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- "He taught him the secret to Karate lies in the mind and heart. Not in the hands."
- ―Film slogan
The Karate Kid is an American martial arts romantic drama film directed by John G. Avildsen and written by Robert Mark Kamen. It is the first movie of The Karate Kid franchise. It starred Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki "Pat" Morita and Elisabeth Shue.
Daniel is new in town, and is getting picked on by the local bullies, who all are adept in karate. Determined to stick up for himself, Daniel begins to teach himself karate, only to discover that the caretaker at his apartment seems to be a grand master in karate. Agreeing to teach Daniel, Mr. Miyagi shows Daniel that there is more to karate than violence, and perhaps the best way to solve the problem he has with the bullies is in the All-Valley Karate Championship Tournament.
Kamen was approached by Columbia Pictures to compose a film similar to Avildsen's previous success, 1976's Rocky, after signing the director. Kamen drew inspiration from his own life when writing the film.As a result, he maintained strong opinions regarding cast, and petitioned heavily for the inclusion of Morita. 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.
In September 1984, Daniel LaRusso is a 17-year-old boy who moves from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California after his widowed mother, Lucille, gets a new job, before Daniel starts his senior year of high school. Daniel is unhappy at having to move, make new friends and leave his old friends behind, but he promises Lucille he'll do his best to make a new life in California. Daniel immediately finds a new friend, Freddy Fernandez at the apartment complex after accidentally knocking Freddy over when Daniel kicked open the complex door in a karate fashion. When the faucet at their new apartment is breaks, Daniel goes to see the maintenance man, Mr. Miyagi, who is attempting to catch a fly with chopsticks. He seems annoyed at being interrupted but assures he will get to them in due time. Freddy invites Daniel to a beach party where he notices a beautiful blonde teenager, Ali Mills, a high school cheerleader. As the sun goes down, local troublemaker Johnny Lawrence and his flunkies, Tommy, Dutch, Jimmy, and Bobby, crash the party with their motorcycles. After menacingly circling around their bonfire a few times, Johnny dismounts and argues with Ali, revealed to be his ex-girlfriend. He destroys her stereo, prompting Daniel to stand up to him. Johnny quickly reveals that he knows martial arts, and he easily beats up Daniel, giving him a black eye. Daniel is humiliated and refuses Ali's help when she seems concerned. He attempts to hide the eye injury from Lucille by wearing sunglasses to school, when this fails, he lies and tells her that he fell off his bicycle, and travels to the high school. Daniel receives further humiliation during the soccer tryouts at the high school, when Bobby slide tackles Daniel, prompting Daniel to tackle him and land a punch to his face, which gets him expelled from the field. Ali watches this from a distance with concern as she and her fellow cheerleaders practice.
Although Daniel has some basic knowledge of martial arts through a YMCA self-defense classes, he decides he needs a refresher. While he exercises, Mr. Miyagi comes in to fix the sink and comments on Daniel's attempts to learn from a book. He also inquires how Daniel could fall off a bicycle without sustaining any injuries to his arm. When Daniel meets Lucille for dinner he notices a karate school, the Cobra Kai Dojo, across the street from the restaurant, and decides to look at the dojo after Lucille returns to work. The dojo's sensei, an ex-Special Forces Vietnam Veteran by the name of John Kreese, runs the dojo like a boot camp, instilling his students with a Draconian philosophy he refers to as the Way of the Fist, which emphasizes ruthlessness and ferocity. When he sees Johnny, Tommy, and Bobby among Kreese's students, he nervously leaves.
While riding home that night on his bicycle, Johnny and his friends sideswipe Daniel on their motorbikes, causing him to fall down the hill next to him. Daniel is mildly injured but more scared and humiliated. Arriving back at home, Lucille sees him tossing his wrecked bike in a dumpster. Daniel, angry at how his life has been disrupted with the move, tells his mother he wants to move back to New Jersey. As they walk toward the apartment, Mr. Miyagi emerges from his workshop, having heard their conversation.
The next day, Daniel finds his bike out of the dumpster and repaired. He goes to Mr. Miyagi's workshop and finds out that the maintenance man had repaired it for him. Mr. Miyagi is also pruning bonsai trees and invites Daniel to try it. Daniel is resistant but Mr. Miyagi convinces him that it's a relaxing hobby. Mr. Miyagi also shares some of his own personal history with Daniel: he learned about pruning bonsai trees from his father while living in his home prefecture of Okinawa, Japan.
Ali and Daniel both decorate the school gymnasium for an upcoming Halloween dance. Daniel, however, chooses not to attend; when Mr. Miyagi asks him why, Daniel says he doesn't have a costume. Mr. Miyagi also senses that Daniel lacks confidence in himself, and fashions a costume for Daniel consisting of a shower head and curtain. Daniel arrives at the school and meets with Ali, dancing briefly with her. A prankster at the dance smashes a raw egg on Daniel's head and he goes to the bathroom to clean up. Johnny is in one of the stalls, dressed like a skeleton (along with his Cobra Kai friends) and rolling marijuana joints. Daniel pulls a revenge plot by placing a hose over Johnny and turning on the water to douse his enemy. Johnny rushes out of the bathroom after Daniel. Ali briefly stalls them by tripping Johnny and spilling all the other Cobra Kais to the floor. Daniel rushes out of the school and nearly makes it over the fence at his home when the Cobra Kais catch him and begin to beat him seriously. Yelling about how enemies deserve "no mercy", Johnny winds up for a brutal kick and misses when Mr. Miyagi climbs over the fence and pushes Daniel out of the way. The Cobra Kais try to take on Mr. Miyagi, who easily defeats them, including Johnny. Leaving them all on the ground and writhing in pain, Mr. Miyagi takes Daniel to his workshop and places a medicinal bandanna on his head and gives him strong tea to drink. Daniel is amazed that an older man is skilled in karate and asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him. Mr. Miyagi suspects that the Cobra Kais' problem is not their own doing but must be their sensei's. Mr. Miyagi suggests that he and Daniel talk to their sensei; Daniel refuses, thinking he'll be beaten again. Miyagi is reluctant to get involved but agrees to teach Daniel and also agrees to go with him to the Cobra Kais dojo and speak with their sensei.
At the Cobra Kai dojo the next day, Daniel and Mr. Miyagi watch as Kreese lectures his students that an opponent is also the enemy and deserves no mercy. When Johnny notices that Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are in the dojo, Kreese interrupts his class and turns his attention to Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. Kreese scornfully dismisses Mr. Miyagi's request that his students leave Daniel alone and orders Daniel to fight Johnny immediately. Mr. Miyagi wants the odds to be more even for Daniel and suggests that Daniel and the Cobra Kais match up at the All-Valley Karate tournament a few weeks from then. Kreese likes the challenge and agrees. He also agrees to order his students not to bother Daniel until the tournament.
Mr. Miyagi takes Daniel to his home to begin his training. Out in front of the house are a dozen classic American cars. Miyagi tells Daniel that they'll have to make a pact: Mr. Miyagi will instruct Daniel to not question his method. When Daniel agrees, Mr. Miyagi hands Daniel a sponge and orders him to wash and wax all the cars. Mr. Miyagi's instructions are very specific; Daniel will only use the sponge and waxing cloths by moving his hands and arms in wide circles. He will also breathe deeply, in through his nose & out through his mouth. In the weeks that follow, Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel further chores to complete with similar instructions on technique: sanding a walkway that leads around Mr. Miyagi's backyard (landscaped to be a Japanese garden), staining the fence that surrounds his property and painting his house. With each new chore, Daniel's frustration grows at the seeming lack of any karate training and Mr. Miyagi's minimal praise of his work. One night, after finishing the painting of Mr. Miyagi's house, Daniel expresses his frustration to his teacher. Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel to show him how he washed and polished the cars. When Daniel tells him his shoulder aches too much, Mr. Miyagi uses acupressure to relieve the tension and orders Daniel to show him the motions he'd been using to do the chores. Daniel quickly realizes that the chores (which are essentially Daniel's "fee" for the lessons) were also practice for defensive moves, exercises to build muscle tone, his reflexes and proper breathing technique. After a few minutes of practice, Mr. Miyagi suddenly yells and throws several punches and kicks at Daniel, all of which Daniel blocks easily. Mr. Miyagi also shows Daniel how to bow to his opponent, making sure Daniel looks his opponent in the eye, both for defense and to convey respect.
Daniel goes on his first official date with Ali. When he arrives, driven by Lucille, at Ali's house, he finds that her parents are quite wealthy and live in Beverly Hills. Daniel is incredibly nervous and embarrassed, especially when Lucille's car stalls and they have to push-start the car. However, the date with Ali is enjoyable and his embarrassment dissolves.
In the weeks that follow, Mr. Miyagi has Daniel work on his defensive techniques and learn physical balance by standing in a rowboat and trying to stay upright in the surf of the ocean. When Daniel comes out of the water, he sees Miyagi standing on a post down the beach. Mr. Miyagi is practicing a move where he lifts his arms and one leg, but kicks with the other. When Daniel asks him what the move is Mr. Miyagi calls it the "crane technique" saying that if it's performed properly, an opponent will have no defense. Back at Mr. Miyagi's pickup truck, there are a couple of drunken men who have placed their empty beer bottles on the fender. Mr. Miyagi politely asks them to take them off. When the men refuse and insult Mr. Miyagi's Japanese heritage, Mr. Miyagi suddenly chops the tops of the bottles with a slice of his bare hand. The men quickly remove the bottles.
Ali asks Daniel to meet her for another date. Daniel goes to Ali's parents club where he sees Ali dancing with Johnny. When Johnny spots Daniel, he forces Ali to kiss him which angers Ali. Daniel, ashamed, goes to leave and runs into a waiter, who spills a tray of food on him, drawing laughter from everyone who sees the accident. Ali, furious, slaps Johnny and leaves, which Daniel does not see happen.
Later that night, at Mr. Miyagi's house, Daniel finds him drunk and dressed in an Army sergeant's uniform. Miyagi shows Daniel a picture of his late wife and has Daniel drink a toast with him. After a few minutes, Mr. Miyagi passes out in his bed and Daniel covers him with a blanket to let Mr. Miyagi go to sleep. Daniel finds an Army document stating that Mr. Miyagi's wife and child had died during birth at the Manzanar relocation camp for Japanese Americans in California. Daniel also discovers that Mr. Miyagi is a war hero, having been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Before leaving, Daniel bows to his teacher.
More time passes and Daniel continues to train, often alone. He also practices Miyagi's crane kick at the beach. Miyagi also teaches Daniel how to punch.
Daniel's 18th birthday comes around and he has cake and ice cream with Mr. Miyagi. He has also passed his driver's test. Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel a Japanese robe with an embroidered bonsai tree sewn into the back. Miyagi's other present is one of the cars he had Daniel wash and wax, a yellow 1948 Ford Super Deluxe. He tells Daniel to go out and find the "balance" in his life; realizing that he has confidence and to pursue his relationship with Ali. Daniel drives to a local hangout and finds Ali, intending to confront her about kissing Johnny. She mostly ignores him until Ali's friend Susan explains that Johnny had kissed her only to humiliate Daniel and that Ali had hurt her wrist while hitting Johnny. Daniel apologizes to Ali and she accepts. He takes her out for a drive in his new car.
On the day of the tournament, Ali and Lucille join him. At the registration desk the official asks what degree of belt Daniel has attained. Mr. Miyagi tells the registrar that Daniel is a black belt and slyly steals the official's belt from his back, giving it to Ali. In the locker room while dressing, Daniel is confronted by some of the Cobra Kais led by Dutch, one of Kreese's top-ranking students,. One of the referees orders the Cobra Kais out.
In one of the tournament rings, Daniel squares off and beats his first opponent. He continues to advance, much to his own surprise. In the higher rounds, Daniel faces off against some of the Cobra Kais. When Daniel defeats Tommy and Dutch, Kreese orders Bobby to use an illegal kick to deliberately injure Daniel's knee, taking him out of the competition. Though disgusted, Bobby complies, severely injuring Daniel and getting disqualified in the process. Daniel is taken to the locker room where a medic tells him he won't be able to finish the competition. Daniel is devastated, but Ali, Lucille, and Mr. Miyagi all tell him that he made his point, and further fighting isn't necessary. However, after both women have left, Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to use acupressure to fix his knee. Though Miyagi initially reiterates Lucille's comments that Daniel has nothing left to prove, Daniel insists he will never be able to achieve his life's balance if he knows his tormentors have gotten the best of him. Mr. Miyagi agrees and partially heals Daniel's leg.
Daniel returns to the ring moments before Johnny is about to be named winner by default. Needing three contact points to win, both square off and after several tense rounds the score is tied at two each. Daniel tries a high kick which is caught by Johnny, who, under orders from Kreese, plants an elbow in Daniel's injured knee. Daniel, despite being in pain, is undeterred and lines up for the final round. He takes up the crane technique pose and with an approving look from Mr. Miyagi, waits for Johnny to make his move. Daniel kicks out with his leg and connects with Johnny's chin, scoring a third point and winning the match and title. As he's carried around on the shoulders of the other competitors, Johnny congratulates him and hands him the championship trophy. Daniel celebrates his triumph and sees Mr. Miyagi nearby smiling.
- Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso
- Noriyuki "Pat" Morita as Mr. Miyagi
- Elisabeth Shue as Ali Mills
- William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence
- Ron Thomas as Bobby Brown
- Rob Garrison as Tommy
- Chad McQueen as Dutch
- Tony O'Dell as Jimmy
- Martin Kove as John Kreese
- Randee Heller as Lucille LaRusso
- Julie Fields as Susan
- Frances Bay as Lady with Dog
- William Bassett as Mr. Mills
- Sharon Spellman as Mrs. Mills
- Isreal Juarbe as Freddy Fernandez
- Larry B. Scott as Jerry Roberts
- Darryl Vidal as Darryl Vidal
- Chris Casamassa (uncredited) as Tournament guest
- Andrew Shue (uncredited) as Member of Cobra Kai
The film earned $90,815,558 in box office and received universal acclaim by critics, praising the storyline, the writing, the action, the acting, and the music.
The film was a commercial success. It grossed $100 million US 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. 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, bringing its domestic total to $100,400,529.
In the United Kingdom, the film topped the box office for two weeks and grossed £2,960,939 (Approx. $4,104,746 US) By 1989, the film had grossed $130 million US worldwide. Between 2018 and 2020, the film grossed a further $400,529 in the United States and Canada, and $42,257 in the United Kingdom and Australia, bringing its lifetime worldwide total to $130,442,786.
The film sold an estimated 27,072,000 tickets in the United States and Canada. The film also sold 1.9 million tickets in Spain, 1,888,845 tickets in France and Germany, and 137,217 tickets in the South Korean capital of Seoul, adding up to 30,998,062 tickets sold in the United States, Canada, Spain, France, Germany and Seoul.
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." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
On its release, Rogert 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." Janet Maslin of The New York Times also gave a positive review. The Karate Kid ranked #40 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.
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."
- The Karate Kid was known for kickstarting Macchio's career and revitalizing the career of Morita, who was previously known for his comedic roles.
- Ralph Macchio still has the headband that he wore in the movie, and one time when he opened it, moths came out. He also has the All-Valley karate trophy.
- The film makers had many absurd ideas on how to create the fly catching scene, due to CGI not existing in 1983. (which is when they shot the scene)
- Ralph Macchio and many other people thought the name "The Karate Kid" was cheesy and hokey.
- At some point, the director (John G. Avildsen) almost thought of naming the movie East Meets West in West.
- In countries where karate is a bad connotation, the film was named The Moment of Truth. (meaning that sequels would be named The Moment of Truth Part II, The Moment of Truth Part III, etc.)
- The film makers always wanted Ralph Macchio to play Daniel LaRusso.
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