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Rumble Fish (1983)

R | | Drama | 21 October 1983 (USA)
2:20 | Trailer

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Rusty James, an absent-minded street thug struggles to live up to his legendary older brother's reputation, and longs for the days when gang warfare was going on.


(novel), (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
4,845 ( 183)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 3 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
B.J. Jackson (as Christopher Penn)
Midget (as Larry Fishburne)
Michael Higgins ...
Mr. Harrigan
Biff Wilcox
Herb Rice ...
Black Pool Player
Maybelle Wallace ...
Late Pass Clerk


Rusty James is the leader of a small, dying gang in an industrial town. He lives in the shadow of the memory of his absent, older brother -- The Motorcycle Boy. His mother has left, his father drinks, school has no meaning for him and his relationships are shallow. He is drawn into one more gang fight and the events that follow begin to change his life. Written by Bruce Janson <bruce@cs.su.oz.au>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Rusty James can't live up to his brother's reputation. His brother can't live it down. See more »




R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

21 October 1983 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La ley de la calle  »

Box Office


$10,000,000 (estimated)


$2,500,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


| (some shots)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Francis Ford Coppola shot in deserted areas at the edge of Tulsa with many scenes captured via a hand-held camera in order to make the audience feel uneasy. He also had shadows painted on the walls of the sets to make them look ominous. See more »


Camera shadow visible on Rusty-James' torso after The Motorcycle Boy has shown him the photograph of himself in the magazine. See more »


[first lines]
Midget: Biff Wilcox is looking for you, Rusty James. He's gonna kill you, Rusty James.
See more »


Featured in On Location in Tulsa: The Making of 'Rumble Fish' (2005) See more »


Don't Box Me In
Written by Stewart Copeland and Stan Ridgway
Performed by Stewart Copeland and Stan Ridgway
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

He Frees Them, Then Himself: Existential Free Fall
26 June 2015 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Spoilers Ahead:

I love two scenes in this classic. Where Motorcycle Boy decides it is time to go, he simply does not fit here anymore. As his last act on earth, he commits suicide by freeing the fighting fish which are existential metaphors for himself and the rest of the fighting men imprisoned in that reality. Have no illusions, he knew William Smith was itching to kill him and had been praying for an opportunity throughout the movie. It is such a beautiful scene, he takes them to the river though it costs him his life. They both are free; the whole movie Motorcycle boy had been trying to find a place but like the moving cloud temporal imagery, time had simply passed him by. The boyhood gang lord role looks to him like utter foolish insanity. He now has nothing but disgust and disdain for his former place, much to Rusty James' exasperation. Motorcycle boy is such an enigma to Rusty; he speaks in metaphors and similes that fly right over the top of Rusty's head. As the movie progresses, he gets more and more frustrated trying to fathom what on earth is wrong with his big brother. When he brags to dad that he is going to be just like him, Hopper gives him a worried, sad look and warns him,"You should pray not."

The other beautiful scene came before this scene when, before he commits suicide, Motorcycle Boy and Rusty go for one last ride together. Returning, for a few precious minutes, to the boyhood happiness they once shared. It is such a simple and moving scene seeing them enjoying their happiness together for the last time. The movie is about how society always has a limited set of roles for people to fill. If Motorcycle Boy lived during a war he would have been a great, heroic warrior. Or, if he lived during feudal times, he would find his role, the warrior, enshrined and truly have been at home. Here, he simply does not fit. When you watch the film many times, you will see that he intended to commit suicide, he just returned to say good bye. He revisits his life, the neighborhood, his girl, his dad and Rusty James. Rourke plays him with such power; he knows so much more than he says. When he does speak it is usually allegorical or metaphoric. He is surveying his world for the last time; he desperately is searching for an anchor but he finds none.

The evil cop simply bides his time. He circles over him like the jealous vulture he always was; he says it is because the kids think he is something he isn't. Crap, he was always jealous that he was the most powerful warrior there and could have squashed him, like the bug he was, if he cared enough to, he doesn't. Rusty is last seen riding away on Motorcycle Boy's bike, we sense he is going to the ocean and will too have an awakening dream. The temporal imagery is the only American movie I have seen that portrays time, as it really is, as utterly subjective and phenomenal. The recitation of mortality; you have this many summers left is sober and quite unique in any movie. It is slow and boring; you must study the imagery and listen to the words the Motorcycle Boy says, often almost in a whisper. I love the movie; it towers over the awful THE OUTSIDERS. A very deep powerful movie

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