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The ‘Karate Kid’ Crane Kick vs. the ‘Deep Impact’ Comet: Which Had the Bigger Impact?

One leg. One fiery hunk of space junk. One winner.

Brian Taylor
Brian Taylor

Deep Impact came out in 1998. It’s about a giant comet hurtling through space toward Earth. If the comet hits Earth, Morgan Freeman’s President Tom Beck tells us, it will mean the end of life on the planet. Turns out, though, that the world leaders had known about the comet for a full year. As such, Russia and the United States planned to send a handful of astronauts (and a cosmonaut) into space to deposit a nuclear bomb into the comet. Upon detonation, the bomb would bust the comet up into small enough pieces that our atmosphere would disintegrate them all up. The astronauts (and cosmonaut) are able to get a bomb into the comet, but aren’t able to completely destroy it. Instead, it breaks into two separate pieces. They use a second bomb to destroy the bigger piece (and themselves), but the other piece hits Earth, splashing down into the Atlantic Ocean, causing a 3,500-foot tidal wave so gargantuan that it destroys the Atlantic coasts of four separate continents (North America, South America, Europe, and Africa). It is quite an impact.

The Karate Kid came out in 1984. It’s about a teenager who backs himself into a rivalry with the members of the Cobra Kai dojo, a group of kids from his school who are varying levels of good at karate. The teen, Daniel, learns karate from an old Asian man with a mysterious past who arranges for Daniel to fight in a tournament as a way to get to the Cobra Kai to stop bullying him. One by one, Daniel defeats the Cobra Kai in the tournament, somehow wiggling his way into the championship match against Johnny Lawrence, the most menacing member of the Cobra Kai and also the tournament’s reigning champion. After nearly being crippled, Daniel uses the crane-kick technique to score the final point he needs to defeat Lawrence. He raises his hurt leg up into the air, makes some bird-type wings with his arms, and then, when Lawrence charges to attack, Daniel springs up off his good leg and delivers a perfect kick to Lawrence’s nose. Lawrence immediately crumples, writhing around in pain from the blow. It is quite an impact.

So, the question here is obvious:

Which had the better impact? The comet when it hit the Earth in Deep Impact or the crane kick when Daniel LaRusso used it to hit Johnny Lawrence in the face?

That’s what we need to figure out. It would seem to be a problematic thing, trying to answer a question as nebulous as this one. But it’s not. The way you do it is you break up the entrants into categories and then select the better of the two impacts for each one. Then you just tally up the total and there you go. If you do that then that’s how you answer a difficult or knotty question in a tidy, easy way.

Category 1

Which impact had the biggest stakes?

If the bigger chunk of the comet had hit the planet then that was pretty much the end of the Earth as anyone knew it. The debris from the collision (it was going to hit Canada) would blot out the sun for two full years, which meant that all of the plant life on Earth was going to be dead inside of a few weeks, and all of the animals were going to be dead a ways after that. Several countries had built some underground caves for people to take shelter in so they could come out and rebuild everything after air cleared, but they were small and could only house a very tiny percentage of the population. (For example, there were 275.9 million people living in America in 1998. The caves could only hold 1 million of them.) So, basically what you’re looking at, with the impact of the comet, is total and utter ruin.

If the crane kick landed, that mostly just meant that Daniel was going to defeat the Cobra Kai, and also that he was maybe going to make out with Ali.

This category is an easy win for the comet.

(Sidebar: Can you even imagine Daniel LaRusso making out? I bet it would’ve been real weird. Like, picture them kissing and then Daniel starts putting his hands on Ali but rather than the normal rubbing and caressing he starts doing the Wax On, Wax Off move or the Sand the Floor move or the Paint the Fence move. They’re going at it and he starts into his catalog of moves and she’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, dude. What are you doing?” And he’s real sheepish like, “I … uh … I’m … painting your fence?”)

(Second sidebar: On the flip side of that, I’ll bet Mr. Miyagi was super fucking good at making out. I wonder what sort of household chores he’d have made Daniel do that would’ve secretly taught him how to be good at that, too, like he did with karate?)

Winner: Comet

Score: 1–0, Comet

Category 2

Which potential impact caused a person in the movie to do the most unrealistic thing?

The crane kick gave Daniel, otherwise waifish and timid, an almost immeasurable amount of strength and self-belief. And that’s pretty remarkable. But the potential impact of the comet gave 17-year-old Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood) enough courage to:

  • Talk a girl, Sarah, into emergency-marrying him so she could join him in the evacuation caves (his family had been given access to the caves, hers hadn’t).
  • Leave his family at the evacuation caves and go back to town to try to rescue Sarah after she decided to not go with him to the caves because her family wasn’t allowed to go with her.
  • Ride a motorcycle up a mountain with Sarah (and her baby brother) on the back of it while the tidal wave obliterated the area behind him.
  • Eventually abandon the motorcycle and just fucking sprint up the mountain, dragging Sarah (and her baby brother) with him.

I have a hard time believing there’s any real way that Daniel LaRusso would’ve really been able to win the All-Valley Karate Tournament after Mr. Miyagi taught him a few tricks and gave him a headband, but I have an even harder time believing Elijah Wood would ever ride a motorcycle up a mountain on some Vin Diesel xXx shit.

Winner: Comet

Score: 2–0, Comet

Category 3

Which impact caused the biggest change?

Well, the comet ended up changing things in three ways. First, the tidal wave was devastatingly catastrophic re: human lives. It killed millions and millions of people. So that of course is one obvious change.

Second, the tidal wave devastatingly catastrophic re: property. It caused billions upon billions of dollars of damage, leveling entire cities, washing away nearly all of New York. So that’s another obvious change.

And third, the tidal wave was devastatingly catastrophic re: the Earth’s landscape. The coastlines of four of the planet’s seven continents were instantly reshaped, which for sure carried with it a great big impact on the natural order of things.

But here’s the thing: All of those changes were only temporary. That’s the whole point of Morgan Freeman’s speech at the end of the movie: that things have to get back to normal, and that they will get back to normal. “Cities fall, but they are rebuilt,” he tells the survivors. “And heroes die, but they are remembered. We honor them with every brick we lay, with every field we sow, with every child we comfort and then teach to rejoice in what we have been regiven: our planet, our home. So now, let us begin.”

So all three of those changes will eventually settle themselves down back to ordinary.

The crane kick, however, changed things forever. For just about the whole entire movie, Johnny Lawrence disliked Daniel. He openly lusted for his downfall, and more than that, he hoped to be the one to deliver it. But at the end of the everything, after he’d been crane-kicked into oblivion, Lawrence demanded that he be the one to give Daniel the tournament’s trophy. “You’re alright, LaRusso,” he tells Daniel, while holding back his tears. “Good match.” It was the ultimate sign of reverence and admiration.

When you’re trying to measure change, the best thing to look at is permanence. You ask yourself, “Will things be the same after this?” If the answer is yes, then it wasn’t that big of a change. If the answer is no, though, then it was a big change. The Earth in the Deep Impact movie universe was going to rebuild itself, as were the people who lived on it. The Karate Kid movie universe was never the same after the crane kick. Daniel LaRusso literally crane kicked the disrespect out of Johnny Lawrence’s body. That’s the bigger change here. The crane kick wins this category.

Winner: Crane Kick

Score: 2–1, Comet

Category 4

Which impact was the most impossible to stop?

The easy answer here is the comet on account of it being a comet. It’s also the wrong answer. The Americans and the Russians had a pretty good plan in place to stop the comet from hitting Earth, and they mostly succeeded. They were able to explode the bigger chunk of it — the most deadly chunk of it — into smithereens. The crane kick, though — Johnny Lawrence wasn’t fucking with the crane kick. Nobody in America was*. It was an unstoppable move in 1984. Point for the crane kick in this category.

*Or, at least, nobody white in America was, anyway. If you’ll remember, Daniel tried the crane kick in The Karate Kid, Part II against Chozen, who was Japanese, and Chozen basically laughed at him for trying it.

Winner: Crane Kick

Score: 2–2

Category 5

Which impact forged the biggest reconciliation?

This is maybe the trickiest category to measure. In Deep Impact, the reconciliation happens between Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni), a journalist who accidentally finds out about the impending comet collision a couple of days before the president makes his public address about it, and Jason (Maximilian Schell), her estranged father that she seems to hate a whole bunch because he divorced her mother and then married a younger woman. Once she realizes that there’s no way to stop the first piece of the comet from crashing down into the ocean, she goes to visit him at his beach house. They talk for a moment, she forgives him for everything, and then they just stand there at the shore and wait for the megawave to kill them. It’s sad.

In The Karate Kid, the reconciliation happens between Daniel and Johnny, who become friends after their final fight. (If you don’t feel comfortable saying they are friends, that’s fine, but you can for sure say that they aren’t enemies anymore.) So there’s that.

Jenny and her dad vs. Daniel and Johnny is pretty much a draw. Daniel and Johnny is clearly the more memorable grudge, but I can’t say with certainty that it was more powerful than a daughter who’s upset at her father for upending her childhood, you know what I’m saying?

But then I think you have to consider the idea that Daniel and Ali had gotten into a fight earlier in the movie after Daniel mistakenly assumed her and Johnny were together after seeing Johnny force his way into an embrace with her at a party at which Daniel was working as a caterer. She eventually forgives him, but it isn’t until after the crane kick that we know they’re going to be okay as a couple, at least until The Karate Kid II gets made, anyway. So, small as that reconciliation was, you can add it up with the Daniel and Johnny one and it’s juuuuuuuust enough to give the crane kick the edge here.

Winner: Crane Kick

Final Score: 3–2, Crane Kick

So, the question again:

Which had the better impact? The comet when it hit the earth in ‘Deep Impact’ or the crane kick when Daniel LaRusso used it to hit Johnny Lawrence in the face?

The crane kick did. In a super surprise victory, the crane kick had the better impact, by a score of 3–2.