June 5, 2021 — The Outsiders is unlike any movie that will ever be made again which is why it is so special. Too many stars aligned to make this 1983 film an instant classic, but would such magic be possible to repeat?
The answer is no. And to appreciate why it is impossible to reboot this film, one must first appreciate all the factors that made it so impactful in the first place.
A Coming-of-Age Story
The Outsiders begins with Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) scribbling on a piece of paper as viewers are drawn into a flashback. Things are different in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1965 as two gangs, the poor Greasers and the rich Socs, have constant tension bubbling just below the surface. The tension boils over when Ponyboy’s best friend Johnny (Ralph Macchio) kills one of the Socs while defending Ponyboy. This sparks a chain of events that leads to the deaths of more than one Greaser. Surrounding this main controversy, there are plenty of underlying story arches, including Ponyboy’s coming of age and the constant family turmoil of many in the Greaser gang.
An Unmatched Cast
It is impossible to talk about The Outsiders without talking about the star power involved. Even a director as legendary as Francis Ford Coppola could not have known what he had on his hands when filming started. C. Thomas Howell made a name for himself as Ponyboy, and Ralph Macchio was arguable better in The Outsiders than he was in his iconic role as The Karate Kid, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
“The music in the film is well-suited to the era with songs by Elvis Presley, David Allen Coe, and Jerry Lee Lewis.”
Ponyboy’s brothers are played by the late legend Patrick Swayze and everyone’s favorite pretty boy Rob Lowe. Other Greasers include actors Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, and Tom Cruise – all of whom went on to be leading men. The Soc side had a few big names as well, with 70s child actor and singer Leif Garret as Bob and Diane Lane as Cherry Valance. Even though all of these young stars were yet to hit their prime, it is nigh-on impossible to assemble a similarly powerful cast nowadays because of how Hollywood is structured.
An Eclectic Soundtrack
The Outsiders is not a film that is particularly known for its soundtrack, although its music is worth mentioning since, like the movie, it has many layers. The film begins and ends with ‘Stay Gold’ by Stevie Wonder — a song filled with emotion that will bring you back to an earlier moment in life. The problem is this song would fit much better in a teen adventure like The NeverEnding Story than it does in The Outsiders.
The music in the film is suited to the era with songs by Elvis Presley, David Allen Coe, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Most of these songs seem to fit the film’s theme and scene perfectly, but then songs like ‘Out of Limits’ by the Marketts, which is more of a sixties beach party song than one that should play over a rumble in an Oklahoma field. The rest of ‘The Outsiders’ is tied together with an instrumental score by Carmine Coppola, which used big band instruments to underscore the mood of each scene.
Difficult to Remake
In the era of remakes and reboots, The Outsiders sounds like a perfect movie to bring into a new century, but it’s not. One of the few reasons this film worked as well as it did was because a legendary director was handed a cast full of future award winners and Hollywood royalty – having an ensemble like this would be like catching lightning in a bottle for a second time. On the other hand, modern computer technology was used to make Robert de Niro a lot younger in the Irishman, so there is some hope still for a remake.
All in All
The content is troublesome and outdated — the film glorifies violence as the first response to a disagreement. It also shows massive brawls using fists, knives, and chains, which is not commonplace now and probably was not then either. So on that note, perhaps it should be brought back to shake up the politically correct world we all find ourselves in.
That aside, The Outsiders’ underlying themes like child abuse and neglect have apparently become more socially acceptable (but sure as heck was not back then, having in mind Netflix’s much-criticized (and rather horrendous) French film Cuties that examines how children are encouraged to be sexualized.) Despite its flaws, The Outsiders finds itself in a coming-of-age sweet spot for kids who could relate to a 14-year-old boy trying to find his place in a confusing world, and while it’s far from perfect, it still hits many of those same notes today. Should a remake ever be on the cards and include the original cast, hopefully, it will retain its core to the fullest extent possible.