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The Movie Like The Outsiders That Coming-Of-Age Drama Fans Need To See

If you didn't know that "The Outsiders" had already happened, you wouldn't believe that it could exist.

Francis Ford Coppola, the Oscar-winner behind "The Godfather," "The Conversation," and "Apocalypse Now," directs an adaptation of a slight but beloved young adult novel and manages to stuff so many famous or soon-to-be-famous actors into it that Tom Cruise gets eighth billing and that fact doesn't even seem that weird?  Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Emilio Estevez, C. Thomas Howell, Diane Lane, Leif Garrett, Cruise, and Tom Waits are all in it. It's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" for 1983. It's even got the fight scenes. 

Yet for all its mega-watt names and lasting cultural impact, even fans of "The Outsiders" might not know that Coppola made another adaptation of author S.E. Hinton's work that same year, one teeming with its own set of future stars, plus some returning ones held over from "The Outsiders," and concerning itself with many of the same themes.

Like The Outsiders, Rumble Fish features a teenager learning how to break free

"Rumble Fish," like "The Outsiders" before it, tells a story of working-class young people caught in a cycle of violence in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and those who would break that circle. At the film's outset, that latter category does not include Rusty James (Matt Dillon), who's looking for the big fight that will elevate his reputation, making him a local legend much as his brother, a character known as the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke) once was.

But Motorcycle Boy has sworn off fighting, and at the film's outset, has been out of town for months. Rusty wins his first fight, but the sudden appearance of the Motorcycle Boy distracts him and allows his opponent to stab him. He and Motorcycle Boy bond during his recuperation, with Motorcycle Boy trying to convince him the life he has his sights set on isn't worth it, and will only bring pain. His attitude and his aloofness – Coppola reportedly told Rourke to base his performance on the French writer and existentialist Albert Camus – lead Rusty and many in his circle to wonder whether or not Motorcycle Boy is crazy, and clouds Rusty's decision about which path is right for him in his life.

Why Rumble Fish isn't as well-known as The Outsiders

"Rumble Fish" looks very different from "The Outsiders," with Coppola choosing to shoot the film in black and white, full of thick shadows and canted angles to give it the feel of German expressionism (via The Criterion Collection). Coppola reportedly called it "an art film for teenagers" (per RogerEbert.com), and its box office numbers matched that prediction, with it making less than a tenth what its predecessor did.

As was the case with its predecessor, "Rumble Fish" boasts an impressive cast, including Diane Lane, Nicholas Cage, Chris Penn, Dennis Hopper, and an actor then still going by Larry Fishburne, who had also appeared in Coppola's "Apocalypse Now." But the film is a little more focused on its two central characters, Rusty James (Matt Dillon) and his older brother known as Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke).

In this way, "Rumble Fish" reverses the dynamics of "The Outsiders." The latter's protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis (Howell), is an outsider in his group of outsiders whose intellectual ambitions and writing ability mark him as someone suited for greater things than life in a working-class gang. The film then builds up that world, showing both its appeal – lots of famous movie stars hanging out and having a good time – and its downsides – lots of famous movie stars working dead-end jobs and getting punched in the face a lot – as Ponyboy figures out who he is and where he belongs. Rusty, by contrast, has to be guided in that direction by Motorcycle Boy, who's leading him away from everything he knows, out of that world where violence and prestige have become hopelessly intertwined.