In 1979, The Warriors chronicled the pilgrimage of a gang of leather-clad street kids as they fought their way through the Wild West of the Bronx back to their home turf out on Coney Island. At the time, the film was slammed as “stiff” and “sterile” by Roger Ebert, but has over the years become the quintessential cult classic — a campy take on what was already one of the city’s most violent, gang-infested eras.
Now, more than three decades after the film’s theatrical release, the Warriors are once again making their way back to Brooklyn. On September 13, for one day only, members of the original cast will reunite at the Surf Pavilion on Coney Island — perhaps, they say, for the last time ever.
“Bringing them back to where we rooted for them for so long, that was the whole point,” Eric Nyenhuis, an actor and film producer who is organizing the reunion, tells the Voice. “Let’s get these boys back on the Q train, let’s get ’em back to Coney Island, let’s get ’em back to Stillwell Avenue. And we’re doing that. Thirty-seven years later, we are doing that.”
A lifelong Warriors fan, Nyenhuis brought a handful of cast members together for a comic book convention in Atlantic City earlier this year. But while the event was by all accounts a success — their booth was among the most popular attractions at the four-day festival — the reunion at Coney Island is promising a more authentic experience for diehard Warriors enthusiasts.
In addition to the film’s heroes, Nyenhuis has convinced some of the actors who portrayed the Warriors’ most memoral adversaries — the baseball-bat-wielding gang, the Furies — to break out their pinstripe jerseys and face-paint for the first time since the Seventies. A number of other minor yet memorable characters from gangs like the Orphans and the Punks will also be in attendance.
“The film is lightning in a bottle, and the casting is lightning in a bottle,” Nyenhuis says. “If I had to honestly say what’s more famous, Nathan’s or The Warriors in Coney Island, I would have to definitely say The Warriors.”
The reunion will include a meet-and-greet, autograph signings, a cosplay contest judged by the original cast, and live performances from punk bands the Gotham City Mashers and Sick of It All. Nyenhuis also has a grand vision of thousands of Warriors devotees all wearing the gang’s iconic leather vests while watching the film out by the Coney Island boardwalk.
The idea is to transport fans back in time to a New York City that no longer exists, to an era when neighborhoods felt like local militias and subway cars were covered from floor to ceiling in chaotic, menacing graffiti. The film’s wet, shadowy streets and gritty cinematography continue to give the picture a timeless aura, and the effect is an odd nostalgia and romanticism for darker, more dangerous days in the five boroughs.
“It is a quintessential New York movie and it captured the city in a way that is unique to The Warriors,” says Michael Beck, the actor who played the gang’s leader and “war chief,” Swan. Currently bouncing between California and Tennessee, he’ll make the journey back to Brooklyn for the reunion next month. “I don’t know what makes a cult film, or what it is that resonates throughout the generations and makes people go, ‘I love this movie.’ I really don’t know what that is, because none of us — including the director, the studio, the producers, certainly none of the actors — had any idea when we were making this movie that it would have this kind of legacy.”
In many ways, a film’s cult status has less to do with the filmmakers and more to do with the fans — an inexplicable connection moviegoers feel regardless of reviews or revenue. The reunion is a way of celebrating those who truly turned The Warriors into the cultural phenomenon that it is today.
“I am thrilled and honored and surprised to be part of a movie that has become a cult classic, a movie that has generations of fans,” Beck says. “I like to interact with the people who gave me a career, who went to the movies and turned on the television.”
For Nyenhuis, a Warriors fan since he was twelve years old, reuniting the gang on Coney Island, back where it all began, is a childhood dream come true.
“This is about remembering the greatest time of our lives growing up,” he says. “It’s history. It’s Hollywood history. It’s New York history. It’s Coney Island history.”