The ’80s were a decade like no other, and one of the best things we have to cherish from that unique era is action-packed motivational movies. Theaters were stuffed for each Rocky installment; girls swooned over Kevin Bacon in Footloose. But the coming-of-age story featuring the ultimate underdog Daniel LaRusso made The Karate Kid an instant classic.
You may know your wax on from your wax off, but there’s tons about the martial arts tribute that even the karate-iest of kids don’t know. So sure, consider yourself an expert, but let’s put your knowledge to the test. Here are the little-known details that provide a new perspective on the epic feel-good story…
1. There’s no karate kid without Mr. Miyagi, and Pat Morita was the only mortal capable of capturing his sage essence. But he nearly had the role swept from under his feet, as producer Jerry Weintraub thought audiences would associate him with his comedic role on Happy Days.
2. As the script was written, the hero of the story had a slightly different name. Daniel-san was certainly penned in the draft, but they changed his last name from Webber to LaRusso to better suit the Italian-American actor, Ralph Macchio.
3. Daniel’s arch-rival, Johnny Lawrence, also went by another name in the original script — Donald Rice. They made the right choice in changing it. Donald Rice packs zero punch.
4. You know an ’80s movie by the pump up montage scenes. The Karate Kid had Joe Esposito’s classic, “You’re the Best,” though it was originally intended for another cinematic sport film, Rocky III.
“You’re the Best” floated around between several famous flicks before it was selected for The Karate Kid. Imagine the pivotal scene in Flashdance, but instead of the high-speed tempo “Maniac” playing, replace it with “Nothing’s Gonna Ever Keep You Down!”
I Heart Hollywood
5. Chuck Norris, a man synonymous with myth and legend, was said to have turned down the role of Cobra Kai Sensei, John Kreese. Rumor had it that Chuck refused the role because the competitive dojo used karate for aggression and cruelty, but in truth, he was never offered the part.
6. One of the most respected instructors in the martial arts played a major role in the film but received little recognition. Three of the four semi-finalists were given names: Daniel, Johnny, Bobby Brown, and the fourth, billed “Karate Semi-Finalist” was 10th-degree black belt, Darryl Vidal. Looks like he’s still mad about it!
All jokes aside, getting the credit didn’t really matter to Darryl. But let’s set the record straight about an iconic scene. When Daniel watches Mr. Miyagi perform an impeccable crane kick on the beach, it’s really Darryl Vidal in a bald cap and wig!
7. After watching “Mr. Miyagi” crush the crane kick, Daniel perfects the move. According to superfan theories, Daniel’s use of mighty kick in the final competition would have gotten him disqualified since the rules prohibit the use of “full power.”
8. Now it may shock you to learn, but while filming The Karate Kid, things got physical. Some of the bumps and bruises on Daniel’s mug were the real deal. In the Halloween fight scene, Macchio took a roadhouse to the chin.
9. Some on-set injuries couldn’t be blamed on martial arts. When Daniel is busy showing off his soccer skills for Ali on the beach, his friend Freddy steals the ball, which flies into his own face. This flub was real, but actor Israel Jurabe took it in stride.
10. Pulling off believable karate chops without beating the daylights out of each other was a carefully crafted art. Pat Johnson, the choreographer of the fight sequences, made it into the film’s final cut as the referee in the last match; he also was produced in action figure form.
The Karate Kid Blog
11. The rivalry between Daniel and Johnny was thick with tension, and two additional incidents between them were scrapped from the film. In one, Johnny boldly sneaks a slice of blueberry pie on Daniel’s seat in the lunchroom.
In the other axed scene, the karate rivals have another run in at school. Coming up for air from the drinking fountain, Daniel greets a snarling Johnny. Daniel challenges the Cobra Kai’s methods, and he and Johnny swap verbal jabs.
12. Only the keenest eye could catch this odd choice the filmmakers made, hidden on the LaRusso’s coffee table. When Mr. Miyagi visited their apartment to fix the sink, the magazines lying on the table were published 15 years earlier in 1969.
13. If you’re ever walking down the streets of Los Angeles, there’s a chance you’ll pass by one of many intact locations from the movie. South Seas apartment complex still stands and looks exactly the same as it did in the ’80s.
Wellywood to Hollywood
14. Movie buffs make a sport of pinpointing the exact locations used in the film, but Mr. Miyagi’s house evaded identification for years. Sadly, one master gumshoe uncovered the spot where the house once stood, but the structure was demolished in the late ’80s.
I Am Not A Stalker
15. One rather sweet plant and subsequent payoff in the film are the curtains from Daniel’s shower costume briefly appearing in a prior scene. Daniel mentions “a friend” made the costume for him — three guesses who that could be…
16. Proving that Mr. Miyagi is the most doting sensei ever, he gave Daniel a sick old-fashioned ride. If you’re thinking of writing your old high school sports coach to ask for the same one, the car was a 1948 Ford Super DeLuxe Club convertible.
17. Several of the minor roles in the movie were played by the relatives of some bigger stars. For example, the son of Steve McQueen, Chad, plays Cobra Kai member Dutch, and Frankie Avalon’s son was also in the film.
The Lad Lit Blog
18. Before the credits rolled, the final scene is Daniel defeating Johnny at long last in the tournament. Initially, though, the film ended differently. The novel and script concluded with Mr. Miyagi facing off with Kreese in the parking lot.
19. Anyone familiar with The Karate Kid Part II may remember the conflict between the competitive karate instructors. Filmmakers took the original ending from the first chapter and used it to open the second installment of the saga.
Mono Wrocky / YouTube
Kids across the world saw The Karate Kid and practiced their best crane kicks in their bedrooms. Those who were immune to its charms were probably busy recreating the iconic moves from another ’80s classic…
Dirty Dancing won as many hearts as The Karate Kid, and similarly, a number of details have escaped public notice. For instance, Jennifer Grey initially refused to work on this film because Patrick Swayze was going to be a part of it. Apparently, she didn’t enjoy working with him previously on Red Dawn. Swayze was able to convince her, though.
2. In the scene where Johnny (Swayze) and Baby (Grey) are alone practicing their dance moves, Johnny runs his fingers down Baby’s arm, and she bursts out laughing. This was a genuine reaction from Grey, as is the frustration on Patrick’s face.
3. There is one scene where Johnny and Baby crawl to each other. The actors were actually just joking around during the filming of this, but the director thought it added a nice touch and decided to keep it in.
4. During the filming of the lake scene, which was one of the most popular scenes in the movie, it was actually extremely cold on set. The actors had to tough out the scene, and their lips turned blue because of it.
5. Jennifer Grey had to prove to the casting directors that she could play a younger girl. Her role of Baby was supposed to be 10 years younger than her actual age. She had five minutes to prove it in her audition, and she did.
6. After the success of the first film, studios wanted to cash in on a sequel. Swayze was offered $6 million to return to the screen as Johnny, but he really wasn’t into doing sequels and declined the offer.
7. There is one scene where Johnny and Baby are dancing in the woods. Since it was shot in October, the leaves on the surrounding trees were changing color. The crew had to spray paint the colored leaves green to give the impression that it was still the summer season.
8. In the original film, the dance during the love scene that Johnny and Baby perform wasn’t supposed to be in the final cut, it was only meant to be what Swayze and Grey performed for the screen test. However, the director liked it so much that he kept it.
9. The script was penned by a woman named Eleanor Bergstein in 1987. During an interview, Eleanor claimed that the lead characters of the movie, Johnny and Baby, were actually influenced by her biography.
10. Many fans might not have noticed this but throughout the film, Baby usually wears very light colors and Johnny is mostly dressed in dark. This is to subconsciously contrast their personality types.
11. One of the main songs from the movie’s soundtrack was titled “She’s Like the Wind.” It was co-written by Patrick Swayze and also performed by him as well. He’s got acting and singing credits on the film!
12. Jennifer Grey’s father Joel Grey starred in a very short-lived musical called Goodtime Charley. The lead character played the son of Charlemagne, and one of the backup dancers on set was none other than Patrick Swayze!
13. The assistant choreographer for the film, Miranda Garrison, was actually given a starring role due to a scheduling conflict. The director was, at one point, left without an actress to play Vivian Pressman. They hired Garrison soon after.
14. Conan O’Brien had a big part to play in the film’s 1997 re-release. He had written a petition that asked for fans to write personal letters requesting a re-release. The petition ended up working.
15. Mount Holyoke College is the school that viewers learn Baby will attend at the beginning of the film. Her character in the film, Frances Perkins, was an actual graduate of the class of 1902.
16. The book that Swayze offers Baby is called The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. The book preaches objectivism, a philosophy that holds the belief that it is better to care for yourself than others. He wants to lend it to Baby as an excuse for not helping Penny.
17. You might be surprised to hear this, but Patrick Swayze wasn’t the first choice to play Johnny. The role was initially offered to Val Kilmer, but he turned it down due to other commitments.
Gisela Giardino / Flickr
18. Sometimes in films, certain scenes need to be cut for budget reasons or time constraints, but they can be added in afterward during special releases. The love scene between Johnny and Baby that was missing from the original version was added back into the film on the 20th anniversary DVD release.
19. The iconic love scene, set to the song “Cry To Me” has been voted by movie fanatics all over the world as “one of the sexiest movie moments in all of cinematic history.” Considering how many movies are in existence, that is quite a title to hold!
20. The character of Robbie Gould was played by a man named Max Cantor who was the son of the famous Broadway producer Arthur Cantor. Unfortunately, Max died of a heroin overdose at age 32.
Newtown Graffiti / Flickr
21. When a casting call goes out, all sorts of big names will show up if they think the finished product will be a hit. Both Billy Zane and Sarah Jessica Parker auditioned for the lead roles of Dirty Dancing.
22. There is a scene where Johnny and Baby are dancing, and Baby is wearing a very uniquely sewn dress. Swayze needed to keep his fingers on her back for a large portion of the dancing, and he kept getting them stuck in the seams.
23. During the dangerous log-dancing scene, Swayze refused to let a stuntman fill in for him while he was high above the ground. He fell off several times and had to get fluid in his knee drained because of it.
24. The song “Hula Hana” in the film was co-written by the woman who played Baby’s older sister. Oddly enough, she was never given credit for the song until March 18, 2002. Better late than never!