The Ultimate Warrior (1975)
The Ultimate Warrior (1975)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.

Release Date: October 12th, 1975 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Robert Clouse Actors: Yul Brynner, Max von Sydow, Joanna Miles, William Smith, Richard Kelton, Stephen McHattie, Darrell Zwerling, Susan Keener




n the year 2012, in New York City (where the Twin Towers are still clearly visible), the once-booming metropolis has been reduced to abandonment, decay, and dirt thanks to plagues that have wiped out modern civilization. Pigeons provide food for grimy, starving scavengers, who dig among cobweb-filled, crumbling structures for any salvageable bits. Warring factions of tattered survivors compete for these terribly limited resources, turning isolated rooftops into bases (where they can grow withered fruits and vegetables) and easily accessible buildings into arenas for bloody combat, primarily with edged weapons. Guns have apparently long run out of bullets, and cars have exhausted the supplies of gasoline.

The Baron (Max von Sydow), the leader of one such commune (along with his daughter Melinda [Joanna Miles]), wishes to recruit a lone fighter, who remains visible from across the city, poised stoically (and shirtless) near a library, having not moved a muscle in two days. Along with five grubby soldiers, the Baron confronts the mysterious man, named Carson (Yul Brynner), offering up fresh water, food, dry lodgings, and even cigars. Sexual appetites, on the other hand, will have to be negotiated separately. The Baron gets no response from the man, but they additionally assure him that they’re not interested in killing the competition; they only wish to defend themselves and to grow their peaceful community. On their return trip to the commune, they’re attacked by a rival gang – a brutal ambush that requires rescuing by this silent yet nonetheless ultimate warrior.

“People are beginning to eat people out there … ” A man of few words, Carson is that unlikely yet cinematic hero who does the right thing in a lawless, postapocalyptic land – though he doesn’t like to admit it. When he’s finally vocal about it, he claims it’s the thought of limitless cigars that garnered his attention. Nevertheless, he’s prone to noble deeds, especially when he learns that the Baron’s fortress no longer possesses the men necessary to protect it from the likes of Carrot (William Smith), a ruthless marauder stationed nearby – or from the Baron’s own members who resort to quietly stealing tomatoes from the garden.

Predating the myriad zombie movies that would exploit similar scenarios, “The Ultimate Warrior” makes use of the horrific nature of men reduced to primitive hunters – not taking the place of zombies, but rather transforming into the immoral, anarchic throngs of murderers who compete under the rule of “survival of the fittest.” Vile deeds are easier to justify when societal norms break down; humans are generally worse than movie monsters. In many ways, this film also lends to more impactful, bigger-budgeted wasteland thrillers like “The Road Warrior,” “Escape from New York,” and “Waterworld,” which use considerably more action to paint their portraits of anti-futuristic mayhem.

This one is bleak but never graphic, designed around a simple escape plan for a select few (one of whom is unreasonably dependent on others), rather than a solution for the major predicament of a decimated world. It’s too limited in scope to be unforgettable, though its production design and set decorations are more than adequate (save for the routine use of torches in areas that are already brightly lit). The final duel and the finale itself, however, are quite amusing, even if the plot remains largely open-ended.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10