Mortal Kombat! It is 2020, in the year of our Lord Raiden, and I’m still debating which is better: Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. And with a new Mortal Kombat movie coming (and a new Street Fighter movie NOT coming soon), it got me really nostalgic for two of my favorite video game franchises, and the so-bad-they’re-good movies that came out back in the ‘90s.
But which one of these is the best “bad” movie? On your left you have the Raul Julia/Jean-Claude Van Damme epic Street Fighter, and on the right, you have the Robin Shau/Christopher Lambert masterpiece Mortal Kombat. I’m going to be ranking them on a number of key issues, and by the end, there will be a victor. It has begun!
Every fighting game has characters (or Kombatants) to choose from. Were the characters in these respective games represented well in the movies?
The first Mortal Kombat movie (Let us never speak of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) came out a few months after Mortal Kombat 3 hit arcades, but it still pretty much only had Mortal Kombat 1's roster (unless you count Jax and Kitana). But that’s just fine, because each of the game’s characters were pretty much represented accurately as they were in the game. Especially Kano, played by the late Trevor Goddard.
And let’s not forget Goro, who was mind-blowing back in the day and just as terrifying as he was in the first MK game. Overall, the director, Paul Anderson did a great job of replicating the feel of every character in the original MK. Nice work.
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way. All-American Guile was played by the “Muscles from Brussels” Jean-Claude Van Damme, and he definitely didn't even try to put on an American accent. But that was actually kind of his charm. Oh, and M. Bison was played by the magnificent Raul Julia, who also starred in The Addams Family. He delivered lines like, “For you; the day Bison graced your village was the most important day in your life. But for me…it was Tuesday,” as if he was vying for the Oscar.
They’re the highlight, but the rest of the cast just felt wrong. Yes, pretty much all the characters from Super Street Fighter II were present (except for Fei Long), but the characters just didn’t feel like the ones from the arcade game. Especially Dhalsim, who was like a scientist or something? Kylie Minogue played a pretty decent Cammy, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’s Ming-Na Wen was an okay Chun-Li, but otherwise, the rest of the cast was just plain awful.
The Victor: Mortal Kombat
As always, quality beats quantity. And even though the Street Fighter movie had a lot more characters from the game in it, Mortal Kombat used the limited number they had much more effectively.
The Fighting Moves
You can’t have a fighting game without fighting moves. And the cooler they look, the better they are, right? So how do they look in these two respective movies? Well…
The moves in Mortal Kombat looked awesome! I mean, if you want fan service in your video game movies, you got it with Mortal Kombat. Scorpion’s spear. Liu Kang’s bicycle kick (FROM MK 2!), hell, they even got Johnny Cage’s nutcracker in there when he delivered it to Goro.
Seriously, when I saw this movie as a kid in the theater, I was literally standing up out of my seat half the time since I was excited out of my mind. And when the film ended, I rushed over to the arcade, got some tokens, and played some Mortal Kombat 2. Man… those were the days.
All I can say is that I got a big E. Honda splash of disappointment when I saw Street Fighter in the theater back in 1994. Where were all the cool moves from the game? Yes, Guile did his flash kick, and Bison did a variation of the Pyscho Crusher. But this film just gives me first X-Men movie vibes in that the director, Steven E. de Souza, seemed to be a little embarrassed to go full video game just like Bryan Singer didn’t want to go full comic book when it came to the costumes.
I mean, come on, man. Ryu only KIND OF shot a hadouken late in the film, and that was all we really got besides the flash kick and the psycho crusher. Not cool.
The Victor: Mortal Kombat
In offering so much fan service, Mortal Kombat HAS to be the victor. It just has to.
The Special Effects
When translated to the big screen, which movie had the better special effects?
One name: Goro. Goro looked freaking awesome in the movie and he still looks awesome today. How they got the arms to move the way they did was just perfect. I couldn’t ask for a better Goro. It blew me away back then, and it still blows me away now.
But the entire budget must have been spent on Goro alone since the rest of the special effects look godawful. The Scorpion and Johnny Cage fight in the forest, while cool back then, looks terrible today. And all the other special effects look goofy. It’s not a pretty film, that’s for sure.
Street Fighter is an interesting case, because in a lot of ways, it’s more of an action move (IMDb calls it an Action, Adventure, Comedy) than a video game movie, so there are a lot of cool explosions and boat scenes that are totally separate from the game.
In fact, if Street Fighter didn’t have the video game name attached to it, I’d still think it looked like a pretty decent action movie with some cool effects that were believable (for this weird world) and even tasteful. So yeah, not bad, even today.
The Victor: Street Fighter
By not going crazy with the magic, Street Fighter actually looks like a pretty cool action movie. It definitely looks very ‘90s, but not in the early CG kind of way that Mortal Kombat does, so it works.
How Well It Stuck to the Game
Video game movies usually suck. But how well do these two stick to the source material?
Hell yeah! Mortal Kombat stuck the landing when it came to sticking to the source material. What more could you possibly want? It was basically Enter the Dragon, but with a four-armed monster and characters with super powers. And all the major characters were here. Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, Sub-Zero, Scorpion. And hell, Scorpion was even a demon from Hell just like in the game. Seriously, they were on point when it came to being faithful to the series.
Plus, Shao Khan even made an appearance at the end of the movie, leading up to the sequel, Mortal Kombat Annih… you know what, like I said earlier, let us not speak of the second Mortal Kombat movie. But yeah, great work overall.
What the hell is this? Just like the Super Mario Bros. movie which came out before it, the writers took so many liberties when it came to this adaptation that it kind of becomes its own little thing.
I mean, I guess you can’t just have people fighting each other in the streets, and Guile in the military vs. the leader of Shadaloo works as a story. But it’s all of the rest of the characters thrown in there that just make this too ridiculous to be faithful. Like what the hell is going on with Blanka? It’s just madness. Absolute madness.
The Victor: Mortal Kombat
This one is easy and not even debatable. Flawless victory.
Most fighting games are not really known for their stories, but how do they stack up here in the movies?
Like the last entry, the story of the movie very much replicates the games as there’s a battle raging between our world and Outworld, and three of Earth’s heroes have to be champions for our planet. Standard stuff.
And while it would have been cool if Raiden actually fought, too, I get why they made him the wise old man archetype. So overall, the story is fine, but also a little humdrum. Kind of like the game it’s based off of.
Okay, honestly, I kind of hated Street Fighter as a kid and loved Mortal Kombat. But as an adult, I actually really love the campy tone of Street Fighter, just like I love Batman and Robin. The story concerning all the other characters is ridiculous, and it’s funny seeing all of them getting crammed in here for seemingly no reason whatsoever other than just having them here (why is Dhalsim a scientist again?).
The lines are all tongue in cheek, and it makes for a much more fun watch than Mortal Kombat does today. If you asked 12-year-old me which movie’s story was better, I would have said Mortal Kombat in a heartbeat. But if you ask 36-year-old me, I'll say Street Fighter all day, baby.
The Victor: Street Fighter
Street Fighter is just a lot more fun to watch. Plus, Raul Julia is better at chewing scenery than Cary-Hirouki Tagawa, though I do love my Shang Tsung.
Mortal Kombat vs. Street Fighter: Which One Wins?
Mortal Kombat ekes out the victory, even though I would actually rather watch Street Fighter if it was on TV on a rainy day. I think a lot of it goes to the fact that I think Mortal Kombat is the better video game movie, but think Street Fighter is the more enjoyable movie overall. It’s actually why I kind of love the Super Mario Bros. movie today, even though I thought it was a travesty back when it came out. But I was a stupid kid, and I’m a smart adult, so the kid in me chooses Mortal Kombat, while the adult in me chooses Street Fighter. But what do you think? Which is the better “bad” movie? Sound off in the comments.