Filmmaker John G. Avildsen, known for genuinely authentic dramas that often celebrated the heroism of everyday people, such as Rocky and The Karate Kid, has passed away according to Los Angeles Times. He was 81.
The director won an Academy Award for his work on Rocky, a modestly told, winning tale about an underdog who gets the chance to fight the heavyweight champion. Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the original script and starred, earned an Academy Award nomination; the movie won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Film Editing.
Prior to that, Avildsen had earned critical plaudits for Joe, which bracingly confronted the class and cultural differences that increasingly divided the country. Norman Wexler’s screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.
Avildsen’s next notable movie, Save the Tiger, was a mournful drama that followed a desperate, weary businessman (Jack Lemmon) who is faced with a crisis of conscience. Lemmon won an Academy Award for his performance.
Following Rocky, Avildsen made the touching and sentimental Slow Dancing in the Big City and crime thriller The Formula. Then came the black comedy Neighbors, which teamed John Belushi with Dan Aykroyd in a movie the biting, dark vision of which was ahead of its time.
Avildsen returned to a winning formula with The Karate Kid. Ralph Macchio starred as a young man from New Jersey who moves to California with his mother and soon finds himself the target of bullies. Things turn around when a wise gardener named Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) takes him under his wing and teaches him the secrets of karate.
The movie was incredibly successful, tapping into the appealing idea of an ordinary kid who conquers his enemies, not by sheer physical strength but by his brave inner strength. That was the element that tied together Rocky and The Karate Kid, as well as Avildsen’s real-life drama Lean on Me, which saw a high school principal (Morgan Freeman) bravely take on a school establishment in order to help young people.
John G. Avildsen always favored a personal approach in the movies he made. He focused on celebrating the heroism and, occasionally, the tragedy of ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances.