As one audience member whispered shortly before the Karate Kid 30th-anniversary panel at New York Super Week, “I can’t believe I’m in a room with multiple people who know who Billy Zabka is.” The actor, who played bleached-blond villain Johnny in the film, visited the 92nd Street Y Saturday night to share their fond memories of the film alongside co-stars Ralph Macchio and Martin Kove (who played John Kreese, the leader of the Cobra Kai dojo).
1. They knew immediately the movie would be a hit.
Macchio can remember the exact date he saw the finished film for the first time: May 18, 1984, in a packed house in New York’s Coronet Theater. “It was an out-of-body experience.” After the movie was done, he walked out onto the street: “From 5-year-olds to 65-year-olds, everybody was doing the Crane Kick. One of the producers was there, and he told me, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna be making a couple of these.’”
2. To maintain a sense of mystery, the Cobra Kais trained separately from Macchio.
As Kove recalls, fight coordinator Pat Johnson tried to “create a mystique” around the Cobra Kai by keeping them apart from the rest of the cast. But Macchio and Zabka worked closely to rehearse the film’s final fight scene. “I take a lot of credit for the Crane Kick, but a lot of credit goes to Billy for [faking] the hit,” Macchio said. “I was like two feet away.”
3. Tiger Beat photo shoots were about as glamorous as you might expect.
“It not like you were shooting the cover of Rolling Stone with Annie Leibovitz,” Macchio explained. “It was some guy named Howard with a beard. ‘Pick up the phone, and pretend you’re calling your mom.’” Zabka’s experience was worse: “Some guy took me to the beach behind the rocks. Then it was ‘Can you rip your tank top a little more? Can you get in the water? Can you let the wave hit you?’ Now it’s on the internet.”
4. Zabka still owns his Karate Kid action figure.
It’s one of his son’s favorite toys: “He always asks, ‘Where’s your doll? I want to play with you.’” Macchio treasures his own plastic doppelgänger for different reasons: “He had the muscle definition and the pecs [that I didn’t].”
5. Daniel shouldn’t have won the final match.
As one eagle-eyed viewer pointed out, Daniel’s final blow on Johnny didn’t count, as it was in the face. But Daniel’s Crane Kick also hit Johnny in the face — and it won him the match. Even Macchio agreed: Johnny was robbed. As Kove exclaimed, “I’ve been living with this for 30 years!”