Rumble Fish

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Rumble Fish Movie Poster Image
Teen-gang saga is more intense, violent than the book.
  • R
  • 1983
  • 94 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Rusty James' hero-worship of his brother Motorcycle Boy is misplaced, and he has to shake off his ideals of street-fighter heroics. There's the question of whether Motorcycle Boy is truly brilliant or just a mentally ill misfit. There's also a suggestion that a broken home (the mother's desertion) has ruined forever both the left-behind husband and the son old enough to comprehend what was happening. A sub-theme: the urban environment breeds gangs and violence, and people in cities are compared to animals in cages, though the only solution -- get outta there! -- is a bit simplistic. (And, for Motorcycle Boy, too little too late.)

Positive Role Models & Representations

Rusty James is a trouble-prone, at-risk kid, school dropout, and unfaithful boyfriend, but by the end he realizes some of the negatives of his acts and outlook. He has a more timid sidekick,
Steve, who follows Rusty James into bad situations but doesn't initiate them. Characters idolize Motorcycle Boy for his supposed intellect as well as his "coolness" and fighting style, though even he thinks they've got it all wrong. He sacrifices himself to show his brother not to follow his path. Most grownups - - a grouchy principal, a broken and alcoholic father, a vengeful cop -- are not very positive. Gangs here are mostly white, with a few black characters (friendly and unfriendly) on the margins.


Brutal beatings and kickings, a stabbing, and an (offscreen) fatal shooting. A motorcycle runs down a child.


Topless girls in panties, bare male buttocks in an orgiastic party. Rusty James has an ongoing sexual relationship with girlfriend Patty, though we just see close cuddling. In a series of daydream fantasies he imagines her in skimpy lingerie draped all over his school classrooms.


The f-word, the s-word, "asshole," "hell," and "bitch."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Extensive underage and adult liquor drinking and cigarette smoking.  Rusty's father is an alcoholic. A marauding character is said to be on pills. Talk of heroin use, in a negative context -- that it ruined the "fun" of being of being in a gang, among other things -- and a supporting character is described as miserable junkie.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the raw moments include a sex-party scene exhibiting female and male nudity (erotic-daydream fantasies about a pretty girl wearing very little in a classroom are slightly less explicit). There's also gang-fighting (arranged like a duel, with all the kids turning out to watch at the appointed time), a mugging and beating with a tire iron, and reckless driving on a motorcycle (no helmets), plus one fatal shooting. There is much drinking/drunkenness and cigarette smoking as well, and heroin use and addiction is discussed (and disparaged). Swearing at R-level emphasizes the f-word, and the lead character speaks glowingly of the street-gang lifestyle, though other characters work to change his mind.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byponyboyfan44 April 14, 2019


i've only watched the trailer because i am on ch 1 of the book but from the traie ive seen kissing buti like the novel
Parent of a 13-year-old Written bycolten97 October 10, 2012

One of my favorite films of all time

I realize that's not saying it's the best ever made, but it certainly marked me so much as to regard it as on of my all-time faves.

The movie reminis... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byhttps.80s June 3, 2019

Great Movie

While the movie is quite violent and depicts some stuff that may not be suitable for young kids, it’s really not that bad. It’s all in black and white (except f... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byRileyfitch02 May 25, 2015

Much more viloent and sexual than the book

So I read the book and it was wonderful! I think common sense media is absolutely right! There is WAY to much sex! it shows nudity of women and I think it is ve... Continue reading

What's the story?

In a nameless city -- though faithful readers of the S.E. Hinton books can tell you it's the rough side of Tulsa, Oklahoma -- high-school delinquent Rusty James (Matt Dillon) comes from a once-upscale household that fell apart after their mother left. His lawyer-father (Dennis Hopper) is now a habitual drunkard, while his 21-year-old brother, dubbed Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), is a street legend, credited with putting an end to gang wars before leaving town. Rusty James dreams of becoming as great as Motorcycle Boy, and in the meantime he keeps up his manly reputation with fights, sex, and classroom misbehavior. Then Motorcycle Boy returns, having gone on a life-changing trip to California to look up their mother. Aloof and quiet most of the time, speaking cryptically like some leather-jacket Buddha, MB tries to steer Rusty James away from the dead-end dysfunction that's engulfed their family and city.

Is it any good?

After a scrupulously faithful, even overcautious adaptation of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, director Francis Ford Coppola did this wildly stylized rendering of another Hinton property. Instead of playing it safe, the director shot RUMBLE FISH in black-and-white (with striking trick-photography color inserts) inventive camera angles, dynamic editing, sideways dialogue, and surreal staging. Sometimes the themes gets lost in all the hypnotic audio-visuals (some of which may be conveying Motorcycle Boy's color blindness and partial deafness), but the acting is strong. It says something that, while a lot of 1980s movies tried to be music-videos, no critics accused Rumble Fish of turning MTV, even though rock musician Stewart Copeland of The Police composed the soundtrack. Rather, this is a youth-gang violence saga transformed by Coppola into an "art film" (a very R-rated one) with all the positives and negatives that go along with filmmaker indulgence. Readers who already absorbed the messages via the book may be most forgiving of the riffs on Hinton's powerful narrative.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the messages in the film and the choices the characters make. Why did Motorcycle Boy come back from California to his dangerous, no-future hometown situation?

  • Do you know any Motorcycle Boy-types? Can you relate to the people and situations here or not? What other movies and books speak to this type of character?

  • Many teens have read the book. Ask what they think of director Coppola's offbeat approach to the story, and if they would like to see more serious-minded films like this that take wild chances with B&W photography and hallucinatory imagery.



Movie details

Our editors recommend

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