20 Secret Facts About The Karate Kid
We know that many of you were massive fans of The Karate Kid during your childhood, so we thought it was about time that we took a closer look at the beloved 1984 film. It spawned a successful franchise including two direct sequels, semi-reboot The Next Karate Kid, the Jaden Smith/Jackie Chan remake and finally TV hit Cobra Kai.
With all that in mind, we present the following. Remember: facts on, facts off!
20. Freddy actor Isreal Juarbe took a football to the face for real
Being as he is The Karate Kid, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) takes a few hard knocks, but you wouldn’t expect his non-karate training friends to get hurt too. However, the seemingly innocuous beach soccer scene went sour fast for Freddy actor Isreal Juarbe, who – in a moment that definitely wasn’t scripted – gets hit smack in the face with a ball.
While Daniel is trying to get the attention of the beautiful Ali (Elisabeth Shue), he shows off his ball skills, only to have the ball knocked away by Freddy. In reality though, the ball hits Isreal Juarbe smack in the face, and you can see the impact just before Daniel is brought back to his senses. Ouch.
19. Despite rumours, Chuck Norris never turned down the role of John Kreese
It’s a popular Karate Kid myth that Chuck Norris was the first choice to play Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese but turned it down. The story goes that the martial arts icon rejected the role because he didn’t want to contribute to karate being viewed in a negative light. However, both the film’s producers and Norris himself have denied he was ever offered the part.
While Norris was never approached for The Karate Kid, he’s since admitted he probably would have said no for the exact reasons fans imagined he would: because he didn’t want to make karate look bad. 1984 saw Norris instead star in one of his first hit action movies, Missing in Action.
18. Pat Morita did not perform the legendary crane kick
Mr. Miyagi’s famed crane kick is perhaps the most iconic part of the movie, since it’s what Daniel spends all movie working towards perfecting. However, Miyagi actor Pat Morita didn’t actually perform the kick himself. It might not seem that difficult or dangerous at first glance, but as Morita was not a real martial artist, the crane kick on the pole was deemed too extreme for him to perform himself.
Instead, professional stuntman and martial artist Darryl Vidal was brought in to film the move. As well as being shot from a distance, he was given a bald cap and baggy clothes to make him look like Mr. Miyagi. You can also see Vidal in the tournament scene, as he’s the competitor who is bested by Johnny before the final.
17. The movie originally had a whole other confrontation after the tournament
The Karate Kid might seem like one of those movies with a perfect ending, where all the loose ends are wrapped up but there’s enough intrigue left for a sequel. However, it may surprise you to know that the movie didn’t originally end with Daniel’s victory in the tournament, but with a confrontation between Miyagi and Kreese.
This ending is how things go in the novelisation of the movie, but things were changed in later drafts of the film’s script in order to keep the focus on Daniel’s big win. Instead, this confrontation between the two teachers wound up becoming the opening scene of The Karate Kid Part II.
16. In real-life, Daniel would have been disqualified from the tournament
Everyone remembers how The Karate Kid ends, with Daniel facing his bully Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) in the grand final of the All-Valley Under 18s Karate Tournament. At the thrilling climax, Daniel successfully pulls off Mr. Miyagi’s signature crane kick, flooring Johnny and being officially declared the winner. There’s just one problem: many believe that Daniel should have been disqualified.
Though karate is a full contact sport, for safety reasons most competitions forbid ever striking your opponent with full force. Obviously, Daniel held nothing back with that crane kick, on top of which it was to the face which is also meant to be forbidden. Most experts agree that he would have been disqualified for it, and this controversy has since been addressed on TV spin-off Cobra Kai.
15. Pat Morita was initially turned down as Mr. Miyagi
Mr. Miyagi is one of the most beloved mentor figures in all of film. It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone but Pat Morita in the role, but he wasn’t always guaranteed the part. Though Morita was always the first choice of director John G. Avildsen, producer Jerry Weintraub was concerned that audiences would not find him believable in the role.
Weintraub and others had their doubts because Morita was best known for comedy, both as a stand-up comic and a cast member on beloved sitcom Happy Days. Thankfully, Morita was eventually given the opportunity to prove his doubters wrong, and soon showed that he was the perfect casting as Miyagi.
14. Ralph Macchio wasn’t a kid at all
The clue is in the name: The Karate Kid is about a youngster balancing the normal trials of high school with learning the art of karate. You would be forgiven for thinking that the character of Daniel would be played by an actual high schooler, but Ralph Macchio was actually 22 when he was cast in the role, though his cast mates had trouble actually believing that.
The baby-faced star looked young enough to convincingly play the part, despite graduating high school over half a decade previously. Macchio also starred in the sequels; by 1989’s The Karate Kid Part III (technically set one year after the first film), he was 28. Unfortunately, Macchio’s youthful looks meant he struggled to find major roles over the years.
13. Pat Morita was Oscar-nominated for his performance
Despite certain members of production doubting that Morita even should have been cast, he soon proved to be one of the most beloved parts of the movie. As well as charming critics and audiences alike, his performance soon earned him a slew of award nominations, including Best Supporting Actor at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.
Unfortunately, Morita did not win at either ceremony, losing out to Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields at both the Oscars and Golden Globes. Even more unfortunately, he was also nominated for a Razzie for his work on The Karate Kid Part III. Morita did later earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame though, which hopefully made up for losing out in all three cases.
12. Sean Penn and Charlie Sheen turned down the role of Daniel
Given the movie’s success, it’s easy to imagine that several actors were fighting it out for the opportunity to play Daniel LaRusso. In actual fact, a number of famous young actors of the era walked away from the opportunity to play the character. Most notably, Charlie Sheen was offered the part but turned it down immediately, having no faith in the project.
Sean Penn had a similar response to the script, also turning down the opportunity to play a character that would become iconic. Others said to have been considered for Daniel include Emilio Estevez, C. Thomas Howell, Jon Cryer, and even subsequent megastars Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise, before Ralph Macchio was cast based on his performance in The Outsiders.
11. Theme song You’re The Best was nearly used in Rocky III
Probably the most memorable track on The Karate Kid’s soundtrack is Joe Esposito’s You’re the Best, the ultra-motivational rock track that plays during the tournament montage in the final act. Even though the song proved a perfect fit for The Karate Kid, it was actually written for a different movie entirely: 1982 blockbuster sequel Rocky III.
You’re the Best was written by Rocky composer Bill Conti (along with lyricist Allee Willis), but writer/director/actor Sylvester Stallone turned their composition down in favour of Eye of the Tiger by Survivor. In another link, Survivor also contributed a track to The Karate Kid soundtrack, The Moment of Truth.
10. The characters originally had very different names
When we think of The Karate Kid, we think of the bitter conflict between Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence. However, in the first draft of Robert Mark Kamen’s screenplay, our young hero and his nemesis went by different names. Originally, the central hero went by the perhaps more innocuous name of Daniel Webber.
It was only when the Italian-American Macchio was cast in the role that the surname was changed to LaRusso. However, that isn’t anywhere near as drastic a difference as the original name of Johnny Lawrence. Believe it or not, William Zabka’s black belt bully was originally going to be called Donald Rice.
9. Japanese film legend Toshiro Mifune was first choice for Mr Miyagi
The Karate Kid was a comparatively rare example of a Hollywood movie with a key leading role for a Japanese actor. The film’s producers set their sights high and sought to cast one of the most renowned Japanese screen actors ever, as their first choice for the role of Mr. Miyagi was Toshiro Mifune, famed for his collaborations with legendary director Akira Kurosawa.
Mifune acted in 16 films for Kurosawa, probably their most famous collaborations being Rashomon and The Seven Samurai. Unfortunately, Mifune proved to be an unsuitable candidate for The Karate Kid as he spoke no English. Once the producers realised they needed someone else, they took on the unlikely candidate of Pat Morita.
8. Screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen drew on his real-life experiences
The Karate Kid was one of the first produced screenplays by writer Robert Mark Kamen. Himself a practitioner of karate, Kamen drew heavily on his own real-life experiences in the script. The writer had taken up the martial art in his teens, after being attacked by a gang of bullies. Initially Kamen trained under a harsh, John Kreese-like instructor, but he had doubts about the emphasis on brutality.
Kamen then found a new instructor teaching a practice of Okinawan origin, founded by a sensei named Chojun Miyagi, who was of course the inspiration for Mr. Miyagi. Years after The Karate Kid, Kamen went on to work extensively with Luc Besson, co-creating action franchises The Transporter and Taken.
7. Everyone hated the film’s title
Today, The Karate Kid holds up as one of the most memorable, simple movie titles of the 80s. However, not everyone involved in the making of the film had all that much confidence in the title. As a matter of fact, just about everyone thought releasing the film under the title The Karate Kid would make them a laughingstock.
John Kreese actor Martin Kove states, “all of us used to complain about the title.” And, in a case of life definitely not imitating art, Daniel LaRusso actor Ralph Macchio was in total agreement. Macchio recalls, “I fought tooth and nail to change this goofy title, only because I knew there was a chance I had to carry it for the rest of my life.” How right he was!
6. Many iconic Karate Kid locations are still around
Devoted fans of The Karate Kid have been known to make pilgrimages to the places the movie was shot. Many of the locations are still accessible and have barely changed in the decades since the movie was filmed. In particular, it is possible to visit the apartment complex where Daniel spends most of his time, and the only major change is that there’s no longer a tree growing out front.
The beach featured in the movie has also undergone hardly any transformation at all, making it another prime visiting spot. You can also still visit Daniel’s school, which still has everything from the brass plaque outside to the original library. The school is no longer operational, but it has been transformed into an adult education facility.
5. Unfortunately, Mr. Miyagi’s house isn’t still around to visit
Once the movie was released, it didn’t take long for Karate Kid fans to find the locations where the film was shot in real-life. However, one location that did elude them was Mr. Miyagi’s house, where much of Daniel’s training took place. It took until 2014 for one dedicated fan to discover the address of Mr. Miyagi’s house, and the outcome was not good.
The house fell into disrepair for many years, since fans couldn’t find it and campaign for it to be protected. As a result of it becoming derelict and dangerous, the house was demolished in the late 80s. That hasn’t stopped fans from making the journey to other locations from the film, though.
4. A food fight between Daniel and Johnny was cut from the film
Daniel and Johnny have several confrontations throughout The Karate Kid, but one altercation in the school cafeteria did not make it to the final cut. Allegedly, the film included a sequence of Johnny sneaking a slice of blueberry pie onto Daniel’s seat just before he sat down. Daniel retaliated by smearing Johnny’s face with blueberry pie, which soon sparked a full-on conflict.
It’s unclear why the scene was cut: maybe because there was enough conflict in the film already, and maybe because this messy punch-up was a bit too silly. In any case, the first season of Cobra Kai sported a considerably more exciting cafeteria showdown.
3. Hilary Swank starred in a panned reboot
Described as a ‘revamp sequel,’ 1994’s The Next Karate Kid stars Hilary Swank as Julie Pierce, a new student of Mr. Miyagi (once again played by Pat Morita). Due to her parents’ death in a car accident, Pierce is plagued with anger issues and sadness and works through them with Miyagi’s help. Set in Boston, the film does not see the return of any other characters from the earlier films.
Earning under $16 million worldwide, The Next Karate Kid was a commercial flop, nor did it go down well with critics: today, it holds a shameful 7% score on reviews aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. Still, there is a curiosity value to the film as it gave future two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Hilary Swank her first leading role.
2. The headband is actually just a handkerchief
It wouldn’t be The Karate Kid without Daniel LaRusso’s iconic headband. In fact, the entire movie could be an advert for wrapping a cloth around your head and kicking some serious butt. However, this now-legendary item of movie costuming has a far humbler origin story than you might expect, as it’s really just a handkerchief.
In a 2014 video for the Oprah Winfrey Network, Ralph Macchio admits that the headband was little more than “a handkerchief [that] Pat Morita had in his pocket. He took it out, you know, just to pat his brow,” Macchio continues, “and he just decided to put it on me, but it was never in the script.”
1. The story continues with Cobra Kai
One of the most unexpected small screen success stories of recent years is Cobra Kai, a canonical sequel to the Karate Kid series which sees Ralph Macchio and William Zabka reprise their roles from the original films. Starting life on YouTube Red in 2018, by its third season in 2020 Cobra Kai moved to Netflix, where it quickly caught the attention of a far wider audience.
As well as introducing a slew of new characters, many actors from the original Karate Kid movies have made guest appearances in the show, including Elisabeth Shue as Ally. Also, Kreese actor Martin Kove and The Karate Kid Part III’s Thomas Ian Griffith have become series regulars.