‘The Outsiders’: Book vs. Movie

Both the book and the movie are fantastic, but they have some vital differences.

by Kali Tuttle
The Outsiders

I first read The Outsiders when I was about nine years old in elementary school. Ever since then, it has been one of my favorite books. Soon after reading it for the first time, I watched the 1983 movie.

Right off the bat, I couldn’t help but notice that there were some noticeable changes and omissions from the book. While they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie at all, they did create a slightly different story than what I had read.

Some choices were narrative-based, some character-based. All were essential in creating the star-studded, heartbreaking 1983 film, The Outsiders.

Johnny’s Backstory

Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio) is a tragic figure. He’s a young kid of unassuming stature that grew up in rough times. It’s hard to imagine him being in a gang if you didn’t already know he was. Macchio is perfect for the role for that reason, as he has the baby face to pull off characters like that.

The Outsiders film didn’t delve into Johnny’s past as fully as it could, though it made references to it. One of the important scenes in the book is when the gang find Johnny beaten up. He tells them that a Soc with a bunch of rings on his hand did it. This event scarred Johnny so when he comes face to face with that same Soc and kills him, it feels like bittersweet justice not just for Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) but for Johnny as well.

The film does show Johnny’s home life well without getting into too much detail that could bog down the story. We get brief mentions of the violence he faces and a short scene of his parents’ silhouettes fighting. It gives us the details without necessarily shoving them in our faces.

Bond Between Brothers

The Outsiders novel was much better at portraying the relationship between the Curtis brothers. We got more of a sense of who they were and how much they cared about each other. In the film, all we get are a few shots of Sodapop (Rob Lowe) and Darry (Patrick Swayze) being worried about Ponyboy and a few heartwarming moments.

When Ponyboy returns home after the church he and Johnny were hiding in catches fire, the novel spends more time on how Sodapop and Darry take care of Ponyboy. In the film, we skip past most of that pretty quickly. Other than a few words of love exchanged, it’s hard to tell that the two older brothers even care about the younger one.

In the extended version of the film, we do get a final scene of the brothers bonding that was included in the novel. In the regular version, the film ends with Ponyboy writing his essay and mourning the loss of Johnny and Dally (Matt Dillon). There’s no scene that resolves the tension between the Curtis brothers. We don’t really feel the love between them as well as we do in the novel.

Two-Bit Loves Mickey Mouse

One detail I love that got added to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders film is that Two-Bit Matthews (Emilio Estevez) loves Mickey Mouse. This wasn’t ever touched upon in the novel, as far as I recall. One of my favorite random parts of the film is when Sodapop flops down on the couch one morning and tells Two-Bit, “Hey, Two-Bit, Mickey’s on TV!” Two-Bit immediately rushes over to the couch to watch his hero. It’s just a great little bit of character-building.

Dally’s Character

Matt Dillon is amazing as Dally Winston. There are some marked differences between his character in the book and his character in the movie. In the book, it’s noted that Dally has blonde hair. However, in the movie, he has dark black hair. Honestly, that fits his character’s dark personality much better.

Additionally, when Dally is shot by the police in the end, he is only shot once in the book. In the film, Dally is shot multiple times. Director Coppola’s decision to have dozens of bullets hit Dally was one that enhanced emotions during the scene. It ends his life in a much more violent way, reflecting the way he lived it.

Follow MovieBabble on Twitter @MovieBabble_ and Kali Tuttle @tuttle_kali2.

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Peggy Marie April 30, 2023 - 5:24 pm

It’s rare when I pick a movie over a book.. I’m coming close here! :)

Nick Kush April 30, 2023 - 11:53 am

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