Sixteen years after a sixteen-year-old wrote this book, Francis Ford Coppola turned this novel into a movie. The book is a coming-of-age novel, but the movie focuses on the characters' loss of innocence. The movie follows the story line very closely. The reader is only told that this story takes place in the southwest, but the movie places it in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the year 1966. It also changes the conflict from the East Side versus the West side to the northside versus the southside. This minor directional change was probably made due to the relative time proximity to the musical West Side Story, which won the best picture Academy Award in l961. However, as with all movies, character insight that is critical to understanding the story is lost when the format goes from the written word to the screen. Ponyboy is telling us the story, the same as in the book, but the 91-minute film only glosses over many character relationships.
With the exception of Ponyboy, the viewer misses out on knowing most of the novel's characters. Darry and Soda are relatively minor characters in the movie, and the viewer is given little insight into their lives. The same is true for the rest of the gang, even Dally. Dally's death loses much of its impact because viewers aren't able to get to know him. Only the reader is aware of the fact that Dally's gun is unloaded, and the symbolic death of Dally in the spotlight is gone.
Johnny's character is also weaker in the movie than the book. Viewers don't see the growth in his character, because they don't know Johnny. Johnny's appreciation for life at the end of his own is barely noted, but it has great impact on Pony in the novel.
The whole point of the telling of Ponyboy's story is to give meaning to Johnny's death. Johnny had wanted Ponyboy to tell Dally certain truths, and given that Dally is dead, Pony writes this story down for all of the Dallys in the world: "Someone should tell their side of the story, and maybe people would understand then and wouldn't be so quick to judge a boy by the amount of hair oil he wore." The movie and book do begin and end with the same lines, the difference being, only readers understand the meaning behind them.