Today’s movie is one of the most famously successful video game film adaptations of all time: 1995’s Mortal Kombat.
The screenplay for Mortal Kombat was written by one Kevin Droney, who only had a few scattered credits writing for television shows like Highlander and Hunter at the time. Since Mortal Kombat, he only wrote one other feature: Wing Commander, also based on a successful video game.
Mortal Kombat was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who has also been behind such movies as Pompeii, Resident Evil, and Event Horizon.
The cinematographer for Mortal Kombat was John R. Leonetti, who also shot movies like The Conjuring, Insidious, I Know Who Killed Me, Joe Dirt, The Scorpion King, The Mask, and Child’s Play 3.
The music for Mortal Kombat was composed by George S. Clinton, who has also worked on such films as The Love Guru, Beverly Hills Ninja, American Ninja 2, and American Ninja 3.
The makeup effects for Mortal Kombat were provided by a team that included Moni Mansano (Hook, Ninja III: The Domination, Revenge of the Ninja), Thomas Floutz (Face/Off, Critters, From Beyond), Eileen Kastner-Delago (Thor, Cliffhanger), and Raqueli Dahan (True Detective, Kingpin, The Usual Suspects).
The special effects team for the film was composed of Joanne Bloomfield (Tremors II, Galaxy Quest), Duncan Capp (Troy, The Brothers Grimm), Michael Dawson (A View to a Kill, Judge Dredd), Michel Gagne (Space Jam, Vampire in Brooklyn, Demolition Man), Patrick Gerrety (Red Planet, Con Air, Theodore Rex), Alec Gillis (Leviathan, Wolf), David Hoehn (Space Truckers, Wolf, Anaconda), Tom Woodruff, Jr. (Wolf, Leviathan), Patricia Villalobos (Leprechaun 3, Slither), Ron Trost (The Omega Code), Kirk Skodis (Small Soldiers, Prehysteria), and Alison Savitch (Simon Sez).
The Mortal Kombat visual effects team included common elements with such films as Life of Pi, Batman & Robin, Minority Report, Congo, Daredevil, Red Planet, Theodore Rex, Predator 2, Super Mario Bros, Captain America, Bordello of Blood, and TRON.
The team of producers for Mortal Kombat included Lawrence Kasanoff (Foodfight!, Class of 1999, Blood Diner, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud) and Robert Engelman (Mystery Men, Kazaam, Blade, Shocker, From Justin To Kelly).
The cast of Mortal Kombat includes Christopher Lambert (Highlander 2, Fortress, The Gaul), Robin Shou (Death Race, Beverly Hills Ninja), Linden Ashby (Teen Wolf, Melrose Place), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Vampires, License To Kill), Bridgette Wilson (Billy Madison), and Talisa Soto (License To Kill).
The production of Mortal Kombat was plagued with casting difficulties from the onset. First, Brandon Lee (Laser Mission) was selected to be Johnny Cage, but tragically died during the filming of The Crow. Then, Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down the role to star in a rival video game movie adaptation: Street Fighter. Rumors have also circulated that Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp were both approached for the role, but turned it down. Adding to the troubles, Cameron Diaz was apparently at one point set to play the part of Sonya Blade, but had to back out due to an injury before filming began.
The soundtrack to Mortal Kombat was particularly huge, going platinum in less than two weeks after its release. The music was a mix of techno and dance, integrating clips from the the original game audio, which proved to resonate with fans.
Steven Spielberg, a fan of the video game, was apparently supposed to appear in a cameo role during the introductory Johnny Cage scene, but scheduling conflicts ultimately prevented him from doing so.
Mortal Kombat was of course a massively controversial video game due to its violent and graphic fatalities, leading to significant public outcry against it. The film, on the other hand, is not particularly gory, and even received a PG-13 rating by the MPAA.
Not only did Mortal Kombat receive a sequel in Moral Kombat Annihilation, but a number of attempts have popped up over the years to reboot the franchise on film. Currently, James Wan (Saw, Furious 7) is reportedly attached to an upcoming adaptation by Warner Brothers, which is set tentatively set to release sometime in 2016. There is also an ongoing web series based on the game called Mortal Kombat Legacy, which was created after the positive reception to the short film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth.
The reception to Mortal Kombat was generally pretty poor: it currently holds a 5.8 rating on IMDb, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 33% (critics) and 58% (audiences). In spite of the negative reviews, the movie managed to rake in a whole lot of money: it grossed $122 million worldwide in theaters on a budget of $18 million.
Personally, I feel like Mortal Kombat is one of the more loyal video game movie adaptations out there, with the exception of the lack of gore (which is notable). However, the character designs and fighting arenas all look like they could be pulled straight out of the games, and the fighting sequences aren’t too shabby. While the lack of gore is a huge issue for this movie, I can’t imagine a more faithful adaptation under a PG-13 rating.
All of that said, just because a movie is accurate to the game doesn’t make it a good film. The game Mortal Kombat is more or less plotless, and doesn’t really connect one fight scene to the next. That means that the screenplay for the movie was on its own in regards to connective tissue to string the fights together, and it didn’t do a particularly good job of it. When a fight scene isn’t in progress, this movie is just…dull. The characters and plot, while fine and good for the purposes of a fighting game, are really boring when applied to a movie that requires progress and character development.
It is worth noting that the very idea of a PG-13 Mortal Kombat movie is a bit bizarre and soulless to start with. Clearly, the only reason to make the movie PG-13 was so that it could be marketed to a younger audience, and thus increase its potential at the box office. However, the game is intentionally violent and catered to an adult audience, so making the movie sanitized for the purpose of reaching out to early teens (and younger) is just kind of icky. I personally think an R-rated movie with more realistic and brutal violence is more appropriate than the cartoonish and bloodless affair in this film. Realistically, which one of those is setting a worse understanding of the consequence of violence at the end of the day? Also, and more importantly, an R-rated Mortal Kombat would be way more entertaining.
Overall, Mortal Kombat isn’t an absolutely awful movie, at least when put side-to-side with other video game adaptations (like its sequel, or the many Uwe Boll features). I do think most of its value at this point comes from nostalgia more than anything else, though I am always a big fan of Christopher Lambert hamming it up in a campy movie. I feel about the same way about this movie as I do about Super Mario Bros: I’ll watch it and enjoy it out of a sense of nostalgia, but there isn’t really any doubt that this qualifies as a bad movie. I think its reputation is worse than it deserves from fans due to the lack of gore, but it also isn’t deserving of any props.
If you are going on a 90s kick and are looking for a way to extend your nostalgia trip, pop in Mortal Kombat. It can serve that purpose well enough.