Directed by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and featuring a cast of talented young actors, many of whom would go on to become big Hollywood stars, The Outsiders is a fascinating film that the French author Stéphane Delorme once described as “a wonder.”
Starring Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and more, The Outsiders tells the story of rival teen gangs in Oklahoma dealing with the consequences of their violent actions. Below are some things that you probably didn’t know about Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 coming of age drama.
20. The film’s source novel was written by a 16-year-old schoolgirl
The Outsiders is based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Susan Eloise Hinton. Usually credited as S.E. Hinton, she was born in 1948 and began writing The Outsiders – her first novel – at an early age. Hinton was just fifteen years old when she started writing the novel, and she completed it only a year later when she was sixteen.
Hinton has a cameo in The Outsiders as a nurse, one of only six acting credits on her resume. Since The Outsiders, she has published a further eight books, the most recent being 2007 short fiction collection Some of Tim’s Stories.
19. A school librarian convinced Francis Ford Coppola to adapt the novel into a film
Director Francis Ford Coppola’s films The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now are considered some of the greatest works of cinema ever made. However, by the early 80s Coppola was ready to pare things back a bit, and found the new, smaller-scale project he was looking for through the perhaps surprising source of a high school librarian.
Jo Ellen Misakian, librarian at the Lone Star Elementary School in California, wrote to Coppola on behalf of her teenage students, arguing the worth of Hinton’s novel and its suitability for a film adaptation. On the strength of this, Coppola decided to give the novel a look, and agreed that it had real potential for a movie.
18. The film’s cast all auditioned together
The Outsiders is one of those movies which has become legendary for introducing an ensemble of actors who all went on to huge success. The film stars Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, and the biggest superstar of them all, Tom Cruise. Yet while all these young men went on to do big things, none of them pulled much weight at the time, so The Outsiders was something of a trial by fire.
Future Karate Kid star Ralph Macchio has revealed that Francis Ford Coppola auditioned all the film’s young hopefuls in the same room, so that they could switch roles and watch each other’s performances. Macchio remarked that this was “brutal because you’re becoming self-conscious of any choices. You’re watching reactions based on other actors and watching the filmmakers and how they respond because you’re all trying to get the job.”
17. Nicolas Cage, Melanie Griffith and Flea appear as rival gang members in uncredited cameos
Beyond the core ensemble, The Outsiders also features some future megastars amongst the supporting cast. For one, we have an uncredited appearance from Nicolas Cage. Born Nicolas Coppola, Cage is the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola, and adopted his stage name to stand apart from his uncle’s legacy. (He didn’t necessarily help that by appearing in more of his uncle’s films, notably Rumble Fish and Peggy Sue Got Married.)
The film also boasts uncredited cameos from future Working Girl star Melanie Griffith, and Heather Langenkamp, later known for her role in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. There’s also an appearance from Flea, the founding member and bassist for massively successful rock group the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose other movie appearances include the Back to the Future sequels and The Big Lebowski.
16. Actors playing members of the ‘Socs’ were given better living conditions
The Outsiders largely hinges on the rivalry between the impoverished Greasers gang, and the considerably more well-off Socials, or ‘Socs.’ To promote this divide, Francis Ford Coppola insisted on keeping the actors playing rival gang members completely separate. Not only that, but the actors playing the more affluent Socs were given better living conditions, free room service and more spending money.
The director did this in the hopes that the central Greaser actors would be resentful of them. On learning that this was Coppola’s plan, Tom Cruise reportedly laughed, “Well, it ain’t working. If anybody’s jealous, it’s them about us, since the Greasers are the f***in’ stars of the movie!”
15. Francis Ford Coppola nearly burned a real-life church to the ground
Director Francis Ford Coppola’s endless quest for perfection has got him into trouble in the past (just take a look at the highly chequered history of Apocalypse Now). The photography of one particular scene in The Outsiders also came close to ending in disaster. The trouble came in the scene in the movie in which a church is on fire.
They were shooting the potentially dangerous scene in a real church – and the director kept calling for “more fire.” You can guess what happened next: the old building was soon ablaze for real, but in a happy turn of events a rain shower quickly put out the ever-expanding flames, saving both the building and the director’s good name.
14. The film’s young cast liked to play pranks on each other
The film’s director may have been an old seasoned pro, but The Outsiders had a whole lot of hot-blooded youngsters on set, so inevitably there was some tomfoolery. It should come as little surprise that plenty such behaviour went down on the set of The Outsiders, with many practical jokers amongst the cast. On-set reports revealed that Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe and Matt Dillon were the most prolific pranksters of the bunch.
The unfortunate souls who were most frequently the butt of the joke were C. Thomas Howell and Diane Lane, two of the youngest actors in the film. Reportedly, Ralph Macchio was a more serious character throughout. Although he might not look it, Macchio was one of the older members of the ensemble at 20 – still far younger of the oldest of all, as Patrick Swayze was 29 at the time.
13. It’s considered the first ‘Brat Pack’ movie
Typically, the ‘Brat Pack’ label is synonymous with the young actors of the 80s who appeared in the films of writer-director John Hughes. However, it can be argued that The Outsiders was the real genesis of the so-called Brat Pack; or at least that the film laid the groundwork for the Brat Pack movies that followed. Two core Brat Pack members appear in The Outsiders: Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez.
Lowe and Estevez both went on to appear in St. Elmo’s Fire, whilst Estevez was in The Breakfast Club. Other actors classed as Brat Pack members (although many of them took umbrage with this label) include Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall and Andrew McCarthy.
12. It was adapted into a TV series that was cancelled after one season
Seven years after Francis Ford Coppola first took the story to the screen, The Outsiders was revisited. 1990 saw the premiere of the TV show adaptation of The Outsiders, which began with a 90-minute pilot episode. With Francis Ford Coppola serving as executive producer, the short-lived series saw a different cast of actors playing the same characters in a story that built on the events of the film.
The cast included Robert Rusler (known for his roles in Weird Science and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2) and David Arquette (later star of the Scream movies), as well as boasting an early appearance from a then-unknown Billy Bob Thornton. Despite record-breaking ratings for the season premiere, The Outsiders quickly lost its audience, and wound up getting cancelled after only 13 episodes.
11. Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter insisted he include deleted scenes on the 2005 DVD
In 2005, The Outsiders was re-released to DVD in a new special edition dubbed ‘The Complete Novel.’ This came about after Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter read S.E. Hinton’s novel at school, prompting her to ask grandfather what happened to the various scenes from the novel which did not show up in the movie.
Coppola had also received a number of letters over the years from fans of the novel; like his granddaughter, these viewers felt that the missing chapters were a vital part of the overall story. Happily, Coppola had over 20 minutes worth of deleted scenes available which covered the chapters which had been omitted from the original cut, and he included these on the new 2005 cut.
10. Mickey Rourke, Dennis Quaid and Scott Baio auditioned for roles without success
Even with a powerhouse director like Francis Ford Coppola at the helm, it’s pretty remarkable that The Outsiders assembled so many future stars in its ensemble cast. You might imagine, then, that the actors who didn’t make the cut simply weren’t up to it – but you’d be wrong. As well as saying yes to a slew of stars in the making, Coppola turned away a number of notable figures.
Mickey Rourke and Dennis Quaid, both of whom went on to attain leading man heartthrob status, both auditioned unsuccessfully for The Outsiders. Another contender was Scott Baio, best known at the time (and to this day) for his role in TV sitcom Happy Days. Another actor turned away was Kate Capshaw, later the star of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and wife of director Steven Spielberg.
9. They rehearsed the entire movie on video before shooting for real on film
On a lot of movies, it’s fairly commonplace for the actors to meet up on set on the day of shooting with little or no rehearsal beforehand. Not so on the films of Francis Ford Coppola, who insists on getting his actors together well in advance and making sure they know what they’re doing before cameras roll. Coppola gave his cast two weeks rehearsal before principal photography began.
In addition, the director and his cast shot the entire film in rehearsal on videotape. Video technology was still fairly new at the time, and it was not common for it to be used this way on a feature film. This approach had its advantages, as the director and cast could refer back to their rehearsal footage whilst shooting the movie for real.
8. Francis Ford Coppola was so low on money he could only pay S.E. Hinton 10% of her fee for the book rights
The Outsiders came at a time when Francis Ford Coppola badly needed a hit movie, preferably without having to spend too much money up front. His previous films Apocalypse Now and One From the Heart had cost around $56 million put together, a huge amount for the time, and hadn’t made enough money to keep Coppola out of the red.
The Outsiders had a tighter budget of $10 million – and this was so thinly spread, the filmmaker couldn’t even afford to give novelist S.E. Hinton the full fee promised for the rights to the book. Instead of the $5,000 Hinton was offered up front, she had to make do with a measly $500.
7. Tom Cruise threw a massive diva fit over having to share a hotel room with Rob Lowe
Off the back of such hits at Risky Business and Top Gun, Tom Cruise became the biggest star of his generation, but when work began on The Outsiders he was still a largely unknown teenager. Even so, it seems the ambitious young actor already had a tremendous sense of his own star value even then. Rob Lowe says that Cruise went “ballistic” on learning the two actors were expected to share a hotel room during the audition process.
Lowe recalls, “I remember going, ‘Wow, this guy is the real deal.’ I mean it made me laugh, it was gnarly.” However, he admired his co-star’s tenacity: “The notion that an 18-year-old actor with a walk-on part in Endless Love and like a seventh lead in Taps could have that kind of like wherewithal… but in the end of it, you can’t argue with the results. He’s had his eye on the ball since day one.”
6. The poster photo was a candid reaction shot of the cast laughing for real
The famous poster art for The Outsiders is a simple shot of the seven central stars stood together, most of them laughing. According to Rob Lowe, just off camera there was a craft services table filled with snacks – and supporting actor Leif Garrett was stood nearby. While they were posing for photos, when a random passer by snuck in through the open door to sneakily grab a bite.
A crew member shooed the stranger away, angrily declaring that the food was just for the actors. To this, Ralph Macchio piped up to their off-camera co-star, “Yeah Leif, you hear that – those are for the actors!” This made Macchio’s co-stars laugh out loud – and the shot taken at that moment is the one they wound up using for the poster.
5. Matt Dillon refused Francis Ford Coppola’s suggestion of spending a night in jail as research
Director Francis Ford Coppola’s efforts to get his cast into character weren’t restricted to intensive rehearsal and promoting off-camera divisions. He also made arrangements for his young stars to experience day-to-day life in a way that was similar to that of their characters. The actors were introduced to real-life biker gang members, and slept overnight in their houses, which the cast weren’t thrilled about.
However, one demand that Coppola made was deemed a bridge too far by actor Matt Dillon. As Dillon’s character Dallas Winston is jailed in the movie, the director told Dillon he should spend a night in a cell himself. To this, Dillon is said to have responded, “No way, Francis, how about you go spend a night in jail?”
4. Tom Cruise got a taste for doing his own stunts on set
In the years since The Outsiders, Tom Cruise has built a reputation for doing as many of his own stunts as possible, most notably in the Mission: Impossible movies. The actor’s long-standing love of risking life and limb on film can be traced back to his early work on The Outsiders. Rob Lowe recalls that the cast underwent intensive fight training together to prepare for the pivotal ‘rumble’ sequence.
During this training, Lowe witnessed first-hand the “relentless competitiveness” of the young Cruise, who removed a tooth cap for the role and went out of his way to show how much more he could do than his co-stars. This, Lowe says, explains one particularly flashy move we see Cruise pull off: “He ended up being the only one who could do a backflip. It is in the movie for no reason.”
3. Coppola cast Emilio Estevez after deleting his bit part in Apocalypse Now
One of the core cast members in The Outsiders, Emilio Estevez, had already worked with director Francis Ford Coppola once before. Estevez is the son of Martin Sheen (whose birth name is Ramón Estévez), who played the lead in Coppola’s earlier film Apocalypse Now. In fact, young Estevez (also the brother of Charlie Sheen, AKA Carlos Estevez) had originally appeared in a small part in Apocalypse Now which didn’t make the final cut.
The young actor had shot a scene in the Vietnam war epic in which he portrayed a messenger boy. Although Coppola cut this scene, Estevez made enough of an impression that the director invited him to audition for The Outsiders, and cast him as Two-Bit. Estevez would go on to great success in the 80s with scene-stealing appearances in Repo Man, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire and more.
2. Tom Cruise landed Risky Business during production, and tried to convince Diane Lane to co-star
While cameras were rolling on The Outsiders, Tom Cruise landed a job offer that would change his career: the lead in Risky Business. Cruise was excited about the edgy comedy drama, and he knew he needed someone special to take the role of female lead Lana. With this in mind, the actor showed the Risky Business script to The Outsiders supporting actress Diane Lane.
Cruise thought Lane would be a great fit for the part of Lana, but Lane refused to go forward for it as both she and her parents were uncomfortable with the idea of her playing a prostitute. The part would ultimately be taken by Rebecca DeMornay, and Risky Business became a popular sensation on release in August 1983.
1. Coppola and Matt Dillon made another S.E. Hinton adaptation, Rumble Fish, the same year
Even though Francis Ford Coppola and Matt Dillon are said to have butted heads a lot during production on The Outsiders, the director took a shine to the young newcomer. Coppola would go on to give Dillon the lead role in his next movie, Rumble Fish – which was based on another S.E. Hinton novel. The film was made so hot on the heels of The Outsiders that it made it to screens only seven months later in October 1983.
Rumble Fish, which was shot in black and white, also featured The Outsiders bit-part actor Nicolas Cage, Dillon’s The Outsiders co-star Diane Lane, plus Laurence Fishburne, Chris Penn, Dennis Hopper and Mickey Rourke (who had unsuccessfully auditioned for The Outsiders).