Streets of Fire is a 1984 film directed by Walter Hill and co-written by Hill and Larry Gross. It is described in its opening credits and posters as "A Rock & Roll Fable". The film is a mix of musical, action, neo-noir, drama, and comedy, with elements of retro-1950s and 1980s. It stars Michael Paré as a soldier of fortune who returns home to rescue his ex-girlfriend (Diane Lane) who has been kidnapped by the leader of a biker gang. (Willem Dafoe) Some of the film was shot on the backlot of Universal Studios in California, on two large sets covered in a tarp 1,240 feet long by 220 feet wide, so that night scenes could be filmed during the day.
The film grossed US$8 million in North America, against a production budget of $14.5 million.
In an unnamed city in a time period that resembles the 1950s (referred to within the film as 'another time, another place'), Ellen Aim (Diane Lane), lead singer of Ellen Aim and The Attackers, has returned home to give a concert. The Bombers, a biker gang, led by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe), kidnap Ellen.
Witnessing this is Reva Cody (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), who hires her brother Tom (Michael Paré), an ex-soldier and Ellen's ex-boyfriend, to rescue her. Tom returns and checks out the local tavern, the Blackhawk. He is annoyed by a tomboyish ex-soldier named McCoy (Amy Madigan), a mechanic who "could drive anything" and who is good with her fists. They leave the bar and later Tom hires McCoy to be his driver. That night, Tom and Reva plan to rescue Ellen; Reva contacts Billy Fish (Rick Moranis), Ellen's manager and current boyfriend.
While Reva and McCoy go to a diner to wait for Billy, Tom acquires a cache of weapons, including a pump action shotgun, a revolver, and a lever action rifle. Tom and Billy meet at the diner and Tom agrees to the rescue for $10,000, and that Billy goes with Tom back into "the Battery" to get Ellen.
In the Battery, they visit Torchie's, where Billy used to book bands. They wait until nightfall under an overpass, watching bikers come and go. Raven has Ellen tied up in an upstairs bedroom. As Tom, Billy, and McCoy approach, Tom directs Billy to get the car and be out front in fifteen minutes.
McCoy enters and is stopped by one of the "Bombers". McCoy, pretending to like him, follows him to his special "party room," close to where Raven is playing poker. McCoy knocks him out. Tom finds a window and, as a distraction, starts shooting the gas tanks on the gang's motorcycles; he then reaches Ellen's room, cuts her free and, with McCoy's help, escapes just as Billy arrives at the front door.
Riding in the convertible, Tom sends his crew off to meet at the Grant Street Overpass,and leaves to blow up the gas pumps outside a bar. Raven appears out of the flames and chaos to confront Tom. After learning who he is, Raven warns he will be back for Ellen and for him, too. Tom escapes on the one intact motorcycle. Billy is persuading Ellen the only reason her ex-boyfriend rescued her was for money. Tom returns as McCoy explains to Billy that Tom used to be Ellen's boyfriend.
Ellen follows Tom, while Billy and McCoy go back and forth once again about Tom and Ellen's love affair. Ellen and Tom also have an argument. When they all meet up on the street, they are in "the Battery". They return Ellen safely home where she initially rejects her home town as well as Tom. Later, he goes to the hotel where Ellen and Billy are staying to collect his reward. He only takes McCoy's cut and throws the rest in Billy's face. He then tells Ellen that there was a time he would've done anything for her but no more. As Tom storms out, Ellen follows and the two embrace in the rain.
Meanwhile, Raven informs Officer Ed Price (Lawson), the head of the police department, that he wants Tom to meet him alone. If he agrees he will leave the Richmond alone. Price tells Tom to get out of town. Tom, Ellen, and McCoy leave on a train. He knocks out Ellen and returns to town for a climactic fight with Raven. Tom defeats Raven and the defeated gang carries their leader away. Later that night, Tom says a final goodbye to Ellen and rides off with McCoy.
- Michael Paré as Tom Cody
- Diane Lane as Ellen Aim
- E.G. Daily as Baby Doll
- Rick Moranis as Billy Fish
- Amy Madigan as McCoy
- Willem Dafoe as Raven Shaddock
- Deborah Van Valkenburgh as Reva Cody
- Richard Lawson as Officer Ed Price
- Rick Rossovich as Officer Cooley
- Bill Paxtonas Clyde the Bartender
- Lee Ving as Greer
- The Sorels
- Ed Begley, Jr. as Ben Gunn
- John Dennis Johnston as Pete the Mechanic
The concept for Streets of Fire came together during the making of 48 Hrs., and reunited director Walter Hill with producers Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver, and screenwriter Larry Gross, all of whom worked together on that production. Gross later recalled:
Streets of Fire began in the euphoria of knowing that Paramount really liked 48 and wanted to be in business with us if they could. What happened was that after we screened that cut for Paramount, Larry looked at Walter and said, “Paramount is pregnant; let’s get something and set it up right away.” Walter knew what he meant—that we were in a great position here—so he said, “We can do this two ways: present an idea now and get a deal done, or write a script on spec and get a lot more money.” Walter proudly considers himself a capitalist, so he suggested we do the latter.
According to Hill, the film's origins came out of a desire to make what he thought was a perfect film when he was a teenager, and put in all of the things that he thought were "great then and which I still have great affection for: custom cars, kissing in the rain, neon, trains in the night, high-speed pursuit, rumbles, rock stars, motorcycles, jokes in tough situations, leather jackets and questions of honor".
According to Gross:
Walter and I talked about it and he said, “I’ve always wanted to do a movie about the hero of a comic book. But I don’t like any of the comic books I read, so I want it to be an original character.” He wanted to create his own “comic book movie,” without the source material actually being a comic book. And, from there, we started talking about Tom Cody.
The four men began planning Streets of Fire while completing 48 Hrs. Afterwards, Gross and Hill worked on the screenplay, writing ten pages a day. When they were finished, they sent it to Paramount. Gross says that Jeff Berg (Walter’s agent), Larry Gordon and Michael Eisner, head of Production at Paramount, "got into some kind of a fight when the script was finished. We learned later that, I believe, Eisner rejected it on the grounds that it was too similar to Indiana Jones. Conceptually. So they didn’t pull the trigger and Berg ended up selling it to Universal."
They submitted the script to Universal executive Bob Rehme on a Friday (in January 1983) and by the end of the weekend, the studio had given them the go-ahead to make the film. This was the fastest ever greenlight Hill had received and he put it down to the box office success of 48 Hours.
Walter Hill later recalled:
Larry and I wrote it with the idea we were doing a musical fantasy... We wrote it and began production when there was no MTV. By the time it came out, always a problem with movies, the movie was damned as the first MTV movie and condemned... I think we tripped into something which was you could set up - I was always fascinated. The audience will go with you when you set up an abstract world with teenage values and play out a drama within this. It was kind of real but it wasn't really. I always said whenever someone says fantasy they immediately think of more Disney--esque. The idea of a hard hitting drama in a fantasy world, that was kind of different at the time... People asked me about STREETS OF FIRE, I always thought of it as a musical. They kind of saw it worked in the world of an MTV video.
Larry Gross later said they were affected "as everyone was at the time" by the success of Flashdance and they decided during writing that the film would be a musical:
We said this movie is a stylized movie, it’s not so different from the world of a musical. And there were a few other things that contributed to that direction. One was the decision on Universal’s part, a crazy decision, to shoot the movie almost entirely in the studio under a tarpaulin. They built this gigantic tarpaulin, and the Battery and all these other places were built as real places. The Richlands. And just so you know, this is the early ’80s and you had stylized films—like New York, New York—that were all done on set and that idea was in the air. That idea of a totally artificial universe. The point is that we had in mind one sentence inspired by George Lucas: “in a galaxy long ago,” a futuristic past. That was in our heads…there’s the past and there’s the future, sort of.
Gross says they were also influenced by the films of John Hughes.
We were in the universe of the teenage movie. Teenage reality. So we said here’s what’s going to be weird about the world of our movie: No one’s going to be over 30. The world is a high school, essentially. And Tom Cody will be the football hero. And Willem Dafoe is the greaser. Remember: You had John Hughes at the time, and then you had Coppola making two high school movies: The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. So Walter said we’re going to make a high school movie that’s also going to be a comic book and also going to be a musical.
Gross says Hill did not want the film to be especially violent:
Walter felt strongly about certain story decisions. For instance: No one is going to die in this movie. When Tom Cody’s rifle blows up a motorcycle, we’re not going to see any blood, and we’re not going to see anybody die. He’d say it would be inappropriate to direct this movie if there were any blood. We’re in the world of Cocteau, we’re in the world of Beauty and the Beast. This is a fairy tale. Now…he neglected to mention that some fairy tales are very violent.
Gross talked about their process:
Walter would work out ideas in fairly great detail. I would do drafts and then he would go through them. He did not love creating scripts from scratch; he loved rewriting. Everything that he rewrote came through him and his way of doing things. Somewhere in the process of working with him on Streets of Fire, I began to have a pretty good sense of what I might put into a scene that he would dis-include and what I think of that would have a better chance of being something he didn’t need to revise. In other words: I began to develop a strong sense for knowing how to sound like he did.
The film's title came from a song written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen on his 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. Negotiations with Springsteen for rights to the song delayed production several times. Originally, plans were made for the song to be featured on the film's soundtrack, to be sung by Ellen Aim at the end of the film, but when Springsteen was told that the song would be re-recorded by other vocalists, he withdrew permission for the song to be used. Jim Steinman was brought in to write the opening and closing songs, and "Streets of Fire" was replaced by "Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young". The studio claimed that they replaced Springsteen's song because it was a "downer".
When it came to casting the movie, Hill wanted to go with a young group of relative unknowns. Gross:
There was always the idea that we were going to discover a new Steve McQueen, you know? A young, white guy who would ride a motorcycle and have a carbine over his shoulder and be a mainstream icon. And we saw them all. I mean we saw everyone. Eric Roberts. Tom Cruise. Patrick Swayze. Everyone, everyone, everyone, everyone. And we wanted Tom Cruise. But he got another job the day before we made him an offer. Our dream cast, who we met and we wanted, were Tom Cruise and Darryl Hannah. And we couldn’t pull the trigger on either deal in the right moment of time and we lost them.
He heard about Michael Paré from the same agent who recommended Eddie Murphy to him for 48 Hrs. At the time he was cast, in March 1983, Paré had appeared in two films, Eddie and the Cruisers and Undercover, which had not yet been released. For Hill, Paré "had the right quality. He was the only actor I found who was right for the part ...a striking combination of toughness and innocence." Paré said of his character, "He's someone who can come in and straighten everything out." However, according to writer Larry Gross, they had initially wanted Tom Cruise for the role of Tom Cody but they "couldn’t pull the trigger on either deal in the right moment of time."
The character of Ellen Aim was written as a 28-year-old woman and Diane Lane read for the part when she was 18. Hill was reluctant to cast her because he felt that she was too young for the role. Hill met Lane in New York City and she auditioned for him in black leather pants, a black mesh top and high-heeled boots. He was surprised with her "total commitment to selling herself as a rock 'n' roll star". The actress had been in more than 10 films by the time she did Streets of Fire. She described her character as "the first glamorous role I've had". Hill was so impressed with her work on the film that he wrote additional scenes for her during the shoot.
"We were very excited about Diane Lane because she was starring in two excitedly hyped Francis Ford Coppola pictures that were being done in Oklahoma," says Gross. "So we had the approval of sort of picking the person that Francis Ford Coppola picked."
Amy Madigan originally read for Reva, Cody's sister, and told Hill and Silver that she wanted to play the role of McCoy which, she remembers, "was written to be played by an overweight male who was a good soldier and really needed a job. It could still be tough and strong and have a woman do it without rewriting the part." Hill liked the idea and cast her.
Willem Dafoe was recommended by Kathryn Bigelow, who had just made a film with him. Bigelow was dating David Giler, a collaborator and friend of Hill's at the time. Gross later said the thought Dafoe "may have been the best thing about the film."
Production began on location in Chicago in April 1983, then moved to Los Angeles for 45 days, and finally two weeks at a soap factory in Wilmington, California, with additional filming taking place at Universal Studios. Shooting wrapped on August 18, 1983. All ten days of filming in Chicago were exteriors at night, on locations that included platforms of elevated subway lines and the depths of Lower Wacker Drive. For Hill, the subways and their look was crucial to the world of the film and represented one of three modes of transportation—the other two being cars and motorcycles. While shooting in Chicago, the production was plagued by inclement weather that included rain, hail, snow, and a combination of all three. The subway scenes were filmed on location in Chicago at many locations, including: LaSalle Street (Blue line), Lake Street (Green line), Sheridan Road (Red, Purple lines), and Belmont Avenue (Red, Brown, and Purple lines). The Damen Avenue stop (Blue Line, at Damen, North, and Milwaukee Avenues) was also used.
Production designer John Vallone and his team constructed an elevated train line on the backlot of Universal Studios that perfectly matched the ones in Chicago. The film crew tarped-in the New Street and Brownstone street sets to double for the Richmond District setting, completely covering them so that night scenes could be filmed during the day. This tarp measured 1,240 feet long by 220 feet wide over both sets, and cost $1.2 million to construct. However, this presented unusual problems. The sound of the tarp flapping in the wind interfered with the actors’ dialogue. Birds who had nested in the tarp provided their own noisy interruptions.
The exterior of the Richmond Theater where Ellen Aim sings at the beginning of the film was shot on the backlot, with the interior done in the Wiltern Theater in L.A. for two weeks. The factory scenes that take place in the Battery were filmed at a rotting soap factory in Wilmington, California, for ten nights. The Ardmore Police roadblock was filmed near 6th street in East Los Angeles, near the flood basin. Though only three districts are seen, the city has a total of five districts: the Richmond, the Strip, the Battery, the Cliffside, and the Bayside.
The production employed 500 extras to play the citizens of the Richmond District. Cinematographer Andrew Laszlo shot the film with very low light, giving the images a stark, "low-tech" quality. The choreography for the two songs Ellen Aim sings and the one by the Sorels was done by Jeffrey Hornaday. The lighting for these concert scenes were done by Mark Brickman, who also lit concerts for Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd. In addition, 12 1950 and 1951 model Studebakers were used as police cars. More than 50 motorcycles and their drivers were featured as the Bombers, and were chosen from 200 members of real L.A.-based clubs like The Crusaders and The Heathens.
According to cinematographer Andrew Laszlo, the film's style was dictated by the story. The Richmond's look was very soft and the colors did not call attention to themselves. The light in The Battery was contrasting and harsh, with vivid colors. Argyle prints and plaids are used in the Parkside District, and neon lights color the Strip.
A massive tent was used to cover the backlot and shoot day for night. It cost $1.2 million.
Walter Hill later said he felt "humbled" by the shoot:
I think I thought I could handle things. Didn't know how to shoot music. Music had been important in my films, it was usually post production. This was tough stuff to shoot. I already had a great respect for people like Minnelli. I just couldn't seem to work it out without just putting up multiple cameras and shooting an awful lot of film... I later realized or talked to people about this and MGM in the old days everybody was on contract and they would rehearse for weeks. We don't get that. We would stage it and shoot it. We got the songs a lot of times just a few days before we shoot. We only get the final song. The structural advantage of the old studio system we didn't have. It made a very inefficient shoot. I don't think there was any other way to do it given the circumstances.
Due to the choreography and setups in between takes of every scene, the climactic 4-minute showdown between Cody and Raven took a considerable time to shoot. Paré estimated it as four weeks:
Willem and I shot that for two weeks, and then Walter shot it for another two week with the stunt guys. That whole scene was a Walter thing. He had to do something like that, especially after what he had done in Hard Times (1975).
Michael Paré later recalled:
You gotta realize that, out of the whole cast, nobody was over thirty. Diane Lane was, I think, eighteen. It was an enormous Hollywood production. My manager had me hire a limousine to pick me up at home and take me to work. I was like, "Jesus, this is incredible. This is... Hollywood. The real Hollywood. The Hollywood they make movies about."... It was scary. And Walter isn't the kind of guy who works well with kids. He's a cowboy. He's like John Ford. "Don't ask me how to act! I'm a director!" (Laughs)
Paré also said he had troubles with Rick Moranis:
Rick Moranis drove me out of my mind. There's this whole wave of insult comedy. In the real world, if someone insults you a couple of times, you can smack them. Or punch them. You can't do that on a movie set. And these comedians walk around, and they can say whatever they want. I'm just not that handy with that. Comedians are a special breed. They can antagonize you and say whatever they... want, and you can't do anything to stop them... He's this weird looking little guy who couldn't get laid in a whore house with a fistful of fifties. He would imitate me. The first thing he says to me is, "Do you just act cool, or are you really cool?" That was the first sentence out of his mouth to me in Joel Silver's office. And I was like, "Oh... this is not going to go well." But he was one of Joel's dear friends, and he ended up making a bunch of movies for Disney. I just wasn't that sharp. I wasn't ready for that kind of crap.
Paré said that the original draft of the script had Tom Cody kill Raven with a knife. "Walter really liked the idea, because it had Tom Cody winning at all costs." However, this was changed to a fair fight in order to get a PG rating.
Paré did not always work well with Walter Hill:
I think Walter is a writer at heart. Writers aren't always that good at communicating in person. He's also a tough son-of-a-bitch. He's like a cowboy. His director's chair was made out of leather and on the back of it read "Lone Wolf". He used to frequent gun clubs and he wasn't a very delicate guy.... We were doing a love scene. When they said, "We need to ADR the love scene." I really freaked out. I had never done a love scene before... I really needed help to get through it. I panicked, and the Producer... Joel Silver, called Walter and somehow persuaded him to come over and direct me through the ADR. Streets of Fire was a big picture for me, and I was overwhelmed. I think that bothered Walter. I think he thought that I was a needy guy. He was used to working with actors who had experience like Nick Nolte or David Carradine. I've always wondered why Walter has never wanted to work with me again. I think he was too much of gentlemen to tell me that I was too needy at the time.
E.G. Daily who played Baby Doll says it was "a very frustrating thing for me" to not sing in the film "Because Diane Lane was singing, and I remember thinking, “Ah!” It was so frustrating for me. It was painful. Because I wanted to be on that stage singing with those guys... But back then I always played those quirky characters. I didn’t get those fancy leads. I got those best friend of the leads, quirky, funny characters. Hookers with a heart of gold. Weirdos. I liked my roles, I just wanted to be singing, too."
Gross and Hill would meet with the editors on the weekends and look at footage. Gross recalls:
It was a 14-week shoot and after about five weeks, I remember one night I turned to Walter and said, “This movie is somewhat weirder than we thought.”... We just didn’t anticipate what the combination of elements was going to be. We had a very conscious design concept of the movie, but I think we didn’t fully grasp how strong it would be, in terms of the combination of elements. In a way, I think Streets of Fire was about expanding The Warriors concept to a bigger stage. But when expanding it to a bigger scale, it changed. The movie’s bigness of size—compositionally—changed the meaning of things and made it more of a fairy tale... The Warriors, it was bewoven with a unique sense of realism. The fact that they made a deal with real gangs to be extras in the film. There was a true Godardian dialectic going on between artifice and reality. It’s a very real-world film, in some respects, but it’s very artificial at the same time... We did that again, but we put the emphasis on the artifice. And we didn’t fully…I want to say we had too much integrity. We went further with that, perhaps, than we should have. I don’t know. I can’t put everything together about what didn’t work, but the most damaging thing is that we didn’t have the right actor for Tom Cody. Maybe if we’d had Tom Cruise, we might have had a success. But our commitment to be stylized was thorough and conscious and maybe too extreme for the mainstream audience.
Jimmy Iovine produced five of the songs for the film and the soundtrack album. For Ellen Aim's singing voice, he combined the voices of Laurie Sargent and Holly Sherwood, billing them as "Fire Incorporated." The Attackers were the real-life (Face to Face) bandmates of Sargent, who provided the lead vocals on Ellen Aim's songs "Never Be You" and "Sorcerer", and supporting vocals on "Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young." The version of "Sorcerer," written and composed by Stevie Nicks, that was featured on the actual soundtrack album was performed by Marilyn Martin.
Two songs written by Jim Steinman were part of the soundtrack: "Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young" and "Nowhere Fast," both performed by "Fire Incorporated", with Holly Sherwood as lead vocal. The title of the former was used as the tagline on some promotional materials for the film. Dan Hartman's selection "I Can Dream About You" is the most successful song from the movie, and became a Billboard top 10 hit in 1984 (also from his studio album of the same name). In the movie, the song is performed on stage at the end of the film by "The Sorels," a fictional doo-wop style group consisting of actors Stoney Jackson, Grand L. Bush, Mykelti Williamson, and Robert Townsend. However, the song was actually sung for the film by Winston Ford, whose vocals were lip-synched by Jackson in the movie. While there are thus two versions of the song, only Hartman's version was released commercially.
Steinman later recalled thinking the script was "terrible", but he thought the film was going to be a big hit, in part because of the enthusiasm of Joel Silver:
[He said] this movie is about visuals. It's about excitement, it's about thrills. Don't worry about the script... I remember mentioning it to six or seven people that the script was trashy and I always got the same answer... The script doesn't matter. This movie is about visuals... Then we go to the first edit, the first cut of the movie in the screening room and it's [Jimmy] Iovine and me and Joel Silver... And about 20 minutes into the movie Jimmy turns to me and he goes... this movie is really shitty isn't it? It's really bad. I said, yeah, it's a really bad script. Why didn't anyone notice that the script was bad? It stinks. I can't even watch it... Joel's on the other side going, what am I gonna do next? There's gotta be a next project, and they're sitting there and there's so many lessons I learned during that movie. It went $14 million over budget, I think and I kept saying to Joel, how are they allowing this? 'Cause they kept screaming at us, it's over the budget. I said, how, and they, you've gotta understand, they built all, Walter Hill didn't want to go to Chicago. The story took place in Chicago, so they built Chicago in LA.
Steinman has said the filmmakers were convinced they would have the rights to the Bruce Springsteen song Streets of Fire, and filmed an ending using it. However, when they realised they would not get it in time, they asked Steinman for a song, which he wrote in two days.
So I wrote this song that I loved and I sent it to them and he and Joel, I remember, left me a great message saying, I hate you, you bastard, I love this song. We're gonna have to do it. We're gonna have to re-build the Wiltern Theater, which they had taken down, it was a million dollars to re-do the ending... and I felt all his hostility for Universal. A guy named Sean Daniels, who was head of production, one day said to me, well there is hostility because we understand you waited about eight months to come up with that final song and you never did it. I said, where'd you hear that? I did it in two days. He said, Jimmy Iovine. So I went to Jimmy Iovine and I said all that to his, yeah it's true, I know. I blamed you but you can't be upset with me. I'm not like a writer. I've gotta make my way with these people. I had to have a scapegoat.
- Fire Inc. – "Nowhere Fast" 6:02
- Marilyn Martin – "Sorcerer" 5:06
- The Fixx – "Deeper and Deeper" 3:45
- Greg Phillinganes – "Countdown to Love" 3:00
- The Blasters – "One Bad Stud" 2:28
- Fire Inc. – "Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young" 6:58
- Maria McKee – "Never Be You" 4:06
- Dan Hartman – "I Can Dream About You" 4:07
- Ry Cooder – "Hold That Snake" 2:36
- The Blasters – "Blue Shadows" 3:17
Larry Gross recalls the filmmakers were optimistic prior to release:
We all knew in our hearts that Michael was disappointing. We felt that we had compensated adequately in making a fun, exciting, stylized world. You know, I was disappointed in one aspect: a voiceover from Tom’s sister that we had, which Walter later decided to cut. Um, there were a couple of things in the narrative that I felt went out that probably should have stayed in. At the same time, I was myself knocked out by what Walter and (cinematographer) Andy Laszlo and our editor were doing visually on the film. And I felt, as I watched the post-production process going on, I just saw the film getting better and better. More impressive. To the point where I thought it was going to do well. And I thought that we had done what we set out to do. Created the world that we set out to create.... It was a movie that was built to succeed. It’s funny. The movie screened very, very well. I remember, after the first screenings, people told me that I was going to be rich for life. There was tremendous love and confidence.
Streets of Fire fared poorly at the box office, opening in 1,150 theaters on June 1, 1984, and grossing US$2.4 million during its first weekend. After ten days, it made $4.5 million, while fellow opener Star Trek III: The Search for Spock grossed $34.8 million in the same time.
Gross says Hill was making Brewster's Millions at the time. "Joel got off the phone with Universal and said, “We’re dead.” We sat down, I remember, in a little park. In downtown LA. And we started giggling, in that way people do when things are terrible... There’s the song in the movie called “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young.” And I remember, in the park, Joel saying, “Today Is What It Means to be Dead.”"
The film went on to make a total of $8 million in North America, compared to a production budget of $14.5 million.
"I was shattered when the film didn’t perform," said Gross. "That broke my heart... I hoped, by the time the movie finished, that it would be whipped into a shape and design that would have a real impact. And then it didn’t, and that was sad. "
It has a 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as of November 2014.
Gary Arnold wrote in the Washington Post that as "romantic leads, Paré and Lane are pretty much a washout," and that "most of the action climaxes are treated as such throwaways that you begin to wonder if they bored the director."
Jay Scott wrote, in The Globe and Mail newspaper, that "when Streets of Fire is speeding by like Mercury on methedrine, the rush left in its wake cancels out questions of content. But the minute the momentum slows, it's another story—a story about a movie with no story at all."
In a lengthy essay for Film Comment, David Chute wrote, "It's probably impossible not to enjoy the movie. No director holds a candle to Hill for sheer visceral expertise. But the moods didn't linger. It's such a hard-shelled picture that it barely has moods."
However, Roger Ebert, in his Chicago Sun-Times review, praised the film's dialogue. He wrote that "the language is strange, too: It's tough, but not with 1984 toughness. It sounds like the way really mean guys would have talked in the late 1950s, only with a few words different--as if this world evolved a slightly different language."
Larry Gross claims the film has been influential:
Whatever is good, bad or indifferent about Streets of Fire, it had a huge impact on other filmmakers. The two movies that came out in the years after that are completely saturated in the iconography of Streets of Fire are RoboCop and Se7en. Se7en’s taking place in another world. It’s not New York. It’s not Chicago. A world where it’s raining all the time. Always dark. Always night, just about. Those are two very successful movies that figured out how to do the stylization with the appropriate amount of gore that they hooked the audience. And I think that if we’d done more gore, our chances of hooking the audience would be greater.
Awards and nominations
- Best Actress: Amy Madigan (1984)
- Worst Supporting Actress: Diane Lane (1984)
Possible sequels and Road to Hell
Streets of Fire was intended to be the first in a projected trilogy called "The Adventures of Tom Cody", with Hill tentatively titling the two sequels The Far City and Cody's Return.
Paré later recalled:
They told me that it was going to be a trilogy. What happened was that all of the people that made Streets of Fire left Universal Studios and went to 20th Century Fox. It was made at Universal, so they owned the rights to the story. So it was left behind. I was told by Joel Silver that the sequel was going to be set in the snow, and the following film would be set in the desert.
However, the film's eventual failure at the box office put an end to the project. In an interview, shortly after the film's release, Paré said, "Everyone liked it, and then all of a sudden they didn't like it. I was already worried about whether I should do the sequel or not."