- Directors: Nicholas Ray
- Producers: David Weisbart
- Writers: Nicholas Ray, Irving Shulman, Stewart Stern
- Genres: Drama, Romance
- Actors: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo
The main plot centers on Jim Stark (James Dean), a 17-year-old. Stark and his parents move to Los Angeles, where he enrolls at Dawson High School. The film begins with Stark brought into police station for public drunkenness. His mother, father and grandmother come to get him, and the film’s dilemma is introduced. Jim’s parents are frequently quarreling. Often the father is the one who tries to advocate for Jim; however, Jim’s mother, a naturally pushy woman, always wins. Jim feels betrayed both by this quarreling and by his father’s lack of moral strength, causing feelings of unrest and displacement. This shows later in the film when he repeatedly asks his father “what do you do when you have to be a man?”.
While trying to conform at the school, he becomes involved in a dispute with a local bully named Buzz Gunderson. While he tries to deal with Buzz (Corey Allen), he becomes friends with a 15-year-old boy, John, nick-named Plato (Sal Mineo), who was also at the police station the night of the opening scene for shooting puppies. Plato idolizes Jim, his real father having abandoned his family. Plato experiences many of the same problems as Jim, such as searching for meaning in life and dealing with parents who “don’t understand.”
Plato hides in the Griffith Observatory which is soon besieged by the police. Jim and Judy follow him inside, and Jim convinces Plato to lend him the gun, from which he silently removes the ammunition magazine (though he neglects the round in the chamber). When Plato steps out of the observatory, he becomes unstable again at the sight of the police and charges forward, brandishing his weapon. He is shot fatally by a police officer acting in defense of himself and the bystanders, despite Jim’s yelling to police that he removed the bullets. Plato was wearing Jim’s jacket at the time, and as a result, Jim’s parents (brought to the scene by police) think at first that Jim was shot. Mr. Stark then runs to comfort Jim, who is distraught by Plato’s death. Mr. Stark promises to be a stronger father, one that his son can depend on. Thus reconciled, Jim introduces Judy to his parents.