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Is The Outsiders Based On A True Story?

Throughout the 1970s, few filmmakers boasted quite as impeccable a track record as Francis Ford Coppola, who released four of arguably the greatest movies ever made in that ten-year span — 1972's "The Godfather," 1974's "The Conversation," and "The Godfather: Part II," and 1979's "Apocalypse Now." The 1980s were a very different story for the legendary filmmaker, however, with his wildly ambitious, decade-opening musical "One From the Heart" proving a monumental bust that some believed might be a career-ender.

That was hardly the case. And even if Coppola never fully got his groove back, he spent the bulk of the '80s on the comeback trail crafting modestly budgeted features no less ambitious than his prior masterworks. As it happens, the first of those was his "One From the Heart" follow-up, 1983's "The Outsiders." Based on S.E. Hinton's novel of the same name, the 1960s set "The Outsiders" told the tale of rival gangs in a Tulsa, Oklahoma high school (the upper-class "Socs" and the poorer "Greasers") whose violently escalating encounters lead to unfathomable tragedy.

"The Outsiders" was hardly a box office smash upon release, but quickly earned a cult following, and has since come to be revered as a stylish, wholly authentic, and bracingly realistic coming of age drama — one that helped launch the careers of Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane, and more. 

S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders is loosely based on real-life high school drama

You may not realize it, but part of the reason "The Outsiders" feels so authentic is because the novel it's based on was, in turn, based on real-world events. S.E. Hinton started writing the book when she was just 15 years old, seeing it published just a few years later. Given that knowledge, it's hardly surprising that the youthful exuberance is so damned believable in both the novel and the film. As for the relentless tension between the "Socs" and "Greasers," Hinton took her inspiration from watching interactions between rival teen gangs in her own town whose hatred for one another was so combustible they entered the school building by separate entrances to avoid daily tussles (via MentalFloss). 

Though Hinton's novel wisely refrains from outright demonizing either gang, "The Outsiders" is told from the point-of-view of a "Greaser," leading one to naturally align with that particular faction. Seems that choice was very much by design as the author revealed in an interview published by The Outsiders Fan Club she mostly hung out with the "Greasers" in her high school days, "Ponyboy's gang was inspired by a true-life gang, the members of which were very dear to me." In turn, Hinton's affection for those living life on the wrong side of the economic divide not only helped inform one of the best-loved young adult novels in history, but a true classic of '80s cinema to boot.