Warriors: From Provocative Film to Cult Item

The Warriors opened on February 9, 1979 in 670 theaters without advance screenings or promotional campaign and grossed $3.5 million on its opening weekend. The following weekend the film was linked to outbreaks of vandalism and three killings, two in California and one in Boston.

This kind of impact motivated Paramount to remove ads from radio and television and display ads in the press were reduced to the film’s title, rating and theaters. About 200 theaters added security personnel. Due to safety concerns, theater owners were relieved of their contractual obligations if they did not want to show the film, and Paramount offered to pay costs for additional security and damages due to vandalism.

After two weeks free of incidents, the studio expanded the display ads to take advantage of rave review from Pauline Kael of The New Yorker. She wrote, “The Warriors is a real moviemaker’s movie: it has in visual terms the kind of impact that ‘Rock Around the Clock’ did behind the titles of Blackboard Jungle. The Warriors is like visual rock”.

In its sixth week, The Warriors had grossed $16.4 million, well above its estimated $7 million budget.

But the film was panned by many critics.] In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert said that, despite Hill’s cinematic skill, the film is implausible in a mannerist style that deprives the characters of depth and spontaneity: “No matter what impression the ads give, this isn’t even remotely intended as an action film. It’s a set piece. It’s a ballet of stylized male violence.”

Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, “None of Hill’s dynamism will save The Warriors from impressing most neutral observers as a ghastly folly.”

In his review for Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, “Another problem arises when the gang members open their mouths: their banal dialogue is jarringly at odds with Hill’s hyperbolic visual scheme”. Time magazine’s Frank Rich said that, “unfortunately, sheer visual zip is not enough to carry the film; it drags from one scuffle to the next. But The Warriors is not lively enough to be cheap fun or thoughtful enough to be serious.”

Yurick expressed his disappointment and speculated that it scared people because “it appeals to the fear of a demonic uprising by lumpen youth”, appealing to many teenagers because it “hits a series of collective fantasies.”
President Ronald Reagan was a fan of the film, even calling the lead actor, Michael Beck, to tell him he had screened it at Camp David and enjoyed it.

Over the years, The Warriors has acquired the status of a cult film, along with a re-examination of its status among a new generation of film critics.

Entertainment Weekly named The Warriors the 16th-greatest cult film on their “Top 50 Greatest Cult Films” list. The magazine also ranked it 14th in the list of the “25 Most Controversial Movies Ever.”