Pop Culture Homework Assignment #11: The Warriors

Like I stated long ago, the main reason that the Pop Culture Homework Project exists is to fill in the gaps of my cultural history, so that I can see what all the fuss was about. There are a few other reasons, too. I want to be able to knowledgeably contribute as much as the general public to conversations about movies/books/TV/games that became a phenomenon. And of course, it'd be nice to get modern references that call back to old favorites. I can't tell you how many times I've heard some permutation of "Waaaaaariors....come out and plaaaaaaaaay!" as a jokey way of calling someone out. It pops up everywhere! And yet, I'd never managed to watch the movie that inspired this homage, 1979's The Warriors.

I knew a little bit going in. I knew that it was about gangs. I knew that it's a cult favorite. I knew that Lynne Thigpen and the guy from Xanadu are in it. And I knew that line. That's about it. It's a very strange movie. New York City is controlled by a couple dozen gangs, who have split up territory to control. Tension runs high between the gangs, so Cyrus, the leader of the most powerful one, calls everyone together to call a truce. Everyone's in favor of this except Luther (fittingly of the Rogues gang), who assassinates Cyrus and pins the crime on the Warriors. The rest of the movie involves the Warriors trying to get back to their safe territory of Coney Island while all the other gangs (plus police, for good measure) attempt to kill them.

It's a very video-gamey premise, which is one of the things I liked about it: In each new location, a new gang pops up, and the Warriors must somehow escape and move on to the next "stage". Along the way, Mercy (a hanger-on of a low ranked gang) decides she likes the Warriors' style, and becomes enamored of Swan, played by Michael Beck (the aforementioned guy from Xanadu). She tags along, and the two develop a romantic relationship, even as the Warriors fight off gangs like dudes dressed in baseball uniforms and an all-female gang that seduces before they attack. It sounds a bit silly and juvenile, which it is. But it's also extremely entertaining. There's even a subtle, poignant scene, in which Swan and Mercy observe happy couples out on the town. There's an awkward silence, and when Mercy moves to smooth her hair, Swan wordlessly stops her to indicate that she's just as good as any girl with a corsage. Lynne Thigpen is also wonderful, as she always is. All you see of her is her lips - she plays a DJ who serves as a sort of narrator and who continually encourages the gangs to rub out the Warriors.

Apparently, there was some actual gang violence and vandalism surrounding its theatrical release, which no doubt contributes to its cult reputation today. Also, I should mention that the version I could get from Netflix is a 2005 re-edited director's cut, which added comic book style transitions between scenes. It worked for me, and I'm assuming it's not a huge change from the original version people saw in the theater. Overall, I'm really glad I caught up on this one; I can see why it was so popular. For a lot of the Pop Culture Homework Project entries, once I complete the assignment, I feel like I don't need to revisit the work again. But when it comes to The Warriors, I can easily envision having friends over for a movie night rewatch. It's a fun movie that deserves its place in the cultural zeitgeist.

The Warriors: B+


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