Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Karate Kid

Go To
"Karate is not a phase. It's a way of life. You can leave it for a while, but it never really leaves you."
John Kreese, Cobra Kai

A series of five films beginning in 1984, the movies can be broken into distinct eras.

First is the LaRusso trilogy, which focused on a student-master relationship between Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Nariyoshi Miyagi (Pat Morita). The name "Miyagi" came to be slang for a type of Retired Badass.

Next was a Soft Reboot, which featured Hilary Swank as Julie Pierce, another teenager that needs help learning self-discipline from mastering Karate, is also trained by Mr Miyagi, and a monastery of additional martial artists. Miyagi was the only continuity between the two films, although he does make several references to the previous trilogy.

In the meantime, there was the animated series. Given that Miyagi and Daniel travelled the world in search of a magical shrine, it's safe to say that it's only tangentially related to the main series.

The next film, from 2010, was a Hard Reboot, and focused on the student-master relationship between Andre "Dre" Parker (played by Jaden Smith) and Mr Han (played by Jackie Chan). Instead of making the student do chores, Mr. Han does the same sort of Trickster Mentor approach and teaches Dre how to become a better son. Oh, and, due to Mr. Han being Chinese, Kung Fu is practiced in it instead of Karate.

Following the 2010 movie, the franchise went with an Un-Reboot series called Cobra Kai following Karate Kid antagonist Johnny Lawrence and Daniel 34 years after the first movie. Both Ralph Macchio and William Zabka reprise their roles, and the series debuted on YouTube Premium before undergoing a Channel Hop to Netflix starting with the third season. A new film in the series was announced in 2022, set for a 2024 release; the film is set in the continuity of the original films, but is not directly connected to Cobra Kai.

Many people have noticed that DC Comics is credited in the films, but contrary to popular belief, the films are not directly based on any comic book. Columbia Pictures obtained permission from DC (as a professional courtesy) to use the title "The Karate Kid" because the name was already in use for the Karate Kid in DC's Legion of Super-Heroes comic, but the films draw no inspiration from the character otherwise.

Installments in the franchise (by year of first release):

This film franchise has examples of:

  • The Alleged Car: Lucille LaRusso's stationwagon is constantly breaking down and needs a rolling start to get going.
  • All There in the Script:
    • Daniel and his mother moved to California as a result of her new job with Rocket Computers. ("Flight to the future!") The original script reveals why Freddy had "never heard of it" and also sheds some light on why it seems that Mrs. LaRusso might be an employee of the restaurant across from the Cobra Kai dojo. As she shares with Daniel:
      Lucille LaRusso: They went bankrupt!...[But] listen to this. I walk out of Rocket with the beginning of Excedrin headache one through ten about to come on, and I'm going back to the car when this woman comes flying out of this restaurant, The Orient Express, and she's screaming, 'I quit! I quit!' Right behind her is this guy and he's yelling just as loud, 'You can't quit! You're fired!' It's one minute to noon, people are coming in to lunch, I'm the first but only applicant - I got the job!
    • When Daniel questions her new position as a waitress, his mother clarifies that she is not a waitress. She is a hostess.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Kreese in the first; Chozen in the second; Silver in the third. Gets more literal in the fifth film where he uses kung fu.
  • Artistic License – Martial Arts:
    • The actual crane kick is a twirling kick in which you jump, kick, and land all on the same leg. No one working on the film could do it, so they invented a new, purely fictional kick involving a flamingo pose into a front kick.
    • In the first film, Miyagi claims that there is no defense against a properly performed crane kick. Leaving aside that there no martial arts move to which there is no defense (you could also say certainly there is no defense against any martial arts move performed well enough), the crane kick would be extremely easy to defense against because its pose very obviously forewarns your opponent that you're about to use it. This is apparently acknowledged in Karate Kid 2, where the crane kick is defended by stepping slightly to the side.
    • The "Drum Technique" in Karate Kid, Part II is presented as a dangerous and effective move, with the highly skilled Chozen powerless against it, but it consists of nothing but windmilling telegraphed haymakers.
  • Artistic License – Sports: Barnes's fouls on Danny in the final showdown are so blatant and close together that even the most lenient referee would've disqualified him halfway through the match. This is referenced in Cobra Kai: Terry Silver, Barnes' sensei, likes to bribe the referees.
  • Ass Kicking Pose: The Crane Technique is set up with the user standing on one leg with his arms outstretched to the side and above their head.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: After time, Daniel was able to point out the flaws in others techniques and able to improve upon them.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Mr. Miyagi is calm and peaceful, but that doesn't mean he's lacking in fighting skill.
  • Big Bad:
    • While Johnny Lawrence is Daniel's main rival and Final Boss in the first film, it's his sensei, John Kreese, who is the film's true main antagonist, as he is the one who influences Cobra Kai into embracing the "Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy" mindset, which turns Johnny, his gang, and the rest of Kreese's students into ruthless bullies as a result. Mr. Miyagi lampshades this after Daniel gets beaten by the Cobra Kais during the Halloween party.
    Mr. Miyagi: No such thing as bad student. Only bad teacher.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Mr. Miyagi gets to do this at least Once per Movie. Daniel gets his own moment in Karate Kid 2, when he rescues the stranded village bellringer during the height of a typhoon.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Daniel's love interests for each movie: Ali, Kumiko, and Jessica, respectively. Daniel obviously isn't picky when it comes to hair color.
  • Breakout Villain: John Kreese appeared in only three scenes in the original film but was so memorably over-the-top that he was present in the next two sequels and returns at the Big Bad of Cobra Kai. Granted, his scene in Part II was initially scripted for the first movie.
    • Terry Silver as well, being arguably the main highlight of Part III due to his hammy personality as an even more over-the-top villain than Kreese. His character was so popular with fans that it managed to convince Thomas Ian Griffith to make a return to acting in reprising his role for Cobra Kai season 4.
  • Bully Brutality: Every one of the nasty karate students Daniel runs into (the Cobra Kai, Chozen) gives him sound beatings.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Used as a finishing move for each of the films, standing on one leg, using a child's drum, doing katas and the praying mantis jump kick.
  • Combat Pragmatist:
    • Kreese's philosophy reads like this on paper; in actual effect, it's... rather different. He's effectively teaching the kids to be thugs.
    • Miyagi has never fought for points, only for his life. A bit strangely for a heroic character, he seems to have no compunction against using a Groin Attack in combat, or against teaching Daniel to do the same.
  • Cool Car: Miyagi has several and lets Daniel pick one of them as a birthday present.
  • Cool Old Guy: Mr. Miyagi is a World War 2 veteran in the 80's but has plenty of sass and knowledge to spread around.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Pretty much every time Mr. Miyagi gets his hands dirty.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Downplayed. When Daniel wins the tournament, Johnny can be heard shouting: "You're all right, LaRusso! Good match!" while personally handing him the trophy. Still takes decades before they actually get along.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Most kids who bully Daniel quickly move to attempted murder once he tries to defend himself. Inverted in Part 3, where Barnes starts entirely too much shit throughout the movie, but gets off with nothing more than a loss by a single point. The series eventually reveals that the Cobra Kai dojo suffered the bulk of the retribution by being banned for life for Barnes' fouls.
  • Evil Wears Black: Well mean bullies wear black, but the Cobra Kai uniforms otherwise count.
  • Fight Magnet:
    • For a guy who doesn't want to fight, Mr. Miyagi beats up a lot of people.
    • Same goes for Daniel; the first two movie pretty much shows No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.
  • For the Evulz:
    • It may not be why Terry first harasses Daniel, but it's certainly why he enjoys it.
    • The whole series features some of the most nonsensical villains you'll ever see. Good luck coming up with any motivation by the time you get to Dugan from Next.
  • The Freelance Shame Squad: A ballroom filled with refined, upper-crust partygoers all stop dancing and put down their canapes just to laugh at Daniel-San after he bumps into a waiter and gets bolognese sauce all over his outfit. They're probably mocking the poor waiter too, but it doesn't come across as strongly.
  • Gang of Bullies: The Cobra Kai band together and are almost always wearing matching outfits when they beat up or antagonize Daniel.
  • Groin Attack:
    • Mr. Miyagi, believe it or not. It was a five on one battle... that soon became a four on one.
    • Daniel delivers one to Chozen at the sock hop dance, using a technique Miyagi taught him.
    • In the only non-comic example, Mike Barnes blatantly cheats in his tournament match by kicking Daniel in the groin.
  • Healing Hands: Mr. Miyagi knows a few Pressure Point techniques. Mr. Han in the reboot uses similar techniques.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Daniel is in high school and Mr. Miyagi is a man in his 60's.
  • Kung-Fu Kid: Pretty much the Ur-example as the young student who learns life through the martial arts. It's literal in the remake, where karate has been replaced by Kung Fu.
  • Magical Asian: Mr. Miyagi has some very impressive healing abilities.
  • Martial Pacifist: Mr. Miyagi hates fighting, but is VERY competent when the situation calls for it.
  • Martial Medic: Mr. Miyagi can use pressure points to relieve pain and set bones.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Johnny and his friends are too busy beating up Daniel to notice Miyagi jumping the fence, ready to jump them.
  • MST: The commentary for the DVD collection invokes this, with the writer, the director, and even Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita themselves snarking over the film.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Mr. Miyagi only appears ignorant and senile.
  • Old Master: Miyagi teaches Karate; possibly the Trope Codifier.
  • One-Steve Limit: Johnny Lawrence and John Kreese. Name confusion is avoided because the only character who calls the latter "Johnny" doesn't enter the series before Johnny Lawrence leaves.
  • The Only Way They Will Learn: Daniel's being made to perform menial tasks for Mr. Miyagi to build the strength and muscle memory necessary for effective blocks. For Julie, he sets up his teaching of the waltz as a typical karate instruction.
  • Ordered to Cheat: The former Trope Namer, back when Ordered to Cheat was called Sweep The Leg. Kreese first orders Bobby Brown to take out Daniel's knee, then orders Johnny to directly attack the previously injured knee. Neither boy wants to follow the order, but they both comply.
  • Parental Substitute: Miyagi and Daniel form a very close father/son dynamic throughout the films. So do Distaff Counterparts Yukie and Kumiko. Cobra Kai reveals that John Kreese was this to Johnny Lawrence as well, as Johhny's own stepfather was a neglectful Jerkass. Not that Kreese was much better.
  • Police Are Useless: Many of the things the various antagonists get up to are straight-up violent crimes, but at no point do any of them get arrested.
  • Quality over Quantity: The novelization had Daniel complain to Mr. Miyagi before the tournament that he didn't know very many moves. Miyagi replied that he was better than the Cobra-Kais at the ones he did know.
  • Retired Badass:
    • Mr. Miyagi, who'd earned medals in World War II, including the Medal of Honor (some Truth in Television and Fridge Brilliance there, given Miyagi is apparently a Japanese national. Those Japanese who signed up to fight with the US armed forces during World War II were put together in one unit. That unit earned more medals and Medals of Honor per head than any other in any branch of service. This was mentioned in the third film too).
    • Even more of both in a sad way, as Miyagi's pregnant wife was taken to a Japanese interment camp and died there in childbirth, as did the son she gave birth to. Miyagi's drunken re-reading of the telegram informing him of this leads to a small Heroic BSoD in the first movie.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Terry Silver and John Kreese may talk about restoring the Cobra Kai Dojo to its former glory but their desire to humiliate Daniel and Mr. Miyagi speaks louder.
  • Running Gag: Reminding people that it's pronounced Mi-ya-''gi'', not Mi-ya-ji.
  • Serial Escalation: The first film had Daniel dealing with a gang of bullies who at worst would rough him up repeatedly. His big showdown with them takes place at a tournament with rules, regulations, and time-outs if things get too rough. The sequel has Daniel in a real fight at the end against a borderline psychopath with the very real possibility that he could lose his life.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Mr. Miyagi's name is probably a reference to Chojun Miyagi, founder of the Goju-ryu Karate school.
    • At the same time, it might be as well an obscure reference to Teinosuke Yagi, a real life bonesetter and former jujutsu master who introduced the young Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo) to his art when the latter was in the search of martial arts training to fight his bullies. The character's full name, back when it was canonically Keisuke Miyagi, was an even bigger reference to Teinosuke Yagi.
  • Taught by Experience: Miyagi was formally trained by his father, but had little knowledge on how tournaments work. He didn't even know much about the belt system.
    Daniel: I thought you said you've been in plenty of fights?
    Miyagi: Hai, for life, not for points.
  • Thug Dojo: The Cobra Kai is probably the most famous example to Western audiences.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Daniel goes from an almost complete scrub to winning a tournament handicapped in the first movie with less than 7 weeks (between November 1st, when training starts, and the tournament on December 19th) of training against the two-time defending champion.
  • Training Montage: "You're the Best (Around)" (not by Survivor, of "Eye of the Tiger" fame, but by Joe "Bean" Esposito) played during the tournament montage. Not exactly a training montage, but Daniel learned how good he had gotten from Miyagi's training. It makes sense, given that the first three movies were directed by John G. Avildsen, who also directed Rocky. Not to mention that, while performed by Esposito, the song is written by Bill Conti, who composed "Gonna Fly Now" for Rocky.
  • Trickster Mentor: Mr. Miyagi fools Daniel into learning a lot of basic karate techniques by doing mundane chores.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Trope Namer (also inverted in the fourth movie when Mr. Miyagi teaches Julie a new "kata": the waltz).
  • When You Snatch the Pebble: Subverted. Daniel can catch a fly with chopsticks on his first go, even Miyagi can't. Beginner's Luck.
  • The Worf Effect: Daniel suffers this in both the sequels.
  • You No Take Candle:


Video Example(s):


Cobra Kai

The original trope-codifier. John Kreese runs the dojo like a boot camp. Among other things, we see him punish a student who falls out of sync with the others by making him do 60 pushups on his knuckles, and has Bobby Brown (black belt) spar Robertson (green belt), which anyone will tell you is a pretty unfair fight. In the All-Valley Tournament, he orders Bobby to put Daniel out of commission (which Bobby only reluctantly agrees to do so), and has Johnny Lawrence sweep the leg.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / ThugDojo

Media sources: