Ralph Macchio was as wary as anyone about reviving the Karate Kid universe when he first heard the pitch for Cobra Kai: He knew what the original 1984 film meant to people, and didn’t want to seem like he was cashing in. Of course, things turned out OK: Cobra Kai is now a Netflix hit in its fifth endearing season, and has elevated rather than diminished the Karate Kid legacy. But it may not have happened if not for Creed.
The Ryan Coogler film, starring Michael B. Jordan as the son of Rocky Balboa’s rival-turned-friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), came out in 2015, just around the time that Cobra Kai creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg pitched their idea for a Karate Kid revival that would humanize Daniel LaRusso’s old rival, Johnny Lawrence, played by William Zabka. They went to Zabka first.
“Whether it’s a guy in his 40s, a woman in her 30s or someone in their 60s or a kid whose 15, it’s like, ‘This movie meant something to me,’ so why am I going to f— with that?” Macchio said in a new interview with Marc Maron on his WTF podcast, remembering his initial reluctance to a Karate Kid spinoff show. “But when they came to me with this, I’d just seen Creed, which was sort of, ‘How do you do the Rocky universe and not be Rocky?'”
Creed handles that question by making Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) a strong supporting character while focusing on a rising boxer from the next generation – Jordan’s Adonis Creed. Cobra Kai, meanwhile, examined what happened to Johnny Lawrence’s fight after a single, beautiful (but possibly illegal) kick by LaRusso rerouted Lawrence’s karate tournament dreams. LaRusso and Lawrence are still the leads, but are joined by a youthful ensemble and old friends and enemies from the Karate Kid franchise.
“Okay, who is Johnny Lawrence? What happened to this guy after he took the crane kick to the face? And where did LaRusso go?” Macchio said on the podcast. “These writers had a way into the universe. But then when they spoke about the kids, you know, Johnny’s son who becomes my student, and Miguel is sort of the millennial Daniel Russo, and [Daniel has] a daughter being overprotected. Now I start seeing, ‘Okay, yeah. It’s not just these two guys fighting about 1984… it’s gonna honor the legacy as opposed to diminish it.'”
Ralph Macchio and William Zabka are now executive producers of Cobra Kai, which jumped to Netflix in its third season after initially streaming on YouTube. Maron asked Macchio how much input he has on the scripts. He said that ultimately, the writers get final say because they have an overall vision of the show.
“The input was there from the onset,” Macchio said. “The guys are very collaborative and we’re always talking that stuff through, but they get the tiebreaker because they’re looking at the whole landscape. And so there has been push and pull throughout, but the longevity of the Cobra Kai series is a credit to them saying, ‘I know you’re feeling this, but this is that way because of what we have here.’ You could front load everything and front load all the guest stars and Cobra Kai is done in three seasons.”
Ralph Macchio is more than happy to be back as Daniel LaRusso — he’s currently on a promotional tour for his memoir Waxing On, about his career and long association with the character. You can listen to his full WTF interview here.
And Creed is going strong, too. The latest film in the series, Creed III, will be out on March 3, 2023, with Jordan returning to the lead role and Jonathan Majors playing his next opponent.
Main image: Ralph Macchio as Daniel Larusso and Mary Mouser as Samantha LaRusso in Cobra Kai.