The film is about two Arizona brothers who move to California and end up fighting a gang of young vampires. The title is a reference to the Lost Boys in J. M. Barrie's stories about Peter Pan and Neverland, who, like the vampires, never grow up.
Brothers Michael and Sam Emerson travel with their recently divorced mother, Lucy to the small beach town of Santa Carla, California to live with her eccentric father. Michael and Sam begin hanging-out at the boardwalk, which is plastered with flyers of missing people, while Lucy gets a job at a video store run by a local bachelor, Max. Michael becomes fascinated by Star, a young woman he spots on the boardwalk, though she seems to be in a relationship with the mysterious David, the leader of a young biker gang. In the local comic book store, Sam meets brothers Edgar and Alan Frog, a pair of self-proclaimed vampire hunters, who give him horror comics to teach him about the threat they claim has infiltrated the town.
Michael finally talks to Star and is approached by David, who goads him into following them by motorcycle along the beach until they reach a dangerous cliff, which Michael almost goes over. At the gang's hangout, a sunken luxury hotel beneath the cliff, David initiates Michael into the group. Star warns Michael not to drink from an offered bottle, telling him it's blood, but Michael ignores her advice. Later on, David and the others, including Michael, head to a railroad bridge where they hang off the edge over a foggy gorge; one by one they fall, Michael falling after them.
Michael wakes up the next day unaware of how he got there. His eyes are sensitive to sunlight and he develops a sudden thirst for blood, which leads him to impulsively attack Sam. Sam's dog, Nanook, retaliates, and Sam realizes that Michael is turning into a vampire by his brother's semi-transparent reflection. Sam is initially terrified of his brother but Michael convinces him that he is not yet a vampire and that he desperately needs his help. Michael begins to develop supernatural powers and asks Star for help, but has sex with her shortly afterwards. Sam deduces that, since Michael has not killed anyone, he is a half-vampire and his condition can be reversed upon the death of the head vampire. Sam and the Frog brothers test whether Max is the head vampire during a date with Lucy, but Max passes every test and the boys decide to focus on David.
To provoke him into killing, David takes Michael to stalk a group of beach goers, and instigates a feeding frenzy. Horrified, Michael escapes and returns home to Sam. Star arrives, and reveals herself as a half-vampire who is looking to be cured. It emerges that David had intended for Michael to be Star's first kill, sealing her fate as a vampire. The next day, a weakening Michael leads Sam and the Frog brothers to the gang's lair. They impale one of the vampires, Marko, with a stake, awakening David and the two others, but the boys escape, rescuing Star and Laddie, a half-vampire child and Star's companion.
That evening while Lucy is on a date with Max and the grandfather is out of the house, the teens arm themselves with holy-water-filled water guns, a longbow, and stakes, barricading themselves in the house. When night falls, David's gang attack the house. The Frog brothers and Nanook manage to kill one of the vampires by pushing him into a bathtub filled with garlic and holy water, dissolving him to the bone. Sam is attacked by Dwayne, another vampire, and shoots an arrow through his heart and into the stereo behind him, electrocuting him and causing parts of his body to explode. Michael is then attacked by David, forcing him to use his vampire powers. He manages to overpower David and impales him on a set of antlers. However, Michael, Star and Laddie do not transform back to normal as they had hoped. Lucy then returns home with Max, who is revealed to be the head vampire. He informs the boys that to invite a vampire into one's house renders one powerless, explaining why their earlier assumption had been incorrect. Max's objective had been to get Lucy to be a mother for his lost boys. As Max pulls Lucy to him, preparing to transform her, he is killed when Grandpa crashes his jeep through the wall of the house and impales Max on a wooden fence post, causing him to explode. Michael, Star and Laddie then return to normal.
Amongst this carnage and debris, Grandpa casually retrieves a drink from the refrigerator, and declares: "One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach: all the damn vampires".
The film's title is a reference to the characters featured in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan stories, who - like vampires - never grow old. According to Day, the central theme of The Lost Boys, "organised around loose allusions to Peter Pan", is the tension surrounding the Emerson family and the world of contemporary adolescence.
On the film's cast, director Joel Schumacher stated he had: "one of the greatest in the world. They are what make the film." Most of the younger cast were relatively unknown at the time. Schumacher and Marion Dougherty met with a countless number before any were cast.
After seeing Kiefer Sutherland's portrayal of Tim in At Close Range, Schumacher arranged a reading with him; at which, they got on very well. Sutherland had just completed work on Stand by Me when he was offered the role of David. According to Schumacher, Sutherland: "can do almost anything. He's a born character actor. You can see it in The Lost Boys. He has the least amount of dialogue in the movie, but his presence is extraordinary."
The majority of the film was shot in Santa Cruz, California; this includes the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the Pogonip open space preserve, and the surrounding Santa Cruz Mountains. Originally, the script called for Santa Cruz to be the name of the fictional town where the "lost boys" hunted their prey. However, the aforementioned city's council strongly objected to the town being portrayed as the "murder capital of the world"; so they refused to grant filming permits. It was for this reason the producers introduced the fictional town of "Santa Carla". Unbeknown at the time, was the fact that Santa Cruz's true crime history is what attracted the producers to the beach town in the first place. In the late 1970s, Santa Cruz gained an unpopular reputation as "Murdersville, USA" and as being "the Murder Capital of the World" after three infamous serial killers (Kemper, Mullin, and Carpenter) were found to have hunted victims in the area.
The Lost Boys opened at #2 during its opening weekend, with a domestic gross of over $5.2 million. It went on to gross a domestic total of over $32.2 million against an $8.5 million budget.
Critical reception was generally positive. Roger Ebert gave the movie two-and-a-half out of four stars, praising the cinematography and "a cast that's good right down the line," but ultimately describing Lost Boys as a triumph of style over substance and "an ambitious entertainment that starts out well but ends up selling its soul." Caryn James of The New York Times called Dianne Wiest's character a "dopey mom" and Barnard Hughes's character "a caricature of a feisty old Grandpa." She found the film more of a comedy than a horror and the finale "funny". Elaine Showalter comments that "the film brilliantly portrays vampirism as a metaphor for the kind of mythic male bonding that resists growing up, commitment, especially marriage."
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film maintains a rating of 72%. with the critical consensus "Flawed but eminently watchable, Joel Schumacher's teen vampire thriller blends horror, humor, and plenty of visual style with standout performances from a cast full of young 1980s stars." On Metacritic it has a rating of 63/100. It won a Saturn Award for Best Horror Film in 1987. The film has since developed a cult following.
The mythographer A. Asbjørn Jøn has commented on the way that the influence of The Lost Boys has helped shift popular culture depictions of vampires since its release. The film is often credited with bringing a more youthful appeal to the vampire genre by making the vampires themselves sexy and young. This in turn would inspire subsequent films like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Interview with the Vampire. The scene in which David transforms noodles into worms was directly referenced in the 2014 vampire mockumentary film What We Do in the Shadows.
As was the case for many of Warner Brothers' films at the time, Craig Shaw Gardner was given a copy of the script and asked to write a short novel to accompany the film's release. It was released in paperback by Berkley Publishing and is 220 pages long. It includes several scenes later dropped from the film such as Michael working as a trash collector for money to buy his leather jacket. It expands the roles of the opposing gang, the Surf Nazis, who were seen as nameless victims of the vampires in the film. It includes several tidbits of vampire lore, such as not being able to cross running water and salt sticking to their forms.
Despite being impaled on a pair of antlers, Kiefer Sutherland's character, David, does not explode or dissolve in any way (like the other vampires). He was intended to have survived, which would be picked up in a sequel, The Lost Girls. Scripts for this and other sequels circulated over the years; Joel Schumacher made several attempts at a sequel during the 1990s, but nothing came to fruition.
David makes a reappearance in the 2008 comic book series, Lost Boys: Reign of Frogs, which serves as a sequel to the first film and a prequel to Lost Boys: The Tribe. It is here the readers are told that the antlers missed David's heart.
A direct-to-DVD sequel, Lost Boys: The Tribe, was released more than 20 years after the release of the original film. Corey Feldman returned as Edgar Frog, with a cameo by Corey Haim as Sam Emerson. Kiefer Sutherland's half-brother Angus Sutherland played the lead vampire, Shane Powers.
In March 2009, MTV reported that work had begun on a third film entitled Lost Boys: The Thirst, with Feldman serving as an executive producer in addition to playing Edgar Frog, and Newlander returning as Alan Frog. Haim, who was not slated to be part of the cast, died in March 2010. The film was released on DVD on October 12, 2010.
In July 2016, Vertigo stated for a release of a miniseries comics starting on October 12, 2016 where Michael, Sam and the Frog Brothers must protect Star from her sisters, the Blood Belles.
Thomas Newman wrote the original score as an eerie blend of orchestra and organ arrangements, while the music soundtrack contains a number of notable songs and several covers, including "Good Times", a duet between INXS and former Cold Chisel lead singer Jimmy Barnes which reached No. 2 on the Australian charts in early 1987. This cover version of a 1960s Australian hit by the Easybeats was originally recorded to promote the Australian Made tour of Australia in early 1987, headlined by INXS and Barnes.
Tim Cappello's cover of The Call's "I Still Believe" was featured in the film as well as on the soundtrack. Cappello makes a small cameo appearance in the movie playing the song at the Santa Cruz boardwalk, with his saxophone and bodybuilder muscles on display.
The soundtrack also features a cover version of The Doors' song "People Are Strange" by Echo & the Bunnymen. The song as featured in the movie is an alternate, shortened version with a slightly different music arrangement.
Lou Gramm, lead singer of Foreigner, also recorded "Lost in the Shadows" for the soundtrack, along with a video which featured clips from the film.
The theme song, "Cry Little Sister", was originally recorded by Gerard McMahon (under his pseudonym Gerard McMann) for the soundtrack, and later re-released on his album "G Tom Mac" in 2000. In the film's sequel, "Cry Little Sister" was covered by a Seattle-based rock band, Aiden.Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
- "Good Times" by INXS and Jimmy Barnes – 3:49 (The Easybeats)
- "Lost in the Shadows (The Lost Boys)" by Lou Gramm – 6:17
- "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" by Roger Daltrey – 6:09 (Elton John/Bernie Taupin)
- "Laying Down the Law" by INXS and Jimmy Barnes – 4:24
- "People Are Strange" by Echo & the Bunnymen – 3:36 (The Doors)
- "Cry Little Sister (Theme from The Lost Boys)" by Gerard McMann – 4:46
- "Power Play" by Eddie & the Tide – 3:57
- "I Still Believe" by Tim Cappello – 3:42 (The Call)
- "Beauty Has Her Way" by Mummy Calls – 3:56
- "To the Shock of Miss Louise" by Thomas Newman – 1:21
The soundtrack was first released on LP and cassette in 1987 by Atlantic Records, then CD in 1990.