Can You Watch Cobra Kai Without Seeing The Karate Kid Movies First?

Whether audiences can watch Cobra Kai without having seen the Karate Kid movies is a question that has always followed the popular sequel series.

Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid and a Cobra Kai poster

Summary

  • Cobra Kai can be enjoyed as a standalone story without having seen the Karate Kid movies, as it introduces new characters and tells a new story that works for both long-time fans and new audiences.
  • However, watching the original Karate Kid movies greatly enhances the viewing experience of Cobra Kai, as the show is filled with callbacks, parallels, and deep-cut Easter eggs that reference the events and characters from the films.
  • The Karate Kid movies directly acknowledged in Cobra Kai are The Karate Kid, The Karate Kid Part II, and The Karate Kid Part III.

Whether audiences can enjoy Cobra Kai without having seen the Karate Kid movies first is a question that has followed the show since its first episode. Cobra Kai is one of many reboots of beloved franchises from the past, yet the show achieved something that most similar projects did not. Cobra Kai found the right balance between pandering to nostalgia and doing something new, resulting in a unique series that is both a legacy sequel to The Karate Kid and a new story.

Cobra Kai season 6 will be the show’s final, with the high-stakes Sekai Taikai tournament set to be the series’ endgame. Based on how Cobra Kai season 5 ended, the final season will include several Karate Kid characters, as well as the multiple ones created for the show. Cobra Kai is always trying to find the balance between Karate Kid references and original storylines, which is why the importance of the movies to the show's plot can sometimes be confusing.

You Can Watch Cobra Kai Without Having Seen Karate Kid

Cobra Kai poster and a scene from The Karate Kid

Cobra Kai does not require audiences to have seen the Karate Kid movies first. In other words, Cobra Kai works as its own story and can be watched by those who have never seen the Karate Kid films. While having context on the stories of Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso adds a lot to the experience of watching Cobra Kai, the legacy series tells a new story with plenty of new characters. This is particularly true for Cobra Kai season 1, which did not bring too many original Karate Kid names back. Instead, Cobra Kai introduced a new set of young characters.

Cobra Kai’s cast includes many newcomers, and while characters such as Johnny and Daniel are a major part of the show, the series exists beyond them. For example, Cobra Kai’s Miguel Diaz is introduced as someone with no ties to any of the Karate Kid movies. Even the stories of Sam LaRusso and Robby Keene, who are directly tied to the original film through their respective dads, work without the context of the Karate Kid movies. Cobra Kai is an arguably perfect reboot, as it does not ignore what came before but brings a brand new story that works for long-time fans and new audiences alike.

Cobra Kai Is Much Better If You Have Seen Karate Kid

Cobra Kai's Terry Silver and Mike Barnes

Someone who is planning to watch Cobra Kai can enjoy the show without having seen any of the Karate Kid movies. That said, Cobra Kai works much better for those who have seen at least the original Karate Kid. Every Cobra Kai season is filled with callbacks to the Daniel LaRusso films, from returning characters to deep-cut Easter eggs. There are arguably two main storylines in Cobra Kai – the one about the young characters and their dynamics, and the one about the shared history of Daniel and Johnny. Cobra Kai season 1 flips the story of The Karate Kid, now with Johnny as the protagonist and Daniel as the antagonist.

Even though the stories of characters like Miguel, Sam, Robby, and Tory do not rely on the events of Karate Kid, they include dozens of parallels to the original movies. Miguel is the “karate kid” of Cobra Kai season 1, not to mention all the Karate Kid tropes that Cobra Kai has flipped throughout five seasons. In addition, after the returns of characters like Kreese, Chozen, Terry Silver, and Mike Barnes, Cobra Kai’s later seasons have become intrinsically tied to the Karate Kid films. Cobra Kai season 5’s ending included long-awaited rematches and fights that cleverly pandered to nostalgia, which only really lands for those who have seen the films.

Which Karate Kid Movies You Have To Watch Before Cobra Kai

A scene from Karate Kid 3 and Daniel LaRusso in Cobra Kai

There are five Karate Kid movies, and not every one of them is connected to Cobra Kai. As of Cobra Kai season 5, the only movies the show directly acknowledges are The Karate Kid, The Karate Kid Part II, and The Karate Kid Part III. Those are the Karate Kid films starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi. Morita would return for The Next Karate Kid, which starred Hilary Swank as Julie Pierce. The Next Karate Kid is part of the same continuity as the first three films, meaning that it is canon to Cobra Kai. However, Hilary Swank’s Julie never appeared in Cobra Kai.

If Hilary Swank joins the cast of Cobra Kai season 6, The Next Karate Kid will become one of the “must-watch” films for the show. The only Karate Kid film that is not canon to Cobra Kai is The Karate Kid (2010), the remake starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. The Karate Kid (2010) has no ties to the Daniel LaRusso films and has never been referenced in Cobra Kai. Interestingly, Jackie Chan, the actor, was namedropped in Cobra Kai, further suggesting that characters from The Karate Kid (2010) will never appear on the show.

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