The film is based on a book that is very popular among junior high and high school students. A school class in Fresno, California was actually responsible for Francis Ford Coppola making this film. The class voted Coppola as 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 and was so moved, he made both this film and Rumble Fish (1983). 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.
In the poster for the film, the Greasers are shown laughing as Johnny 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 (Bob, the Soc) was approaching the food table off-camera, and a stagehand said, "Hey, Leif. Don't dig in yet. Save that for the actors." Then Ralph Macchio said, "Yeah Leif, save that for the actors." This comment cracked up the cast, and the photo was used.
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, "The Outsiders - The Complete Novel."
During filming, the actors playing the Socs 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.
Francis Ford Coppola wanted Matt Dillon to spend a night in jail to "understand" the character of Dallas Winston a bit better. Dillon refused, saying, "No way, Francis, how about you go spend a night in jail?"
After Matt Dillon auditioned for the part of Dally, Francis Ford Coppola went up to him and told him, "You can go home now." Dillon thought he did not get the part and called his agent and told him he did not 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.
According to writer S.E. Hinton, the boys caused quite a bit of trouble in the hotel they were staying in during the three months of filming. One particular incident she recalled in an interview was the night they filmed the fountain scene, where Bob (Leif Garrett) is attempting to drown Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell). Later on, the six other boys jokingly mocked this scene in the hotel's lobby fountain, playfully trying to drown each other. Hinton states the hotel had the fountain removed within weeks.
In the film, Dallas harasses Cherry and the two have an altercation. The scene was shot early in filming, and Matt Dillon and Diane Lane recalled years later that it got them off on the wrong foot and created real tension between them off set, which is why their irritability with each other in the scene seems very real. When the cast reunited in 2003 for the 20th anniversary, the men laughed when Lane told them about this, all agreeing that they remembered the ongoing feud between her and Dillon. Lane blames her adolescent insecurities for being so sensitive to Dillon's teasing. She also admitted that she remembers fondly how protective he and the other boys were of her. Dillon and Lane ended up shooting two other films together, both of which they are each other's love interest, and became good friends.
During the restored dinner scene where Sodapop runs away, Sodapop 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 his girlfriend Sandy, whom he claimed he wished to marry. Sandy had cheated on Soda and gotten pregnant, so she moved to Florida to live with her grandmother.
During filming, Tom Cruise had gotten his script for Risky Business (1983). 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 (1983), and her father told him there was no way in hell she was going to be a hooker in his movie.
Writer of the original novel S.E. Hinton was a part of every aspect of filming. She has stated in several interviews how much she loved the boys that were cast to make up her gang of greasers. Since almost all of them were teenagers and away from home with no adult supervision, she claims that she became a mother figure for them on and off set, and fondly remembers them calling her "Mom."
Diane Lane said that during the scene with Cherry and Ponyboy talking before the rumble, 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 twenty years later, she reminded him of that and he responded (referring to Francis Ford Coppola), "Francis told me to do it."
In the scene where the boys are in the street getting excited for the rumble, Tom Cruise does a standing back tuck off of the top of a truck. Patrick Swayze coached him beforehand on how to do it. Right before the scene was to be filmed, Cruise nervously approached writer S.E. Hinton and said he was afraid he was not going to be able to do it, because he felt nauseous from eating too much at lunch. Hinton asked if him if he thought he would feel better if he threw up, and Cruise said that he thought so. Hinton took him to the food truck and made him drink raw eggs until he threw up, resulting in Cruise feeling much better and doing the stunt without a problem.
While Ponyboy and Johnny are best friends in the novel and film, C. Thomas Howell recalls often not getting along with co-star Ralph Macchio, saying he was very serious and professional. He remembers a specific argument dealing with him wanting to beat his high score on Pacman and Macchio demanding they rehearsed their lines. Their differences could be attributed to the fact that Howell was only 16 years old and Macchio was 20 years old at the time.
Rob Lowe's film debut. He had also auditioned for the role of Randy Adderson, though it was not by his choice. Lowe certainly did not want to play a Soc in a movie about Greasers. He even considered lowering his performance level for Randy's audition so he would seem like a better fit for the Sodapop role.
While shooting a particular scene, 18-year-old Matt Dillon was continuously goofing off. Frustrated, director Francis Ford Coppola swore at him and called him an "airhead" on set. Writer S.E. Hinton convinced Coppola to apologize and Dillon to cooperate. Coppola ended up growing so fond of Dillon that he cast him in his following film, Rumble Fish (1983), which was also originally a novel written by Hinton.
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, entitled "The Outsiders - The Complete Novel," was released that restores much of this footage.
The actors pulled some pranks in the hotel where 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."
To help the cast establish the actor's rapport and to block shots, Francis Ford Coppola spent two full weeks during production shooting the entire movie on videotape before he began using film. It's believed to be one of the first times that technique was incorporated into a film schedule. While that footage rarely turns up, Ralph Macchio had a similar experience in 1984, when John G. Avildsen shot rehearsals for The Karate Kid (1984) on a home video camera.
Rob Lowe turned 18 years old during filming. According to Lowe, the other boys mercilessly played pranks on him all day on his birthday, such as saran wrapping his toilet seat and filling his hotel room with fire extinguishing foam.
Nicolas Cage auditioned for the role of either Darry or Dallas. He did some method acting for the part by locking himself in a room for two weeks, drinking beer and staring at a photograph of Charles Bronson, hoping that the physical and mental attitude of playing a thug would rub off on him. Francis Ford Coppola turned him down and told him to audition for the part of Two-Bit, but Cage was so fed up at this point from all his hard work, being in vain, that he walked away from the project.
In addition to the twenty-two minutes of restored footage in the 2005 "Complete Novel" DVD, there are additional scenes that were 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; and 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, "Rise and shine."
In his 2011 autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe recalled that auditioning for the film was an unusual experience. Instead of private meetings with actors for specific roles, Francis Ford Coppola would herd up to thirty of them into a room at one time and ask them to sift through the different parts.
There are a few differences regarding the characters' descriptions from the novel. In the novel, Dallas has extremely blonde hair, but his hair is almost jet black in the film. Also, in the novel, "Two-Bit" is six-foot, but Emilio Estevez was only 5' 6-1/2." Steve Randle is also supposed to be tall in the novel, unlike Tom Cruise.
Ponyboy has a scab on his neck, which is visible in quite a few scenes, that was the result of being cut by a Soc in the original opening where Ponyboy is jumped by Socs after leaving the movie theater.
During the drive-in theatre scene, Ponyboy can be seen shivering several times and the actors' breath are shown a few times. This was due to it only being around 34 degrees and the wardrobe department was adamant that he wear the shirt with no sleeves.
S.E. Hinton looking back on the film in 2016: "I have so many incredible memories of that time, it was just magical to see everything come together. And we had had a lot of fun (probably too much) on set with the boys, many who were just getting their acting careers started. And yes, I am in contact with all of the actors and Francis Ford Coppola."
During the rumble scene, Tom Cruise was accidentally socked in the jaw and needed dental work the following day. The Tulsa dentist has a picture of himself and the then-young actor together in his office.
In the scene where Ponyboy, Johnny and Two-Bit are walking to Johnny's house, a hat flies into the scene. Two-Bit picks it up and says, "Look! I have a new hat!" and walks away. The hat belonged to one of the camera men. Francis Ford Coppola had said to the cast earlier that he did not want to stop rolling, no matter what, so the hat is still in the movie.
When the film premiered in March 1983, Francis Ford Coppola and Warner Bros. dispatched Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, and Leif Garrett to Lone Star School to visit with students. Later, a private screening was held for Misakian and the 104 students who had written to Coppola in 1980. (The New York Times reported that they "shrieked and giggled" every time any of the above misplaced his shirt onscreen.)
Francis Ford Coppola had the boys spend a night in the Curtis house used in the movie. He wanted the three "brothers" (Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, and C. Thomas Howell) to cook a meal together (none of them cooked) and get them to be as close as brothers. All the boys were in character for hours on end.
When Dallas 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 (1976). Years later, in the film Beautiful Girls (1996), Matt Dillon's character, Tommy, tells his roommate Paul that he will be skipping their high school reunion and staying home to watch Rich Man, Poor Man (1976). The two characters then gush that there was never a more terrifying on-screen villain than Falconetti.
In the fight scene on one of the days they were filming it was raining but the next day it wasn't. So Francis Ford Coppola brought in rain towers and fire houses to create fake rain and the worst part was that it was only around 32 degrees! The actors were freezing.
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 Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now (1979), where the natives turn him upside-down, and the camera follows in his point-of-view.
Val Kilmer was offered the role of Ponyboy, but he turned it down due to a theatrical commitment. Presumably, the play in question was "The Slab Boys" which co-starred Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn. Supposedly, had Kilmer pulled out, the play would have shut down, and everyone involved would have lost their jobs.
In a recent interview about The Karate Kid (1984) Ralph Macchio was asked what was his favorite character that he has played he said "Johnny from The Outsiders because that was the role I really wanted and I booked it, Johnny has a special place in my heart."
In the scene where Darry hits Ponyboy, there is a shot of Ponyboy standing up and running across the room in the house, then pans to him opening the door and running out. Francis Ford Coppola actually cut out the side of the house that was used for filming to achieve this shot.
The audition process for the film was quite unique, as all of the actors were able to read for most of the roles several times all together on a sound stage. Francis Ford Coppola would go through a specific scene several times while switching around which part the various actors read for, until he made a decision.
The terms "greasers" and "socs" (pronounced soshes and meaning wealthy kids, e.g. socialites) was actual common terminology used by kids in schools throughout Oklahoma during this time frame. S.E. Hinton obviously knew this by incorporating it into her novel.
In the movie scene where Cherry and Marcia leave Bob and Randy to go watch the movie alone, Randy and Bob are talking in the car and the back windshield can be seen with the carving/statue of the name "Rogers," the high school that they both attend, along with Cherry, Marcia, and Ponyboy.
In the complete novel edition of the DVD, in the scene just after Ponyboy and two-bit visit Johnny in the Hospital, they ride the bus and the man sitting behind them to the right of them is reading the newspaper with the article about Dally, Ponyboy and Johnny facing the camera.
The convenience store, in which Dallas pulls out a gun on the store clerk, is a U-tote-M. The chain originated in the Houston, Texas metro area. It was acquired by Leroy Melcher in 1950 when it operated ten stores. U-tote-M expanded to one thousand stores when Melcher became the president and CEO. A sister company, U-tote-M of San Antonio, Texas, later evolved to become National Convenience Stores. U-tote-M was acquired by the Circle K Corporation on December 29, 1983, where the 960 U-Tote-M chain was re-branded as Circle K. Circle K was later acquired by Canadian convenience store chain Alimentation Couche-Tard; as of 2013, the U-Tote-M brand name and trademark (after the Circle K purchase) has been declared abandoned. The main building of the University of Houston's C.T Bauer College of Business was named Melcher Hall in 1986 in honor of Leroy Melcher, an alumnus of the university.
In the book Dally is referred to as the towheaded kid to which that implies that he has blonde hair cause people with blond are often called "towheaded" due to the fact that the color of their hair reflects the sun. But in the movie Dally has Brown hair.
Jerry Wood differs slightly from the book. In the book, Jerry Wood comes from a place where the Greaser and Soc conflict is not present and he is neither a Soc or Greaser; he does not even know what the two are. In the movie, however, he does know what they are and is even a Soc himself.
Similarities to The Godfather (1972): The main character is the youngest of three brothers. In the novel, Ponyboy's middle name is, in fact, Michael. Dallas is hot-tempered and impulsive like Sonny, while Johnny is more soft-spoken, like Fredo. Ponyboy and Johnny go into exile after killing a member of a rival gang, not unlike Michael Corleone. Dallas is brutally gunned down like Sonny.