The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid is a 1984 American martial arts drama film written by Robert Mark Kamen and directed by John G. Avildsen. It is the first installment in the Karate Kid franchise, and stars Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue and Billy Zabka.[3][4] The Karate Kid follows Daniel LaRusso (Macchio), a teenager taught karate by Mr. Miyagi (Morita) to help defend himself and compete in a tournament against his bullies, one of whom is the ex-boyfriend (Zabka) of his love interest Ali Mills (Shue).

The Karate Kid
Karate kid.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn G. Avildsen
Written byRobert Mark Kamen
Produced byJerry Weintraub
CinematographyJames Crabe
Edited by
Music byBill Conti
Delphi II Productions
Jerry Weintraub Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • June 22, 1984 (1984-06-22)
Running time
127 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million[2]
Box office$130.4 million

Kamen was approached by Columbia Pictures to compose a film similar to Avildsen's previous success Rocky (1976), after signing the director. Kamen drew inspiration from his own life when writing the film.[5] As a result, he maintained strong opinions regarding cast, and petitioned heavily for Morita's inclusion.[6] Preparations for the film began immediately after the final edit of the script was complete, and casting took place between April and June 1983. Principal photography began on October 31, 1983, in Los Angeles, and filming was complete by December 16, 1983.

The Karate Kid was theatrically released in the United States on June 22, 1984. The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, many of whom praised the action sequences, writing, storyline, acting performances, and music. The film was also a commercial success, grossing over $130 million worldwide, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 1984 and Hollywood's biggest sleeper hit of the year.

The film is also notable for kickstarting the career of Macchio, as well as revitalizing the acting career of Morita, who was previously known mostly for comedic roles, and earned Morita a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.[7] The Karate Kid subsequently launched a media franchise, and is credited for popularizing karate in the United States.[8][9]


In 1984, 17-year-old Daniel LaRusso and his mother Lucille move from Newark, New Jersey, to Reseda, Los Angeles, California. Their apartment's handyman is an eccentric, but kind and humble Okinawan immigrant named Mr. Miyagi.

Daniel befriends Ali Mills, a high school cheerleader, which draws the attention of her arrogant ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence, a black belt and the top student from the Cobra Kai dojo, where he studies a vicious form of karate. Johnny and his Cobra Kai gang continually bully Daniel. On Halloween, after Daniel sprays water on Johnny with a hose as payback, he and his gang pursue Daniel down the street and brutally beat him, until Mr. Miyagi intervenes and single-handedly defeats them with ease. Amazed, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate. Miyagi declines but agrees to bring Daniel to Cobra Kai to resolve the conflict. They meet the sensei, John Kreese, an ex-Special Forces Vietnam veteran who callously dismisses the peace offering, demanding that they participate in a sparring match. Miyagi then counters that Daniel enter the All-Valley Karate Championships, where he can compete against Kreese’s students on equal terms, and requests that the bullying cease while Daniel trains. Kreese agrees to the terms but warns that if Daniel does not show up for the tournament, the harassment will continue for both Daniel and Miyagi.

Daniel's training starts with days of menial chores that he believes only serve to make him Miyagi's slave. When he becomes frustrated, Miyagi demonstrates that repetition of these chores have helped him to learn defensive blocks through muscle memory. Their bond develops, and Miyagi opens up to Daniel about his life that includes the dual loss of his wife and son in childbirth at the Manzanar internment camp while he was serving with the 442nd Infantry Regiment during World War II in Europe, where he received the Medal of Honor. Through Mr. Miyagi's teaching, Daniel learns not only karate but also important life lessons such as the importance of personal balance, reflected in the principle that martial arts training is as much about training the spirit as the body. Daniel applies the life lessons that Miyagi has taught him to strengthen his relationship with Ali. On Daniel's 18th birthday, Miyagi presents him with a Karate gi for the tournament and one of his own cars as birthday gifts.

At the tournament, Daniel surprises everyone by reaching the semi-finals. Johnny advances to the finals, scoring three unanswered points against Darryl Vidal. Kreese instructs his second-best student, Bobby Brown, who is one of his more compassionate students and the least vicious of Daniel's tormentors, to disable Daniel with an illegal attack to the knee. Bobby reluctantly does so, severely injuring Daniel and getting himself disqualified in the process. Daniel is taken to the locker room, where the physician determines that he cannot continue. However, Daniel believes that if he quits, his tormentors will have gotten the best of him. He convinces Miyagi to use a pain suppression technique to allow him to continue. As Johnny is about to be declared the winner by default, Daniel returns to fight. The match is a seesaw battle, with neither able to break through the other's defense.

The match is halted when Daniel uses a scissor-leg technique to trip Johnny, delivering a blow to the back of his head and giving Johnny a nosebleed. Kreese directs Johnny to sweep Daniel's injured leg – an unethical move. Johnny looks horrified at the order but reluctantly agrees. As the match resumes and the score is tied 2–2, Johnny seizes Daniel's leg and deals a vicious elbow, doing further damage. Daniel, standing with difficulty, assumes the "Crane" stance, a technique he observed Mr. Miyagi performing on a beach. Johnny lunges toward Daniel, who jumps and executes a front kick to Johnny's face, scoring the tournament-winning point. Johnny, having gained newfound respect for his nemesis, presents the trophy to Daniel himself, as Daniel is carried off by an enthusiastic crowd while Miyagi looks on proudly.




The Karate Kid is a semi-autobiographical story based on the life of its screenwriter, Robert Mark Kamen. At age 17, after the 1964 New York World's Fair, Kamen was beaten up by a gang of bullies. He thus began to study martial arts in order to defend himself.[5] Kamen was unhappy with his first teacher who taught martial arts as a tool for violence and revenge. So he moved on to study Okinawan Gōjū-ryū karate under a Japanese teacher who did not speak English, but was himself a student of Chōjun Miyagi.[5]

As a Hollywood screenwriter, Kamen was mentored by Frank Price who told him that producer Jerry Weintraub had optioned a news article about the young child of a single mother who had earned a black belt to defend himself against the neighborhood bullies. Kamen then combined his own life story with the news article and used both to create the screenplay for The Karate Kid.[5] Additionally, given John G. Avildsen's involvement with both films, Sylvester Stallone often joked with Kamen that the writer had "ripped off" the Rocky films with The Karate Kid.[5]

DC Comics had a character called Karate Kid. The filmmakers received special permission from DC Comics in 1984 to use the title for the first film (and subsequent sequels).[10]


A number of actors were considered for the part of Daniel, including Sean Penn,[10] Robert Downey Jr., Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer,[11] Emilio Estevez, Nicolas Cage, Anthony Edwards, C. Thomas Howell, Tom Cruise, Eric Stoltz and D. B. Sweeney.[5] Ralph Macchio was ultimately cast on the strength of his performance as Johnny Cade in The Outsiders (1983).[5] Macchio has stated that his performance as Johnny influenced the development of Daniel LaRusso in his next film, The Karate Kid.[12][13]

Macchio later commented that, "the character was originally named Danny Weber. As soon as I walked in the room, it changed to LaRusso."[5]

The studio originally wanted the role of Mr. Miyagi to be played by Toshiro Mifune, who had appeared in the films Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), and The Hidden Fortress (1958), but the actor did not speak English.[5] Pat Morita later auditioned for the role but was rejected for the part due to his close association with stand-up comedy and with his character Arnold on the sitcom Happy Days.[5] After a few failed attempts, Morita grew a beard and patterned his accent after his uncle, which led to him being cast in the role.[14]

Crispin Glover was considered for the role of Johnny, but the studio later opted for William Zabka. After his audition, Zabka saw Macchio, who noted "[Zabka] scared the shit out of me" during his audition to the studio.[5] When he was cast, Zabka was a wrestler with no previous training in karate.[10][15]

Helen Hunt and Demi Moore were also considered for the role of Ali, but Elisabeth Shue was cast based partly on a Burger King commercial that became widely popular in the early 1980s. The film marks the debut roles of both Zabka and Shue.[5] Late in production, Valerie Harper was considered for the role of Lucille, but the studio later instated Randee Heller for the role.[5]


Filming began on October 31, 1983,[16] and wrapped on December 16, 1983.[17]

The film's fight choreographer for the combat scenes was Pat E. Johnson, a Tang Soo Do karate black belt who had previously been featured in Bruce Lee's American–Hong Kong martial arts film Enter the Dragon (1973) and worked with Chuck Norris at American Tang Soo Do martial arts schools. Johnson also makes an appearance as the referee in The Karate Kid. Pat Morita's stunt double for Mr. Miyagi, Fumio Demura, is also a karate black belt who had previously worked with Bruce Lee, who learnt some nunchaku techniques from Demura.[18]


The musical score for The Karate Kid was composed by Bill Conti, a frequent collaborator of director John G. Avildsen since their initial pairing on Rocky (1976). The instrumental score was orchestrated by Jack Eskew and featured pan flute solos by Gheorge Zamfir. On March 12, 2007, Varèse Sarabande released all four Karate Kid scores in a 4-CD box set limited to 2,500 copies worldwide.[19]

A soundtrack album was released in 1984 by Casablanca Records containing many of the contemporary songs featured in the film. Of particular note is Joe Esposito's "You're the Best", featured during the tournament montage near the end of the first film. Originally written for Rocky III (1982), "You're the Best" was rejected by Sylvester Stallone in favor of Survivor's hit song "Eye of the Tiger".[10] Coincidentally, Survivor also performed the main theme ("The Moment of Truth" Music & Lyrics: Bill Conti, Dennis Lambert, Peter Beckett) for The Karate Kid.

Bananarama's 1984 hit song "Cruel Summer" also made its U.S. debut in The Karate Kid but was excluded from the film's soundtrack album. Other songs featured in the film but left off the album include "Please Answer Me" performed by Broken Edge and "The Ride" performed by The Matches.

Track listing for 1984 soundtrack

  1. "The Moment of Truth" (Survivor)
  2. "(Bop Bop) On the Beach" (The Flirts, Jan and Dean)
  3. "No Shelter" (Broken Edge)
  4. "Young Hearts" (Commuter)
  5. "(It Takes) Two to Tango" (Paul Davis)
  6. "Tough Love" (Shandi)
  7. "Rhythm Man" (St. Regis)
  8. "Feel the Night" (Baxter Robertson)
  9. "Desire" (Gang of Four)
  10. "You're the Best" (Joe Esposito)


Box officeEdit

The film was a commercial success grossing $100 million in the United States and Canada, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 1984 and Hollywood's biggest sleeper hit of the year.[20][21][22] Following the release of Cobra Kai, The Karate Kid re-releases in 2018 and 2019 grossed a further $400,529 in the United States and Canada.[23][24]

In the United Kingdom, the film topped the box office for two weeks and grossed £2,960,939[25] ($3,947,919).[26] By 1989, the film had grossed $130 million worldwide.[27] Between 2018 and 2020, the film grossed a further $400,529 in the United States and Canada,[23][24] and $42,257 in the United Kingdom and Australia,[28] bringing its lifetime worldwide total to $130,442,786.

The film sold an estimated 27,072,000 tickets in the United States and Canada.[29] The film also sold 1.9 million tickets in Spain,[30] 1,888,845 tickets in France and Germany,[31] and 137,217 tickets in the South Korean capital of Seoul,[32] adding up to 30,998,062 tickets sold in the United States, Canada, Spain, France, Germany and Seoul.

Critical responseEdit

On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 89% based on 44 reviews, with an average rating of 6.83/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Utterly predictable and wholly of its time, but warm, sincere, and difficult to resist, due in large part to Morita and Macchio's relaxed chemistry."[33] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."[34]

On its release, Roger Ebert called the film one of the year's best, gave it four stars out of four, and described it as an "exciting, sweet-tempered, heart-warming story with one of the most interesting friendships in a long time."[35] Janet Maslin of The New York Times also gave a positive review.[36] The Karate Kid ranked #40 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.[37]

Upon release of the 2010 remake, Dana Stevens wrote: "The 1984 original ... may have seemed like a standard-issue inspirational sports picture at the time, but (as with another box-office hit of the same year, The Terminator), a generation of remove reveals what a well-crafted movie it actually was. Rewatched today, the original Kid, directed by Rocky's John G. Avildsen, feels smart and fresh, with a wealth of small character details and a leisurely middle section that explores the boy's developing respect for his teacher."[38]


Year Award Category Nominee Result
1985 Academy Awards[39] Best Actor in a Supporting Role Pat Morita Nominated
Golden Globes[40] Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture Pat Morita Nominated
Young Artist Awards[41] Best Family Motion Picture - Drama The Karate Kid Won
Best Young Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Musical, Comedy, Adventure or Drama Elisabeth Shue Won
Best Young Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Musical, Comedy, Adventure or Drama William Zabka Nominated


The film spawned a franchise of related items and memorabilia such as action figures, head bands, posters, T-shirts, and a video game. A novelization was made by B.B. Hiller and published in 1984. The novel had a scene that was in the rehearsal when Daniel encounters Johnny during school at lunch. Also at the end, there was a battle between Miyagi and Kreese in the parking lot after the tournament which was the original ending for the film and used as the beginning of The Karate Kid Part II.

In 2015, toy company Funko revived The Karate Kid action figures. Two versions of character Daniel Larusso, a version of character Johnny Lawrence and a version of Mr. Miyagi were part of the line. The toys were spotted at retailers Target and[42]

Cultural influenceEdit

The series has been credited for popularizing karate in the United States.[43][44]

The American experimental rock band titled 'Sweep the Leg Johnny' was a reference to a line from the film.[45][46]

The 2007 music video for the song "Sweep the Leg" by No More Kings stars William Zabka (who also directed the video) as a caricature of himself and features references to The Karate Kid, including cameo appearances by Zabka's former Karate Kid co-stars.[47][48]

Macchio and Zabka made a guest appearance as themselves in the How I Met Your Mother episode "The Bro Mitzvah". In the episode, Macchio is invited to Barney Stinson's bachelor party, leading to Barney shouting that he hates Macchio and that Johnny was the real hero of The Karate Kid. Towards the end of the episode, a clown in the party wipes off his makeup and reveals himself as Zabka.[49]

Sequels and adaptationsEdit

Film sequelsEdit

The original 1984 film had a number of direct sequels (three films and a television series). It launched the career of Macchio, who would turn into a teen idol featured on the covers of magazines such as Tiger Beat. It revitalized the acting career of Morita, previously known mostly for his comedic role as Arnold on Happy Days, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Miyagi. Morita reprised his role in three subsequent sequels, while Macchio returned for two.[7]


  • Cobra Kai (2018–present)
    A comedy-drama web television series which follows Daniel and Johnny rekindling their old rivalry after Johnny reopens the Cobra Kai dojo. The series draws upon all of the sequels, as well as the original film.


Broadway adaptationEdit

On January 22, 2020 it was announced that The Karate Kid would be adapted into a Broadway musical. The show will be produced by Kinoshita Group and directed by Amon Miyamoto.[50]

Film remakeEdit

See alsoEdit

  • Shoot Away, an arcade game that Ali and her friends play at an arcade.[52]


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External linksEdit