One of cinema's most enduring underdog stories is turning 40 and celebrating the milestone with a fresh coat of wax, so to speak.

The Karate Kid was released in the summer of 1984, introducing the world to scrawny New Jersey teen Daniel LaRusso as he moves to California and quickly becomes the target of the local bullies who rule over the Cobra Kai dojo. With the help of handyman-turned-sensei Mr. Miyagi, Daniel learns the art of waxing on, waxing off — and the power of a well-placed crane kick. The movie proved to be an instant hit and made a household name of its star, Ralph Macchio.

"I went into that movie theater slightly recognizable from The Outsiders, and I came out of that theater like I was the guy who had just won the Super Bowl,"  Macchio recalls of attending the Manhattan premiere of The Karate Kid. "People were jumping out of their seats, hugging and high-fiving, smiles on their faces. It was an amazing experience."

Helmed by Oscar-winning Rocky director John G. Avildsen, The Karate Kid opened in theaters during a competitive summer movie season, premiering alongside blockbusters like Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins. Made for just $8 million, the movie became the fourth highest-grossing film at the box office that year, thanks in large part to enthusiastic word of mouth. Its success paved the way for a new franchise (later installments would star Hilary Swank and Jaden Smith) and in 2018, Macchio reprised his role as Daniel LaRusso in the hit series Cobra Kai.

"It's good to have 40 years of anything," Macchio tells A.frame. "Back when we were making the film, not once did I think that in 2024 I'd be talking to the Academy about this movie. But I'm a firm believer that films — and art in general — are defined over time, not necessarily what happens in the present."

Macchio was still a relative newcomer when The Karate Kid came his way. The year prior, he'd worked with Francis Ford Coppola on The Outsiders, which is how he got his foot in the door. But the young actor was one of many rising stars — including Robert Downey Jr., Nicolas Cage, and Tom Cruise — who auditioned for the role.

"I went to [John's] apartment in New York and said, 'The title of this thing, could you have a worse title in mind?'" Macchio recalls with a chuckle. "Then I saw his Rocky Oscar sitting on the shelf and was like, 'This is the real deal!'"

As far as Macchio is considered, it was a certain bravado he had at that age and "East coast sensibility" that ultimately won him the part. "We've all felt like the fish out of water," the actor says. "Daniel was the every-kid next door. He had no business winning anything, and we all saw ourselves in him in some way." Macchio reprised the role in two direct sequels, 1986's The Karate Kid Part II and 1989's The Karate Kid Part III, which Avildsen also directed. Just as Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel his full potential onscreen, Macchio credits Avildsen with molding him into the actor he is today.

"It's hard to put into words how much I learned on the job from John. I was in every scene of this thing, and it was my schooling. I'm glad I retained it," he reflects. "Without [John] saying, 'This is my kid,' I don't know what my story would have been in this business."

The Karate Kid, meanwhile, wouldn't be half the film it is without Daniel's mentor and confident, Mr. Miyagi, played by the late Pat Morita. Up to that point, Morita was best known as a comedic actor, particularly for his role as Arnold on Happy Days. (In fact, Toshiro Mifune, a breakout star of Akira Kurosawa's movies, was originally the top choice for the role.) "When you met Pat, gone was Arnold from Happy Days, and in was this very articulate, very focused man who felt he had a great responsibility to his Japanese-American heritage," Macchio says.

"Pat was the soulful magic of The Karate Kid," the actor adds. "The 'secret sauce' of The Karate Kid has always been the relationship between Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. Having that 'human Yoda' as you navigate your adolescence is a huge part of the reason why the film continues to resonate and stand the test of time."

For his performance, Morita was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role at the 57th Oscars. "I miss him," Macchio says fondly. "He lives on in that performance and certainly received a very worthy Oscar nomination, and I always remind people of that."


To celebrate The Karate Kid's 40th anniversary, Sony's Columbia Pictures is re-releasing the film's 4K restoration on Ultra-HD Blu-Ray. "While every film is unique, most films that are more than 20 years old have accumulated wear and damage," explains Rita Belda, Sony's Senior VP of Asset Restoration and Preservation, "which, on a film like The Karate Kid, can take 3-6 months on average [to restore]."

The release comes complete with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound and will be housed in — what else? — a retro-style '80s VHS box. Perhaps most enticing to fans of the film, the bonus features includes over 30 minutes of newly unarchived deleted scenes and dailies.

"'Discovered' sounds a bit like something stumbled upon, but to unearth these scenes requires patience, persistence and a lot research," Belda notes. "From studying the editorial notes from 1984, to wrangling in boxes and boxes from vaults deep underground, to opening boxes of dailies and trims and finding everything but the shot you are looking for, there is a lot of work that goes into tracking down material which will yield interest."

But when the film is as iconic as The Karate Kid, all the hard work is worth it.

"The legacy of Columbia is built on films like The Karate Kid — stories that inspire, delight and challenge audiences' expectations," Belda says. "The best films have resonated in their time and place and still carry meaning for fans 20, 40, 100 years after their original release. The Karate Kid was a huge hit with audiences when it was released in 1984 and continues to draw new audiences, some discovering it for the first time."

For Macchio, the fact that The Karate Kid has endured for as long as it has is downright mystical. "It's been touched by some higher power or otherworldliness at every turn. I can't even explain that." What he is sure about is that the movie will continue to live on in the decades to come.

"Of all my movies, The Karate Kid, by far, has really become part of pop culture around the world and has had a global impact," Macchio says. "Now, it's re-defining itself for new generations moving forward and expanding the story to a point where it's become The Karate Kid cinematic universe!"

By Adam J. Yeend


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