In 1982, Francis Ford Coppola had just wrapped up the first—and most important—decade of his career. He bounded through the Godfather trilogy and, in 1979, earned his third Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for the era-defining Apocalypse Now, a movie in which a brooding Martin Sheen serves as the main vehicle for a "Heart of Darkness" romp through Vietnam.
Oddly, after completing that film, Coppola's career began to sag, with poor artistic choices. But he had one final gem—an idea sent to him from a middle school teacher and her class.
As Harry Potter has been for Millennials, The Outsiders was a book that had captured the imagination of the nascent Generation X. With themes of alienation, and teenagers shedding their parents' socioeconomic biases and looking past stereotypes, it was a precursor for every John Hughes film and captured the mood of a new era.
But what makes The Outsiders, the movie, such a watershed moment is the casting. Sheen's oldest son, Emilio Estevez, was pulled in as a Mickey Mouse T-shirt wearing, sugar-crazed goofball, and an unknown Ralph Macchio plays a tender lost boy who can't help but attract trouble, a role that bounced him to the career-defining character he played in "The Karate Kid."
In fact, none of the actors in The Outsiders were established yet, but the film served as a starting point for cinema in the '80s—and beyond. It introduced Matt Dillon and Rob Lowe to stardom, and also cemented Tom Cruise as an "it" actor. Cruise was the most recognizable face in the crowd, as two years earlier, at the age 19, he had launched his career with the stirring role in Taps (1981), and Risky Business was released nearly simultaneously with The Outsiders.
Swayze was the only other actor with a semi-established career, but without The Outsiders to spring him into mainstream attention, it is likely he would have languished as an extra. He was already 30 years old—the oldest cast member—and largely had only scored forgettable roles, like as a dancer for various Disney specials and a few TV appearances (i.e., one episode of "M.A.S.H."). But it was his role as the older authority figure in The Outsiders that plucked him from a mundane career and landed in the celebrity jet stream and a peripheral member of the Brat Pack. A year after The Outsiders, he teamed up again with C. Thomas Howell (also in The Outsiders) for Red Dawn and, there, was first paired with Jennifer Grey, whom he would team up with a couple of years later in Dirty Dancing.
Join the Source staff at Swayze Summer, the first retrospective in America of Swayze's career!
8 pm, Wednesday, July 31
Old Stone Church