3 Things About the Movie The Warriors (1979, Walter Hill)
1. The Warriors is a modern retelling of a historical event that took place in, you guessed it, ancient Greece.
Let me first give a thank you to Ric Ryan, @RicRyan52 on Twitter, for suggesting that I watch the movie The Warriors.
Now, first off, you should know that the movie The Warriors is based on Sol Yurick’s 1965 novel by the same name. I haven’t read the book, although I’m pretty curious about it now. This was apparently Yurick’s “one hit wonder.” I’m not sure about the process that brought his book to the screen, but it was a good choice!
Yurick based his novel off events that took place back in ancient Greece and that were recorded in Xenophon’s Anabasis. As soon as I found out that the Warriors in the movie were on a “march to the sea,” I was pretty sure that the movie drew inspiration from the Anabasis, since in Greek the word anabasis literally means “journey up from” (or from the inland of a country towards the sea), and the one thing I could remember about Xenophon’s Anabasis told me he’d been journeying to the sea. (Katabasis means “journey down to,” or inland, for anyone who’s keeping score. It’s commonly used when referring to a journey into the underworld.)
When I got the chance after watching the movie to look up the events of the Anabasis (and to check out the Wikipedia page for The Warriors), I soon confirmed my suspicions.
Xenophon wrote his Anabasis after making an anabasis with a group of Greek mercenaries from the Persian inland to the coast of the Black Sea, where Greek colonies existed. Why was there an anabasis?
Well, Xenophon and the mercenaries — collectively called the Ten Thousand by historians — had been hired by Cyrus the Younger, who was attempting to overthrow his brother Artaxerxes to gain control over the Persian empire. Unfortunately for the mercenaries, Cyrus died in an early battle, throwing the mixed army into confusion. Most of the senior leaders were killed in the disarray that followed. Xenophon, who had been elected by the soldiers, was one of the only leaders left. He spurred the men onward across desert and mountain towards the Black Sea, while both the army of Artaxerxes and various local forces sought to block their path.
If you’ve watched the movie The Warriors, this probably sounds pretty familiar. Not to spoil much, but the Warriors, along with a bunch of other gangs in the city, are summoned to meet with Cyrus, the leader of the largest gang, who wants to form a coalition to run New York. Unfortunately, Cyrus is killed during this meeting, throwing the various gangs into disarray. The leaders of the Warriors are killed, and Swan — Xenophon — assumes leadership. Then, the remaining Warriors have to fight their way back to Coney Island, where they come from, barred by the police — the corollaries of Artaxerxes and his army — and various local gangs.
Now, these two movies are completely, completely different, but if you like retellings of Greek history and legend, then you’ll also want to watch Oh Brother Where Art Thou. I’m sure you already have. But watch it again for me.
2. The Warriors received negative critical reviews, but has attained cult film status since.
Again, not to spoil much, The Warriors is a pretty violent movie. It doesn’t treat women well, and the characters frequently use deriding terms towards women and homophobic language of the like that certainly isn’t used much in movies today. Times have changed. But, moreover, The Warriors includes plenty of instances of gang violence (though in a stylized, cinematic sort of way) and vandalism. Reportedly, following the initial advertisements for The Warriors (think trailer videos preceding the release of a film), incidents of vandalism and violence spiked. For this reason, Paramount paused advertising and told theaters they could refuse to air the film, if they didn’t want to endorse its content.
The movie came out to negative critical reception. Critics called the film unrealistic, called the dialogue stilted, and the characters under-developed. Yurick, the author of the novel The Warriors, argued that a great deal of this negative reception stemmed from people’s fear of teenagers gone wild. And despite the negative reception, The Warriors quickly became a box-office favorite, grossing between two and four times its budget.
Since the early days, the film and its legacy have been reassessed, and it’s become a cult classic praised for both its depiction of violence and its “stylishness.” Its content remains controversial to this day, though.
3. Movie casting has changed since The Warriors came out.
Although none of the central characters in Yurick’s novel The Warriors were white, the lead of the movie The Warriors (Michael Beck, playing Swan) is clearly white, as are a number of the other characters involved. According to director Walter Hill, Paramount wanted to avoid an all-Black cast for commercial reasons.
Though The Warriors featured plenty of Black, Latino, and other minority actors, many of the major roles fell to white actors. For example, Walter Hill did want a Puerto Rican actress to play the part of Mercy (the only major female role), but a white actress was cast. For the times, from a commercial standpoint, was this the right call? Probably. Would it be the right call today? No — if The Warriors were recast today, the casting choices would look very different. This movie is a great example of how movie casting has changed from 1979 to now.
I hope I’ve convinced you to give this movie a shot. Again, many thanks to Ric Ryan for the recommendation. You can hop on over to Amazon to watch it now, or to save it for later! (This is an affiliate link, so I get a small referral bonus at no extra cost to you if you choose to rent or purchase the movie.) It’s a movie I would recommend to any historical junkie or to anyone for its entertainment value — as long as you can handle some violence and some time-sensitive uses of language that you probably don’t hear all that much in film today.
And if you choose to watch it, give me a yell in the comments and let me know what you think!
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