed for Cyrus's murder, and as the police converge on the scene, all of the Warriors (except for their leader, Cleon) manage to escape the frenzy. The remaining Warriors are now faced with a nearly impossible task: They must make their way from literally one end of New York City (the Bronx) to the other (Coney Island) while being hunted by every gang member in the city, the cops, and the people who actually killed Cyrus.

The film and its source material are notable for being very loosely based on Xenophon's Anabasis.

Because the film was about street gangs, when it was shown in theatres, it often attracted members of actual street gangs. A number of theatres had extra security on hand after several riots broke out with rival gangs in some cities (most notably, Los Angeles) where it was shown. Ironically enough, there were no reported riots involving the film in New York City.

More than twenty-five years after the film's release, it was used as the basis for a video game that is generally considered a spectacular aversion of The Problem with Licensed Games.

Tropers! Come out to Plaaaay!

  • 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 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", a reference to Lizzie Borden, or maybe even both.
    • Rembrandt, a young and fairly meek twink who was recruited to be the gang's "artist", is completely immune to the Lizzie's seductions (and even seems repulsed and disgusted by his friends attraction to them), though it could just be his cautious nature.
  • Announcer Chatter: DJ Lynne Thigpen.
  • 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. Ajax may not even qualify as an Anti-Hero, given that he stops to essentially rape a woman for the heck of it and is promptly arrested
  • 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.
  • Ax-Crazy: Luther, and, to a lesser extent, Ajax.
  • 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 a thousand to one, are 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: New York City's rather fantastical underworld is the setting and subject.
  • Big Bad: Luther.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: New York at night is dominated by violent warring gangs and the police.
  • 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).
  • Blood Knight: Ajax
  • Brooklyn Rage: New York City is apparently a warzone of brightly-clad boppers out for blood.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Used in the skirmish with the Lizzies.
  • Combat Pragmatist: The Warriors in general qualify, particularly Rembrandt, who uses his spraypaint as mace in the bathroom fight.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker / Ice Queen: The DJ qualifies throughout, but especially at the end: "Now for that group out there that had such a hard time getting home last night...sorry about that. I guess the only thing we can do is play you a song." The written line can't do justice to the tone.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Cleon, the gang's leader, is the first to go. The focus then shifts on Swan, the former second-in-command.
  • Dirty Coward:
    • Luther, the leader of the Rogues, is the one who framed the Warriors in the first place. He engages Swan in a hand-to-hand fight, but pulls a gun before they even start. Then he whines and starts trying to shift the blame when the Riffs show up.
    • The Orphans are an entire gang of them who immediately scatter and flee as soon as something looks too hard.
  • Dirty Harriet: Ajax had the unfortunate luck of meeting one of these.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Ajax. This also seems to be the Lizzies' tactic of choice.
  • 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, hence the Fake Shemp.
  • Dumb Muscle: Ajax is only interested in the two Fs.
  • 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.
  • 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: The Warriors fight every gang they come across. Justified in that they are framed for a murder.
  • Fingerless Gloves: Ajax sports a pair, almost certainly to cushion his knuckles.
  • 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 facepaint and baseball uniforms, and wield baseball bats. The Lizzies are all female. The Riffs (NYC's most powerful gang) have an Asian martial arts theme. The Hi-Hats (seen briefly in the opening and given a bigger part in the game) dress like street mimes. 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.
    • Homage: Of course, being based on Greek mythology, the Baseball Furies are The Furies, the Lizzies are the Sirens, and so on. The Hats come from somewhere, you know.
  • Gangster Land: Nearly every character that isn't a cop 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 that ultimately define the film.
  • Greek Chorus: The DJ, in Deadpan Snarker mode.
  • A Handful for an Eye: During the fight with the Punks, Rembrandt sprays paint into the eyes of one his attackers.
  • 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.
  • Homage Shot: Swan's showdown with Luther is a shot-for-shot reference to a scene from Yojimbo.
  • "I Am" Song: "Last of An Ancient Breed" sums up the Warriors' life.
  • 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." After failing to seize power from Swan, he doesn't hold a grudge and brushes it off with a simple, "Aww, fuck!"
  • 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 openly act as a member of a gang, including wearing their gang colors. 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? Can you dig it?"
  • Large Ham:
    • Cyrus. CAN YOU DIG IT??
    • Luther's sneering, unhinged delivery in almost every line.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Luther gets ratted out by his own man, and his murder of Cyrus gets avenged by Cyrus's own gang.
    • Also, Ajax stops in the park in order to sexually harass a woman and is promptly arrested by her.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Ajax is the most hotheaded member of the gang and his strategy is always to go on the attack, regardless of the odds. Sometimes it works out for him, sometimes it really doesn't.
  • 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, dignified, and handsome. 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. Masai is named for the African warrior culture.
  • Mighty Glacier: In relative to the rest of the Warriors, Ajax qualifies. He noticeably lags behind when they are sprinting everywhere.
  • 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. The film ends with a quick-draw duel.
  • New York Subway: Since its the middle of the night, it's basically the only way across town.
  • Opening Narration: Present in the special edition.
  • Overcrank: 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, briefly visible during the gang summit.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Ajax accuses his fellow Warriors of "turning faggot" when they want to avoid a fight or not go out and get laid. It's also his favorite insult toward people he doesn't like. While this was far less controversial in The Seventies, it's still used to make him seem abrasive.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Warriors to a man. The Riffs too, although with more a soldier vibe than warrior.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner:
    • Ajax: "I'm gonna shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a Popsicle!"
    • Inverted with the Orphans:
      • Orphan Leader - You see what you get Warriors, you see what you get when you mess with The Orphans!
      • Orphan - We’re gonna rain on you Warriors! The Orphans then get their own asses kicked with one well-placed Molotov cocktail.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    • Cyrus's rallying cry of "Can you dig it?" gets repeated and emphasized until it fits this trope.
    • Masai spits out breathy, "I! Want! Them! Found!" when speaking of the Warriors.
  • The Quincy Punk: The Turnbull ACs to a degree.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Swan must be a pretty tough guy to get nicknamed "Swan" and still command respect.
  • Recycled In Space / Setting Update: The story is basically Xenophon's March to the Sea IN MODERN NEW YORK!
  • Rollerblade Good: The leader of The Punks wears roller skates.
  • Rule of Cool:
    • Most gangs' outfits aren't realistic or practical, but it all fits in with the film's style.
    • The leader of the Punks wears roller skates, which looks cool but doesn't seem practical for someone who expects to get into fights.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out: The Baseball Furies' make up was inspired by Kiss. Their uniforms are based on the New York Yankees.
  • Sinister Shades: Masai wears aviators at all times.
  • 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, they will certainly not tolerate anyone violating their particular moral code.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Joe Walsh's "In The City" over the closing credits. That said, it seems to fit in with Swan's line "This is what we fought all night to get back to? Maybe I'll just take off."
  • Stern Chase: Though the gang doesn't know specifically that all the gangs are hunting them because they allegedly killed Cyrus for most of the film, they're vaguely aware of the dangers of staying in one place.
  • Subverted Innocence: A fairly common motif here. The Warriors' hideout is an old, abandoned section of a 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 their leader wears roller skates. And then, there's a gang known as "The Orphans." It's suggested a few times that the Warriors are supposed to be teenagers.
  • The Theme Park Version: Played straight and averted. Especially by today's standards, 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.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Ajax is hardcore even by the gang's standards. He's pugnacious with the other Warriors and he dooms himself by trying to force himself on a random woman.
  • 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 is. She turns out to be an undercover cop, with backup nearby..
    • Could also be applied to Vermin and Cochise when they meet the Lizzies. Granted, they don't know everyone is gunning for them yet, but they don't seem the least bit suspicious when this female gang they meet on the street is . . . really really friendly. Vermin initially questions how they even know about the Warriors, but then immediately chalks it up to their hardcore reputation.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: The Warriors are far from their turf and must get through miles of enemy turf to get home.
  • Travel Montage: The movie opens with The Warriors going to the big meeting in one of these.
  • 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. Cowboy wears a plain t-shirt and his vest over it, and Fox is the only one to wear his vest buttoned up.
    • Masai wears his sequined black gi open to expose his muscular chest.
  • 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.We also never find out what happens to Cleon, although he was almost certainly either beat to death or 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. The Baseball Furies' half-white-half-black makeup makes it hard to tell if they're mixed-race or not.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Vermin, Cochise, and Rembrandt beat the crap out of the all-female Lizzies. To be fair, they are being shot at.
  • "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...."