The film is noted for its cast of up-and-coming stars, including C. Thomas Howell (who garnered a Young Artist Award), Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, and Diane Lane. The film helped spark the Brat Pack genre of the 1980s. Both Lane and Dillon went on to appear in Coppola's related film Rumble Fish. Emilio Estevez went on to be in That Was Then... This Is Now, the only S. E. Hinton film adaptation not to star Matt Dillon.
The movie received mostly positive reviews from critics, and performed well at the box office, grossing $33 million on a $10 million budget.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, greasers are a gang of tough, low-income working-class teens. They include Ponyboy Curtis and his two older brothers, Sodapop and Darrel, as well as Johnny Cade, Dallas Winston, Two-Bit Matthews, and Steve Randle. Their rivalry is with the Socs, a gang of wealthier kids from the other side of town. Two Socs, Bob Sheldon and Randy Anderson, confront Johnny, Ponyboy, and Two-Bit, who are talking to the Socs' girlfriends, Cherry and Marcia, at a drive-in theater. The girls defuse the situation by going home with the Socs. Later that night, Ponyboy and Johnny are attacked in a park by Bob, Randy, and three other Socs. They begin dunking Ponyboy in a fountain attempting to drown him, but Johnny pulls out his switchblade and stabs Bob to death.
On the advice of Dallas, and the fact that murderers in Oklahoma will be executed in the electric chair, Ponyboy and Johnny flee on a cargo train, and hide out in an abandoned church in Windrixville. Both boys cut their hair and Ponyboy bleaches his with peroxide in order to mask their descriptions. To pass time, the boys play poker and Ponyboy reads Gone with the Wind and quotes the Robert Frost poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay". After a few days, Dallas arrives with news that Cherry has offered to support the boys in court, that he told the police that Johnny and Pony were in Texas, and gives Pony a note from Sodapop. They go out to get something to eat, then return to find the church on fire with children trapped inside. The Greasers turn into heroes as they rescue the kids from the burning church. It doesn't take long for Ponyboy and Dally to heal up. Johnny, on the other hand, ends up with a broken back and severe burns. The boys are praised for their heroism, but Johnny is charged with manslaughter for killing Bob, while Ponyboy may be sent to a boys' home.
Bob's death has sparked calls from the Socs for "a rumble," which the Greasers win. Dallas drives Ponyboy to the hospital to visit Johnny. Johnny is unimpressed by the victory, and dies after telling Ponyboy to "stay gold," referring to the Frost poem. Unable to bear Johnny's death, Dallas wanders through the hospital, pretending to shoot a doctor with his unloaded gun, which clicks harmlessly. He then robs a grocery store with the same gun, but he is shot and wounded by the owner as he flees. Pursued by the police, Dallas is surrounded in a park and the police kill him after he repeatedly refuses to drop his unloaded gun. Ponyboy is eventually cleared of wrongdoing in Bob's death and allowed to stay with his brothers. Turning the pages of Johnny's copy of Gone with the Wind, Ponyboy finds a letter from Johnny saying that saving the children was worth sacrificing his own life. The story ends with Ponyboy writing a school report about his experiences.Greasers
Diane Lane as Sherri "Cherry" Valance
Leif Garrett as Robert "Bob" Sheldon
Darren Dalton as Randy Anderson
Michelle Meyrink as Marcia
Tom Waits as Buck Merrill
Gailard Sartain as Jerry Wood
William Smith as Store Clerk
The book's author, S. E. Hinton, appears briefly as a nurse in Dally's (Dillon's) hospital room.
Francis Ford Coppola had not intended to make a film about teen angst until Jo Ellen Misakian, a school librarian from Lone Star Elementary School in Fresno, California, wrote to him on behalf of her seventh and eighth grade students about adapting The Outsiders. When Coppola read the book, he was moved not only to adapt and direct it, but to follow it the next year by adapting Hinton's novel Rumble Fish. The latter film's cast also included Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, and Glenn Withrow.
The film was shot on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Coppola filmed The Outsiders and Rumble Fish back-to-back in 1982—a newspaper, used to show a story about the three greasers saving the kids in The Outsiders, includes a real story from 1982 regarding the death of a man hit by a train in Boston. He wrote the screenplay for the latter while on days off from shooting the former. Many of the same locations were used in both films, as were many of the same cast and crew members. The credits are shown at the beginning of the film in the style normally found in a published play.
Coppola's craving for realism almost led to disaster during the church-burning scene. He pressed for "more fire", and the small, controlled blaze accidentally triggered a much larger, uncontrolled fire, which a downpour fortunately doused.
The film was met with mostly positive reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives The Outsiders a 65% "Fresh" rating on its site. Roger Ebert awarded the film two-and-a-half out of four stars, citing problems with Coppola's vision, "the characters wind up like pictures, framed and hanging on the screen."
Authors Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins, in a 2007 book, wrote that the film's realistic portrayal of poor teenagers "created a new kind of filmmaking, especially about teenagers — a more naturalistic look at how young people talk, act, and experience the world. This movie was one of the few Hollywood offerings to deal realistically with kids from the wrong side of the tracks, and to portray honestly children whose parents had abused, neglected, or otherwise failed them."
Awards and nominations
The Outsiders was nominated for four Young Artist Awards, given annually since 1978 by the Young Artist Foundation. C. Thomas Howell won for "Best Young Motion Picture Actor in a Feature Film". Diane Lane was nominated for "Best Young Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture". The film was nominated for "Best Family Feature Motion Picture". Francis Ford Coppola was nominated for the Golden Prize at the 13th Moscow International Film Festival.
In September 2005, Coppola re-released the film on DVD, including 22 minutes of additional footage and new music, as The Outsiders: The Complete Novel. Coppola re-inserted some deleted scenes to make the film more faithful to the book. At the beginning of the film, he added scenes where Ponyboy gets stalked and jumped, the gang talks about going to the movies, Sodapop and Ponyboy talking in their room and Dally, Pony and Johnny bum around before going to the movies. In the end, Coppola added the scenes taking place in court, Mr. Syme talking to Ponyboy, and Sodapop, Ponyboy and Darry in the park. Also, much of the original score was replaced with music popular in the 1960s as well as new music composed by Michael Seifert and Dave Padrutt. The film was re-rated by the MPAA as PG-13 for "violence, teen drinking and smoking, and some sexual references".
The director also removed several scenes in order to improve pacing, but they could be found on the second disc as additional scenes. In addition, Swayze, Macchio, Lane, and Howell gathered at Coppola's estate to watch the re-release, and their commentary is included on the DVD. Dillon and Lowe provided separate commentary.
A Blu-ray edition of The Outsiders: The Complete Novel was released in Region 1 on June 3, 2014.
The original film score was composed by the director's father, Carmine Coppola; the main theme, "Stay Gold", was sung by Stevie Wonder. The original soundtrack included one rock song, Them's "Gloria".
A television series based on the characters of the novel and film aired in 1990. It consists of a different cast playing the same characters. It picks up right after the events of the film's ending but lasted only one season.