The 1980s was a golden era for blockbuster hits, and countless films released during this decade have gone on to become cult-classic films. One '80s movie that has certainly stood the test of time and continues to wax on in cinematic glory is The Karate Kid, which-- more than 30 years later-- is still adored by audiences of all ages.
Not only did The Karate Kid provide an arsenal of catchphrases that seem to appropriately fit into almost any situation, it also, more importantly, inspired generations to stand up against bullies. Martial arts classes boomed thanks to this underdog story, and new people continue to be drawn to karate thanks to the heroic determination demonstrated in the film’s plot line.
The Karate Kid’s legacy is also see through its three sequels, its 2010 remake starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, and its most recent comeback this year with the YouTube series Cobra Kai. There’s a reason this film has had such an enduring appeal, as its predominant message of overcoming obstacles through hard work is something everyone can feel inspired by.
If all this nostalgia has you wanting to sweep the leg, get your fly-catching chopsticks out, and find your inner crane, then you’re in the right place as we’ll be revealing some of the secrets behind the making of this iconic film. You know The Karate Kid is the best around, but do you know these behind-the-scenes facts?
With that in mind, here are 20 Wild Details Behind The Making Of The Karate Kid.
20 Pat Morita Almost Lost The Part of Mr. Miyagi
Mr. Miyagi is one of '80s cinema’s most iconic characters, but the man behind the role was almost denied the part he played so well. Although it’s hard to imagine anyone but Pat Morita playing Mr. Miyagi, The Hollywood Reporter reveals that the film’s producer, Jerry Weintraub, was wholly against casting him for the part.
Known then more for his comedic roles, Morita’s biggest credit up until that point had been for playing Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi on the TV Happy Days. Weintraub couldn’t imagine Morita being able to effectively play a more serious role, but luckily for us, the movie’s director John Avildsen was adamant that Pat Morita would be a great Mr. Miyagi.
Right he was, as Morita went on to not only win over the hearts of countless audience members, but also proved just how good he was in the part by earning himself Oscar and Golden Globe nominations
19 The Movie Was Inspired By A Real Story
Many of cinema’s greatest films are based on true stories, but you might be surprised to find out that The Karate Kid is grounded in real events too.
According to LA Weekly, the script for the movie was loosely based on a news story that producer Jerry Weintraub had seen on a local TV news station. The report was about a boy who was being bullied after school every day, and in order to learn how to defend himself, enlisted in karate lessons, eventually earning his black belt in the martial art.
Apparently, after learning that the boy was trained in karate, the other kids stopped picking on him.
Here was the real life Karate Kid and the inspiration for one of best-loved 1980s classic films.
18 Ralph Macchio Wasn't a Teenager when he played Daniel
This might come as quite a shock, but Ralph Macchio, the actor who plays small teen Daniel LaRusso, was actually 22 years old when he was cast for the role of the Karate Kid. Macchio was hugely convincing playing the role of a young teen, thanks to his small build and his youthful face.
According to Yahoo! Movies, the film’s screenwriter, Robert Mark Kamen, described Macchio as being “obnoxious” when he came in to try out for the role, but in fact, that’s exactly what Kamen and director John Avildsen wanted. The film’s writer wanted an actor who had a chip on his shoulder, and that’s exactly what Macchio offered.
The creative team liked Macchio so much that they partially rewrote Daniel with him in mind.
They changed the character’s name from Daniel Webber to Daniel LaRusso to reflect the actor’s Italian heritage.
17 William Zabka Got A Little Too Into Character
No hero can be called as such without a villain to overcome, and actor William Zabka was the perfect loathsome lout we all came to resent through his character Johnny Lawrence, the blond bully Daniel LaRusso faced off with in the film. In fact, one of the reasons Zabka was such a convincing bad guy in the film could be because of his quasi-method acting audition he delivered.
16 The Lead Actors Didn’t Know Karate Before Starring In The Film
Although the martial arts performances are mighty impressive in the film, hardly any of the actors actually knew karate when they signed on for it. William Zabka, who played Johnny, revealed in an interview for The A.V. Club that he had been a wrestler in high school but that he had gotten a back injury from it. He was afraid his injury might act up when he began his karate training, especially since he had to do four hours of practice, five days a week.
Ralph Macchio was also a complete novice when it came to martial arts.
Luckily, they had a great trainer called Pat E. Johnson, who was a seasoned professional when it came to martial arts and impressive combat skills.
15 The Karate Kid Faced A Lawsuit
While you might think there’s nothing shifty going on in a classic family film like The Karate Kid, you might be surprised to know that behind the scenes, this iconic movie faced a lawsuit from a disgruntled man who thought he’d been wronged.
It’s not unusual for a blockbuster film to come under attack from people wanting in on part of the money it makes, and The Karate Kid, according to the LA Times, faced legal action when a karate instructor called Bill DeClemente accused the film of ripping off his nickname.
Apparently DeClemente had been using the moniker “The Karate Kid” for his business cards and promotional work.
Luckily for the film, the legal suit was dismissed, as only a few people ever really knew about this man’s apparently famous nickname.
14 Daniel LaRusso’s Famous Headband Was An Accidental Addition
Anyone familiar with the film and certainly everyone who has chosen to dress like The Karate Kid for Halloween will know that the Daniel LaRusso look isn’t complete without his blue and white headband.
An article in the Huffington Post reveals that this sartorial choice was actually quite accidental. According to Ralph Macchio himself, Pat Morita just happened to have the lotus-flower print handkerchief in his pocket, and after using it to pat his brow, decided to put it on Ralph’s head.
There was no mention of a headband in the script, but this little improvised costume addition has gone down as one of the most recognized pop-culture accessories of all time.
Can you imagine Daniel LaRusso without it? Neither can we.
13 Ralph Macchio Got More Than One Great Gift At The End Of Filming
We’ve all heard stories about actors being gifted with sentimental gifts after a film wraps and we’ve certainly heard a few tales about members of the cast and crew picking up pieces of set memorabilia to take home as keepsakes. However, one of the best stories of a lead actor going away with post-filming presents has to be Ralph Macchio and his Karate Kid presents.
Not only did the actor reveal to the Huffington Post that he was given the trophy that Daniel LaRusso wins after the Karate Championship, but according to IMDB, he was also given Mr. Miyagi’s yellow car that he so diligently had to “wax on, wax off” and that was given to Daniel by Miyagi for his birthday in the film. Not a bad swag bag for a film wrap.
12 The Film’s Cast Included Some Famous Family Connections
Although The Karate Kid was a huge box office success and has gone down in memory as one of the classic films of the 1980s, many of its actors either went on to have very nondescript acting careers or fell out of fame almost completely.
That being said, there were a few faces that appeared in the film that you might have thought looked a little familiar but couldn’t quite place.
The movie cast a number of actors whose parents were screen legends.
Chad McQueen played Dutch, the blond friend of Johnny Lawrence’s who was also a member of the Cobra Kai dojo. Chad McQueen is the son of the legendary actor Steve McQueen. Also in the film were Frankie Avalon Jr. and John Travolta’s nephew.
11 The Film Originally Had A Different Ending
Daniel’s victory over Johnny at the karate championship is the perfect ending to The Karate Kid and it’s certainly one that inspired hope and self-belief in its audience members. However, fans of the film might be surprised to know that this wholesome, good-defeats-bad ending wasn’t originally how the film was meant to finish.
According to Slate, the opening scene of the film’s sequel, where we see a confrontation going on in the parking lot between Kreese and Mr. Miyagi, was actually supposed to be the end scene of the first movie. The original script, as well as B.B. Hiller’s novel of the film, had this parking lot scene as the conclusion to The Karate Kid.
Avildsen thought the freeze frame of Mr. Miyagi’s face would be a better endnote, so that’s what we got in the final version.
10 Daniel Was Almost Played By Robert Downey Jr, Nick Cage, Charlie Sheen, and more
It’s hard to imagine any of the characters in The Karate Kid being played by someone else, but trying to picture anyone but Ralph Macchio as the lead is almost impossible. However, as revealed by Sports Illustrated's oral history of the film, there were some other very high-profile actors who were almost cast for the main part instead of Macchio.
According to William Zabka, Robert Downey Jr., Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Edwards, Eric Stoltz, and even Nicolas Cage were all considered to play Daniel LaRusso-- or rather Daniel Webber as he might have been known.
Can you even imagine Cage as the Karate Kid? That definitely would have been a memorable performance, but for very different reasons.
9 Ralph Macchio Hated The Film’s Title
If you mention The Karate Kid to most people, childhood memories will come flooding back and there will undoubtedly be a wistful, nostalgic look in people’s eyes. The Karate Kid was, and still remains, a much-loved film with a cult-like fanbase that transcends generations and continents. The film’s title says it all, and most people acquainted with the movie are unlikely to give the name a second thought. It is what it says on the tin.
However, not everyone was so enamored with the movie’s name. Sports Illustrated revealed that the movie’s lead, Ralph Macchio hated the title of the film.
In his own words, he said: “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.” He wasn’t wrong about that.
8 The Famous Chopstick Fly-Catching Scene Involved A Lot of Trial and Error
One of the most famous scenes in the movie that was likely to have been attempted by countless young audience members, as well as some hopeful adults, is the moment in the film when Mr. Miyagi and Daniel attempt to catch a fly using chopsticks, and Daniel ends up succeeding. As Mr. Miyagi says, “Man who catch fly with chopstick, accomplish anything.”
Although this saying might have inspired many people to persist in their endeavors, the actual filming of this scene was accomplished only after trying a lot of different options. According to Sports Illustrated, the film had employed a fly-wrangler and the flies were even put in the refrigerator in order to try and slow them down. This tactic didn’t work, though, so they ended up just using some black fuzz, and dangling it from a thread attached to a pole.
7 Ralph Macchio Really Got Hurt During The Halloween Fight
Another well-known scene in the film is the Halloween sequence when Daniel is running away from the Cobra Kai members dressed as skeletons. A fight ensues, and according to Sports Illustrated, there really was some violence that occurred that wasn’t necessarily scripted and didn’t turn out the way they all thought it would.
It was evealed that Ralph Macchio actually got kicked in the head during the filming.
Macchio recalls that it was around 4am and Zabka was meant to fake roundhouse kick Daniel, but instead of just pretending, he ended up catching Macchio in the jaw. After that, they decided to bring in stunt doubles for some of the fights, and it’s probably a good thing they did from the sound of it.
6 The Crane Kick Isn’t Really A Thing
Of all the things The Karate Kid is most famous for, it is undoubtedly the signature crane-kick move that stands out in most people’s minds. Well, unfortunately for all of us, it turns out that this supposed martial arts move isn’t really a legitimate karate kick at all.
Sorry everyone, your childhood is about to be crane-kicked away.
In the oral history of the film featured in Sports Illustrated, the fight choreographer Pat E. Johnson revealed that the infamous crane-kick isn’t really a legitimate or realistic move at all. The director also added that he had made it up himself.
He said: “It was just something I thought up on the spot. [...] You have no balance. Your hands aren’t in a defensive position. It’s just cinematic.”
5 The Fight Choreographer Was A War Vet and A Friend of Chuck Norris
Anyone who has watched The Karate Kid knows that the martial arts scenes are awesome, and there’s a good chance a lot of kids (and adults) found themselves wanting to reenact the butt-kicking karate moves seen in the film. The technical skill of these combat scenes is down to the great fight choreographer hired for the film, Pat E. Johnson.
According to Looper, Johnson studied tang soo when he served in Korea, and after returning to the USA, he joined up with the one and only Chuck Norris, with whom he worked at Norris’ martial arts schools.
He was even featured in Bruce Lee’s iconic film Enter the Dragon.
Johnson also appears in The Karate Kid as the referee at the karate championship.
4 Pat Morita’s Stunt-Double Taught Bruce Lee Some Tricks
Fight choreographer Pat E. Johnson wasn’t the only highly-skilled martial arts professional on set. Pat Morita’s stunt double, Fumio Demura, specialized in karate and kobudo, and although we see Morita throwing some punches in the film, it was actually Demura who did many of the more complicated stunts for him.
According to The Daily Beast, Demura moved to America from Japan and became known for his martial arts schools and public demonstrations of his skills. So skilled was Demura, especially when it came to fight choreography, that people in Hollywood began to take notice of him, and Bruce Lee himself enlisted Demura’s help in teaching him the art of nunchaku.
The adventures and backstory of Demura are actually told in vivid detail in the 2016 film The Real Miyagi, so if you’re keen to learn more about the man behind Miyagi, this is the place to start.
3 The Karate Kid’s Iconic Theme Song Was Meant Rocky III
Most iconic films have a particular song that goes hand in hand with it, and The Karate Kid is most certainly synonymous with Joe Esposito’s power-tune “You’re the Best”. This song is definitely one that any kids growing up in the '80s won’t be able to resist singing along to.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more inspiring motivational anthem.
However, as hard as it is to imagine The Karate Kid without this epic song, Esposito’s tune was actually originally meant for another '80s classic film: Rocky III. According to the book The Films of John G. Avildsen by Larry Powell and Tom Garrett, “You’re the Best” was supposed to have gone to the Rocky franchise, but was dropped for “Eye of the Tiger” instead.
2 Pat Morita’s Real-Life Experiences of World War II Inspired Mr. Miyagi
Despite Pat Morita’s rocky early career as a comedian and his rather lackluster association with being in Happy Days, his most recognized and celebrated role is without a doubt playing Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid.
Morita brought a real depth to Mr. Miyagi and moved audiences with his character’s backstory of fighting in the Second World War and of his late wife’s internment in a camp, where her life ended. This revelatory scene gave new dimension to Miyagi as a character, and it’s much thanks to this moment in the film that Morita got his Oscar nomination.
It was revealed in the LA Times that Pat Morita based much of Mr. Miyagi’s backstory on his own experiences, revealing that the actor had spent time in an internment camp in the USA during the war.
1 The Film Inspired A Karate Movement
The Karate Kid became a worldwide phenomenon and gained an enormous fanbase almost instantly. People fell in love with the story of the underdog who defeated his bullies through patience, hard-work, and martial arts, and it’s little wonder that the movie inspired countless people to take up karate for themselves.
According to Pat E. Johnson in Sports Illustrated, parents who saw the movie wanted their kids to be able to defend themselves against aggressors.
The director revealed that he received calls from people who owned dojos, saying that their attendance rate for karate lessons had doubled.
Clearly, the influence of this movie was far-reaching, and it certainly inspired many to learn the skilful art of self-defence through martial arts. If there’s one '80s movie that clearly made a difference in people’s lives, it’s certainly The Karate Kid.
Do you have any other trivia to share about The Karate Kid? Let us know in the comments!