I don’t remember the first time I saw The Outsiders.
I was probably too young to see it in the movie theater when it first came out (#strictparents). But I have a distinct memory of watching the movie on a VCR at my seventh grade birthday party. We rewound and played the part where Rob Lowe walks out of the shower and almost drops his towel at least ten times, giggling and squealing the way only preteen girls can. To this day I still call Lowe “Sodapop.” Since The Outsiders came out, Lowe has had nine lives of a successful career through movie franchises and long-running TV series. But he will always be Sodapop to me.
The movie follows a group of teens in Tulsa in the 1960s. Those from the wrong side of the tracks are the Greasers: The Curtis brothers—Darry, Sodapop and Ponyboy—and their friends Dally, Johnny, Two-bit and Steve. On the wealthy side are the Socs (an abbreviation of Social): Bob, Randy and Cherry. One night at a drive-in, Cherry befriends Ponyboy…which doesn’t go over well with Bob. Bob and his friends attack Ponyboy and Johnny which leads to tragedy upon tragedy upon tragedy.
I have never loved a movie as much as I loved The Outsiders. The movie’s iconic quotes still ricochet in my head. “Nothing gold can stay.” “You get tough like me and you don’t get hurt.” “Do it for Johnny!”
Watching The Outsiders now is an evocative experience. It is a time machine that transports me back to my middle school years. The nuanced performances remain extraordinary. The cast radiates talent. The 1983 movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola based on S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel is now legendary because of its cast. In one scene you can find Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, C. Thomas Howell and a pre-orthodontic-work Tom Cruise. This was well before many of them became household names, coached a ragtag group of hockey players, jumped on Oprah’s couch or waxed on and waxed off. They were babies! (Except for Rob Lowe, who looks almost exactly the same now as he did then. Somewhere there’s a portrait of him aging in an attic.) My bedroom walls were covered with posters of Howell. I still don’t really understand how he didn’t become as famous as his co-stars. I was 10000% planning on marrying him. I have vague recollections of sending him a fan letter via Tiger Beat magazine.
It was a particularly delightful blast from the past to go back and watch the newly released 4K restoration of The Outsiders: The Complete Novel. In 2005, Coppola re-released the movie with never-before-seen scenes. As he says in the DVD extras, he went to talk to his granddaughter’s seventh grade class and they all wondered why certain scenes that were in the book weren’t in the movie. The scenes had been filmed but previously cut due to concerns about running time. There are no running time concerns on DVDs, so Coppola added the scenes back in—including a new opening where Ponyboy is attacked by a group of Socs. It immediately sets the tone for the movie that the Greasers are the underdogs and gives more context to 14-year-old Ponyboy and his relationship with his older brothers. There’s also a beautifully poignant restored scene where Sodapop and Ponyboy talk late into the night about life. Ponyboy asks Sodapop what it’s like to be in love and Sodapop tells him, “Most of the time it’s real nice.” What would 2021 social media make of two brothers snuggling in bed together? I’m thinking nothing good. But there’s such a pure innocence to that scene. The Complete Novel also provides Sodapop with a lot more character development. Watching it now as an adult, I savor having this extra time with my precious Greasers. Memory is a funny thing. It had been years since I watched the movie but I was still immediately able to pick out the new scenes.
Coppola also replaced the movie’s soundtrack. His father Carmine Coppola wrote the movie’s original soundtrack, which was grandiose. Coppola had wanted to score the movie in the theme of Gone with the Wind, which is the book Ponyboy reads to Johnny. In 2005, Coppola put in music which was contemporary to the time the movie is taking place—much more rock ‘n’ roll than instrumental. I’m still partial to the original soundtrack, though, which swelled my emotions.
It’s fascinating to hear Coppola discuss why he made the movie (he received a letter from a school librarian and her eighth graders) and why he thinks it connected so much with young viewers. “Young people are capable of profound feelings,” he explains.
The Outsiders had a great deal of respect for the experience of being an adolescent and the often rocky road of going from childhood to adulthood. I think that’s why it resonated with me so much. I certainly didn’t grow up in the ‘60s in Oklahoma. I wasn’t a parentless greaser who went around starting fights. But the movie’s themes of not being understood, of wanting more out of your life than what people expect of you, of having a group of friends that were like family spoke to me. That, and all the dreamy boys, of course.
Watching The Outsiders now, the movie feels a bit melodramatic. But again, I think that’s why it worked. Emotions are so heightened during the adolescent years. Everything can seem like a life-and-death decision, and in The Outsiders everything was.
The DVD extras also go into great detail about the 4K restoration process. Suffice to say Coppola meticulously saves everything, which really pays off here. The 4K restoration has returned the movie to a heightened, perfected version of what it looked like when it was first released. The golden sunset that encompasses Ponyboy is even more golden as he quotes Robert Frost. The rain pouring down in the culminating rumble, even more vibrant. The blood that spreads out over the water, even more tragic. The color of Ponyboy’s peroxide hair, even more hilarious. The Outsiders remains a beautiful movie about friendship, growing up, life and loss. It turns out some things gold can stay.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).