There are plenty of people (especially young people) who have never seen any of The Karate Kid movies starring Ralph Macchio, Hilary Swank, and Jaden Smith, but have watched all three seasons of Cobra Kai. But, would you believe that there are people like myself who have never watched a single episode of Cobra Kai but have seen all 5 of The Karate Kid movies? I know, I know. What am I doing with my life? Yes, I should definitely watch Cobra Kai since I hear it’s excellent, but I find that I don’t have the time. Maybe it’s because I keep re-watching the original trilogy on Netflix. That could have something to do with it, don’t you think?
The thing is, I grew up with the first three movies and they were in regular rotation in my household. It was like Rocky for teens, which made sense since it was done by the same director as the first and fifth Rocky movies, John G. Avildsen. For me, The Karate Kid trilogy is the ‘80s, so it takes me right back to that time period whenever I think about it. But The Karate Kid is not just a trilogy. There are also two other movies, one a legit sequel, and the other a remake. So, which one is the best around? You’re about to find out.
Oh, and some minor spoilers up ahead.
5. The Next Karate Kid (1994)
Starring Hilary Swank, Pat Morita, and Michael Ironside, and directed by Christopher Cain, The Next Karate Kid is about a grieving teen (played by Hilary Swank in her first starring role!), who has a lot of anger issues, which gets her in trouble at school. But when Mr. Miyagi takes her under his wing and teachers her Karate, she learns to find inner peace… and also kick the ass of a dude who sexually harasses her. It has its merits.
Like Michael Ironside, for instance. He’s in it, and he’s always pretty good. Hilary Swank—“Julie-san”, which Mr. Miyagi must say over a 100 times in this movie—is also decent for her first major role, and Pat Morita is always excellent. But the rest of the movie is pretty terrible. It’s just that it feels so unnecessary. The fight scenes are all pretty stale, the inciting incident (Julie jumps on the hood of a moving car) is pretty lame, and it has to have the most unsatisfying Mr. Miyagi beatdown ever when he faces off against Michael Ironside’s, Colonel Dugan. Overall, it’s mediocre and I don’t like it.
4. The Karate Kid Part III (1989)
Starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Martin Kove, Sean Kanan, and Thomas Ian Griffith, and directed by John Avildsen, who directed the whole trilogy, The Karate Kid Part III is pretty much just more of the same. Essentially, it’s a revenge story as Cobra Kai instructor, John Kreese (played by Martin Kove) wants to get back at Daniel and Mr. Miyagi for beating him and leaving Cobra Kai in shambles. He enlists the help of his nutcase friend, Terry Silver (played by Thomas Ian Griffith) who lures Daniel in and takes him in as a student to split him up from Mr. Miyagi, as Miyagi says that he won’t train Daniel. And then, well, lunacy occurs.
The Karate Kid Part III is both a weird and overly familiar movie. On one end, the whole Terry Silver/Mike Barnes subplot to get Daniel to join them is over-the-top and ludicrous, but on the other end, the movie retreads the same stuff from first Karate Kid, making the film dry and a little boring. In the end, it is definitely the least interesting of The Karate Kid trilogy, and the one I definitely watch the least.
3. The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
The Karate Kid Part II is interesting because it takes place in Japan this time. Mr. Miyagi’s father is dying, so he heads to Okinawa and takes Daniel with him. We learn that Mr. Miyagi’s old fling hasn’t married this rich industrialist who once had a thing against Miyagi for loving the same woman. And this same industrialist has a nephew who harbors animosity toward Daniel, so both the teacher and the student are embroiled in hot water.
I like The Karate Kid Part II because it gives Mr. Miyagi more to do than just bail out Daniel this time around. It also feels a bit more serious than the first and the third movies, which I think makes it the most compelling of the trilogy. I’ve heard people say that The Karate Kid Part II and III should be flipped, so that this one is the last in the trilogy, and I agree, mainly because The Karate Kid Part II is good, and The Karate Kid Part III is not very good, so it would have made for a better conclusion to the trilogy. Oh, well.
2. The Karate Kid (2010)
Starring Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson, and Jackie Chan, and directed by Harald Zwart, I already know what you’re going to say. It would have been better if this was called “The Kung Fu Kid” rather than The Karate Kid, and you’re right. In China, it’s actually called The Kung Fu Dream. But it is part of The Karate Kid series, so I will include it here. This one is about a 12-year-old boy named Dre (Smith) who has to move to China when his mom’s job takes her there. He encounters a bully who picks on him, but then learns Kung Fu (Not Karate) from the maintenance man (played by Jackie Chan). He then learns to fight for himself.
The Karate Kid remake is just an overall enjoyable movie. Jackie Chan’s Mr. Han is no Mr. Miyagi. In fact, he’s better. I might just be biased because I love Jackie Chan so much, but I find his pathos and martial arts skills more interesting than Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi. The rest of the movie around Jackie Chan’s performance is pretty good, and it doesn’t delve too deeply into the silly territories that the first trilogy sometimes dipped its toes into. But it’s definitely not as iconic as the original movie, which is why it ends up at number 2 rather than the top spot.
1. The Karate Kid (1984)
The original movie is still the best in the series. It’s about a hotheaded boy named Daniel who moves to a new town, gets bullied by these martial artists, and then meets a repairman (played by Morita) who just so happens to also know Karate. The repairman teaches Daniel to find tranquility in Karate, and then Daniel fights in a tournament, does the whole crane kick that people still do whenever they discuss this franchise, and… the end.
The first movie just has everything going for it. The Cobra Kai club is still interesting in their brutal means of training, Daniel and Mr. Miyagi’s relationship is really sweet, and it has the best song in the series, “You’re the Best Around” by Joe Esposito. If you were to ask me which Karate Kid I’d like to watch the most, I might just say the 2010 remake. But when it comes to the first one, I’m pretty sure most would say it’s the best since it’s so classic, so that’s why it gets the top spot on this list.
The Karate Kid has gotten some new life in it these past few years with Cobra Kai, which again, I will definitely watch at some point. But what do you think? What is your favorite The Karate Kid movie? Sound off in the poll below. And for information on 2021 movies or even 2022 movies, make sure to stop by often.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.
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