What: The Warriors, Walter Hill's pulse-pounding account of a pack of low-level street toughs who attend a gang summit in the Bronx, get wrongly accused of killing a prophet, and must fight their way back home to Coney Island. Along the way south, they encounter all manner of colorful sociopaths, including the Baseball Furies:
Why: I've long said that the best movie genre of all time is getting from one end of New York to the other. There's something about the descent through the most pressure-packed canyon in America that appeals to filmmakers who want to ramp up the drama: witness these trailers for Escape from New York, Marathon Man, Die Hard with a Vengeance, On the Town, and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. At every corner, in every subway station, you know something is going to happen. And so The Warriors is that rare film that isn't about character, isn't about plot, isn't about visual appeal. It's about pacing. Every few minutes, the Warriors encounter a new enemy, suffer a new loss, come up with a new plan. When Swan, Cowboy, Ajax, and the other boppers get fingered, they are fighting for their lives, for they are fighting New York itself. Can you dig it?
Impact: The Warriors wasn't a popular success, and was manhandled by critics for glorifying sectarian violence among America's youths. But through the years, it has inched forward to becoming a cult classic, and now is simply a classic of any stripe. Even though it came out just before MTV launched, it heralded a similar new style of action film, jump-cutting from scene to scene in a seamless, music-fueled narrative. Now every action film looks like The Warriors, but at the time it felt quite revolutionary.
Personal Connection: Someday I will finish "Power to the People," a novel about gangs in Chicago that I have tried many times to start up again. It draws a lot of its inspiration from this movie. Key among the concepts therein are quick flashes of character, relentless pacing, and moral ambiguity. At last count I'd written about 20,000 words. Someday, I'll pick it back up again, when I think I'm smart enough to finish it.
Other Contenders: the hip cauldron of Do the Right Thing; the underdog jingoism of Spider-Man; the seamy swagger of The French Connection; the tuneful charm of West Side Story; the omnipresent quotability of Ghostbusters.