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The Real Reason Cobra Kai's Ralph Macchio Didn't Star In The Next Karate Kid

1984's The Karate Kid is more than just another sports movie. It taught a generation of moviegoers how there aren't any shortcuts when you want to be the very best in your discipline, whether it's karate or something else entirely. Plus, it showed how two people from completely different backgrounds, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), can come together and build an enduring partnership.

It's likely for this reason that Cobra Kai feels like the worthiest successor to the Karate Kid legacy. The series goes to great lengths to show how Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), the bully from the first film, didn't have such an easy upbringing, and how later in life everything's pretty much gone in the gutter for him. Even though life hasn't been kind, he still finds a way to pass on what he does know to a new crop of karate students who want to learn how to stand up for themselves.

The Netflix series also marks Macchio's return to the role that made him famous, which he hadn't appeared in since The Karate Kid Part III in 1989. In the interim, there were plenty of attempts to carry on without him. There was the short-lived cartoon series where Daniel and Miyagi went on adventures searching for a magical shrine (yes, really), and the 2010 reboot starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. In between all that, there's the black sheep of the franchise — The Next Karate Kid — which kept Morita's Mr. Miyagi but replaced Daniel with Julie, played by Hilary Swank. 

The film wasn't well received, begging the question, "Why didn't Macchio come back?" As it turns out, there's a pretty straightforward explanation.

Ralph Macchio aged out of the role

First, a bit of backstory. The first three Karate Kid movies all take place fairly close together, and if you look at an official timeline, you can see that Daniel wins the All Valley Karate Tournament in December of 1984 (The Karate Kid), travels with Mr. Miyagi to Okinawa the following summer in 1985 (The Karate Kid Part II), and wins his second All Valley the following December (The Karate Kid Part III). Daniel's a teenager throughout all of this, which posed some problems considering Ralph Macchio was 28 years old by the time the third installment was released. 

The way Macchio tells it, the studio just wasn't interested in the exploits of a 30-something karate prodigy. In an interview with Uproxxthe actor was asked about why he didn't come back for The Karate Kid Part IV, and by the sound of it, there wasn't any major falling out or something dramatic of that nature. He said, "I know [director] John G. Avildsen didn't make the movie, I know [screenwriter] Robert Mark Kamen did not write the movie. So the original creators weren't involved, and I think it was just ... my assumption was [there was] an idea from the studio to continue on, and they got Pat to sign on with that idea."

Later in the interview, he went on to say, "It wasn't like they came to me and [I] said, 'Oh no, I'll never do another one of these.' None of that happened." So Macchio didn't move on, the studio did. It sounds like Columbia Pictures had a different vision of where to take the franchise after Part III, and that vision didn't include 30-year-old Ralph Macchio. 

That is until Cobra Kai came along, and the rest is streaming history.