Walter Hill’s The Warriors is a fever dream action thriller, made at a very specific juncture in American pop culture history, as one radical decade of filmmaking was ending, with the start of something new forming in a period that would reinvent the expectations of the studio blockbuster and pave the way for more independent modes of filmmaking. The influence that Hill’s energetic and extremely entertaining film has had on filmmakers over the last 30 years can’t be ignored or denied; it’s been riffed on in numerous other films, and remakes have been proposed more than once, only to rather wisely fall apart (even with Tony Scott at the helm of one reimagining at one point). The streamlined plot played to Hill’s extreme strengths as a visual storyteller, as he’s always been a director obsessed by visual texture and the ways that a bold image can tell a story without the need for many words. Look at his body of work as a whole and just ponder some of the classics on his filmography; if there’s another once major American filmmaker deserving of career reconsideration it has to be Hill.
The Warriors rightfully sits near the top of his greatest accomplishments, if for no other reason than it served as a socio-political wake-up call in the form of filmed entertainment, taking the issue of gang violence and vigilante justice and tweaking the formula, with Hill taking bold chances with the terse screenplay he co-wrote with David Shaber, which favored forward physical momentum with the energy of rock and roll and comics. Andrew Laszlo’s muscular and endlessly stylish cinematography brought out an almost hallucinatory quality to the nighttime NYC streets, while the infectious musical score by Barry De Vorzon set a spirited yet dangerous tone right from the start. And the vintage cars and flashy costumes totally seal the aesthetic package. Hill would release an expanded Ultimate Cut in 2005 on DVD, which would include scene transitions done in the style of comic book panels, as this had always been his original intention. At the time of its release, critics came down harshly on the film, criticizing the violence and spectacle, but over time, the film has earned a massive and deserving cult following, despite actually being a box office hit to the tune of $22.5 million dollars.