During filming, the actors playing the "soc"s were given leather-bound scripts and were put up in luxury accommodations, while the "greasers" were given battered paperback scripts and had to stay in the ground floor of the hotel, as director Francis Ford Coppola wanted to create tension between the two groups.
Over a half hour of the film was cut before release, due to movie executives fearing it to be too long and a chance of upsetting fans of the book, making the movie a mere 91 minutes. In 2005, a "director's cut" DVD of this film was released that restores much of this footage.
The actors pulled some pranks in the hotel in which they stayed while shooting this movie. Years later, Tom Cruise was introduced to someone who said he worked at the hotel Cruise and the rest of the cast stayed in while they shot this movie. The first thing Cruise said when he heard that was "I'm sorry."
The film is based on a book that is very popular among junior high and high school students. A school class was actually responsible for Francis Ford Coppola making this film. A class voted Coppola the director they would most like to see direct a film of the book. The school sent a letter and a copy of the book to Coppola. Coppola read the book and the letter. He was so moved, he made both this film and Rumble Fish.
Francis Ford Coppola threw out Kathleen Rowell's script, wrote his own, and filmed the new screenplay. However, due to a decision by the Writers Guild, Coppola was unable to secure a credit for himself.
Rob Lowe had also auditioned for the role of Randy Anderson. This was not by his choice. He certainly did not want to play a "soc" in a movie about greasers. He even considered lowering his performance level for Randy audition so he'd seem like a better fit for the Sodapop role.
In addition to the 22 minutes of restored footage in the 2005 "Complete Novel" DVD, there are additional scenes that are not included, such as: an extension of the "walking home" introduction where the Socs accost Sodapop and Steve at the DX station and Darry throws some debris from the roof of a house at their car as they drive past him (this extension also includes more narration by Ponyboy); an alternate introduction to Johnny where his mother chases him out of the house with a broom, only to be stopped by Two-Bit, who rushes to Johnny's aid; additional footage of Ponyboy and Johnny at the church where they hide from some people riding on a horse; additional footage where Ponyboy and Darry have a fight only to be walked out on by Sodapop; an extended morning scene following the church fire where Ponyboy awakes and urges Sodapop to wake up, echoing the words he heard Darry say in his dream at the church about "rise and shine."
During the restored dinner scene where Sodapop runs away, the character is seen with a piece of paper at the table. According to the novel by S.E. Hinton, it is a "Dear John" letter from Soda's girlfriend Sandy, whom he claimed he wished to marry.
After Matt Dillon auditioned for the part of Dally, Director Francis Ford Coppola went up to him and told him, "You can go home now." Dillon thought he didn't get the part and called his agent and told him he didn't get the part. Later on, it turned out Coppola sent him home early because he already knew he was going to cast him as Dally.
During the scene with Cherry and Ponyboy talking before the rumble, Diane Lane said that C. Thomas Howell was making funny faces at her when the camera was only showing her face which made it hard for her to concentrate and not laugh. During the commentary almost 20 years later, she reminded him of that and he responded "Francis told me to do it."
When Dallas (Matt Dillon) robs the store clerk, the clerk is played by character actor William Smith, who a few years earlier had portrayed Falconetti in Rich Man, Poor Man. Years later, in the film Beautiful Girls, Matt Dillon's character, Tommy, tells his roommate Paul (Michael Rapaport) that he will be skipping their high school reunion and staying home to watch "Rich Man, Poor Man". The two characters then gush that there was never a more terrifying on-screen villain than Falconetti.
In the scene where the young girl at the Dairy Queen asks Dallas for 15 cents, the young girl is played by Sofia Coppola, daughter of director Francis Ford Coppola. She is credited in the film under the stage name "Domino".
During filming Tom Cruise had gotten his script for Risky Business. In the DVD commentary, Diane Lane says (very quietly) to the other actors that he had asked her during filming to play Lana in 'Risky Business', and her father told him there's no way in hell she was going to be a hooker in his movie.
In the poster for the film, the Greasers are shown laughing as Johnny (Ralph Macchio) is smirking. This was a candid shot, taken during the photo session in which the actors were supposed to look tough at the camera. What happened was that Leif Garrett (who played Bob) was approaching the food table off-camera, and a stagehand (who didn't know who Garrett was) said "The food is for the talent (meaning actors)," and Macchio sarcastically said, "Yeah, it's for the TALENT!" This comment cracked up the cast, and the photo was used.
The camera shot of Johnny at the fountain, which starts almost upside-down and turns (with Ponyboy's point-of-view as he is getting up) is Francis Ford Coppola "stealing from himself" in a sort of homage to the shot of Capt. Willard in Apocalypse Now, where the natives turn him upside-down, and the camera follows in his point-of-view.
Francis Ford Coppola received letters over the years from fans of the novel, many expressing disappointment that several key scenes from the book were omitted from the film version (they were in Coppola's original cut, but were edited at the behest of the studio). Years later, Coppola's granddaughter was reading the book in class, and was about to watch the film with her fellow schoolmates. Feeling embarrassed, Coppola cobbled together what would eventually become his Director's Cut.