The Outsiders turns the big 40 this year, meaning the classic teen drama is now officially middle-aged! Fans must be feeling long in the tooth, but that won’t stop them enjoying our selection of strange behind-the-scenes details. What happened when maverick director Francis Ford Coppola assembled a cast of unknowns on the cusp of stardom? From young hearts to childish pranks, we have all the juicy details from those 1960s rebels here.
1. The Lowe down
A group of young men together on a cinematic adventure can only mean one thing: pranks. Various high jinks took place while filming The Outsiders. One cast member tricked in epic style was Rob Lowe, a.k.a. Sodapop, who had the misfortune to turn 18 on the job. As mentioned on website IMDb, he found his room drenched in fire-extinguisher foam. Then there was the classic Saran Wrap on the toilet seat. Many happy returns! Meanwhile, C.Thomas Howell — Ponyboy — walked into his room and discovered life on the flipside. Everything, “from a penny to my bed, had been turned upside down” he told Variety magazine in 2018.
2. Coppola got inside their heads
Director Coppola is known for his unconventional approach to working with actors. His behind-the-scenes work on The Outsiders seems no different. The movie’s narrative focuses on gangs, and Coppola wasn’t shy about making each group feel resentful toward the other. How did he do this? Through what sounds like weapons-grade mind games. The onscreen rivals were treated somewhat differently in various ways when the cameras weren’t rolling. For instance, the actors playing the Socs lived a high-end life with screenplays bound in leather, whilst the Greasers were confined to the ground floor with paperback scripts in bad condition.
3. Diane Lane’s trauma
Diane Lane already had some impressive credits under her belt when Coppola cast her as Cherry, yet The Outsiders would prove to be a truly unforgettable time and not always for the right reasons. She wasn’t immune to the prolific pranking, telling Variety that the guys smeared “honey all over my toilet seat”, not to mention writing “something terrorizing” on her mirror with lipstick. She jokingly referred to the shoot as “trauma-bonding.” Lane went on to star in Coppola’s The Cotton Club, alongside Richard Gere, and Jack with Robin Williams. Yet neither of these films would prove as successful and meaningful to audiences as The Outsiders.
4. Cruise control (or lack of it)
Tom Cruise has energy: enough to power movie franchises single-handed. So when he loses his cool, he really loses it. Even back when he was a budding star, he blew up big time on finding out he was sharing a room with Lowe at the Plaza Hotel. Lowe revealed the details himself on the Armchair Expert podcast, and was philosophical about the Hollywood hissy fit. As viewed by Lowe, “There… [are] certain people who have always been who they are, and that element of them has powered them to where they are today, and the rest is history.”
5. Coppola wanted Matt Dillon behind bars
Coppola was keen for his actors to get into character: a little too keen in fact, as Matt Dillon discovered. How did he react when he heard the director’s suggestion for Dally? Not well. The director wanted Dillon to experience being a bad boy first-hand by spending the night in an actual prison. The idea was vetoed by the young star in the making, who advised Coppola to try being in the slammer himself. Dillon went on to work with Coppola again on Rumble Fish, so we’re guessing there were no hard feelings. This was one instance, though, when his offbeat sensibilities failed to pay off.
6. Two guys and a mysterious basement
Cruise and Lowe spending the night in a stranger’s basement? It isn’t an ’80s horror-movie concept, but a real-life chapter of The Outsiders experience. When they weren’t awkwardly sharing a Plaza suite, they were in a very different location — lying on cots beneath someone’s Oklahoma abode. This one-time deal was made because the owners of the house were ex-Greasers, or working-class gang members. Director Coppola wanted his stars to soak up their experiences. “Do you think Francis Ford Coppola spent a lot of time vetting these people?” Lowe said, recalling the period on The Kelly Clarkson Show in 2020. “I can tell you, he didn’t.”
7. Surprise, surprise: Cruise was ultra-competitive
From a need for speed, to completing totally impossible missions, Cruise is arguably as famous for his competitive nature as he is for delivering compelling on-screen performances. This attitude was in evidence for The Outsiders, when the movie’s famous “rumble” led to a Lowe blow being landed on him by co-star Rob. Cruise fought back and the pair were separated. Things seem to have been patched up since then. “Tom is such a competitive lunatic — which is what I love about him — but the next thing you know, he’s ready to kill me!” Lowe told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph in 2011. He added that everyone in that scene had been competing.
8. Hat’s entertainment
Fans of The Outsiders may wonder about the significance of the hat, which blows into shot and is grabbed by Two-Bit. Proudly declaring he has a new piece of headgear, actor Emilio Estevez walks off with the item, but what led to the literally throwaway moment? As a matter of fact, the hat had appeared by accident. It blew off the head of a crew member and the film just kept rolling. The accident occurred because of the industrial-strength fans used on the production. Director Coppola’s commitment to staying in the moment for maximum realism had clearly rubbed off on his actors.
9. The amazing story of how The Outsiders got started
The Outsiders is fueled by the passion of youth, so maybe it was only appropriate that Coppola heard about a possible movie via Lone Star Junior School in Fresno, California. Its librarian Jo Ellen Misakian contacted the director with a request to have a movie of S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel made. It was a favorite there, and Coppola was touched to receive a raft of children’s signatures endorsing the move. Looking back on the production in 2021 with British newspaper The Guardian, Coppola said, “I’ve always believed that kids have many more feelings than we give them credit for, and I wanted to make the story.”
10. Cruise’s intensity was clear to see
A lot of young male stars received much-needed exposure on The Outsiders, but the biggest name in the line-up today is Cruise. He’s the undisputed king of Hollywood decades on from this formative filmmaking experience, though it wasn’t his very first film, of course. Coppola recognized this star quality, and his own attention to detail seems to have been reflected in the actor’s work ethic and dedication to the role of Steve Randle. Speaking to The Guardian, Coppola described Cruise as “an intense kid who would do anything to make his part better.” He certainly continues this approach today, with his immersive and often death-defying activities.
11. Dental plan
Clients at a Tulsa dentist may have performed a double-take on seeing a photo showing the proprietor with Cruise. A dicey on-set incident during The Outsiders led to the actor reaching for the novocaine after the “rumble” scene had got a little too true-to-life. We know things between Cruise and Lowe were heated, but in a separate case C. Thomas Howell was reportedly knocked out cold! Both situations are cited by IMDb. Cruise’s sock on the jaw added to the sense that this was a film where dangers faced by the characters could well wind up happening to the actors themselves!
12. Dillon and Lane’s behind the scenes tension
Dillon and Lane did not like each other as the movie got under way. This helped the on-screen drama of course, but it made things intensely awkward for the actors. Coppola shot a scene where their two characters have a blazing argument, and it seems life imitated art, at least temporarily. They worked together again with Coppola on Rumble Fish the same year and thriller The Big Town a few years after. The heated situation was looked back on with good humor years later by the adult stars. IMDb noted that Lane “blames her adolescent insecurities for being so sensitive to Dillon’s teasing.”
13. The poster image is totally natural
The collective laughter depicted on the poster for The Outsiders turned out to be completely spontaneous: Karate Kid-in-waiting Ralph Macchio was behind the whole thing. What did he say, and what happened to produce this enduring image? As mentioned in 2019 to The Hollywood Reporter, Macchio spotted co-star Leif Garrett — Bob Sheldon — heading to the food table. The spread had been earmarked for the talent and Garrett was obviously peckish. “I said, ‘Remember, Leif: that’s just for the talent!’” Macchio recalled. The out-of-the-blue comment got a big laugh, the photographer snapped it, and the rest is movie history.
14. Nicolas Cage auditioned for a part
An aspiring star himself at the time, Nicolas Cage is Coppola’s nephew, so it made sense for him to audition. He wanted a shot at one of the main roles and reportedly underwent an extraordinary regime where he sealed himself away with a photo of Charles Bronson whilst drinking beer and getting into character. When Coppola offered him a reading for a less rugged part, he turned the opportunity down. Half a decade later, Cage ate live cockroaches for the 1988 movie Vampire’s Kiss, cementing his status as an actor who went not just all the way, but beyond comprehension!
15. Cage and other future stars were involved
Cage may not have bagged the role he wanted, but he still appeared on-screen during The Outsiders: he had an uncredited gang-member role. Also taking part in the mayhem anonymously were future stars Melanie Griffith — who found worldwide fame in the 1988 movie Working Girl — and Flea of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Quite a mix of talent, and a testament to Coppola’s extensive and varied casting process. Cage went on to work with his uncle Coppola again in 1983’s Rumble Fish and also the 1986 fantasy comedy Peggy Sue Got Married, which starred Kathleen Turner.
16. It was dangerous being an Outsider
The edgy world of The Outsiders translated to real life. A scene shot in an abandoned building wasn’t performed on a set: it was an actual abandoned building they used. The dolly grip is someone on a shoot who operates the platform upon which the camera moves. During this sequence, the grip felt the floor give way, and his foot went through the boards, with the noise being caught on camera. As described to The Guardian, Howell promptly improvised a line about a monster being outside. Coppola decided that the offending creature should be a rogue raccoon!
17. Coppola’s cardinal sin
What better symbol of teenage rebellion than a church on fire? Coppola wanted things to look suitably Hellish for this famous scene. According to website Eighties Kids, he pushed for more of the hot stuff, which led to the fire getting out of control. At that point the heavens opened and rain put out the blaze. Was it a case of divine intervention, or getting lucky with the weather forecast? The director was regarded as a true Hollywood rule-breaker. Yet he nearly went down in film history as a sacrilegious shot-caller who razed a House of God to the ground!
18. The movie could have broken the bank
The director had a lot riding on The Outsiders: he’d made a 1981 musical, One From The Heart, which had flopped. In a 1983 interview with newspaper The New York Times he described the situation at his company American Zoetrope as “chaos incorporated” and “like fighting a war”. When S.E. Hinton’s novel came along, the director wasn’t exactly flush. He could only offer her 10 percent of what the rights were worth. In 2021 he told Yahoo, “I was depressed and I had lost everything and I was facing a bankruptcy”. The Outsiders was an opportunity for him to relax and relive his days as a young people’s counsellor!
19. Macchio slept rough
Coppola wanted his stars to experience what their characters did. To this end, Macchio truly went the extra mile: he decided to brave a night on the streets to get into the mindset of Johnny Cade. The director made sure he had a meager $5 in his pocket to get by. And his accommodation was even worse; as revealed to Variety, he called the local park home. Commenting on the tough decision to spend the night exposed to the elements, Macchio commented, “For a guy growing up in a pretty-well-adjusted Long Island suburban lifestyle, it was a terrific acting exercise.”
20. S.E. Hinton knew Cruise needed to vent
The idea of Cruise blowing chunks isn’t the most appealing, even to his most ardent fans. That said, it was necessary for him to do just that at one point while shooting The Outsiders. The person to blame is author S.E. Hinton, not that she meant anything bad by it. When Cruise wanted to perform a backflip before the notorious “rumble”, he wasn’t confident because he’d eaten a big lunch. Hinton figured the lad should probably empty his stomach. She reportedly fed him raw eggs till his system couldn’t take it any more, enabling him to focus on the gymnastics rather than his gastrointestinal issue.
21. Lane was almost engaged in Risky Business
Cruise’s career got a major boost the same year with Risky Business. The plot, which really wouldn’t fly today, focused on his character running a brothel while his parents were out of town! Rebecca De Mornay — probably best-known today for starring in 1992’s The Hand That Rocks The Cradle — took the female lead, but reportedly Cruise had someone else in mind when the project was being put together: Lane. She mentioned during The Outsiders DVD commentary that her father had put the brakes on that proposal! Still, as IMDb goes on to note, her filmography at the time wasn’t exactly PG-13.
22. The director was the most childish of the bunch
Eighties star Howell became known for movies such as The Hitcher and, erm, Soul Man. The less said about the latter movie the better, but a key role for him was as Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders. He must have been confused when grown-up director Coppola asked him to make funny faces at Lane off-camera, in order to make her laugh on screen. It took till the recording of a DVD commentary for Lane to find out why Howell was goofing around. It seems Coppola kept the cast in the dark for creative purposes!
23. Outsiders rejected: part 1
Coppola famously auditioned hopefuls for The Outsiders in herds. That meant an awful lot of talent passed through those doors. Mickey Rourke was arguably the face of rebellion in Hollywood during the 1980s. Naturally, he was considered for a role in the picture and went along to audition. Reportedly he came across well but wasn’t considered suitable for the movie in general, not an unusual thing in the film business. It all came right soon enough. Rourke played a role in the director’s Rumble Fish from the same year. Then in 1997 he took a part in Coppola’s adaptation of The Rainmaker.
24. Outsiders rejected: part 2
Dennis Quaid was in some of the biggest, if not necessarily the best, movies of the 1980s. One of those was astronaut saga The Right Stuff, made around the same time as The Outsiders. Because of this high-profile adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s novel, he turned down the chance to play Dallas in Coppola’s classic. His loss was Matt Dillon’s gain: unfortunately The Right Stuff failed at the box office. The year 1983 also saw the release of the critically-derided shark sequel Jaws 3-D starring Quaid. Maybe he wondered whether he should have taken the job with Coppola and co after all!
25. Outsiders rejected: part 3
Sarah Jessica Parker was reportedly offered the role of Cherry before Lane. Also, Howell could have lost out on the role of Ponyboy, had Val Kilmer accepted Coppola’s offer. Instead, he chose a Broadway play called The Slab Boys, alongside two other ’80s stars: Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn. IMDb noted that, had Kilmer joined Coppola “the play would have shut down, and everyone involved would have lost their jobs.” Kilmer wrote about the situation in his memoir. Website Mental Floss observed, “Taking the third lead role was not his preference, but the opportunity for Broadway was too great to pass up.”
26. The movie was shot twice
Coppola wanted to get every detail of The Outsiders right, but such precision is a tough ask in the movie business. It’s a collaborative process, and you aren’t always going to get things exactly as you want in your mind. You can rehearse and ensure the action is as polished as it can be of course. Or you can do as the director did: have your cake and eat it too. Coppola did this by shooting The Outsiders twice. Before immortalizing it on celluloid, he got a camcorder and shot an original version on video. This meant he could visualize the project a whole lot better.
27. Dillon’s fatal coincidence
Spoiler alert: in case you aren’t aware, Dillon’s character dies in the movie. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, in all sorts of ways. Dillon was fitted with squibs, which are plastic capsules filled with fake blood. These were exploded on cue, though the actor reportedly wasn’t wearing a shirt and those blasts hurt! Hinton mentioned his discomfort on the home entertainment release. Coincidentally, this wasn’t Dillon’s first time being gunned down by police. The 1979 flick Over The Edge saw the same thing happening! Fun fact: Dillon’s Outsiders jacket was later purchased in an eBay auction, complete with red stains, as shown by a user on Pinterest.
28. Secret crush
It isn’t a surprise to learn that the young stars of The Outsiders developed strong feelings for one another. In Howell’s case, he had a crush of epic proportions on his co-star Lane. He mentioned this during an interview with newspaper the Palm Beach Post, where he expressed admiration for the fact that she attended a DVD commentary recording, in spite of being surrounded by Oscars buzz, presumably for 2003’s Unfaithful. Her comments during this session made him “fall in love with her all over again”. This was during the release of The Outsiders: The Complete Novel re-edit by Coppola in 2005.
29. Lane’s Hollywood romances
Work and life collided for this rising star. As covered by website Ranker, she dated a number of co-stars from The Outsiders. These included Dillon, Estevez, and Cage. She was married to Highlander star Christopher Lambert between 1988 and 1994 and Josh Brolin between 2004 and 2013. After The Outsiders, Lane went onto bigger things, earning multiple award nominations for her performances, but her association with Coppola continued. Also, the 2016 movie Paris Can Wait was helmed by his wife Eleanor.
30. Lowe asked a question and got a shocking answer
With such a character-focused piece as The Outsiders, it made sense for the actors to want to know everything about their characters, even what happened to them in later life. When Rob Lowe decided to ask Hinton what path his character took following the events of the book, she filled him in. What he heard must have been a little shocking: turns out he’d died in Vietnam! Still, commenting on Twitter in response to a user there, Hinton stated, “I was just trying to help Rob with his character interpretation.” So this is by no means the definitive account.
31. Herd it through the grapevine
An audition is the time for an actor to shine, sitting in a room with the director and other notables, hoping to prove your creative worth. That’s more difficult when you’re clubbed together with a bunch of other young hopefuls, and you’re all expected to stand out. Acting is a competitive business, but surely what Coppola did when he auditioned the cast was on a whole other level. He met them in “herds!” Dillon wound up feeling he’d missed out, after being sent home early. In fact, the director had been convinced Dillon was the guy he wanted and told him to go because of this certainty.
32. Estevez and the Mickey Mouse Club
How embarrassed Estevez must have been when making The Outsiders. This seemingly serious-minded star wore Mickey Mouse-branded clothes on camera for the world to see. Surely this was a detail in the novel, or something Coppola decided to include in the script? Wrong: shopping at the famous House of Mouse was an idea dreamt up by Estevez himself. He figured the laid-back character would appreciate Mickey. Estevez had actually shot material for Coppola’s Apocalypse Now while visiting father Martin Sheen, but his extra role had been cut. Laurence Fishburne befriended him and even rescued him from drowning at one point!
33. The author was very involved
As author of the source material, Hinton was a presence during the making of The Outsiders. Not only did she co-write the screenplay with Coppola, but she also had a cameo on screen as a nurse. And Hinton provided much-needed reassurance to the young actors, who were embarking on a challenging creative journey. Speaking in 2018 to Variety for its retrospective, she was described as a “den mother.” “I had their back. I was close to all of them,” she commented, “Tommy especially.” She and Cruise had clearly made an impression on each other by the sounds of it.
34. Does Hinton still talk to the cast?
34Such a strong bonding experience results in lasting friendships and associations; that seems especially true of The Outsiders. Hinton revealed that she was still in contact with those who’d brought her words to life decades later. “They were just these little boys that were turned loose in Tulsa with no adult supervision,” she said in 2017 as reported by Looper. Dillon is just one of the stars she’s met again since shooting wrapped. One notable exception is Cruise, with whom she shared some classic creative moments. That said, his superstar status probably precludes him from mixing with former co-workers on a regular basis.
35. House alterations, Coppola-style
In an age before CGI, getting the perfect shot could be a challenge, even for a master of the craft like Coppola. These days, if a planned sequence seems impossible, it can be done with a green screen or otherwise. Yet back in the early ’80s they had to make do with good old-fashioned ingenuity. This extended to altering the structure of a property Coppola was filming in! IMDb noted the director decided to “actually cut out the side of the house”, in order for Howell’s Ponyboy to be captured on screen in a continuous leaving shot.
36. House of pain turned house of fame
Today the Outsiders house is a museum dedicated to the iconic movie: what a testament to the impact it has on young minds and older fans wanting to see where it all went down. Yet a surprise awaits when you discover who turned the property into this lasting tribute. Remember the House of Pain hit “Jump Around?” Rapper Danny Boy O’ Connor is behind the move. Speaking to The Guardian in 2016 O’Connor revealed that he “wanted to be Dallas Winston so bad it hurt.” Howell has even attended some special meet-and-greet events at the museum.
37. This scene is actually a blooper
As previously mentioned The Outsiders hat scene was a fluke, captured on camera when a crew member had a mishap. This wasn’t the only spontaneous thing that became part of the fun though. Dillon gets some laughs from the audience when falling over at the drive-in. Thing is, the moment was unintentional… Dillon actually took a tumble! Howell couldn’t help but crack up, and the result was left in the movie. Typically, you see these types of scenes billed as “bloopers”. Coppola wanted things warts and all, meaning that when Howell looked at the camera afterwards, it ended up on the big screen.
38. This teen tale was written by a teenager
If the angst on display in this movie seems especially true to life, then it’s no wonder. Hinton was still in her teens when the original novel was published. In fact, she was 16 years old and knew exactly what a young person would be going through. Eighties Kids mentioned that she began writing the book a year earlier. She went on to write Rumble Fish eight years later in 1975. Coppola also adapted that book the same year he released The Outsiders. Sadly, it wasn’t as commercially successful.
39. It didn’t work on TV
These days streaming services love nothing more than a classic movie to convert into a TV series. A few decades ago, though, things were different: the idea of a big-to-small-screen transfer wasn’t exactly a winner. In 1990 an attempt was made to turn The Outsiders into a show, without much success: there was no Cruise, no Lowe, and no Lane. The new cast certainly had big shoes to fill. Still, among the follow-up cast was David Arquette, playing Two-Bit, who later found lasting fame as part of the long-running Scream horror franchise. A very young Leonardo Di Caprio also featured.
40. The soundtrack caused problems
The people creating The Outsiders could be best described as a family: this was true in post-production, too. Coppola called on his father Carmine to provide the musical score, which turned out to be romantic in nature. Somewhat awkwardly, Coppola wasn’t 100 percent sure that Carmine had made the correct choice. What do you say to your Dad if you believe he hasn’t got it right? Easy: absolutely nothing. Coppola sat on the issue, until an opportunity came up years later to re-edit the film and alter the score. What did Carmine have to say? Not much, because by that stage he’d passed away!