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The '80s Spinoff That Led To Ralph Macchio Finally Joining Cobra Kai

Looking back on it, The Karate Kid is pretty much what you'd get if you could distill the 1980s into a singular film. In this, one of the best sports movies ever made, a high school kid by the name of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) learns martial arts from a wise master, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). Not only does Daniel learn how to fight, but he learns to be a better person, winning the heart of Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue) in the process. It all culminates at the All-Valley Karate Championship, where Daniel fights against rival Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and emerges victorious. 

In the same vein as much of modern pop culture, this beloved classic has received a contemporary reboot in the form of Cobra Kai, which has found a home on Netflix with season 3 arriving on January 1, 2021Cobra Kai has garnered a passionate following, with many believing the show does a fantastic job of exploring what middle age is like for the heroes and villains of a classic teen story. 

It's understandable that the movie's stars would be skeptical about going back to such a career-defining role. That was the case for Ralph Macchio — even though he's had various cameo roles over the years, nothing has quite matched the heights of Daniel LaRusso, and returning to that well would be no small decision for any actor. In a recent interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Macchio discussed his reluctance to sign on for Cobra Kai, and how a spinoff of a different '80s movie series showed him how well the concept could work.

Ralph Macchio was impressed at how Creed reinvigorated the Rocky franchise

The Karate Kid grew into a franchise quickly after the release of the 1984 original, with Ralph Macchio returning for two sequels. He's tried to get away from that role over the years, and in this interview, he mentioned that he's heard plenty of ideas for how to keep Daniel LaRusso in the zeitgeist. "For 30 years, I heard many, many ideas," he said. "And they were all short-sighted, either one-joke ideas or big eye rolls. And then after Pat Morita passed away [in 2005], we lost that component of going back to LaRusso's life, there was never a tie-in that made sense."

Macchio went on to explain that he's pretty sure he was the last one to sign on to Cobra Kai, just because he was resistant to tread this ground again. The big driving factor was that the show would primarily be seen through Johnny Lawrence's perspective, which reminded him of another franchise. "Creed had just been released, probably about six or eight months before then," he explained. "And that was sort of a glimpse into how to take a franchise like Rocky and come in from another perspective. You're not making Rocky VII, you're making Creed. And Rocky Balboa then finds his way in that world of where he fits."

On paper, Cobra Kai sounds like it shouldn't work. Daniel is a bit of a smug jerk at times, and the first episode starts out with Johnny beating up a bunch of high school students; however, it manages to find that sweet balance between '80s nostalgia and modern sensibilities. While the series knows how to connect to the past, particularly with the legacy of Mr. Miyagi, it forges its own path and makes for the most worthwhile addition to The Karate Kid mythos since the first film.