The Karate Kid, a martial arts classic from 1984, has long captured the hearts of fans across the globe. Directed by John G. Avildsen, it starred Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso, the underdog who learns the art of karate from the wise Mr. Miyagi, played by Pat Morita.
It's tough to imagine anyone else donning the Karategi in these iconic roles, but there were a few casting 'what ifs' that could have shaken up the movie's line-up. Let's delve into five alternative casting choices that almost made the cut.
Charlie Sheen as Daniel LaRusso
Before Ralph Macchio snagged the lead, Charlie Sheen was handed the opportunity to play Daniel. Sheen ultimately gave it a miss, allowing Macchio to step into the spotlight as the 'Karate Kid'. It's a curiosity to think about how Sheen's presence might have shifted the film's tone and style.
Sheen turned down the role in order to star in Grizzly II: Revenge. Incredibly, that particular film never saw the light of day until 2020 despite filming beginning in 1983.
Jon Cryer as Daniel LaRusso
Before Macchio crane kicked his way to the lead role, Jon Cryer was among the contenders for the part of Daniel LaRusso. Cryer's career took flight with his role in Pretty in Pink, and it's a tantalising thought to consider how his version of Daniel might have influenced the film's trajectory.
Cryer wrote in his autobiography So That Happened, that whilst auditioning for the iconic role he found the dialogue “dumb and clichéd”.
Robert Downey Jr. as Daniel LaRusso
Another young gun considered for the role of Daniel LaRusso was Robert Downey Jr. Though he would later find immense success as Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's a ripper of a thought to ponder what The Karate Kid might have looked like with Downey Jr. as the underdog hero.
In the early 80s, 'RDJ' and Ralph Macchio often competed for the same roles. Macchio also beat out the legendary actor to 1983s The Outsiders. Downey Jr, as we know, would eventually land on his feet and appeared in 1985 sci-fi classic Weird Science.
Nicolas Cage as Daniel LaRusso
Nicolas Cage, renowned for his versatile acting chops and unique screen presence, was also in the running for the role of Daniel LaRusso. Despite his impressive filmography now, he was eventually passed over for the lead in the seminal 1984 classic due to lack of experience.
Cage has tackled an array of roles in his career, and it's a fascinating thought to imagine how his take on the character might have shaped the film's overall tone and direction.
Toshiro Mifune as Mr. Miyagi
At the outset, Japanese film legend Toshiro Mifune was the top pick for the role of Mr. Miyagi. Known for his collaborations with director Akira Kurosawa, Mifune had a sterling reputation. However, the film's producers decided to go with Pat Morita, believing he'd bring a more relatable touch to the character for Western audiences.
Ultimately, the casting choices for The Karate Kid led to a classic film that still resonates with audiences today. Nonetheless, it's always a bit of fun to think about how these alternate casting scenarios might have affected the movie and its lasting appeal. As they say, everything happens for a reason, and it’s hard to imagine this film without Ralph Macchio, despite the stellar names that appear on this list.
To listen to this discussion - including who the team would've casted if not for Macchio - and more, listen to this week's episode of Goals on Film, 1984 martial arts drama, The Karate Kid on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.