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‘The Karate Kid’ Turns 40 This Year — See the Cast Then and Now

Plus, the fourth movie is slated to come out later this year!


Certain films transcend their genre and era to become timeless classics. The Karate Kid, directed by John G. Avildsen and written by Robert Mark Kamen, is undeniably one such film.

Released four decades ago, in 1984, it continues to resonate with audiences worldwide, captivating new generations with its compelling story, memorable characters and timeless themes.

At its core, The Karate Kid is a coming-of-age tale that follows the journey of Daniel LaRusso, a teenager uprooted from his familiar surroundings in New Jersey to relocate with his single mother to California. As Daniel struggles to adapt to his new environment, he becomes the target of merciless bullying by his peers, particularly Johnny Lawrence, the quintessential high school bully and a skilled practitioner of karate.

Daniel’s life takes an unexpected turn when he encounters Mr. Miyagi, the wise and enigmatic maintenance man at his apartment complex. Recognizing Daniel’s plight, Mr. Miyagi agrees to teach him karate, not just as a means of self-defense but also as a path to self-discovery and inner strength. Thus begins an unlikely mentorship, as Mr. Miyagi imparts invaluable lessons in martial arts, discipline, and life itself to his young protégé.

The Karate Kid was produced by Jerry Weintraub, a veteran Hollywood producer known for his work on numerous successful films.

Upon its release, The Karate Kid struck a chord with audiences and critics alike, resonating with its universal themes of perseverance, friendship, and the triumph of the human spirit. It became a commercial success, grossing over $90 million worldwide against a modest budget, and spawned a franchise that included three sequels, an animated series, a 2010 remake and the spin-off Netflix series Cobra Kai.

Plus, it was recently announced that a fourth Karate Kid movie will be released later this year.

One of the key factors behind the film’s enduring popularity is its relatable characters, portrayed by a talented ensemble cast. Here, we look at the cast of The Karate Kid and where they are now.

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Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso: The Karate Kid

Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso in the The Karate Kid
1984/; Gotham / Contributor/ Getty

Born on November 4, 1961, in Huntington, New York, Ralph Macchio played the starring role of Daniel LaRusso, the determined yet vulnerable protagonist who undergoes a transformative journey under Mr. Miyagi’s guidance.

Prior to The Karate Kid, Macchio starred in The Outsiders (1983) and quickly became a fan favorite. But landing the role of Daniel LaRusso, took him to a whole new level (he also starred in the sequels and will be in the new movie, too).

After The Karate Kid he went on to star in My Cousin Vinny (1992) and also appeared on several sitcoms including The Ties that Bind, How I Met Your Mother, Ugly Betty and The Deuce. He even appeared in 2011’s Dancing with the Stars.

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Macchio then landed on Cobra Kai and interest in him increased exponentially. In 2022, Macchio published his memoir, Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me. He said in an interview with EW that, “The Karate Kid has never gone away, certainly not for me. I kept thinking what a unique story I have, and walking in the shoes of this character, who has become such an inspirational character to so many generations around the world. I felt it was a unique story to tell.”

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Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi

Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi
1984/; Michael Caulfield Archive / Contributor/ Getty

Born on June 28, 1932, in Isleton, California, Pat Morita played the role of Mr. Miyagi, the wise and compassionate martial arts master who becomes Daniel’s mentor and father figure. He was a fan favorite and audiences remember how he caught flies with chopsticks and taught Daniel how to learn karate by doing chores such as “wax on, wax off.” Morita was a beloved character in a beloved movie, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for his role.

Prior to The Karate Kid, Morita gained recognition for his role as Arnold Takahashi in the television sitcom Happy Days. But it was his role as Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid (and its sequels) that brough him fame.

In addition to film, he also appeared on TV playing Grandpa Woo in The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo and the role of Uncle Pat in Adventures with Kanga Roddy. He also provided the voice of the Emperor in the Mulan Disney movies.

Morita passed away in 2005 at the age of 73.

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William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence: The Karate Kid

William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence in the The Karate Kid
1984/; Charley Gallay / Stringer/ Getty

Born on October 20, 1965, in New York City, William Zabka played the role of Johnny Lawrence, Daniel’s primary antagonist and the leader of the Cobra Kai dojo.

Ironically, The Karate Kid was Zabka’s first movie and he didn’t think he was going to get the part. He told EW, “When I read the Karate Kid script, as I turned the pages, I was like, ‘I’m never getting this part. He’s a black belt; I didn’t know karate. He’s a motorcycle gang leader; I don’t know how to ride a motorcycle. He’s mean — the last thing I did was a milk commercial, maybe an M&Ms commercial. They’re never gonna see me as this gang karate guy.'” Luckily, he landed the role and audiences fell in love with their favorite bad guy.

Zabka went on to appear in the rest of The Karate Kid movies and the Cobra Kai series. He also appeared in other shows including How I Met Your Mother and The Equalizer. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film for Most, a Czech film he co-wrote and co-produced.

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Elisabeth Shue as Ali Mills

Elisabeth Shue as Ali Mills
1984/; Mike Marsland / Contributor/ Getty

Born on October 6, 1963, in Wilmington, Delaware, Elisabeth Shue played the role of Ali Mills, Daniel’s love interest and a popular high school student caught between Daniel and Johnny.

She told EW, “It was my first movie, and Ralph was this big movie star. He was in a double banger, which is like one big trailer cut in half, and then we were in honeywagons, which were these teeny boxes. We were all so jealous that he had a manager — like whoa, he’s so important.” She was excited to reunite with Macchio and Zabka in Cobra Kai.

“It was so fun to realize that all of our chemistry was exactly the same. My chemistry with Ralph was the same, the same with Billy—it was odd! It was literally like a high school reunion; it felt like no time had passed. We kept reminiscing and laughing, constantly reliving the first Karate Kid every minute between takes. Nonstop reminiscing about our experience and laughing about what a great movie it turned out to be.”

Of course, as an actress, Shue excelled in many roles. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas. She also appeared in Battle of the Sexes (2017), Death Wish (2018), and Greyhound (2020). She also did well on TV, appearing as a regular on CSI as Julie Finlay, as well as Madelyn Stillwell on The Boys.

Her most recent TV roles were playing Anne in the show On the Verge and Bonnie in the show Super Pumped.

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Martin Kove as John Kreese: The Karate Kid

Martin Kove as John Kreese in the The Karate Kid
1984/; Greg Doherty / Contributor/ Getty

Born on March 6, 1947, in Brooklyn, New York, Martin Kove played the role of John Kreese, the ruthless sensei of the Cobra Kai dojo who instills a win-at-all-costs mentality in his students.

Prior to playing John Kreese, Kove was known for his role portraying Police Detective Isbecki, on the television series Cagney & Lacey (1981). Then he got the career-defining role in The Karate Kid franchise. While he continued to appear in TV shows and dozens of films, including Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Diagnosis Murder, it’s the role of John Kreese that people remember most. In addition to appearing in The Karate Kid sequels, he also appeared as the head instructor of Cobra Kai.

He told Forbes, “We do a lot of panels and autograph shows and the same three factors as to why people feel such an affinity with the movie always come up. The first is that they were being bullied in 1984 and they identify with the resolution of that, the second is they were a fish out of water and were moving around a lot, and the third one is that they had a romance that didn’t work out.”

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Randee Heller as Lucille LaRusso

Randee Heller as Lucille LaRusso
1984/; Amanda Edwards / Contributor/ Getty

Born on June 10, 1947, in Brooklyn, New York, Randee Heller played the role of Lucille LaRusso, Daniel’s supportive and loving mother who encourages him to persevere in the face of adversity.

Even after 40 years, Heller and Macchio still stay in touch. Heller told Vulture, “We’ve been hooking up over e-mails and texting each other ever since the Karate Kid remake. No, I didn’t see it. But it’s always, “Hi, mom!” He calls me mom.”

Prior to playing Lucille LaRusso, Heller was on the series Soap, playing the controversy (at that time) role of Alice, a lesbian character. Heller went on to appear in several other TV shows, including Mama Malone, before getting her career-defining role in The Karate Kid.

After that, she went back to TV and was a regular on several shows including Boys Will Be Boys, Judging Amy, Mad Men, and Wilfred. Most recently, she’s had appearances in Cobra Kai and was in the 2024 movie Destroy All Neighbors.

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