There have been three Mortal Kombat movies on the big screen since 1995, including this year’s reboot, but did you know there’s more? From Saturday morning cartoons to syndicated TV shows, there’s been a lot of content (kontent?) in this nearly 30 year-old franchise. With Mortal Kombat arriving in theaters this year, now feels like a good time to look back at the past attempts to bring the property to the big or small screen. So, “Get over here!” as we check out all the times Mortal Kombat has been adapted in film and TV.
Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins (1995)
Bet you didn’t realize you could watch a CGI Mortal Kombat cartoon before you could watch Toy Story in a movie theater, did you? This was essentially a 45-minute advertisement for the movie that came out the same month complete with ads for sending check or money orders to PO boxes to get all your official Mortal Kombat merch. While the VHS box promises to “Go beyond virtual reality with 3D animation like you’ve never seen!”, the actual cartoon only features a scant couple of minutes with actual CGI, the rest being a normal cartoon. There’s also a behind-the-scenes making of the live-action movie if that’s your jam; and special cheat codes for Mortal Kombat 3, which was the current game sucking up the pocket change of America’s youth at the time.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
Look, no one would argue that Mortal Kombat deserves an Oscar. Is some of the dialogue corny? Of course. Does Raiden, the immortal god of thunder, speak with a French accent? Unequivocally yes. Is this movie fun as hell? Absolutely! Let’s get a few things straight. As far as video games go, this one is pretty faithful to the source material (I’m looking at you, Super Mario Bros). All your favorite special moves are on the big screen including Sub-Zero’s freeze ball and Scorpion’s spear. What is Christopher Lambert even doing in this movie? Who cares! He’s at his hammy, scenery-chewing best! Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is iconic as Shang Tsung, so much so they even modeled his likeness and had him record the dialogue for the most recent video game. And who could forget the iconic theme music? Admit it, you’re humming it in your head right now.
Mortal Kombat: Defenders Of The Realm (1996)
Did you ever stop and say, “I really wish they’d make a bloodless, goreless, Saturday morning kids cartoon based on Mortal Kombat.” Too bad! They went ahead and made one anyway, and boy is it weird. With any worthy kid’s action cartoon, the team of good guys regularly square off against the bad guys, with Raiden sending the team out on missions in their toy aisle-friendly dragon planes as they battle Shao Khan’s forces. This USA Network cartoon did feature some voice-acting big guns, including Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman and Clancy Brown, who was recently cast as the villain in the Showtime reboot of Dexter.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all? Maybe? Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is a notorious dud. Only two of the original cast returned, including Robin Shou as Liu Kang. They ride around the inside of the Earth in gyroscope, ball things. Raiden gets a buzz cut. The fight scenes are just awful compared to the first movie. All the costumes and sets look embarrassingly cheap. And then there’s the dialogue. This one really has to be experienced for yourself:
Maybe we'll stick with the whole if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all thing...
Mortal Kombat: Conquest (1998)
Mortal Kombat: Conquest one started out life in syndication in 1998 before moving to TNT in finishing its only season 1999. Yes, it's also bad. But! Rather than talk about that, there are a few interesting ideas worth mentioning. The plot is set 500 years in the past and features a story that was original to the franchise. Also, the finale of this show actually features the main character being killed off, and his mentor, Raiden is left imprisoned while the bad guys take over Earth. The end. Roll credits. You’ve got to give them some points for going with such a downer ending.
Mortal Kombat: Rebirth (2010)
The year is 2010. Movies like The Dark Knight and Iron Man shown audiences how they could take fantastical ideas and make them “realistic”. Enter Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. Jax and Sonya are hard-boiled detectives looking for serial killers (Baraka and Reptile, naturally). The Mortal Kombat tournament is an underground fight club. Jax and Sonya try to use Scorpion, no longer a ghostly ninja, but rather a modern day assassin for a Yakuza-esque crime group. This web short was such a viral hit it caught the attention of Warner Bros who green lit a web series the following year.
Mortal Kombat: Legacy (2011)
This web series is also pretty cool! It doesn’t stick to the completely “realistic” premise that was shown in the web short, come close. Mortal Kombat: Legacy gives us some modern takes on all our favorite heroes and villains including a pretty cool fight between Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Each character’s story is pretty stand alone and doesn’t really connect to the other one. Season 2 is a little more ambitious, weaving everyone’s stories together. The absolute best part of this series is bringing back Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung!
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge (2020)
If you ever thought the various Mortal Kombat movies and shows didn’t quite match the violence you love from the games, then Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge is the cartoon (kartoon?) for you. It’s graphic. Like, really graphic. Ribs are broken, heads are decapitated, and blood is shed. For something called Scorpion’s Revenge, the plot is more ensemble. In fact, it sticks pretty close to the basic Mortal Kombat plot we’ve been seeing in media since 1995. But let’s be honest, you’re here for the decapitated heads.
Mortal Kombat (2021)
WB just released the first trailer for the latest Mortal Kombat reboot. Details are in limited supply at the moment, but expect to see all your fan favorites including Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Sonya Blade, Jax and more in this James Wan produced update. One character we haven’t seen so far is the series OG washed up action star, Johnny Cage; and fans have noticed. Expect newcomer Cole Young at the center of the plot. His origin and details have been kept under wraps for now, but he's sporting a spiffy Mortal Kombat logo birthmark in the trailer so odds are he's somebody special.
There you have it. Every good, bad and weird piece of Mortal Kombat media we've gotten since the game came out way back in 1992. We'll be able to find out where the reboot of Mortal Kombat falls on the spectrum pretty soon as the movie releases on April 16th on both HBO Max (opens in new tab) and in theaters. Keep it locked to CinemaBlend for all the latest news and content about Mortal Kombat.
Never not rewatching Mad Men. Lover of comic books and all things related. I spend most of my free time giving medicine to my geriatric cat.
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