Here’s the plot: a lower working-class Italian-American goes the distance and takes a shot at the championship. Along the way he learns about life and love, and what he is really made of.
In 1976 Sylvester Stallone and John Avildsen brought to film the great American underdog story with Rocky. Eight years later Avildsen wrote and directed The Karate Kid, a “Rocky goes to high school” film that tapped into the same themes and ideas. Hell, Karate Kid tapped into many of the same plot points as Rocky.
With this in mind, we ask the burning question of our age: which movie wins in a head to head match-up? Rocky or The Karate Kid?
Employing traditional critical analysis doesn’t work. Sure, you might find the answer to which film is better, but traditional analysis won’t answer which film wins.
Using a complicated and esoteric algorithm (okay, not so much an algorithm as it was the subject of a rambling conversation I had with my wife last weekend over a few beers) we were able to break down each movie’s essential components and rank them accordingly. So who’s the winner?
Let’s get to it, shall we?
The Karate Kid—Johnny and the Cobra Kai
Poor Daniel-son. Not only does he have to fight Johnny, but he also has to stand up to the vicious Cobra-Kai thugs. Throughout the film Daniel is bullied and beaten repeatedly by Johnny and his cruel sycophants. You have to wonder about the parents of these Cobra-Kai kids. “Hey hon, Johnny wants to learn Karate! I know this dangerous and unstable army vet who would be a perfect teacher!” Classic flat character bad guys. Best line from the Cobra Kai: “Sweep the leg, Johnny!”
Obviously based on Muhammad Ali the character of Apollo Creed is the heavyweight champ who gives Rocky the shot at the title. Although he’s portrayed as arrogant, he’s not an unsympathetic character. In Fact, he’s perhaps the most interesting character in the movie. Sure, you rooted for Rock. But ask yourself this: who would you rather hang out with, Creed or Rocky? And then ask yourself this: who do you remember more, Chuck Wepner or Muhammad Ali? Yeah, I thought so.
The Winner: Apollo Creed. Because Carl Weathers is super-fucking cool. And so is Ali.
The Karate Kid—Mr. Miyagi
A cross between Yoda and Toshiro Mifune, Mr. Miyagi is not only Daniel’s mentor and best friend, he’s also the heart and soul of the movie. He teaches Daniel karate, in addition to providing instruction on life, love, and philosophy. Plus, he drives a rad car, and is able to fix potentially serious knee injuries by rubbing his hands together. (Side note: apparently Toshiro Mifune was originally considered for the role of Miyagi, but some idiot producer said, “I think getting Japan’s greatest actor would be a mistake, let’s get Arnold from Happy Days instead!”)
Mickey is the cantankerous old pug who serves as Rocky’s trainer. He considered Rocky “a bum” until Rock gets the title fight—then he’s suddenly Rocky's best friend. His training regimen includes witty and acerbic quips in addition to chasing chickens in an alley.
The Winner: Mr. Miyagi. Look, Mickey is a cool old bird, but don’t you think Rocky would have been better served by a trainer who actually, you know, trained him how to box rather than calling him names and having hime chase chickens around? Mr. Miyagi, on the other hand, used defense as the foundation of his training regimen, dispensed great advice, gave Daniel his first drink, and even gave him a car. Oh, I forgot to mention, Miyagi also won the Medal of Honor. Plus did you see that bitchin’ pad Miyagi lived in? Couple this with his mysterious hand-rubbing thingie, and I’d say Miyagi does better with the ladies than Mickey. Party at Miyagi’s hizouse!
Little party at Miyagi's pad this past weekend. It was off the hook!
The Love Interest
The Karate Kid—Ali Mills
The hot, rich girl who used to date Johnny.
The ugly, poor girl who is the sister of Rocky’s alcoholic and racist friend Paulie.
The Winner: Ali Mills. Well, besides being hot, and Elizabeth Shue, Ali is actually supportive of Daniel, and provides emotional support. She also socks Johnny in the jaw when he gets fresh, and even commits minor theft for her Daniel (she lifts the black belt that will allow Daniel to compete in the All Valley Karate Championship). Adrian, on the other hand, is a drag, a dullard, totally dismissive of Rocky’s chosen profession. Jeez, she doesn’t even watch him fight (way to support your fella). Subsequent films further this conflict to the point that Rocky had to basically kill her so he can fight in the last Rocky movie. (And we forgive Ali for dumping Daniel at the beginning of Karate Kid 2, because this allows Daniel to hook up with the hot chick in Okinawa.) Ali was the perfect girl friend—Adrian was the perfect wet blanket.
The Karate Kid—Bill Conti and forgettable 80s synth hits
Super gooey disposable pop hits populate The Karate Kid. Commuter’s “Young Hearts,” the water-park-falling in love ballad of Baxter Robinson’s “Feel the Night,” and of course the classic Joe Espisito anthem “You’re the Best.” Bill Conti composed the instrumental scores—apparently he was not smoking the same primo stuff he was when he composed Rocky's “Gonna Fly Now.”
Bill "the man" Conti
“Gonna Fly Now.” Dude. Maynard Ferguson totally rocks this bitch in concert.
The Winner: Bill Conti for “Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)” C’mon, did you really think Rocky wouldn’t win best soundtrack? And seriously, broham, Ferguson rocks the Rocky...in a Member’s Only jacket. Word. Did you see the size of that key-tar? And there was even a flute solo in there! Maynard Ferguson: He made sucking sound so much fun!
Maynard Ferguson rockin' the theme from Rocky
The Fighting Style
The Karate Kid—Solid defense and “The Crane”
Rocky—punishing body attack, street fighter, uses face as a shield.
The Winner: “The Crane.” I know, I know, Rocky’s fighting style is supposed to be this grand metaphor for hanging in there when you get hit—to keep fighting, even when life is beating you down, and blah, blah, blah. But I think I'd just as soon learn how to actually defend myself. And anyway, “The Crane” is super-cool—certainly better than getting hit in the face repeatedly.
The Karate Kid—Daniel LaRusso
Working-class Italian-American kid from Jersey fighting to fit in out in Cali. Learns Karate. De-flowers rich WASP chick. Discovers the true meaning of friendship and love.
Rocky—Rocco “The Italian Stallion” Balboa
Working-class Italian-American boxer and organized crime enforcer from Philly fighting to stay off of welfare. Learns that he can take a beating. De-flowers racist friend’s sister. Discovers that he may actually be mentally retarded.
The Winner: Daniel LaRusso. This wasn’t even close. Sure, Daniel is kind of whiney and annoying through most of The Karate Kid while Rocky is the picture of stoic resolve. But the thing is, Daniel is like 17 years old and 17 year olds whine, a lot. It’s what they do. Hell, I think I’d whine too if I had been uprooted from my home during my senior year of high school. And furthermore, let’s look at what each protagonist faced. Rocky only had to face Apollo Creed, the greatest fighter in the world. Big fuckin’ deal. Daniel had to confront a new school, class discrimination, the awkwardness of first love, learning a completely new discipline (Rocky already knew how to fight, Daniel did not), a working mother who was not at home much, bullies, and trigonometry class. Let’s just agree that Daniel had a bit more on his plate, and unlike Rocky, he actually wins in the end…
The Karate Kid—A Musical Montage of the All Valley Karate Championship highlights.
Rocky—A brutal and visceral montage of a war in the ring.
The Winner: The Karate Kid. I know what you’re thinking: “What? The Karate Kid? Dude, the fight scenes in Rocky are brilliant, wonderfully shot (not as great as “Raging Bull” but pretty frickin’ great)! How can you justify awarding the Karate Kid as the better fight sequence?” Well, here’s the thing reader-son: unlike Rocky, Daniel ACTUALLY WINS THE FIGHT! He wins the championship! Yay, Daniel!
So who's the winner? Which movie wins the championship?
Ladies and gentlemen! With a score of 5 to 2, the winner of The Karate Kid vs. Rocky Showdown is…
THE KARATE KID!
In a shocking upset the heart-warming story of the young man who learns about love and friendship beats the story about the mentally retarded man who learns that Apollo Creed hits harder than Spider Rico.
So here’s to you Karate Kid. You are the winner. You are THE BEST AROUND!