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Dismissed by some critics upon its initial release in 1979, The Warriors has only grown in esteem over the years and is now considered one of the most imitated studio films of all time.
The film is credited with accelerating the rise of hip-hop culture, with its dialogue sampled by the likes of Ice Cube and Wu-Tang Clan. Its plot has inspired video games like Street Fighter. Its look has influenced everything from Michael Jackson videos to the movies of Jordan Peele.
But its writer-director Walter Hill says it could have been even more progressive and forward-looking had he included a group of gay gang members in the final cut.
The Warriors is based on Sol Yurick’s 1965 novel of the same name, but Hill took the material even further, applying a comic book sensibility to Yurick’s tale of New York tribalism, itself inspired by Xenophon’s Anabasis, a Grecian war epic penned around 370 B.C.
In the original Hill screenplay, among the many gangs depicted — uniformed crews like the bat-swinging Baseball Furies, the painted mime Hi-Hats, and the all-girl Lizzies — were the Dingos.
As envisioned by Warriors costume designer Bobbie Mannix, the Dingos were to be outfitted in leather fetishwear, some of it studded in chrome rivets and spikes. Sadly, that vision never made it to screen.
“We never shot it,” says Hill. “I’m very sorry about that. What I wanted to show was the gay gang in a positive light.”
The Dingos “weren’t villainous,” Hill explains. “It was not a scene that was negative about the gay gang. I thought it was another way of staying ahead of [the times]. Swan [Michael Beck] was their prisoner and he got away. But they had their dignity.”
Hill says it was studio-mandated budget cuts that led him to sacrifice a good deal of what he’d originally envisioned, and the Dingos were among the many casualties.
He revealed all that and much more on The Hollywood Reporter‘s history podcast It Happened in Hollywood, including how the film’s most famous bit of dialogue — David Patrick Kelly’s murderous Luther taunting, “Warriors, come out to play-yay …” — came to be.
“It was close to the end of our shoot,” Hill recalls. “I ran over to David and said, ‘Look, this is dull. Think of something here. I don’t care if you sing to him, yell at him. You’re trying to pull him out.’ I went off to set the cameras and I could see him out of the corner of my eye. He ran under the boardwalk and came out with all these empty beer bottles.”
“So I ran back to the car and I said, ‘We got anything?’ And he went: clink clink clink. He said, ‘Warriors … come out and plaaaay.’ This is what a good director I am. I said, ‘Go with that. Don’t change it. Let’s shoot,'” Hill says.
He also sets the record straight on what happened with actor Thomas G. Waites, who was cast as Warrior member Fox. In the film, Fox meets an untimely demise after being thrown in front of a moving subway train during a tussle with police. But that scene was quickly written into the script after Hill came to the conclusion that he could no longer work with Waites.
“I feel very bad about the whole thing,” says Hill. “We weren’t getting along very well. I’m perfectly prepared to think that some of it was my fault. He did have issues — he had some problems in his life and it just wasn’t working. So I took him out of the movie and did a quick rewrite and gave a lot of his material to the Michael Beck character.
“I’m not proud of this at all. I think, had I been a better director, I might have gotten through to him better. But he was, we felt, beginning to be a disruptive force. He’s since apologized. He’s written me a couple letters,” he continues.
The most surreal moment during the shoot? Hill says that would probably be when then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch visited the film’s set in Astoria, Queens, with a silver screen legend at his side: Gloria Swanson, star of 1950’s Sunset Boulevard. Swanson was touring the facility because she’d shot many of her silent pictures there years before. Hill gave the pair a tour of the Warriors set.
As for the possibility of a Warriors reboot, there have been many starts and stops over the years, including a 2016 announcement that the Russo brothers intended to give it a go. Hill says he’s never been asked to take another stab at the universe he created.
“I can’t remember ever being asked to redo it,” he notes. “People would ask me, ‘What do I think about Paramount remaking the movie?’ Because there have been so many announcements. And I said, ‘Well, I did mine. Good luck.'”
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