Let's be honest, Karate Kid is basically the cheesy, karate chopping, homoerotic version of Harold and Maude starring an oily Italian kid and a tiny Japanese man. And it totally fucking rocked.
The Karate Kid is a 1984 film that tells the heroic tale of meager little weakling Daniel LaRusso and his quest to become a karate champ in order to win the girl and stop getting his ass kicked. In the end, he defeats the bullies, wins the girl, and forms an uncomfortably close bond with an elderly Japanese handyman (to read further about this awkward relationship that nowadays would likely prompt a visit from Chris Hansen, check out our article about 10 Movie and Television Duos That Were Probably Gay).
Directed by John Avildsen, who also helmed Rocky and went on to direct Karate Kid II, Karate Kid III, and Rocky V, thus cornering the market on lousy inspirational sports movie sequels, The Karate Kid became a phenomenon when it was released. The film and its sequels inspired all kinds of merchandise, such as action figures and cheesy video games. Critically acclaimed, the film has been deemed 89% fresh by Rotten Tomatoes and earned Pat Morita Best Supporting Actor nominations at both the Academy Awards and Golden Globes.
The film launched the soon to be dead career of Ralph Macchio, who found himself adorning such prestigious magazines as Tiger Beat, as well as the career of super hot 80's babe Elizabeth Shue, who would later appear naked in the film Leaving Las Vegas. The film also served as the apex of William "Don't Call Me Billy" Zabka's versatile acting career, which consisted of various roles in which he played an athletic blonde bully who liked to pick on and beat up scrawny dark haired kids half his size.
The Karate Kid entrenched itself in popular culture with such memorable lines as "sweep the leg" and "wax on, wax off," and was recently named by the American Film Institute as the 98th most inspirational movie of all time. The film also became famous for introducing the world to the Crane Kick, which Miyagi describes as indefensible if done right. During the climactic match between Macchio's LaRusso and Zabka's Johnny Lawrence, Daniel uses the Crane Kick to shatter Johnny's nose while Miyagi nods approvingly in the film's iconic final scene, proving that the move is indeed indefensible, particularly when your opponent lumbers forward with his guard down, walking obliviously into what amounts to little more than a slow developing jump kick.
"Hm, he's either mocking me with that silly pose or is about to break my nose...
I think I'll lumber forward to find out which is his intention."
The film's plot centered around a poor soccer playing boy from New Jersey who, for some unexplained reason, was unhappy about moving from Newark to California. He travels cross country with his mother (who, in one of cinemas great mysteries, uproots her family to take a job in computers but somehow ends up working in a restaurant) in their ridiculously unreliable car and almost immediately upon arrival becomes the target of the dreaded Cobra Kai and their leader, Aryan bad boy Johnny Lawrence. While enjoying an awkward conversation with his potential love interest Ali (with an "i"), the Cobra Kai show up to spoil everyone's fun. Daniel steps in when Johnny objects to Ali's taste in music (or the fact that she's flirting with an oily Jersey native, or that she won't return his calls, or all of the above), and quickly finds himself being repeatedly pummeled by Johnny's feet of fury.
This is just the beginning of Daniel's torment at the hands of the Cobra Kai. The Cobra Kai are reminded over and over that mercy is for the weak by evil sensei John Kreese, a man who takes his job way too seriously. After Daniel has the nerve to enter the Cobra Kai dojo, Johnny and his cronies spot Daniel eating dinner and drinking milk (milk! Can you believe it? What a fag!) in his mother's restaurant, and proceed to excitedly plot what amounts to an attempted murder on Daniel, using their super cool dirtbikes to run him off the road, causing him to tumble off of his little weiner bike and crash violently down the side of a steep hill. It's not long after this that Daniel finds himself under the watchful eye of handyman Mr. Miyagi, who fixes his bike and later saves his whiny ass from another assault by the Cobra Kai.
This time, it's a prank Daniel pulls on Johnny, who only wanted to get high on Halloween night, that leads to what could be argued was a much deserved beating. Rather than staying safely at the school dance where the prank took place, Daniel goes barrelling through the dance screaming "Get out of my way" and flees from the school gym and into the street, leaving a trail of crashed cars and overall destruction in his wake. If only he'd known karate, he wouldn't be so terrible at being stealthy.
But soon his lack of karate knowledge would change, as Miyagi intervenes during Daniel's latest ass kicking and proceeds to beat up a bunch of teenagers. Daniel discovers that this rotund little handyman is actually a karate master, and pleads for his help like a little bitch. Initially, Miyagi refuses, but after a trip to the dojo and a face to face with Kreese results in Daniel being entered into a karate tournament despite having zero training, Miyagi figures that maybe he owes it to Daniel to teach him how to kick and punch a little.
Through what amounts to little more than free manual labor, Daniel somehow learns karate by waxing cars, sanding floors and painting fences, and finds himself ready for the All Valley Karate Tournament. Meanwhile, for reasons unexplained, Daniel manages to win Ali's heart despite her being so far out of his league that we're forced to remind ourselves that it's just a movie. After all, Yeti's aren't real but that won't stop us from enjoying Harry and the Henderson's.
Pictured: Definition of "slumming it."
Ali proves to be one hell of a supportive girlfriend, as chronicled in our article about the 7 Best 80's Movie Girlfriends. She's behind him all the way, reminding him repeatedly to "be strong, Daniel, be strong" despite all evidence pointing to his inability to, in fact, be strong. Somehow, with her support and Miyagi's silent coaching, Daniel finds himself on a roll through the tournament in one of the greatest movie montages of all time, punctuated by the entirely awesome song "You're the Best" by Joe Esposito. Interestingly, the song was originally written for Rocky III but lost out to "Eye of the Tiger", so Karate Kid claimed it as sloppy seconds.
All of this culminates in Daniel overcoming the dirty tricks of the Cobra Kai thanks in large part to Miyagi's magic touch and, despite getting his leg swept and being close to getting put in a body bag, he kicks the hell out of Johnny's face to earn the title of All Valley Karate Champion and Johnny's respect in the form of the words, "You're alright LaRusso." For a complete breakdown of the film's plot and key characters, check out Ross Wolinsky's Cliffs Notes on The Karate Kid.
The Karate Kid will go down as a classic for the ages, a true underdog tale about one of the most loser-y heroes in cinematic history (for notes on how you could probably join the ranks of the Cobra Kai as a LaRusso beater upper, check out our article on 6 Supposed Action Heroes You Could Probably Take in a Fight). It spawned three sequels including the utterly forgettable Next Karate Kid, starring future Oscar winner Hillary Swank (a film that ranks as one of our 5 Least Manly Sports Movies). A few years ago, Will Smith decided to
piss on the legacy of remake the film, giving it an updated story starring his son Jaden in a move that in no way illustrates nepotism at it's finest.