A Look Back on The Karate Kid Franchise

A Look Back on The Karate Kid Franchise

As audiences exited the theaters in 1984, they dreamed of becoming the best like Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid. The film spoke to both adults and children, for it happily presented the self-empowering nature of martial arts. Rather than celebrating violence and aggression, like Blood Sport, the film showed how the right mentor made a lot of difference. While the students of the militaristic Cobra Kai learned to tap into their anger, Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel to avoid fighting where possible. When it was impossible to avoid a confrontation, he taught Daniel the arts he learned from his homeland, Okinawa.

As he dreamed up this film, screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen tapped into his childhood memories. After suffering from bullying, he sought out an instructor in martial arts. Unfortunately, his first tutor left him with an unsettled feeling. Rather than helping him improve his self-defense, he felt the instructor glorified violence and revenge. So, he eventually found an instructor that he appreciated. He began learning Gōjū-ryū karate from a native Okinawan who had been a student of Chōjun Miyagi. Using his childhood events, Karmen dramatized his life events and added new elements, like the single mother.

As The Karate Kid became the sleeper hit of 1984, the film launched a franchise that is still going strong to this day. In the eighties, the film earned two sequels. The story even directly continued with The Next Karate Kid in 1994. While the franchise slept for nearly a decade, it resurfaced in 2010 with a remake that starred Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. The Karate Kid then regained traction as Cobra Kai began airing on YouTube TV in 2018.

Join us on a tour through the history of The Karate Kid from the 1980s to the latest Cobra Kai series

The Karate Kid (1984)

The Karate Kid (1984)

Not long after Ralph Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso and his mother moved to Reseda, Los Angeles, California, bullies began to target Daniel. Not helping the situation, Daniel befriended Ali Mills, the girlfriend of Cobra Kai’s top student, Johnny Lawrence. The tension between the two mounted as Daniel attempted to get back at the bullies with a Halloween prank. Luckily, his apartment’s handyman, Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi, intervened before Daniel could receive serious injuries. The Okinawan immigrant used his traditional karate to fend off all the Cobra Kai students with ease.

While Mr. Miyagi initially refused to teach Daniel, he agreed to help him meet with Cobra Kai’s sensei, Martin Kove’s John Kreese. As the abrasive man refused to intervene, Mr. Miyagi suggested a temporary peace while Daniel trained for the All-Valley Karate Championship. Agreeing to the terms, Kreese warned that if Daniel did not show up, the harassment would resume for both Daniel and Mr. Miyagi.

With Daniel now officially Mr. Miyagi’s teacher, he expected to immediately begin his training. However, he instead found that Mr. Miyagi had him perform chores while performing specific tasks. Unbeknownst to Daniel, Miyagi designed these chores to build muscle memory for the various blocks and counters. Beyond his instruction in martial arts, Mr. Miyagi inspired lessons in the importance of spiritual balance.

As Daniel finally entered the tournament, he made it to the semi-finals. There, Kreese instructed one of his students to cripple Daniel with an illegal kick to the knee. While Kreese’s order disqualified one of his students, he hoped that Daniel would default in the finals. Fighting through the pain, Daniel returned to claim victory thanks to Mr. Miyagi’s Crane stance.

The Karate Kid Part II (1986)

The Karate Kid Part II (1986)

Immediately resuming the tale of Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi, Part II returned audiences to the night of the All-Valley Karate Championship. In the parking lot, Daniel and Mr. Miyagi witnessed John Kreese attack his student for losing. Intervening on Johnny Lawrence’s behalf, Mr. Miyagi humiliated Kreese by tweaking his nose.

Six months after the tournament, Mr. Miyagi received a letter that prompted him to return home since his father was dying. As Mr. Miyagi considered returning to Okinawa, he explained to Daniel why he left the island. Instead of fighting for his love, Yukie, Mr. Miyagi ran away and left the country. So, he felt that he would be returning in shame.

When they arrived at Okinawa, Yuji Okumoto’s Chozen Toguchi greeted them before bringing them to his uncle, Danny Kamekona’s Sato. In the years since Mr. Miyagi ran away from his fight with Sato, the man became an industrialist who now owned most of the town. Since Yukie remained in love with Mr. Miyagi, she never married Sato.

Thus, Sato demanded that Mr. Miyagi fight him, as he should have years ago. While Mr. Miyagi dealt with Sato, Daniel discovered corruption in Chozen’s grocery business. Thus, Daniel earned the ire of Chozen, which heightened when Sato disowned Chozen for not helping Daniel save a trapped child.

While Sato sought forgiveness from Miyagi, Chozen desired vengeance from Daniel. Thus, he ruined the O-bon festival to challenge Daniel in a fight to the death. Daniel barely prevailed thanks to Miyagi’s secret technique, the drum technique.

The Karate Kid Part III (1989)

The Karate Kid Part III (1989)

Having lost his business and students, John Kreese sought assistance from one of his Vietnam war buddies, Thomas Ian Griffith’s Terry Silver. Silver swore to restore Cobra Kai as well as take vengeance on Daniel LaRusso as he sent John Kreese on a Tahitian vacation.

As Mr. Miyagi and Daniel returned to California, they found that the South Seas apartments were under renovations. Thanks to these renovations, Daniel’s mother was in New Jersey, taking care of Uncle Louie. Thus, he decided to bunk with Mr. Miyagi, who lost his livelihood thanks to the renovations. Using his college funds, Daniel helped Mr. Miyagi open a bonsai shop, becoming his business partner.

Even though Daniel had no intentions of defending his title at the next All-Valley Karate Tournament, Silver hired Sean Kanan’s Mike Barnes to harass the boy and force him into the tournament. Even Silver’s lies about Kreese’s heart attack failed to sway him. So, Silver went as far as to ransack the bonsai store. Finally, they forced Daniel to join the tournament by holding him hostage when he scaled a cliff to retrieve a valuable bonsai tree.

With Mr. Miyagi refusing to train Daniel for the next tournament, Daniel turned to Silver as his new sensei. After Daniel realized how Cobra Kai tainted his personality, he once again insists that he would not defend his title. As he discovered that Kreese was alive and working with Silver, Miyagi interceded to defend Daniel.

Once again Miyagi’s student, Daniel joins the tournament, where he faced Barnes in a sudden death round at the finals. After confusing Barnes with a kata, Daniel successfully defended his title and overcame Cobra Kai a second time.

The Next Karate Kid (1994)

The Next Karate Kid (1994)

Years after Daniel LaRusso became a two-time champion, Mr. Miyagi met up with Louisa Pierce, the widow of his former commanding officer. As he visited her home in Boston to catch up, he met her granddaughter, Hilary Swank’s Julie Pierce. As Julie lost her parents in a car crash, she dealt with anger issues at her home and in school. Her issues came to a height after she was caught sneaking into her school to attend to an injured hawk, Angel. Meanwhile, several students around the school had formed a security fraternity that enforced the rules with physical violence.

Seeing the issues with Julie’s life, Miyagi convinced Louisa to spend some time at his home in California. After witnessing her void a hit from a car by leaping onto the hood in a tiger position, he discovered that her father taught her karate. When her nightly care of Angel led to an arrest and a two-week suspension from school, Mr. Miyagi brought her to a Buddhist monastery to help teach her inner balance. During her stay, Julie learned both martial arts and respect for life as she befriended the monks.

As they returned to Boston, Julie discovered that Ned had discovered the hawk and reported it to animal control. So, Mr. Miyagi helped her take Angel and return it to the wild. He then helped her learn another life lesson, how to dance.

At the prom, the Alpha Elite decided to harass and target her date, Eric. They even followed him as he drove her home. After they desecrated Eric’s car and beat him, Julie and Miyagi saved Eric. They then have a final fight with the Alpha Elite. As Julie defeated Ned, Miyagi defeated their leader, Dungan.

The Karate Kid (2010)

The Karate Kid (2010)

After nearly a decade of silence from the franchise, Sony Pictures decided it was time for a revival of The Karate Kid. Since the face of the franchise, Pat Morita, passed away in 2005, they choose not to recast Mr. Miyagi. Instead, they decided to create a brand-new timeline with the series reboot. Furthermore, with Will Smith producing the film, he decided to make it a launching point for his son, Jaden Smith.

As they decided to slot Jackie Chan’s Mr. Han as the mentor for the bullied Dre Parker, the entire premise of the film walked away from the Karate Kid concept. Since Chan’s specialty was Kung Fu, the reboot specifically featured his style of fighting over Karate. Thus, the production team referred to the movie as “The Kung Fu Kid”. Jackie Chan even rightfully believed that China would rename the film, which became the Kung Fu Dream.

Despite the loose connection to the original movies, the film featured a similar story structure. As Dre Parker learned Kung Fu to overcome the bullies at his new home in Beijing. As he learned martial arts, the boy also learned that peace of mind and maturity was the true key to mastering martial arts.

As Dre’s skills improved, he entered the local Kung Fu tournament to finally face his tormentors. Like the original, his opponents sacrifice the chances of one of their weaker students as they injure Dre’s leg. Mr. Han healed the boy’s leg with the fire cupping technique before Dre returned to the ring to face off against Cheng. Even though his opponent attacks his injured leg, aggravating the injury, Dre triumphed thanks to the snake stance.

Cobra Kai (2018 to current)

In a stroke of genius, YouTube Red attempted to make its mark on the streaming world by reviving The Karate Kid. Unlike the 2010 movie, their new series returned to the storyline from the 1980s, keeping all the events intact. However, rather than dreaming up spiritual successors to the series, they decided to bring back the original cast and resume their story, thirty years later. Unlike the original films, this time the story would focus on the man who tormented Daniel LaRusso, Johnny Lawrence.

Thus, William Zabka returned to resume his role from the 1984 original film, Johnny Lawrence. Over the decades, Johnny struggled to make it in the world. His anger issues only heightened as he became an adult and an alcoholic. The man never managed to get his life in order, becoming estranged from his son, Robby. After losing his job as a handyman, he decided to restore the one thing that brought him joy in his life, Cobra Kai.

They also brought back Ralph Macchio as a fully grown Daniel LaRusso. Even though his bonsai business with Mr. Miyagi did not survive, he kept the tradition alive in his current car dealership. Even if his family did not understand the tradition, Daniel insisted on supporting the community and handed out bonsai trees with the purchase of new cars.

As Johnny attracted new students to his revived Cobra Kai, he witnessed the devastating changes the dojo’s teachings had on his new students. He also struggled even more with the return of his old sensei, Martin Kove’s John Kreese.

Looking forward to even more from The Karate Kid

As the Karate Kid lives once again thanks to the efforts of YouTube Red and Netflix, we now have a bright future for the franchise. Fans are looking forward to seeing what the series will offer with the full return of Yuji Okumoto as Chozen Toguchi teased for Cobra Kai’s Season 5. The series has also revived toys and other merchandise featuring The Karate Kid. So, now is the perfect time to revel in your love of the series.

Do you have old and used Karate Kid toys?

If you have a collection of old and used toys, you can turn those toys into cash. There is no reason to let those old toys collect dust. Contact us today to sell your Karate Kid toy collection.

Made in collaboration with:

Chris Ingledue 


Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!

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