The success of Cobra Kai on Netflix has shown that we still have a huge amount of nostalgia for The Karate Kid. For ’80s kids, the latter flick is a seminal film which will always hold a special place in their hearts. Despite this, though, there are still many crazy aspects of the movie that you may not be aware of. So from insane casting stories to lawsuits against the producers, let’s explore 40 facts you never knew about this martial-arts masterpiece.
40. The producer didn’t want Pat Morita to play Mr. Miyagi
Director John G. Avildsen reportedly wanted Pat Morita – who was most known to American audiences as Arnold on Happy Days – to play Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. Producer Jerry Weintraub was scared audiences wouldn’t be able to see Morita as anything other than a comedic actor, though. Morita later explained to Heat Vision that he ended up having to do five screentests before Weintraub became convinced that he had the dramatic goods.
39. The real-life inspiration for Mr. Miyagi was actually in the movie
In the 1970s and ’80s, a Japanese karate master named Fumio Demura became well-known to martial arts enthusiasts in Los Angeles. But did you know that he inspired the creation of Mr. Miyagi? In fact, he was apparently offered the role and declined it, but Demura was then hired to work on the movie as Pat Morita’s stunt double. The two men remained friends right up until the latter sadly died in 2005.
38. The iconic song ‘You’re The Best’ was originally going to be in two other movies
In 2008 Joe Esposito explained on The Adam Carolla Show about why the lyric “history repeats itself” is used in his iconic song “You’re The Best.” Fans complained that it didn’t make sense in the context of Daniel LaRusso’s first tournament final. He revealed that the song was actually written for Rocky III in 1982 but was pipped by Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger.” It was also slated for inclusion in Flashdance but was again replaced – this time by Michael Sembello’s “Maniac.”
37. Black belt Darryl Vidal was stunt double for Mr. Miyagi’s crane kick
Any of you familiar with The Karate Kid will remember the memorable scene which sees Mr. Miyagi performing a crane kick on top of a beach post. But it turns out that it was actually pulled off by karate black belt Darryl Vidal. During the DVD commentary, the martial artist revealed that he was wearing a body suit and bald cap for the scene. Interestingly, Vidal also played one of the semi-finalists in the All-Valley Karate Tournament.
36. Fans were unable to confirm the filming location of Mr. Miyagi’s house until 2014
Most of the Californian filming locations used in the movie have been found by fans over the years. But Mr. Miyagi’s house proved elusive. It took until 2014 for the location in Los Angeles’ Canoga Park to be confirmed. In a cruel twist of fate for fans, though, they would be unable to visit the house as it was torn down toward the end of the ’80s.
35. Chuck Norris was not offered the role of John Kreese
Martial arts action star Chuck Norris was long rumored to have been offered the role of villainous Cobra Kai leader John Kreese. The urban legend stated that he declined because the character represented martial arts in an aggressive manner and set a bad example. Norris later debunked this and claimed that he was never offered the role. Though the star added that he would have indeed turned it down for that very reason.
34. Pat E. Johnson was fight choreographer, on-screen referee and an action figure
You might be surprised to learn that many cast members from The Karate Kid were not actually well-versed in martial arts at all. Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, for example, had no previous training whatsoever. Enter Grandmaster Pat E. Johnson, whose job it was to choreograph all the fights in the movie and portray the referee in the tournament final. In a unique twist, the fact that Johnson played an on-screen character meant he was immortalized in action figure form – as part of Remco’s Competition Center playset.
33. A band called Broken Edge feature on the soundtrack and also appear in the film
“No Shelter” – a track by little-known 1980s band Broken Edge – was featured on The Karate Kid soundtrack. The members themselves were also chosen for an on-screen appearance, too. They are the band playing at the high school Halloween dance. Unfortunately, their big screen debut didn’t propel them to fame, but it’s still something cool that they can always hang their hats on.
32. Ralph Macchio sustained a legit bruise on his chin while filming the skeleton fight
Shooting fight scenes can sometimes be pretty perilous for actors. After all, it only takes one false move for someone to get hurt for real. On the DVD commentary for The Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio claimed this is just what happened to him when they were filming the Halloween night skeleton fight. He said the bruise on his chin – which is visible at one point in the movie – was the result of a stray roundhouse kick. Ouch.
31. Daniel LaRusso’s headband was simply Pat Morita’s handkerchief
The headband worn by Daniel LaRusso in the movie has gone down in cinematic lore. It’s hard to imagine him without it, to be honest. In reality, though, it wasn’t even a headband at all. It was just a handkerchief that Pat Morita had in his pocket, Ralph Macchio explained in a 2014 video for the Oprah Winfrey Network. He simply thought it would look good wrapped around Ralph Macchio’s head. Crazy.
30. Ralph Macchio named his only son Daniel
Ralph Macchio has two children: a daughter called Julia and a son named Daniel. So was his son named after his character Daniel LaRusso? You bet he was. In 2020 Macchio told The Guardian, “There was a chunk of time when my son was like, ‘Did you have to?’ But now he’s proud of it. Unlike Ralph, Daniel is a classic, it never goes out of style, you know?”
29. The actor who played Dutch was Hollywood icon Steve McQueen’s son
Dutch was the bleached blonde member of Cobra Kai and arguably the scariest member of the group. But what you may not know is that he was played by Chad McQueen – the son of Hollywood legend Steve McQueen. Efforts were made to have the former reprise his role in the second season of Cobra Kai, but he was apparently too busy with his custom car/motorcycle business McQueen Racing, LLC.
28. The novelization reveals why Daniel’s mom had a change of career
In The Karate Kid, we learn that Daniel LaRusso and his mother moved to Los Angeles in order for her to work for Rocket Computers. But during the movie, she works as a hostess at a restaurant and it is never explained why. What gives? Well, the answer lies within the movie novelization, which reveals that Rocket Computers went bust. Oh dear.
27. Ralph Macchio was gifted the yellow ‘wax on, wax off’ car by the producers
Mr. Miyagi’s iconic yellow 1947 Ford Super Deluxe convertible made an appearance in season two of Cobra Kai, and it delighted fans of the franchise. Brilliantly, it was actually the very same car used in the original movie series. Ralph Macchio told IndieWire that it had been gifted to him by the studio after filming wrapped up on The Karate Kid Part III. It was apparently also his idea to clean the vehicle up for use in the new show.
26. William Zabka claims people tried to fight him in real life after the movie was released
As Johnny Lawrence, William Zabka rubbed a lot of audience members the wrong way. In fact, the actor has claimed people on the street tried to fight him over the years – such was their hatred for Lawrence. According to ABC News, he also said that a friend told him an L.A. karate gang wanted to beat him up for real. Yep, these people seem to struggle with the separation of fiction and reality.
25. Zabka came up with his own backstory for Lawrence
The Karate Kid’s DVD commentary noted that the screenplay had no backstory for the Johnny Lawrence character. Actor William Zabka wanted some sort of motivation for his sense of rage, though, as he felt it would give him a better feel for the character. So, he did it himself! Apparently, Zabka came up with his own imagined backstory for Lawrence as a teenager with no dad, who latched on to John Kreese as a surrogate father figure.
24. The studio wanted Mr Miyagi’s ‘drunk scene’ cut from the film
One of the best scenes in The Karate Kid is surely Mr. Miyagi’s “drunk scene.” It’s extremely emotional – featuring him telling LaRusso about the loss of his wife. Studio executives wanted director John G. Avildsen to take the scene out of the film, though, and he had to fight for its inclusion. Avildsen later told The Hollywood Reporter that he believed the scene directly led to Morita’s Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
23. The opening scene of the sequel was supposed to be the final scene of the first film
Did you know that the opening scene of The Karate Kid Part II – in which Mr. Miyagi embarrasses Kreese in front of his Cobra Kai students – was originally intended to be the closing scene of the first movie? According to Mental Floss, early versions of the script ended like this and so did the novelization. But at some point, the decision was made to end the movie with Daniel LaRusso defeating Johnny Lawrence in the tournament final instead.
22. Clint Eastwood’s son auditioned for the role of Daniel
Hollywood lore has it that Kyle Eastwood – son of screen icon Clint – auditioned for the role of Daniel LaRusso and didn’t get it. The legendary actor and director then allegedly banned Coca Cola products from the sets of his movies. Why? Well, the company owned Columbia Pictures – the studio behind The Karate Kid. This version of events was disputed by Kyle himself, though. He told The Guardian in 2007 that he wanted to play the part, but his father put the kibosh on it by passing the script on to someone else.
21. Screenwriter Dennis Palumbo turned the job down because he thought Daniel should lose in the end
In the 2009 documentary Tales From The Script, Dennis Palumbo claimed that he was approached to write the movie. Though the screenwriter insisted he would only take the job if Daniel LaRusso lost the tournament final to Johnny Lawrence. His reasoning was that Mr. Miyagi explains to LaRusso that it doesn’t matter if he wins or loses. Therefore, his victory would somewhat negate his mentor’s life lessons. But, after seeing the movie become a hit franchise, Palumbo branded himself a moron and admitted he was wrong.
20. Pat Morita put on a heavy Japanese accent to portray Mr. Miyagi
You may be in for a shock if you watch interviews with the late Pat Morita, because he doesn’t sound anything like Mr. Miyagi. The actor was, in fact, born and raised in California, so he never spoke with a Japanese accent. In fact, Morita also slowed down the cadence of his natural speech to portray Miyagi, so the difference is really quite startling.
19. Charlie Sheen and Sean Penn turned down the role of Daniel
Playing the casting “what if” game is always a fun exercise – even if it’s hard to differentiate truth from rumors. For instance, Ralph Macchio allegedly wasn’t the first choice to play Daniel LaRusso. Both Charlie Sheen and Sean Penn were reportedly offered the part. In fact, legend has it that other soon-to-be-famous names such as Nicolas Cage, Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. were also considered.
18. DC Comics received a special thanks in the credits
In a rare case of two corporations working together amicably, DC Comics received a special thank you at the end of The Karate Kid’s credits. Why? Well, the DC Universe had an established character named Karate Kid, who was a member of the Legion of Superheroes. The comic book publisher therefore agreed to give Columbia Pictures permission to use the moniker for their movie. Well, how nice of them!
17. The army unit Mr Miyagi talks about was a real unit in World War II
During Mr. Miyagi’s emotional “drunk scene,” he speaks of his time serving during World War II as part of the 442nd Infantry Regiment. This is a reference to a real-life army unit predominantly made up of second generation Japanese-Americans. Amazingly, the regiment would become the single most decorated squad of its size in U.S. military history.
16. Macchio was 22 when he played teenager Daniel LaRusso
It’s crazy to think that the youthful-looking Ralph Macchio was actually 22 years old when he played teenager Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid. He was three years older than William Zabka, who played his arch-nemesis Johnny Lawrence, and yet the former looked considerably younger. In fact, several members of the cast reportedly didn’t believe Macchio when he told them his real age.
15. Elisabeth Shue took a break from Harvard to be in the movie
Elisabeth Shue played Ali Mills in The Karate Kid, and it was a star-making role for the actress. She was forced to take a break from her studies at Harvard in order to shoot the movie and would later leave the institution for good as her acting career took off. But, after shooting Hollow Man in 2000, she went back to school for a semester – earning the five credits she needed to get her college diploma.
14. Karate instructor William J. DeClemente believed he was the inspiration for Daniel
In 1994 a karate teacher named William J. DeClemente sued the producers of The Karate Kid for trademark infringement. You see, in the 1960s he trademarked the name “The Karate Kid” and even used it on his business cards. He also claimed that he’d trained as a teen in the same New York City neighborhood as screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen. The judge threw out his claim, although on his official website DeClemente still maintains he was the inspiration for the movie.
13. Seven Samurai actor Toshiro Mifune auditioned to play Mr. Miyagi
This example of a casting “what if” would likely have resulted in an extremely different film – but one that still would have been super compelling. Director John G. Avildsen explained in the movie’s DVD commentary that iconic Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune auditioned for the role of Mr. Miyagi. Unfortunately for him, while his audition was top notch, producers felt he portrayed the character too similarly to the uber-serious warriors he played in movies like Seven Samurai.
12. Martin Kove’s intense Kreese audition was driven by real life anger at the director
When The Karate Kid was coming together, Martin Kove claimed he was told by director John G. Avildsen that he wanted him to play John Kreese. But the actor had to wait for the particulars to be worked out and turned down other work during that period. So by the time Kove finally got to audition, he was furious at Avildsen keeping him on the hook for weeks. This translated into an intense, angry audition, which ironically sealed the deal for him to play the intimidating Kreese!
11. The screenplay combined semi-autobiographical material with a news article
Apparently, the inspiration for The Karate Kid came from two different sources. Producer Jerry Weintraub bought the option on a newspaper article about a nine-year-old boy who took up karate to defend himself against bullies. Screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen told Sports Illustrated that he then combined this with his own semi-autobiographical material. This was based on a time when he started learning martial arts in New York City after being brutalized by bullies at the World’s Fair in 1964.
10. The skeleton fight had to be re-shot after the actors complained they were being hit too hard by Fumio Demura
It’s one of the best scenes in the film, but the Halloween night skeleton fight scene was a headache to shoot. This is because the young actors reportedly complained that Mr. Miyagi’s stunt double Fumio Demura was legitimately striking them. The latter then convinced the director that, if they used his own students to double for the actors, the scene could be accomplished in one take. And that is exactly what they did.
9. William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence audition scene was intense
In 2014 during a 30th anniversary reunion panel at Comic Con in New York, William Zabka told the audience about his audition scene, which wound up not making it into the movie. He said, “… I go up to Daniel and hand him a piece of paper. He goes, ‘What’s this?’ and it’s a death certificate. He’s like, ‘What’s this for?’ and I’m like, ‘You got to get your mommy to sign it to be in the tournament with the big boys.”
8. Daniel LaRusso’s Halloween costume is foreshadowed in the previous scene
The red polka dot shower costume that Daniel LaRusso wears to the Halloween dance is always guaranteed a laugh from audiences. But what you may not know is that the costume – which LaRusso said was made for him by a friend – was foreshadowed in the scene right before the dance. Yep, if you look carefully you’ll see the shower curtain hanging behind Mr. Miyagi in his workshop while he carves jack-o-lanterns.
7. Daniel LaRusso’s mom’s magazines are from 1969
The Karate Kid is, of course, set in 1984. This is why it’s especially odd that, in the scene where Mr. Miyagi fixes the faucets in the LaRusso apartment, the Family Circle magazine hidden under Daniel’s karate book looks so old. But zoom in and you’ll catch the date of publication on the magazine: April, 1969. Weird choice of reading material, Mrs LaRusso.
6. William Zabka still owns Johnny Lawrence’s red leather jacket
When The Karate Kid was released, few involved with the film could have predicted that it would endure as a classic movie. The cast could have been forgiven for simply moving on with their next jobs without taking away any mementos. Maybe William Zabka had a feeling about the movie, though. Or perhaps he simply loved the Cobra Kai-branded red leather jacket worn by Johnny Lawrence. After all, he reportedly still owns it to this day.
5. LaRusso should have been disqualified for using the crane kick in the tournament final
Daniel LaRusso’s victory in the tournament final at the end of The Karate Kid is a triumphant win for the underdog, who used the mastery of karate to defeat his evil foe. Except, here’s the thing. The referee states in the movie that kicks to the face are not permitted in the final. Yet, LaRusso wins with a devastating crane kick to Johnny Lawrence’s mush. Shouldn’t he have been disqualified?
4. A fan theory exists that says Daniel LaRusso was the real bully, not Johnny Lawrence
According to some fans, Daniel LaRusso is the real villain of The Karate Kid. YouTuber J. Matthew Turner called the former “a violent sociopath who picks every fight.” He even claimed Johnny Lawrence was only trying to defend himself. Comedian Patton Oswalt has also backed this theory – writing about how LaRusso ruined Lawrence’s life. The Cobra Kai show also expanded on this idea and painted Lawrence as a more sympathetic figure.
3. A Cobra Kai scene references LaRusso’s friend Freddy Fernandez
A season two episode of Cobra Kai entitled “Lull” featured an Easter Egg that only truly knowledgeable fans of The Karate Kid would have caught. In the background of a scene set in a meat locker, there is a box with a “Fernandez Meat Company” label on the side. This is apparently reference to Freddy Fernandez – LaRusso’s friend in the original movie who wears a T-shirt with the slogan “Makin’ Bacon.”
2. The Halloween night skeleton fight took two long weeks to film
William Zabka explained to a New York Comic Con crowd that the Halloween skeleton fight took two long weeks to film. He said, “It took forever to get that right. We rehearsed that so many times. I remember doing the rehearsal and I guess I wasn’t projecting loud enough. Pat [Morita] said, ‘When you do the rehearsals, you have to give 110 percent.’ He was right and we amped that scene up about ten notches.”
1. Ralph Macchio declined a cameo in the 2010 remake, but came back for Cobra Kai
In 2010 The Karate Kid remake was released – starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. The movie was produced by Will Smith, and he spoke with Ralph Macchio about potentially cameoing as Daniel LaRusso. Macchio told Page Six, “I told [Smith] I wasn’t interested in that.” He added, “I don’t want to do a drive-by cameo.” He did, of course, later choose to reprise the role in Cobra Kai, though.