Riley’s Rad Reviews- The Outsiders


David Burnett

The cast of The Outsiders- Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, and Tom Cruise- pose for a promotional photo in 1983.

Riley Letendre, Entertainment Editor

If you mention The Outsiders to any group of people, you’ll likely get one of these responses: “Wasn’t [insert name here] in that?” “Didn’t we have to read that in school?” or “I loved/hated that movie!” The 1983 film based on the 1967 novel of the same name has become a staple in American middle school education and culture for its use in English curriculums and for launching the careers of seven of the most famous 20th-century actors. Without The Outsiders, it’s possible that the likes of Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, and C. Thomas Howell would not be known for their array of classic 1980s and 1990s films, and would not have reached their current status as successful actors.

The Outsiders follows a gang of Greasers in the 1960s, and while it features the usual tropes of stereotypical greaser culture, it is far from a stereotypical story. The protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis, is the youngest of his gang and is a lot different than its other members- these members include his older brothers, Sodapop and Darry, and his friends, Johnny, Two-Bit, Steve, and Dally. 

As Greasers, Ponyboy and his gang often fall victim to violence and conflict due to their social class and standing. Their economic opposites in town, the Socs, are often out to get them for petty annoyances. It seems the tension is only building stronger each day. 

After a conflict with his brother Darry, Ponyboy runs away and finds refuge with Johnny. Later in the night, Johnny and Ponyboy get into a fight with a group of Socs. The fight escalates to where Ponyboy is nearly drowned in a fountain- that is before Johnny stabs the Soc that is drowning him.

As a result, Johnny and Ponyboy- with assistance from Dally- are on the run from the police, eventually landing at an abandoned church in a nearby farm town. They hide out for a few days, learning a lot about each other and the world in their isolation. Dally arrives to take them out to eat, and upon their arrival back to the church, it’s up in flames. Nearby picnickers are frantically searching for missing children, found to have been playing inside. Ponyboy and Johnny run inside, successfully saving all of them. But while Ponyboy makes it out relatively scar-free, and Dallas merely has a hurt arm from helping children through a window, Johnny is hit by a collapsing roof and is paralyzed. 

The coming days culminate in a rumble- a showdown between the Greasers and the Socs- in response to the killing of the Soc and all prior conflict. Dally breaks out of the hospital to fight, and the Greasers win. Immediately after, Dally takes Ponyboy back to the hospital so they can see Johnny since he isn’t doing too well. On his deathbed, Johnny says that all of the fighting doesn’t matter, and he tells Ponyboy to “stay gold,” meaning to stay the way he is- more emotional, more caring, and just different from most of his peers.

The passing of Johnny is the last straw for Dally, who didn’t have much else going for him in his life as a juvenile delinquent. In one final escapade, Dally robs a convenience store and starts a police chase. His final act of retaliation comes when he waves around an empty gun and is shot down by dozens of police officers. 

One of the most important things about The Outsiders is its portrayal of teenagers, more specifically, teenage boys. At the time of the book’s release, there was a lack of novels written for teenagers about real topics. Author S.E. Hinton was a teenager herself when she wrote the novel, and her reasoning was that she was looking for a story she could relate to. The Outsiders is credited with beginning the young adult book genre as a result, and it has stayed a classic among youth readers.

In my eyes, The Outsiders is a lasting, relevant film for two reasons- it’s themes and portrayal of teenagers and the way it began the timeline for seven well-known actors. 

The Outsiders doesn’t portray the life of a greaser as all fun and games. You see the conflicts that arise from being of a lower social class, struggles to make ends meet, and broken families. You also see the emotional rollercoaster that Ponyboy undergoes, as well as many of the other characters. One thing that really affected me in reading and watching The Outsiders was seeing that Ponyboy cries several times. It accentuates how different he is from his peers as the youngest, and also as a more emotional, intellectual character. The other more “tough” characters often show a lack of emotion, but not necessarily a lack of care. In the book, Ponyboy says that a few of them “forgot how to cry,” and have stopped getting upset because they live in perpetual upheaval. In asking Ponyboy to “stay gold,” Johnny is asking Ponyboy not to lose his emotion and innocence as the other characters have.

In looking at the most famous films of the 1980s and 1990s, a lot of the major players have ties back to The Outsiders. For all of the actors, this was their first major film, and nearly all of them went on to be in more. Patrick Swayze, the oldest of the bunch, found success in the 1987 classic Dirty Dancing, leading to 1989’s Road House and 1990’s Ghost, as well as many other small films. Tom Cruise, despite having the smallest role of the seven, had his break-out role later the same year in Risky Business, leading to 1987’s Top Gun and many, many others. Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez went on to be considered part of the “Brat Pack-” Hollywood’s nickname for the group of young actors in St. Elmo’s Fire and The Breakfast Club, as well as several other teen comedies. Ralph Macchio became known for his role as Daniel in The Karate Kid film series and has since reprised the part in its spin-off Netflix TV series, Cobra Kai. Matt Dillon later went on to star in 1997’s There’s Something About Mary and 2004’s Crash. Finally, C. Thomas Howell, who played Ponyboy, hasn’t seen as much success as his fellow castmates. He remained an actor throughout the 1980s, acting in films such as 1985’s Secret Admirer with Lori Loughlin, but faded to obscurity as he grew older. That was until he had a featured role as the Boston Reaper, George Foyet, on Criminal Minds.

The Outsiders completely changed the course of Hollywood in that it created seven young stars, and has remained a sort of forgotten classic by many. Yet, so many people remember the young, hopeful actors, and the importance of the story the film tells. S.E. Hinton and Francis Ford Coppola, the film’s director, managed to effectively tell a story that has left a lasting impression on its readers and viewers for over 50 years, and only time will tell how far it will go.