Only movies that have reached a certain plateau of pop culture immortality can have a sequel TV series over 30 years later that people would watch, or even care about. 1984's The Karate Kid, the martial arts classic that made a top-billed star out of Ralph Macchio and an Academy Award nominee out of Pat Morita, is one such movie. If you haven't seen Cobra Kai yet, it's actually worth paying for a month of YouTube Red just to binge it.
One of the biggest ways that we like to reminisce about movies we loved 10, 20, 30+ years ago is to read up on what went into making them, and the often-fascinating stories that surround their production and subsequent release. Even just focusing on only the original Karate Kid movie– which is what this list does– there is plenty to learn about it that will delight and surprise even the biggest fans of the franchise.
20 The Surprising First Choice(s) To Play Daniel
Just like it's hard to imagine anyone but Michael J. Fox playing Marty McFly, it's a struggle to picture anyone but Ralph Macchio being trained by Mr. Miyagi and delivering that iconic crane kick. But just like with Back to the Future, Macchio wasn't actually the first choice to play the lead.
Among those approached to play Daniel LaRusso– who originally had the last name Webber– before Macchio were Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, and perhaps most surprising, Sean Penn.
19 A Pivotal Scene Was Almost Cut
One of the most touching scenes in the entire movie– and the one that most likely earned Pat Morita his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination– is the one where Mr. Miyagi drinks too much and tells Daniel about his tragic past, including losing his wife and child.
Amazingly, this scene almost got cut! Producers felt that it slowed down the pace of the movie too much, but director John G. Avildsen fought to keep it. Sometimes, directors really do know best.
18 Ralph Macchio Got To Keep The Car
There were a lot of reasons to be envious of Daniel LaRusso– he got to learn karate from an experienced master, he got revenge against his bullies, and he got to kiss Elisabeth Shue. But perhaps none of those things came as close to eliciting jealousy from Karate Kid fans as the pristine 1948 Ford Super De Luxe that Mr. Miyagi gave to Daniel as a gift.
Are you ready to be equally jealous of Ralph Macchio? He got to keep that car for real after the movie wrapped, and still has it to this day.
17 William Zabka (Johnny) Had No Previous Karate Experience
Anyone who has seen Cobra Kai knows that William Zabka, whose debut movie was playing Johnny in The Karate Kid, still has some respectable martial arts skills. In fact, he holds a black belt in the martial art known as Tang Soo Dee.
However, he had zero experience with any form of martial arts prior to his training for The Karate Kid, but was instead a wrestler. He obviously took to karate and decided to continue studying on his own in the years that followed.
16 Pat Morita's Unusual Name Credit
For almost the entirety of Pat Morita's 40+ year acting career, he was credited under the nickname "Pat" rather than his given name of Noriyuki. That said, in all of his Karate Kid roles, he is credited as "Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita," a credit which he didn't use anywhere else.
Why the unusual credit? It was insisted upon by Karate Kid producers in order to draw attention to the actor's Japanese heritage– even though Morita was born and raised in the United States and had been using the name Pat professionally for almost 20 years at that point.
15 "You're The Best" Was Written For A Different Fight Movie
One thing that movies are sorely lacking these days are catchy theme songs that are forever associated with the movies for which they were written. The 1980s was the pinnacle of this phenomenon... and was a very lucrative time for Kenny Loggins.
Karate Kid's "You're The Best" is a classic '80s movie theme, but interestingly enough, it was originally penned for a different movie entirely: Rocky III. But it was passed over for "Eye of the Tiger," leaving it to find a home in a different movie about an underdog fighting his way to the top.
14 The "Original" Karate Kid
According to Ralph Macchio, most of the cast and crew of The Karate Kid weren't too fond of the movie's title, but it's obvious that the filmmakers really wanted to use it. In fact, they liked it so much that they had to get permission to use it.
DC Comics already had a character called Karate Kid– who is still an active character to this day– but was nice enough to grant special permission for the name to be used for the 1984 film and its subsequent sequels. They are even thanked in the credits for that kind gesture.
13 Elisabeth Shue Took A Break From Harvard To Star
An earlier item in this list pointed out a connection between the Karate Kid and Back to the Future franchises, but casting changes aren't the only things that link the two iconic series– they also share a love interest in Elisabeth Shue (though she didn't join BttF until the sequel).
Knowing a good opportunity when she saw it, Shue even took a break from her studies at Harvard to film film the role of Ali in Karate Kid. But she didn't want to take another schooling break when it came time for the sequel, so she declined to return.
12 A Japanese Cinema Legend Almost Played Mr. Miyagi
Ralph Macchio wasn't the only member of The Karate Kid's cast that wasn't the first choice for his role. Pat Morita also wasn't the first call made to fill his future role in the film, instead being preceded by Toshirō Mifune, famous for appearing in many of iconic Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's films.
Producers felt Mifune's take on Mr. Miyagi would've been far too serious and decided to pass. Ironically, they were also initially skeptical of Pat Morita due to his comedic background.
11 Daniel And Johnny Were Meant To Have Two More Fights
The Karate Kid might be built around several major conflicts, but none are as pivotal to the plot as the rivalry between Daniel and apparent bully Johnny– although, as this list will address later, perhaps it isn't so cut-and-dry who the hero and villain truly are in that dynamic.
Daniel and Johnny really only butt heads a couple of times in the movie, saving most of the tension for the big tournament at the end. The original script included two additional scuffles between the two which were actually shot but then cut for pacing reasons.
10 Ralph Macchio Hated The Product Placement
Daniel telling his mother "I'm on Minute Maid," coupled with a shot of a well-placed carton of Minute Maid orange juice is a cringe-worthy moment in the history of blatant movie product placement. But when Coca-Cola is helping to fund your film, obvious product placement can't really be avoided.
Still, Ralph Macchio hated being a forced corporate shill, and deliberately kept a can of Sprite obscured in a later scene that was supposed to feature the drink. He was made to do it again, but still only showed the Sprite logo for the absolute minimum he could get away with.
9 The Mandela Effect Of Daniel's Bandanna
If you don't know about "Mandela effect," it's a phenomenon were a large group of people seem to collectively remember something in the exact same– but incorrect– way. One of the best examples is people swearing that the popular kids books are called The Berenstein Bears, when it's actually Berenstain.
The Karate Kid also has an instance of the Mandela effect in regard to Daniel's bandanna. Many people incorrectly picture it as containing a red rising sun, whereas it actually sports a blue flower design. Even seemingly official Karate Kid Halloween costumes often get this wrong.
8 The "Real" Mr. Miyagi
As mentioned earlier, Pat Morita was born and raised in the U.S. and English is his native language. So his heavy Japanese accent in The Karate Kid is faked, authentic-sounded though it may be. And as it turns out, it isn't just any old accent he is doing but that of an existing Japanese actor and martial arts expert.
Fumio Demura, a famed actor in his own right who also just so happened to serve as Morita's fight double for much of the film, is whom Morita based Mr. Miyagi's voice, style, and mannerisms.
7 The Stunt Team Saved An Iconic Scene
When most people think of The Karate Kid, one of the first things they picture– with the possible exception "wax on, wax off"– is that iconic Halloween party scene feature Johnny and his cohorts in skeleton attire getting taught a lesson by Mr. Miyagi.
Apparently, Fumio Demura was going a little too hard on the actors in that scene, causing multiple issues with filming it. Eventually, Demura suggested letting his own stunt team stand in for the bone-painted teens, and they ended up nailing it on the first take– the take you see in the final film.
6 It Almost Ended With The Sequel's Opening Scene
The Karate Kid's ending is almost as iconic as the movie itself, with a freeze frame on the smiling face of a proud Mr. Miyagi then fade to black mere moments after Daniel defeats Johnny in the big karate tournament. But that wasn't how it was originally supposed to end.
In fact, the opening moments of The Karate Kid Part II that feature Johnny and his sensei interacting with Mr. Miyagi were meant to be used at the end of the first movie– but when the Miyagi freeze frame was decided on, it was moved to the sequel instead.
5 Did Chuck Norris Turn Down A Role?
A popular urban legend surrounding The Karate Kid is that action movie icon Chuck Norris was originally offered the role of Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese, but turned it down because he didn't want to be associated with a negative portrayal of martial arts senseis.
Norris eventually denied that he was ever actually offered a role in the movie– but interestingly, he also confirmed that if he had been, he would've likely turned it down for the very reason the urban legend stated. It's just as well, as Martin Kove's portrayal of the character was sneaky perfection.
4 Pat Morita Designed Daniel's Gi
Pat Morita brought a lot to the role of Mr. Miyagi beyond just his formidable acting chops and pitch-perfect Fumio Demura imitation. He also lent his artistic talents to the production, designing the bonsai tree logo on the back of the gi that Mr. Miyagi gives to Daniel himself.
In addition, the song that Mr. Miyagi is singing during his drinking scene was another Morita contribution, as it was a Japanese song he had loved as a child and insisted on including it.
3 It Got On Clint Eastwood's Bad Side
Beyond just the actors who were offered the role of Daniel and turned it down, there were also a number of people who auditioned for it– including one Kyle Eastwood, who happens to be the son of none other than legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood.
When Kyle didn't get the part, Clint was said to be so angry that he banned Coca-Cola products on his film for years... a message to Columbia Studios who was, at that time, owned by Coca-Cola. Don't make Dirty Harry's day!
2 How They Pulled Off The Fly-Catching Scene
It's a moment that is so strongly identified with The Karate Kid that it was called back to and heavily featured in the trailers of the 2010 remake: Mr. Miyagi snatching a fly out of thin air with a pair of chopsticks. So how did they do it?
Had the scene been shot today, they would probably just use digital effects to achieve the shot– but in 1984, they had to settle for a crew member standing out of frame dangling a fishing wire with a fake fly on the end of it.
1 Is Danny Actually The Bad Guy?
It's a fan theory that has been circulating for years now: that Johnny is the real "karate kid" and is actually the hero of the movie, with Daniel being the real bully. It certainly has merit, as closer examination shows that Daniel seems more interested in/is quick to fight, whereas Johnny is often simply trying to deescalate situations. Also, Daniel does basically steal Johnny's girl.
In fact, child psychologists have even weighed in on the theory, concurring with the idea that it is Daniel who displays more bully-like behaviors and actions, whereas Johnny is actually the more sympathetic character.