Released in 1984, The Karate Kid is a martial arts drama film starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, and Elisabeth Shue. The movie follows the story of Daniel LaRusso, a new kid in the Los Angeles area who learns karate from Mr. Miyagi, his apartment complex’s handyman and karate master. Upon its release, the film was acclaimed by critics and audiences, launching Macchio’s career, revitalizing Morita’s and popularizing karate in the United States. Now, step into the dojo and check out these lesser-known facts about The Karate Kid.
“You’re The Best” Was Written For A Different Film
One of the most iconic montage scenes of the 1980s is when Daniel LaRusso works his way through the climactic karate tournament with Joe Esposito’s “You’re The Best” blasting in the background.
Unknown to most, was that the song was initially written by Bill Conti and Allee Willis to be featured in Rocky III, but was replaced by “Eye of the Tiger.” It was later revealed that the song was also planned to be used in the movie Flashdance as well, but was beat out by “Maniac.”
The Location Of Mr. Miyagi’s House Remained A Mystery For Some Time
Many of the filming locations for the Karate Kid are easy enough to find in the Los Angeles area, with many of them looking the same today. However, one location that even Karate Kid superfans had a hard time finding was Mr. Miyagi’s house.
Then, in 2014, one fan went above and beyond to find the location and succeeded. They found the land that Mr. Miyagi’s house once stood on although it was unfortunately demolished in the late 1980s.
There Were Supposed To Be More Confrontations Between Johnny And Daniel
In the original script, two other confrontations between Johnny and Daniel existed but were cut from the film. The first takes place in the cafeteria after Johnny buys Ali lunch. Before Daniel sits down, Johnny places a muffin on his chair, which Daniel proceeds to sit on.
Daniel then smears the blueberries on Johnny’s shirt, and chaos ensues. The other scene is when Daniel lifts his head from the drinking fountain to find himself face-to-face with Johnny. He then stands up for himself and questions the values of the Cobra Kai.
One Of The World’s Most Respected Karate Teaches In The World Was In The Film
In the semi-finals of the tournament, those still competing include Daniel, Johnny, Bobby, and a character credited as “Karate Semi-Finalist,” who is played by the real-life black belt Darryl Vidal. Today, Vidal is a 10th-degree black belt and is considered one of the greatest in the sport.
However, he did more than just act in the tournament. In one of the more memorable scenes in the film, Mr. Miyagi can be seen doing a crane kick from a distance on a wooden post. Unsurprisingly, this was not Pat Morita, but Vidal, who wore a bodysuit and a bald cap for the scene.
The Tournament Wasn’t Supposed To Be The End Of The Film
Although Daniel being victorious over Johnny at the karate tournament seems to be a very fitting ending, that’s not what it was in the script. The film was supposed to conclude in a confrontation between Kreese and Miyagi in the parking lot, which turned out to be the opening scene in the sequel.
Furthermore, the novelization of the film by B.B. Hiller and copies of the early script had Miyagi twisting Kreese’s nose and the Cobra Kai dropping their belts around their defeated teacher.
Happy Gilmore’s Mom Makes An Appearance
When Daniel and his mom are entering their new apartment complex for the first time, Daniel stops to speak with an elderly woman who says that she’s from Parsippany, New Zealand, also giving him unclear directions to Mr. Miayagi’s workshop.
If she looks familiar, that’s because she’s the character that plays Happy’s grandmother in Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore. She has also made appearances in Twin Peaks and also the woman that Jerry steals a loaf of bread in Seinfeld.
Pat Morita’s Given Name Is Featured In The Credits
Pat Morita plays Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid but is also known for his work on numerous comedy television series, especially his recurring role as Ah Chew on Sanford and Sons.
When making the credits for the end of the film, producer Jerry Weintraub suggested that Morita’s credit in the film should be under his given name, which is Noriyuki, to make it sound more authentic. So, his role is credited as Noriyuki “Pat” Morita.
Screenwriter Dennis Palumbo Had A Different Vision For The Film
When former screenwriter Dennis Palumbo was offered the screenwriting job for the film, he responded by saying he would take the job as long as Daniel lost the fight in the end.
He explained that “You can’t have Mr. Miyagai tell him, ‘It doesn’t matter if you win or lose’ for 90 minutes and then have him win.” However, he later admitted that he was wrong, stating, “But that’s because I was being a moron…Now, they made four sequels to that movie, so I was obviously wrong.”
Mr. Miyagi’s Military Experience Was Based In Reality
During the scene when Mr. Miyagi is intoxicated and celebrating his “anniversary,” he reveals to Daniel that he served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army.
As it turns out, the 442nd Regiment really did exist and was made up of mostly Japanese Americans, many of whom had been in internment camps in the United States. The regiment fought overseas in Europe during World War II and became the most highly-decorated unit in the history of the American military.
Rumors About Chuck Norris
Rumors have been circulating for years that Martin Kove, who played John Kreese, the sensei of the Kobra Kai, replaced Chuck Norris for the role. Some have said that Norris turned down the role because Kreese’s portrayal of martial arts was too aggressive and violent.
However, it was later revealed that Norris was never even offered the role. Nevertheless, when clearing the air, he noted that he would have turned it down anyway for the same reasons the rumors say.
Kove’s Anger With The Casting Director Helped Him Get The Part
In the DVD documentary about the making of the film, Martin Kove states that he had received a call from John G. Avildsen saying that they wanted him to audition for the role of Kreese, but that he had to wait. Kove wanted the role so badly that he even started turning down other offers.
Unfortunately, the waiting period was weeks, and Kove was getting tired of turning down parts. So, when he was finally called in for the audition, Kove was so angry, that he channeled his emotions into the audition and got the part.
Actor William Zabka Came Up With His Own Backstory For Johnny
According to the commentary in the VHS release of the film, actor William Zabka, who plays Johnny Lawrence, came up with his own backstory for his character.
He did this in order to get “a better feel for his character,” so it felt like Johnny had a reason to be the bully that he was. Zabka envisioned Johnny as a young man with no father, and the closest thing to a father figure that he has is the ruthless Kreese.
An Interesting Fan Theory
In the iconic comedy series How I Met Your Mother, Barney is insistent that Johnny is the real “Karate Kid,” and is one of his personal heroes. This relates to a fan theory that Daniel is actually the real bully and Johnny is the “Karate Kid.”
The theory continues that Johnny only uses his skills for defense like Mr. Miyagi teaches and that Daniel is the instigator. Furthermore, it also suggests that Daniel didn’t want to learn karate to compete with Johnny but as an act of revenge.
The Hidden Name Of The High School
Since none of the characters in the movie mention the high school they attend, and there are never any signs or banners shown, it’s assumed that the school went on as nameless. However, there is a small clue that only people really paying attention might be able to catch.
In the scene right before Daniel tells Ali about his “agreement” with Cobra Kai, you can see a sticker inside of his locker, which says “West Valley High School.”
The Word “Bully” Is Never Used
Even though bullying is one of the core themes of The Karate Kid, incredibly, the word “bully,” “bullies,” or any other version of the word is ever used or mentioned throughout the whole film.
Even after the scene when Johnny gets jumped by the Cobra Kais on Halloween when Mr. Miyagi and Daniel are talking, Mr. Miyagi refers to Daniel’s attackers as his “friends.” This must have been intentional and most likely hard to pull off writing-wise.
The Opening Scene Had Historical Significance
The background shown in the opening credits of the film was shot in Sedona, Arizona. This is the location that many Westerns from the 1940s and 1950s, such as Last Wagon, Leave Her to Heaven, and The Rounders were filmed.
The scene was shot facing north from The Village of Oak Creek to Bell Rock formation that can be seen in the distance. Furthermore, the motel that Danny and his mother stay in is at the center of a major intersection known as the “Y.”
Pat Morita Was Almost Declined The Role Of Mr. Miyagi
In the early 1980s, Pat Morita was mostly known for his comedic roles in several hit television shows. According to the 2013 book The Films of John G. Avildsen, Morita was Alvidsen’s first choice for the role of Mr. Miyagi.
Yet, producer Jerry Weintraub didn’t think that audiences would be able to see Morita in a serious role considering his career in comedy. After Morita grew a beard and laid on a Japanese accent during his screen test, Weintraub was impressed and changed his mind.
Daniel Should Have Been Disqualified From The Tournament
In the climactic showdown of the film, when Johnny and Daniel face off in the competition, it’s possible that Daniel should have been disqualified for his crane kick. Not only is it against the rules to hit opponents in the face, but it’s also illegal to use “full power,” which Daniel seemingly did.
Although it made for great storytelling, those who are nitpickers about plot holes such as these might not be happy that Daniel received no punishment simply because he’s the hero of the story.
The Movie Hit The Jackpot At The Box Office
Although most people today have at least heard of The Karate Kid even if they haven’t seen it, amazingly, the film was made for a mere $9 million. Yet, upon its release, it earned a whopping $90 million, making it the fifth-biggest movie of 1984.
The only films that surpassed it in terms of earnings included Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, and Gremlins. However, in terms of box office receipts, it beat out Police Academy, Footloose, Splash, and Revenge of the Nerds.
People Actually Threatened William Zabka After Playing Johnny
According to William Zabka, his character of Johnny still annoys people today and has even branded him as a real-life bully, regardless that he’s far from one. After portraying the leader of the Cobra Kai karate group, he was actually threatened by a real-life karate gang.
He once noted that “There was a guy…in the Valley and he was a friend of mine and came up after the movie and said…there was a real karate gang that was wanting to beat me up, truly, in the Valley.”