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Rumble Fish (1983)

R  |   |  Drama  |  21 October 1983 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 22,943 users   Metascore: 63/100
Reviews: 119 user | 57 critic | 8 from

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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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 <>

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?


S.E. Hinton:  a prostitute. See more »


In the scene where Rusty James asks Benny how do you know if someone is crazy (set in Benny's Billiards), on the table you can see a modern-style Dr. Pepper can with a "stay-tab" opener. Since the book and film are set in the '50s or '60s, that type of can would not exist yet. In this era, sodas had the pull-tab style of opener. See more »


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


Referenced in True Romance (1993) 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

A Long Lost Hit From Francis Ford Coppola
10 August 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

After hearing such rave reviews, I really was excited to see Francis Ford Coppola's indie classic 'Rumble Fish'. The film was shot in black and white and it had an expansive cast of talented actors including Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Tom Waits and Nicolas Cage. I enjoyed Francis Ford Coppola's other films like Apocalypse Now and of course The Godfather Parts I, II & III. From what I heard it was filmed kind of like this year's smash hit 'Sin City' ('Rumble Fish' was black & white but with dashes of color) only on a smaller scale. I rented this indie sensation when I was on vacation because they had it in the hotel video store. I couldn't find it in the Blockbusters in Arizona (where I live) and my portable DVD player was acting up so I couldn't view the DVDs I brought a long with me for the trip. It may have been just fate that I got the opportunity to view Coppola's 'Rumble Fish', definitely one of the most, if not the most inventive motion pictures I ever gazed my eyes upon.

The film is set in a 1950s - 1970s setting. With it's black & white color and just the way the film is presented it gives the audience a feel of the old 1930s James Cagney crime noir flicks. It follows a young and dumb hoodlum named Rusty James (Matt Dillon), whose the leader of one of the two gangs in town. After a huge rumble played out like a West Side Story scene from hell, Rusty is left hurt real bad when the opposing gang leader stabbed him in the gut with a switchblade. Coming to Rusty James' rescue is his older brother, The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke) who hasn't shown his face in town for a year after disappearing to California. The Motorcycle Boy helps his younger brother out, and eventually starts to hang around the neighborhood more. From there, the plot follows the two re-united brothers as they hang around the streets and cause trouble, while the Motorcycle Boy tries to teach his less then intelligent brother the meaning of life. Dennis Hopper stars as Rusty James and the Motorcyle Boy's dad, Diane Lane stars as Rusty James' sweet friend, Tom Waits stars as the grill master in the town's diner, and Chris Penn, Laurence Fishburne and a young Nicolas Cage are featured as some of Rusty James' gang buddies.

First of all, I adored the way 'Rumble Fish' was shot. With his extraordinary talent, director Francis Ford Coppola really creates a thing of beauty and opulence with 'Rumble Fish'. The only real downside of this picture is that the plot drags entirely too much, and that's pretty bad for a film running only 90 minutes. The writing is mostly good, but 'Rumble Fish' seems to be missing a real plot. The film substitutes hypnotic cinematography and cool scenery for an easy-to-follow plot, which in my opinion is a big mistake. Although this kind of bugs me, 'Rumble Fish' is a good film for the most part. The acting is superb with a engrossing and passionate performance by a very young Matt Dillon and a powerful and carefully layered performance by Mickey Rourke who in my opinion should have gotten an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. Diane Lane is very good in one of her first roles, Dennis Hopper plays the alcoholic clueless dad perfectly and Tom Waits is a pleasure to watch. Nicolas Cage and Laurence Fishburne are also rock solid. If you want to see a film that's really out there and full of likable qualities, I'd recommend picking up 'Rumble Fish' your next stop to the video store. Chances are you'll find something or somethings to love about it. Grade: B

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