When it comes to cult movies, you know that the critics have bashed them upon their release only to embrace them as fine pieces of art later on: they express the social and historical context, often speaking about the common misconceptions and fears of those times.
Such is the case of The Warriors, who was believed to be unrealistic (especially when the characters had to talk) even for an action film. But then again history happened and the film received the proper analysis it required to achieve a cult status.
Much like other films of the era, The Warriors can be seen as a visionary film, in which the action takes place in an undisclosed future. All we know from this point of view is that New York has been overrun by gangs, a reality which seemed more than plausible in 1979 when the film was released.
New York, in 1975, was on the brink of bankruptcy and the entire country was having a crisis of confidence. Two years later, in 1977, the city was faced with yet another unexpected problem, when a power outage engulfed it for more than a day.
For 25 hours, the city was at the mercy of the looters, so the gloomy world described 2 years later in The Warriors wasn’t at all inconceivable.
Furthermore, I can also add to this context the fact that the film (and the book, for that matter) was based on an actual event from the human history, the Battle of Cunaxa from 401 BC. And this is also very important since the characters of the film are seen as actual heroes, despite them being nothing else but criminals.
I won’t go into the specific resemblances between the movie and the historical fact, just like I won’t remind the mythological stories which can be recouped within the movie.
But I will say this: The Warriors and its decadence are not here to tell us that our cities will end up swarming with criminals. Instead, I believe that it somehow foresaw what happens in our present day (movies): the line between villains and heroes is so thin, that we find it hard sometimes to distinguish which is which.
Furthermore, by making some bonafide criminals appear as heroes, The Warriors also opened the doors to a new kind of villain: the villain with whom the audiences can actually empathize.