Famed Director calls shot-in-Sapulpa movie Rumble Fish his “favorite”

Francis Ford Coppola, the famed director of such cinema classics as The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now, stunned the internet when he said his favorite film as a director would be the arthouse experiment called Rumble Fish—most of which was shot in Sapulpa.

In an online Ask Me Anything conversation—frequently referred to as “AMAs”—Coppola was asked about his favorite movie as a director. His initial response was as you might expect: “My best film? That’s like asking someone with 7 kids, who’s the best? I love them all,” he said. “But if I scratched deeper I might say RUMBLEFISH.”

September 1983, Los Angeles, California, USA — Director Francis Ford Coppola on the set of his 1983 movie . — Image by © Christian Simonpietri/Sygma/Corbis

The movie, starring Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke, had performances by several recognizable actors, including Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Diane Lane, Lawrence Fishburne, and even musician Tom Waits.

Director Francis Ford Coppola sits on the set of Rumble Fish in downtown Sapulpa, 1983.

The movie follows the journey of Rusty James, played by Dillon, a rebellious young punk who loves to start fights and talk about the glory days of gang brawls. He struggles under the shadow of his older brother, played by Rourke, who is known in the movie only as “The Motorcycle Boy.”

Rumble Fish was a creative departure from most of Coppola’s other work, due to its strong dramatic undertones and being shot almost entirely in black and white, save for a few scenes near the end, which, unsurprisingly, follow the character arc of Rusty James and his relationship with The Motorcycle Boy.

Scenes from the movie were filmed at several locations in Sapulpa, including the third floor and the fire escape of the Iowa Building, (105 E. Dewey, where Route 66 Vintage Market is now) and at the Westfall Building, which is most recognized for being the home of Isabella’s Collection for over twenty years, but in the movie it served as a Rexall Drug Store.

Rumble Fish is based on a novel by Tulsa’s S.E. Hinton and was shot back-to-back by Copolla with another Hinton book-turned-movie and for some, another classic: The Outsiders. That movie helped launch or extend the careers of actors like Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, and Emilio Estevez.

Hinton became a household name when she was still in her teens after writing The Outsiders in 1967 and basically created the Young Adult genre of books. She also helped write the scripts for both The Outsiders and Rumble Fish movies, and she has cameos in both movies, as well.

In 2022, the new Rumble Fish Alley between North Park and North Water Streets opened to the public after an extensive renovation created a walkable pedestrian space connecting Dewey Avenue to Hobson. The alley on the south side of Dewey is now under construction and is expected to be completed later this year.

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