How Many Karate Kid Movies Are There – and Which Is the Best?

The original Karate Kid debuted in 1984, but there have been multiple films since then. Here's a quick recap of the movies and which one is the best.

Cobra Kai has been one of the best television surprises of the past few years. Starting as a YouTube Red original, The Karate Kid revival series relocated to Netflix ahead of Season 3. Since then, it has been a huge streaming success.

Cobra Kai follows the adult lives of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) as they train a new generation of karate kids in the San Fernando Valley. One of the best parts about the series is its regular use of characters from the original films. But just how many Karate Kid films have there been, and which one is the best?

How Many Karate Kid Movies Are There?

The original Karate Kid came out in 1984, starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi. The film told the story of how Mr. Miyagi met a young Daniel and taught him karate with some pretty unconventional methods. In doing so, Daniel learned how to defend himself from the bullies at school. However, more than the physical conflict in the film, Mr. Miyagi’s lessons taught Daniel how to overcome his fear and rise to the challenges that he faced in everyday life. While most people are probably familiar with the original Karate Kid film, some might be surprised to find out that there’s actually a whole franchise worth of films.

The Karate Kid II came out in 1986, and it showed Mr. Miyagi and Daniel traveling to Okinawa. There, Miyagi had to deal with a life-long feud with an old friend-turned-rival. Along the way, Daniel found a new love interest and a new feud of his own. While deepening his understanding of Miyagi’s family karate, Daniel survived a fight to the death in the film’s closing minutes. In 1989, a final LaRusso-centric Karate Kid debuted. Back in the US, Daniel had a falling out with Mr. Miyagi and decided to train with another sensei. However, it was all part of Terry Silver’s big plot to make Daniel lose at the All-Valley tournament. In the last act, Daniel apologized to Mr. Miyagi, and they teamed up to win yet another match.

A few years later, in 1994, Mr. Miyagi returned for the lesser-known The Next Karate Kid. This time, his student was Julie Pierce (Hilary Swank). Mr. Miyagi traveled to a funeral for his former commanding officer, and there, he met the man’s granddaughter — Julie. She already knew some karate from her grandfather, so Mr. Miyagi helped her reign in her anger. The final Karate Kid movie came out in 2010, starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. Other than relocating the setting to China and swapping karate for kung fu, the remake almost completely followed the original’s plot.

Which Karate Kid Movie Is Best?

In terms of critical reception, the original Karate Kid is the best by far. The film was hailed as one of the best sleeper films in 1984, and its Rotten Tomatoes score sits at an admirable 89 percent. Even though it has a predictable plot and makes use of common villain tropes, The Karate Kid is timeless for its lessons and the great performances by Morita and Macchio. Not surprisingly (since it tells the same story), the 2010 remake has the second-highest score with 66 percent. The other three films impressed critics less and less. The Karate Kid II holds a 44 percent, The Karate Kid III has a 13 percent (although Cobra Kai has helped fan perception of the film) and The Next Karate Kid has a seven percent. So it seems there can be too much of a good thing, but the highly successful Cobra Kai has revitalized the franchise and will likely continue to take inspiration from its classic source material.

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