Can A New ‘Karate Kid’ Movie Compete With ‘Cobra Kai’?

We got a deluge of release date announcements from Sony on Friday, with Kraven The Hunter getting tossed to October 6, 2023 (the same weekend as the Venom movies). Madame Web, starring Dakota Johnson, Emma Roberts, Isabela Merced, Sydney Sweeney and Adam Scott, has been sent to February 16, 2024 (President’s Day weekend). Scott Beck and Bryan Wood’s 65 (starring Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt and Chloe Coleman) will now open March 10, 2023 (moving up six weeks, natch), while Garfield will move to Memorial Day weekend 2024. We’re getting a new schlock horror movie from Screen Gems (“untitled True Haunting”) on January 6, which means ‘nature is healing,’ while Missing (a quasi-sequel to Searching starring Storm Reid and Nia Long) will open on February 24, 2023. Oh, and we’re getting a new Karate Kid movie on June 7, 2024.

Wait, what? Yes, 14 years to the weekend that Sony’s surprisingly good The Karate Kid remake opened with $55 million and legged out to $359 million worldwide (the biggest-grossing 2-D movie of that year), we’re getting what appears to be a legacy sequel to the Karate Kid films. We have few clues as to its narrative, only that Jon Hurwitz has declared ignorance of its existence. Hurtwitz is one of the writers of Cobra Kai. Yes, there already exists an incredibly popular legacy sequel featuring all the Karate Kid characters and continuity. It’s an episodic television show birthed on YouTube which became a sensation on Netflix
. The show stars William Zabka and Ralph Macchio as their now-adult Karate Kid characters as they initially clash over the former’s decision to reopen the Cobra Kai dojo.

The first two seasons were about the younger generation of would-be karate students (Xolo Maridueña, Tanner Buchanan, Mary Mouser, etc.). However, I would argue the later seasons repeated the mistakes of recent legacy sequels in elevating the roles of the franchise vets (and fan-favorite supporting characters) at the expense of the younger, more diverse protagonists. But that’s a conversation for another day. However, it’s never less than entertaining. It is very much the ‘version’ of Karate Kid currently in vogue. Its fifth season just debuted on Netflix with 106 million hours viewed in its ‘opening weekend’. The show works both for fans of the 1980s films (two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank of the 1994 spin-off The Next Karate Kid has yet to show up) and those who just enjoy Cobra Kai on its own merits.

If Sony is digging back into the Karate Kid mythos because Cobra Kai is currently popular, Cobra Kai is present-tense popular despite the potentially silly initial premise. Like Creed and Creed II, the filmmakers behind Cobra Kai used the nostalgia-bait premise not as a crutch but as a challenge. Maybe it will be a prequel featuring a younger version of Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi. However, his backstory is (thus far) entirely one of misery and national shame (his wife and son died in childbirth while in an internment camp as he was fighting for America in the second World War). I can’t imagine it will be a theatrical sequel/finale to Cobra Kai, as I can’t imagine Netflix will go for that. Nor can I picture a concurrent Ralph Macchio-and-friends Karate Kid sequel existing outside the Cobra Kai continuity.

We’ll know when we know. I hope this isn’t a bizarro variation of Superman Returns. WB spent $270 million ($200 million not counting previously developed versions) on a sequel to Richard Donner and Richard Lester’s first two Superman movies even while present-tense audiences were thrilling to Smallville on the WB network. Or, more skewed examples, Fox reacting to the $400 million-plus success of Prometheus (which only loosely sold itself as an Alien prequel) by making the sequel an explicit Alien prequel. Ditto M. Night Shyamalan making Glass more about Unbreakable than Split. IP and nostalgia are important, but not at the expense of the currently popular (with audiences young and old) iteration. Although, apples and oranges perhaps, MGM’s Child’s Play remake was surprisingly good and didn’t stop Dan Mancini’s Chucky television show from also being quite good.

I hope this isn’t Sony betting on interest in abstract IP. Even the 2010 remake worked because it worked on its own terms. It sold itself to kids and adults as just a damn good movie with Jackie Chan as a marquee character amid a summer of cynical IP cash grabs (Prince of Persia, The Last Airbender, Sex and the City 2, Robin Hood, The A-Team, etc.) If I may end this on an optimistic note, I’m sure Sony isn’t going to spend a gazillion dollars on whatever this is. Maybe we’ll end up with a decent character drama that shines a spotlight on America’s treatment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. That would be using IP to commercially justify a story worth telling, one that (like Creed) gives underrepresented demographics their moment in the spotlight.

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