The Karate Kid is one of the most definitive teen movies of the 1980s, an era filled with teen movies. Ralph Macchio played Daniel LaRusso, a new kid in town who learns karate from the wise Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), which he uses to take down bullying members of the violent and shady Cobra Kai dojo.
Leading the villains: Johnny Lawrence. As portrayed by William Zabka, Johnny is the perfect example of an ’80s teen movie villain: rich, blonde, whiny, and pushing a weaker kid mostly for fun. Johnny gets what he deserves (via an expert crane kick from Daniel) at the All Valley Karate Tournament.
But what happened to Johnny after karate, the activity that defined him, was summarily taken away from him? He became a beer-drinking divorced guy on the other side of 40 who starts teaching karate to get his life back on track.
The first two seasons of Cobra Kai, released in 2018 and 2019, debuted exclusively on YouTube. Later renamed YouTube Originals, the subscription-based streaming service offered ad-free, long-form, original scripted entertainment. But Cobra Kai was easily the highest-profile series and thus the fledgling streamer’s signature, one of many in an increasingly crowded field that also includes industry champions like Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu.
Once Karate Kid superfans and Hollywood screenwriters Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald decided to pursue Cobra Kai as an episodic series for the small screen, securing the adaptation rights was the first order of business.
Getting the rights was a complex feat, as Karate Kid was a Columbia Pictures production, later acquired by Sony. The entertainment conglomerate owned a piece, as did the estate of the late film producer Jerry Weintraub, and Will Smith’s company Overbrook Entertainment, which brought his son Jaden Smith’s film to life in 2010. The hard part was convincing Smith to give up the rights for a series away from his son’s project.
“We went into that meeting thinking that we would tell him that Jaden could have another movie if he wanted to, but that the universe was moving into the world of series and it was important to be there.
Although the sources reveal that there was a lot of back and forth (perhaps a lot of money involved), the negotiation came to fruition and the series could begin to take shape. For their part, the negotiations with Sony were much simpler, since they were 100% willing to offer their right, knowing that it could be a success, far from thinking that the series would fall on Netflix in the future where it finally exploded.