The ’80s Classic On Netflix That Is Still One Of The Best Movies Ever

By Sean Thiessen | Updated

Many film critics consider the 1980s to be a cinematically bankrupt decade, but movie lovers know the truth. The 80s gave the world some of the most iconic and rewatched movies ever made, including the inspirational story of The Karate Kid. This 1984 mega-hit didn’t just sweep the leg, it swept the nation, and the classic is streaming now on Netflix.

This martial arts coming-of-age drama follows Danny LaRusso, a high school kid who just moved with his single mother to Reseda, California. Danny finds himself the target of a gang of bullies in this Los Angeles suburb. Led by the formidable Johnny Lawrence, the bullies are all karate students at the brutal Cobra Kai dojo.

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The Karate Kid ignites when Danny is saved by Mr. Miyagi, his apartment handyman. Miyagi is a karate expert who teaches Danny to defend himself while incorporating important life lessons along the way. Now the immortal wisdom of Mr. Miyagi is streaming on Netflix.

Ralph Macchio is Daniel LaRusso and Pat Morita is Mr. Miyagi, as iconic a film duo as we’ve ever had on the big screen.

The Karate Kid was written by Robert Mark Kamen and directed by John G. Avildsen. Kamen was hired by Columbia Pictures to craft a story that resembled Rocky, Avildsen’s 1976 directorial hit. For years, Rocky star Sylvester Stallone joked that The Karate Kid was a ripoff of Rocky.

As soon as Kamen’s script was polished and ready for production, the movie went full steam ahead. Actor Ralph Macchio won the part of Danny thanks to his breakout performance in The Outsiders. Netflix users of this generation may recognize Macchio from his role on the hugely popular Cobra Kai, but the height of his fame was in his early years. 

Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr. and Nicolas Cage were all up for the Daniel LaRusso part as well in Karate Kid.

Macchio was up for the part against several major actors of the time, including his The Outsiders co-stars Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise. Also on the shortlist for the part were Robert Downey Jr., Jon Cryer, Charlie Sheen, Sean Penn, and Nicolas Cage.

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Pat Morita grew a beard and adopted his uncle’s Japanese accent in order to convince the studio that he could break out of his typically comedic persona to play Miyagi — Morita earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

The Karate Kid released long before the age of Netflix. It hit the theaters in 1984 to critical acclaim and financial success, climbing the box office to become the year’s biggest sleeper hit. Including a re-release years later, The Karate Kid amassed more than $130 million at the worldwide box office.

Beyond its financial success, The Karate Kid inspired a franchise and a lasting legacy that has endured all the way to the Netflix era. Two direct sequels to the film were released in 1986 and 1989, as well as an animated series that also debuted in ‘89. The series followed Danny and Mr. Miyagi on a variety of adventures. 

The Next Karate Kid was released in 1994. That film saw the return of Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi to train a new student played by a young Hilary Swank. The franchise was rebooted in 2010 with a film starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan in a similar student/mentor relationship as the first film.

Cobra Kai Has Brought Back The Karate Kid Franchise

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In 2018, The Karate Kid franchise returned to take a fresh look at its roots with Cobra Kai. The series began as a YouTube original, but moved to Netflix for season 3 and beyond.

The series picks up with William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence in the modern day as he struggles to pull his life together. He revives the Cobra Kai dojo, reigniting old rivalries and spawning new relationships that blend a fresh new cast with familiar faces from The Karate Kid.

Cobra Kai has been a massive hit among audiences and critics alike. The series tracks intriguing and touching growth for all of its characters. The journey is set to conclude this year with season 6 on Netflix.

The Karate Kid launched and largely defined the careers of its stars. Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, William Zabka, and Elizabeth Shue went on to be massive 80s stars thanks to the film, and with Cobra Kai, their careers and legacies.continue today.

The Karate Kid would not have been the hit it was without Pat Morita as the story’s mentor. Morita passed away in 2005, but he lives on through his many film and television projects. Now his legacy and the triumph of The Karate Kid are available on Netflix.