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Rumble Fish (1983)

R  |   |  Drama  |  21 October 1983 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 23,004 users   Metascore: 63/100
Reviews: 119 user | 57 critic | 8 from Metacritic.com

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 »
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Title: Rumble Fish (1983)

Rumble Fish (1983) on IMDb 7.3/10

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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


No leader can survive becoming a legend. See more »




R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

21 October 1983 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La ley de la calle  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$10,000,000 (estimated)


$2,500,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Matt Dillon had read the book a few years before doing the movie, and in an interview with S.E. Hinton, said that it was his favorite book. Hinton said that when someone told her that "Rumble Fish" was their favorite book, usually "they were in a reformatory". 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 »


Referenced in Deuces Wild (2002) 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

Three slices of the same film
10 December 1999 | by (England) – See all my reviews

Television rarely provides film certificates as a guide, and so I must confess to having first seen Rumble Fish when I was considerably younger than its "18" certificate. Crowbarred into the middle of a season of 50s biker movies, I mistakenly BELIEVED this black and white film to have been made during that era. Innate stupidity and unfamiliarity with cinema at that time meant I failed to recognise such contemporary actors as Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke and Nicolas Cage. To this end I came to the conclusion that with its earthy language, slight sexual content and violence, Rumble Fish was a movie way ahead of its time. Its parting rhetoric, really just a flimsy song by an ex-member of The Police, seemed to wrap the whole thing up and imbue it with meaning.

Around eight years later it received a video release in England, and I bought it the first day it came out. Maybe it was the feeling of idiocy on my part that made me hate it second time around. The film showed the divide between BEING a 50s gang movie and pretentiously PRETENDING to be a 50s gang movie. Worst still, the philosophical musings over time and the nature of insanity made it wholly indulgent, while the authentically retro dialogue sounded self-conscious coming from 1983. This might be directed by the same man that gave us The Godfather, but that is also the same man who gave us Bram Stoker's Dracula.

So to consolidate these two vastly differing viewpoints I decided to give Rumble Fish a third viewing. While it still contains more naivety than meaningful insight, it is outstanding in the field of cinematography. Direction, while showy, is virtually flawless, each scene taken from the point of view of distant shadows, causing an air of unsettled menace throughout. Writing is generally high, though a little clumsy, while acting (backed up by Dennis Hopper) cannot be faulted. Rourke is every inch the cool, ubiquitously-admired Motorcyle Boy, while the rolling clouds and clockface imagery leave a perfect spin on the film.

Of course, on the latest viewing, further elements come to light; it is never stated, nor even particularly implied, that the film is set in the fifties. Its noir leanings are an echo of The Motorcycle Boy's colour blindness, as is (presumably) the awful sound quality supposed to represent his slight deafness. Or maybe I just bought a bad tape. These may seem like fairly self-explanatory observations, and go without saying, but locked within the mindset of a pubescent youth were all these misconceptions. All of which goes to prove how a film can be many things and of many merits, depending on the circumstances of viewing, and who is watching it... even if that "who" turns out to be the same person.

18 of 27 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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