Ralph Macchio is an anomaly as an American actor. He’s a leading man but nowadays rarely plays a leading man in the movies. If he is the leading the man, the film most likely isn’t a major movie. Macchio clearly doesn’t have the bonafides of Keanu Reeves, yet I defy anyone to dispute the idea that Macchio is every bit a natural treasure as Keanu. Yes, there are other actors with bigger and better credits on their resumes. However, is there another actor with the type of movies and roles on their resume, films in which they didn’t star, but films that would be a good deal less than what they are if Macchio wasn’t in them?
Largely known as Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid movies (and now the Netflix hit Cobra Kai), Ralph Macchio has actually been in some very seminal films. Some of those films have seen him in a starring or co-starring role capacity, while other roles show that Macchio truly understands the Stanislavskian edict that “there are no small parts, only small actors.” It is precisely this mindset that has kept him and other actors from his generation (Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell) still employed in 2020. As much of a debt as we think Macchio might (or should have) for the career that The Karate Kid wrought, during this spirited jolt to his career we thought now was the perfect time to remember the other Ralph Macchio movies you need to see.
Macchio’s performance as Johnny Cade in The Outsiders is nothing short of tragic, screen poetry. As a soulful misfit hanging out with a bunch of social misfits, it’s clear that he and his best pal Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) long for a better life for themselves. The tears Johnny sheds when he kills a rival gang member to save Ponyboy’s life feel real. The sense of calm he has after he and Ponyboy skip town to the serene countryside is palpable. Lastly, in those vulnerable moments when Macchio’s Johnny simply cries because he doesn’t seem to know what to do, we come to understand just how brave this scared as a leaf character is.
As Eugene Martone aka Lightning Boy, Ralph Macchio, at one of the biggest points in his young career, made a movie about the blues called Crossroads. In wanting to learn how to be the best blues guitarist he can, this puts his character on a collision course with an old guitar legend named Willie Brown (Joe Seneca). Together, they head out on an odyssey to the Mississippi Delta to find a lost song and get Willie out of a legitimate deal with the devil. Macchio is excellent and believable as a blues guitarist prodigy. He strikes all the right chords and is the perfect conduit for a younger generation to learn about one of the greatest forms of music ever created.
Fans may have wanted something different in 1986, but the film and Macchio’s intentions are nothing if not noble. Honorable mention to the Devil’s disciple being none other than world renowned guitar virtuoso, Steve Vai, who also shreds all of the neo-classical bits Lightning Boy crushes his opponent with in the climax. Fascinating on multiple levels.
My Cousin Vinny
This great comedy from director Jonathan Lynn (The Whole Nine Yards) isn’t a Ralph Macchio movie at all. However, in the smaller (but no less important) role of Bill Gambini, Macchio really delivers (along with Mitchell Whitfield in the role of Stan) as a guy who gets in a legal jam and has his “Cousin Vinny” (Joe Pesci) help him out. Sure, Macchio is more of a buffer between Vinny and his friend Stan, but his timing is comically perfect and really is effective in bringing a great deal of levity to the proceedings. My Cousin Vinny is a classic film. It’s one of those movies that is imminently watchable and re-watchable. It’s bolstered greatly by Macchio and his performance here.And it won co-star Marisa Tomei a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Vinny’s girlfriend.
In a film that was released the same year as The Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio is great as an “at risk” student that also isn’t the star of this film. He is part of an ensemble that includes Nick Nolte, JoBeth Williams, Judd Hirsch and Crispin Glover among others. Teachers is a look inside the halls of a high school that puts a light on problems we are still dealing with in education today. We follow Alex Jurel (Nolte) as a teacher who’s lost interest in a school system that passed a child through who couldn’t read or write. There are many stories here but the most interesting is that of Eddie Pilikian (Macchio) and Danny (Glover). These two are pals and Pilikian tries to look out for Danny as the layers are peeled back on this very dysfunctional institution. It would be nice to look back at this film and say that things have gotten better in education (and for educators), but sadly it seems like many of the problems that plagued high schools in 1984 are still here today. Macchio, as a youth who clearly sees the hypocrisy in this system, is letter perfect as the smooth talking (but unable to read) Pilikian.
The Three Wishes of Bill Grier
This interesting ABC TV movie sees Macchio in the title role. He plays a character suffering from a very rare disease in which he ages extremely rapidly. So Macchio literally had to play a young man and a much older man all in the same film. With not much time to live he gives himself the following goals: reconnect with his long lost father, play in a band, and be in love before he dies. For fans of a young Ralph Macchio who were used to the vibrance he displayed in films like Teachers and The Karate Kid, this movie was quite jarring. However, The Three Wishes of Bill Grier is a very well made film that takes a little known subject (at least for 1984) and sheds a great deal of prime time light on it.
As the screenwriter of the legendary horror/thriller Psycho, Ralph Macchio does very credible work as Joseph Stefano. In a cast that also includes Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville, and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Macchio is clearly in with a solid cast. This well done film looks at Hitchcock’s personal life as he was making the classic thriller, Psycho. Macchio may have a small role but it’s no less important given the part his real life character played in the story. Sure, the spotlight is clearly on other actors in this cast (namely Hopkins, Mirren and Johansson), but Macchio as usual does highly credible work in a film populated by solid thespians. Unfortunately, Hitchcock doesn’t seem to have nabbed the attention it is due, but that should take nothing away from what a solid movie it is and what a strong performance Macchio is able to deliver in it against some of the worlds leading actors.
Up the Academy
The biggest complaint that Macchio fans will probably levy against this film is that Macchio isn’t in it enough. In the role of Chooch, Macchio is also part of an ensemble cast that has been sent to military school to shape up. As this film came out in 1980, and it is presented by Mad Magazine, it should surprise nobody that Up the Academy is a lesser known 80s, youth comedy. Honestly, Up the Academy is a high entertaining film. It isn’t Porky’s but it doesn’t need to be. With an R rating for many different reasons, Up the Academy is directed with a sure hand from none other than Robert Downey, Sr. Macchio, as Chooch, is raw, pithy and the perfect blend of sass and street-smarts to really get under the skin of Major Vaughn (Ron Leibman). Much lesser known then many of the other talked about 80s films, Up the Academy is certainly worth 90 minutes of your time to re-discover this 80s gem and Macchio in it.
Of all the films on this list, Beer League might be the one that leaves you scratching your head. Endangered of being kicked out of their softball league, Artie DeVanzo (Artie Lange) has got to rally the troops to make sure that doesn’t happen. One of those troops just happens to be Maz (Ralph Macchio) who, while he loves alcohol and hanging out with the guys, sort of seems like he’s in with this particular team of misfits by mistake. However, Macchio has an excellent time chewing the scenery in this laugh a minute comedy. Sure, the jokes are classy, the plot is raunchy, and nothing about Beer League would ever be confused for woke, it’s still nice to see that Macchio isn’t afraid to test his range with a project like this. Lets be honest, when we think of cornball comedies filled with toilet humor, Macchio wouldn’t be our “go to guy.” This makes his turn as Maz even that much more of a triumph.