Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs, the most powerful gang in New York City, calls a midnight summit of the city's gangs, requesting them to send nine unarmed delegates to Van Cortlandt Park. The Warriors, a modest, multiracial gang from Coney Island, attend the summit. Cyrus proposes to the assembled crowd a citywide truce and alliance that would allow the gangs to control the city together, since they collectively outnumber the police by three to one.
Most of the gang members applaud this idea, but Luther, the unbalanced and sadistic leader of the Rogues, shoots Cyrus dead as police officers arrive to raid the summit. In the ensuing chaos, Luther realizes that one of the Warriors, Fox, appears to suspect him, and makes a false accusation which leads the vengeful Riffs to attack the "Warlord," Cleon. Meanwhile, the other Warriors escape, unaware that they have been implicated in Cyrus's killing. The Riffs put out a hit on the Warriors through a radio DJ. Swan, the "War Chief," takes charge of the group as they try to make it back home.
The Turnbull ACs spot the Warriors and try to run them down with a bus, but the Warriors escape and board an elevated train. On the ride to Coney Island, the train is stopped by a building fire alongside the tracks, stranding the Warriors in Tremont. Setting out on foot, they encounter the Orphans, who are insecure about their low status in the gang hierarchy as they were excluded from Cyrus's meeting. After Mercy, the girlfriend of the Orphans' leader, instigates a confrontation, Swan throws a Molotov cocktail and the Warriors run to the nearest subway station. Impressed, and desperate to escape her depressed neighborhood, Mercy follows the Warriors.
When the group arrives at the 96th Street and Broadway station in Manhattan, they are pursued by police and separated. Three of them, Vermin, Cochise, and Rembrandt, escape by boarding a subway car. Fox, struggling with a police officer, is thrown onto the tracks and fatally hit by a passing train as Mercy flees the scene. Swan, Ajax, Snow, and Cowboy are chased by the Baseball Furies into Riverside Park, but defeat them in a brawl. After the fight, Ajax notices a lone woman sitting on a park bench and leaves the group despite Swan's objections. When Ajax becomes sexually aggressive, the woman, revealed to be an undercover police officer, handcuffs him to the bench and arrests him.
Upon arriving at Union Square, Vermin, Cochise, and Rembrandt are seduced by an all-female gang called the Lizzies and invited into their hideout. They narrowly escape the Lizzies' subsequent attack, learning in the process that everyone believes the Warriors murdered Cyrus. Acting as a lone scout, Swan decides to return to the 96th Street station, where Mercy joins him (although he spurns her promiscuity). After reaching the Union Square station, they reunite with the remaining Warriors and get into a fight with a roller-skating gang, the Punks, in which Mercy proves that she can hold her own in combat. Meanwhile, a member of a different gang visits the Riffs and tells them that he saw Luther shoot Cyrus.
At dawn, the Warriors finally return to Coney Island, only to find Luther and the Rogues waiting for them. Swan challenges Luther to a one-on-one fight, but Luther pulls a gun instead. Swan dodges his shot and throws a switchblade (taken from one of the Punks) into Luther's forearm, disarming him. The Riffs arrive, acknowledging the Warriors' courage and skill before apprehending the Rogues. As the Riffs descend upon him, Luther screams.
The radio DJ announces that "the big alert has been called off" and salutes the Warriors with a song, "In the City." The film ends with Swan, Mercy, and the rest of the gang walking down a Coney Island beach, illuminated by the rising sun.
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