'The Outsiders' at 40: How a depressed Francis Ford Coppola got his groove back with seminal teen drama
"The Godfather" filmmaker bounced back from the 1982 bomb "One From the Heart" with the coming-of-age favorite stacked with future stars.
Francis Ford Coppola had already directed the indisputable classics The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather: Part II (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979). But the disastrous release of a single film, 1982’s genre-bending romance One From the Heart, nearly broke him.
“I was very depressed at the time [after One From the Heart], which was a heartbreak to me and involved some stupidity on my part,” the 82-year-old Queens-raised filmmaking titan told Yahoo Entertainment during a rare 2021 interview (video below) while discussing his 1983 coming-of-age favorite The Outsiders, released 40 years ago Saturday. “And I was very despondent about the terrible reaction.”
Starring Frederic Forest and Teri Garr as a couple whose relationship hits the rocks during an anniversary getaway to Las Vegas, One From the Heart is Coppola’s biggest flop by a long shot, grossing only $600,000 against a budget of $26 million. The filmmaker said he pulled the film from its limited run in theaters after only a week, anticipating it’d later have a wider release — not realizing such a move would relegate it directly to home video.
“So it was stupid of me to do, but nonetheless I was depressed and I had lost everything and I was facing a bankruptcy,” he explained.
That’s when a large envelope arrived in the mail for him from the library class of Lone Star Elementary School in Fresno, Calif.
“These children had voted that I should take their favorite book and make it into a film,” Coppola recalled of the package, which came with about 10 to 15 pages of signatures from seventh and eighth graders, courtesy of their librarian Jo Ellen Misakian. “And the fact that these kids had voted for me to do their film meant for sure I was going to [at least] read the book … And I read it, and I was very touched by the book because it showed how young people really have such strong feelings. I was very moved by it.”
That book was S.E. Hinton’s 1967 gang drama The Outsiders, which fittingly, the Tulsa, Okla., native had begun writing when she was only 15.
The rest is history. Coppola began rolling cameras on The Outsiders, the movie, in Tulsa in March of 1982. The beloved film, which tracks the exploits of the working class “greasers” and their wealthier rivals “The Socs,” helped introduce some of the most popular young actors of the '80s, including C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise. (The film, in fact, was Cruise’s last non-starring role for 16 years, until his Oscar-nominated supporting turn in 1999’s Magnolia.)
"I was surrounded by these guys, who were just goofing around," Lane told us during a 2015 Role Recall interview, remembering how Howell attempted to distract her by making funny faces off-camera during her swoony magic-hour scene with Leif Garrett — the Teen Beat pinup she had a crush on in real life. "But we pulled it off."
It was a significant bounce-back for Coppola, earning strong reviews (with Gene Siskel comparing it to Rebel Without a Cause and American Graffiti) and a $33 million haul (on a budget of $10 million).
The film’s legacy has only grown over the years, and kids have continued to play a key role in it.
After encountering young readers in his granddaughter’s classroom who wondered why certain scenes from Hinton’s source material weren’t included in his adaptation, Coppola released his director’s cut, dubbed The Complete Novel, in 2005.
The filmmaker restored that version for a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, released in 2021.
“Once again, I listened to the advice and the opinion of the young people,” Coppola says. “Which is what we should be doing in the world today, in my opinion.”
The Outsiders: The Complete Novel is now available on 4K Ultra HD.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo
Story originally published Nov. 11, 2021