It was released on September 9, 1994. Upon its release, The Next Karate Kid was a critical and commercial failure; though many critics praised the acting and music, they ultimately saw the film as unnecessary.
Mr. Miyagi travels to Boston, Massachusetts to attend a commendation for Japanese-American soldiers, who fought in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. He meets Louisa Pierce, the widow of his commanding officer, Lieutenant Jack Pierce. At Pierce's home, they catch up on old times and war stories.
Miyagi is introduced to Pierce's granddaughter, Julie, a teenage girl struggling with anger issues due to her parents' death in a car accident. Her behavior has led to friction between Julie and her grandmother, along with her fellow students. She sneaks into the school at night to care for an injured hawk, whom she names Angel, which she keeps in a pigeon coop on the roof.
Miyagi invites Louisa to stay at his house in Los Angeles to enjoy peace and quiet tending his garden while he stays in Boston as Julie's caretaker. At school, Julie meets and befriends Eric McGowen, a security guard in training and a pledge for a shady school security fraternity, the Alpha Elite. The members are taught to enforce the school rules, mostly by using physical force, by a self-styled colonel, Dugan. In this group is Ned, the short fused leader and Dugan's toughest, strongest, and most aggressive student, who makes repeated unsuccessful sexual advances on Julie. Eric learns of Angel and promises to feed her while Julie is with Miyagi.
When Julie survives almost being hit by a car by jumping into a tiger position, she reveals to Miyagi that she was taught karate by her father, who learned from her grandfather, Miyagi's student. The next time she sneaks into the school to feed her bird, she is detected by the Alpha Elite, and chased through the school. Julie hides in the cafeteria until Ned finds her, at which point she hits a fire alarm with her backpack, causing Ned to let go of her. Escaping the school, she is arrested by the police and gets suspended for two weeks by Colonel Dugan. Miyagi uses this time to take Julie to a Buddhist monastery to teach her the true ways of karate and how to handle her anger issues.
Julie learns through direct lessons about balance, coordination, awareness and respect for all life. She befriends several monks, including the Grand Abbot. The monks host a birthday party for her, giving her a cake and an arrow that Miyagi had caught while it was in flight in a demonstration of Zen archery.
Upon Julie's return to school, she discovers that Angel is now able to fly, and Miyagi assists Julie in releasing the bird back to the wild. In preparation for the prom, Miyagi teaches Julie how to dance, and purchases her a dress. While Julie goes to the prom with Eric, Miyagi and the Buddhist monks go bowling. A local player challenges them, loses the match, and accepts their tutelage. Under the orders of Colonel Dugan, the Alpha Elite bungee jump into the prom. When one of the members breaks his arm, Eric shows concern, but Ned tells him to mind his own business.
Eric drives Julie home and kisses her. Ned follows them, and smashes Eric's car windows with a baseball bat. Ned challenges Eric to a fight at the docks, and is joined by Colonel Dugan and the Alpha Elite. They set fire to Eric's car and severely beat him, but Eric is saved by Julie and Miyagi.
Ned tries to grab Julie, but she challenges him to a fight. She holds her own, using the karate she has learned, until Ned cheats by throwing sand in her face. Despite the disadvantage, Julie defeats Ned and turns her back on him. Colonel Dugan bullies the rest of the group to continue the fight, but they refuse. Miyagi challenges Colonel Dugan to fight and wins, leaving the Alpha Elite disappointed in their instructor. The film concludes with Angel flying freely above the water.
- Noriyuki "Pat" Morita as Mr. Miyagi
- Hilary Swank as Julie Pierce
- Michael Ironside as Colonel Paul Dugan
- Constance Towers as Louisa Pierce
- Chris Conrad as Eric McGowen
- Michael Cavalieri as Ned Randall
- Walton Goggins as Charlie
- Frank Welker as Angel the Hawk (voice)
- Arsenio 'Sonny' Trinidad as Abbot Monk
All the interior and exterior high school scenes were filmed on the Brookline High School campus, except for the scene in the gymnasium. The exterior shot is the Brookline High School gym, but the interior was Cousens Gymnasium at Tufts University. Other scenes from the movie were shot in the Boston area. For example, the scenes at Julie's house were filmed in nearby Newton.
The first three movies in the series, which featured Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso, were set in Los Angeles, California. In this movie, the setting is changed to Boston, Massachusetts.
Mr. Miyagi's approach to karate-training is different as well, although he still has Julie wash cars ("Wax on, wax off") in order to teach her how to block punches and kicks. In the original 1984 film, Daniel used to think karate came from Buddhist temples; Miyagi chides him, "You watch too much TV." (Shaolin Buddhist temples were actually some of the origin locations of kung fu.) In The Next Karate Kid, Miyagi actually trains Julie at a Japanese monastery.
Because Hilary Swank could learn the advanced "flashy" moves and had trouble with the beginner moves, Pat E. Johnson, the martial arts choreographer, awarded her with a "Pink" belt, a mix of the white (beginner) and red (the one just under black in that particular style).
In all the four movies, the reunion scene is the only time Miyagi actually wears his Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is worn on a silk ribbon around the neck, not pinned through a jacket. The only other decoration issued by the United States worn in a similar manner is the Legion of Merit.
Conforming to the title changes of the first, second and third The Karate Kid films for their releases in Japan, The Next Karate Kid was renamed Best Kid 4 (ベスト・キッド4/Besuto kiddo 4); the major and obvious change is that this movie's translated title now explicitly identifies it as the fourth in the series.
John G. Avildsen, the director of the first three films in the series, dropped out of this one because he needed to direct the film 8 Seconds. As a result, Christopher Cain took over in the director's chair.
The Next Karate Kid is the only film in the series in which screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, who had written all three of the others for the screen, did not have a writing credit.
The 1994 top ten hit "You Gotta Be" by Des'ree was featured during the ending credits of the film.
The Next Karate Kid has been critically panned. However, many critics praised Swank, and it is still considered to be her break-out performance. The films consensus on Rotten Tomatoes is "The Next Karate Kid is noteworthy for giving audiences the chance to see a pre-Oscars Hilary Swank, but other than a typically solid performance from Pat Morita, this unnecessary fourth installment in the franchise has very little to offer." Stephen Holden said it "may be the silliest episode yet in the popular Karate Kid series," a film that "doesn't even try to achieve surface credibility;" about the only thing positive Holden says about the film is that Swank makes an "appealing debut."
In February 2005, upon the release of the three-DVD "Karate Kid Collection," Variety magazine called The Next Karate Kid a "boilerplate coming-of-age sequel," but notes that Swank's "plucky determination and athletic drive shines through" as she would later do in Million Dollar Baby.
The Next Karate Kid was by some margin the least successful movie of the series at the domestic box office. Indeed, the film's performance ensured that the franchise disappeared from cinemas for sixteen years, only reappearing in 2010 with a remake of the original movie. The total box office gross for The Next Karate Kid was $8.9 million, compared to $90.8 million for the original, $115.1 million for Part II, $38.9 million for Part III, and $171.8 million for the 2010 Karate Kid.
The film was released on DVD on August 28, 2001. A manufacture on demand Blu-ray release was released on September 6, 2016 as part of Sony's Choice Collection.