One of the biggest tropes in high school movies of the 1980s was “average teen overcomes the odds." You know, they eventually excel at a sport or talent, defeat the bully, and win their crush’s heart. They also learn valuable lessons along the way. Two movies that epitomized this trope were 1984’s The Karate Kid and 1985’s Teen Wolf. And with Teen Wolf having just celebrated its 35th anniversary and the first two seasons of The Karate Kid spin-off series Cobra Kai getting ready to premiere on Netflix, there’s no better time to talk about the overlap.
Featuring stars like Ralph Macchio (Karate Kid) and Michael J. Fox (Teen Wolf), these movies showed you could achieve anything with hard work. One of these two movies accomplished this goal more realistically than the other. We are, of course, talking about Teen Wolf.
What? Yes, Teen Wolf. While yes, it did have Michael J. Fox’s Scott Howard become a werewolf, this movie was more grounded than the story of Daniel LaRusso, arguably its closest companion. Here’s why.
CUT TO TRAINING MONTAGE
In any sport (karate and basketball, in these cases), there is a certain amount of training involved. Achieving a black belt in karate takes an average of five years. Following the plot of The Karate Kid, Daniel LaRusso completed five years of training in a mere three months. If this were remotely possible, he would have had to train 24/7 from the day Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) issued the initial challenge. However, he went on dates, embarrassed himself in an expensive restaurant, and argued with Miyagi about said training every other scene. If we remove all of the subplots, Daniel may have received one month of actual karate training. Regardless of what you think of the members of Cobra Kai, they at least put in the work.
Scott Howard was on the Beavers basketball team even before he gained his superpowers. Yes, being a werewolf indeed augmented his abilities, but being a werewolf didn’t grant him “super basketball know-how.” Scott at least had the fundamentals of his sport down before becoming a superstar. He could pass, dribble, and shoot. He wasn’t LeBron or Michael, obviously, but he at least wasn’t learning to follow through on his shots from a magazine in his living room.
A SUPPORT SYSTEM
And that’s how we get to how these skills are learned in the first place. When you are looking at a hero, you also need to look at the people around them. Heroes have mentors. Daniel had Mr. Miyagi, and Scott Howard had his father. (If you want a more modern example, Peter Parker has Tony Stark.)
Mentors are there to teach. They are there to bring the “tough love” if need be, but their first role is not “friend.” Despite his inadequacy, Scott had a support group of friends that helped him get through the day, good and bad. Stiles, Boof, Chubby, and even Brad were there for Scott before, during, and after his Teen Wolf time. Looking to Spidey again, when Peter was getting yelled at by Tony, he had his best friend Ned to turn to.
Daniel LaRusso had to fight bullies. He had to fight his insecurities. He had to resist the urge to tell Mr. Miyagi what he “really” thought of his “teaching” (obviously during the “wax on wax off with no context” portion of the training). However, he had no one he could sound off about these things. There was no one there for him to listen and give him advice as a peer. Nowhere during The Karate Kid did Daniel try and make a new friend. He spent the entire time pining over another boy’s girlfriend, while at the same time training to beat said boyfriend in a fight. That is not the role of a hero. That is the role of a sociopath. Had he a friend to help talk through things, he might have had a much happier start to life in California.
Before the hero can overcome adversity in these movies, they must learn essential lessons. Scott Howard learned his wolf side was only part of him. It didn’t make up 100 percent of who he was, and that’s how he was finally able to be comfortable with who the real Scott Howard was. He also learned the obligatory “letting power and popularity go to your head” lesson, which helped him realize his true love was Boof, and not Pamela Wells. Scott took these lessons and learned from them.
When it comes to Karate Kid, Daniel LaRusso learned lessons during his journey, but they were all the wrong lessons. He learned that you could supposedly cheat your way into becoming a black belt after only three months of training. He learned that if you convince your sensei to commit to a “no fighting until the tournament” rule, you can harass your "bully" to your heart’s content. Yes, Daniel had challenges, but the only thing it seemed he took from these challenges was that overcoming them was relatively easy.
One hero is a werewolf basketball player. The other is a martial arts prodigy. During the celebration of Teen Wolf’s 35th anniversary, it’s easy to see why Scott Howard is a more grounded hero than Daniel LaRusso ever was. Maybe we can learn something from a werewolf — even if that's just the best way to dunk.