In the list of video games turned movie adaptations, the first Mortal Kombat holds a special place. It was the first such type of movie that was a legitimate hit, and drew praise from the critics for its action scenes, setting and for managing to capture the spirit of the game.
The second Mortal Kombat movie did not fare as well. It came out a confused mess that did not seem to be nearly as much of a sincere effort as the first film had been. The movie was not a success, and it temporarily put any future sequels to the first MK movie out of the question. There have been half-hearted attempts to re-start the franchise, but none of those efforts have resulted in anything significant beyond some fan films and TV pilots that never took off.
In these two movies, we see the blueprint for how cinematic adaptations of video games were going to be done in the future. Mainly because the director of the first movie later went on to direct the Resident Evil game adaptations and its sequels as well.
That is why studying the making of the first two MK movies is a fascinating practice in discovering what goes into making a movie that is aware of its genre, its audience and the fun that can be had within the confines of its premise. Here are 25 interesting facts about the behind the scenes action that was happening on the movie set that the theater-going audience never got to know about:
25 PG-13 Was Studio Mandated
If ever a video game needed an R-rating, it's Mortal Kombat. The game was made popular due to its excessive use of violence. So it makes sense that the movie should also have an r-rating to be able to make use of all those imaginatively gory fatalities and brutalities.
But then the studio threw a spanner in the works by insisting the makers stick to a PG-13 rated script. That tied the hands of the director to a large extent, and the final product ended up showing no blood, swearing or adult content of any kind.
24 A Lot Of Ad-Libbing
No one would accuse Mortal Kombat of having a complex script. But it did manage to offer several amusing and heartfelt moments between the characters and through their interactions with the world around them.
Turns out a lot of those moments happened thanks to the actor's improv skills.
Many lines in the scenes were supplied by the actors on the day of filming itself. In fact, so many of the film's lines were ad-libbed that the studio ended up cutting a lot of them, on the grounds that they were too mature for a PG-13 audience.
23 Sheeva's Role Was Cut Drastically
The Mortal Kombat sequel, Annihilation, was a direct adaptation of the Mortal Kombat 3 game. The makers took great pains to include every character from the game in the movie. One such character was Goro's female counterpart, Sheeva. The actress who played her was promised several major fight scenes.
But most of her scenes were cut from the movie. This was because Sheeva's extra arms were deemed too costly to be featured prominently throughout the film. Basically, a lack of budget was the reason why Sheeva went from being a major villain to a minor character.
22 Robin Shou Had A Rought Time On Set
Playing the central role of Liu Kang in the film meant that martial artist Robin Shou had to perform all his own action scenes. During a fight with the character of the ninja Reptile, Shou was thrown against the edge of a pillar. The impact was harder than expected, and Shou fractured two ribs as a result.
Shou did not tell anyone about the injury, fearing production might be halted. So the next time you think Mortal Kombat was a low-effort film, remember that the actors literally put in their blood, sweat, and tears.
21 Last Minute Fight Scenes
When the first MK movie was screened for test audiences, they were unanimous in their decision: There were not enough fight scenes. Considering the movie is basically one brawl after another, you have to wonder how bloodthirsty audiences were back then.
But the makers listened and decided to tack on another fight scene.
This was the reason why the confrontation between Liu Kang and the venomous Reptile was added to the movie. That is also why that whole sequence seems to come into the movie so unexpectedly and ends without impacting the rest of the movie.
20 Tom Cruise Could Not Enter The Tournament
Mortal Kombat is the ultimate action film, and it almost had an appearance from the ultimate Hollywood action star of the nineties. No, not Will Smith. Not Keanu Reeves either. We're talking about Tom Cruise.
Cruise was filming at a nearby location and wanted to see what was going on during the filming of Mortal Kombat. He requested to be allowed to come on to the set but was summarily dismissed by a medic working on the film. Who knows, we might have seen a special appearance by Cruise at the tournament if not for that medic!
19 Goro Broke Down A Lot
Goro the four-armed giant was one of the highlights of the first MK film. Despite the fact that the dude was clearly an animatronic puppet who could not be shown from the waist down in most scenes.
The filming of the movie was an arduous process, and a lot of it had to do with puppet Goro. The machinery that made the creature move about was extremely complex, and it kept breaking down. The crew referred to Goro as a huge diva who kept holding up work because of his performance issues.
18 The Soundtrack Was A Hard-Won Battle
Say what you will about the movie, the music for Mortal Kombat is one of the coolest, most blood-pumping soundtracks any action flick has ever had. But the idea of having electric dance music as a background to an other-worldly kung fu battle was a hard sell to most music producers.
The makers of the film had to fight hard to include the track in the movie.
The result was the Mortal Kombat soundtrack became the first platinum EDM record in history and the anthem for kids the world over competing for their first karate green belt.
17 Getting To The Location Was Tough
To give an exotic feel to the film, seeing as it deals with an otherworldy tournament battle, most of the filming was done on the beaches of Thailand. This allowed the film to suggest a much bigger dimension to Shang Tsung's domain on Earth.
On the other hand, getting the filming equipment to the location was a huge pain. The island was only accessible by boat, and it took a great deal of time and effort to get the actors and equipment in place. Every morning the crew had to arrive by boat, and then leave again by night.
16 Ed Boon Disliked The Sequel
Ed Boon was one of the creators of the MK gaming franchise. So great is his influence that the first name of Noob Saibot is Boon spelled backward. Naturally, Ed took a great deal of interest in the movie adaptations of the mythology that he helped create.
But Boon's love for the first MK film is tempered by the fact that he really doesn't like the sequel. Even by the low standards of movies adapted from video games, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is considered a mess of a film. And Boon is one of the film's sternest critics.
15 Kano Caused A Retcon
Kano from the original MK game is a different character from the guy who showed up in the first movie, save for the one laser eye that both possess. Trevor Goddard portrayed Kano as a cockney Englishman in the movie.
But apparently, he did not do a very good job of it.
Audiences mistook his accent for that of an Australian. So popular was the interpretation of the character that Kano in the games was retconned as an Australian from his original American-Japanese descent. Kano's look in the later games was also modeled after Goddard's look from the film.
14 A Long Casting Process
The casting for the original movie was a very long and drawn-own process. Initially, the creators of the game did not have a lot of hope when filmmakers approached them to make a movie adaptation of MK. But soon they started getting phone calls asking if some of the most popular stars of the day should be included in the movie.
Danny Glover was considered for the role of Raiden. Cameron Diaz was confirmed to play Sonya before dropping out due to injury. Additionally, a wide range of A-list actors were considered to play Johnny Cage.
13 Jai As Jax Almost Happened
Michael Jai White has long been an action star perpetually on the brink of breaking out into the big leagues. He's big, shredded and a legitimate martial artist. For all those reasons, Jai was seen as the natural choice to play the character of Jax.
But then Jai White instead choose to play Spawn in the movie adaption instead of Jax. He also passed on the role for the sequel. Last we heard, Jai was preparing to play Jax in a TV adaptation of Mortal Kombat that was going to be more brutal, but which was ultimately scrapped.
12 Regrets About Annihilation
When Paul W.S. Anderson directed the first MK movie, he was still a struggling director trying to break into the big leagues. With the success of MK, that struggle finally ended. Subsequently, Anderson passed on directing the sequel to MK, Annihilation, in favor of other projects.
But he did not meet the same success with other works.
Also the MK sequel that finally released turned out to be a hot mess. That is when Anderson vowed to see his next franchise films through their sequels. Which is why he directed so many of the Resident Evil films in later years.
11 Lots Of American Gladiators
The thing about the MK films is that they need actors who also look like they can bench press a truck. There aren't a lot of such persons in Hollywood. That is why the casting process had to look far and wide for actors who could also double as their own stuntmen.
One place where the film found such performers was on the sets of the show American Gladiators. Both the actors who played Motarro and Jax had previously appeared on American Gladiators as Malibu and Sabre respectively before making playing the roles of tournament fighters in the sequel MK: Annihilation.
10 So Bad It's Not Good
You've heard the phrase 'So bad it's good' applied to b-movies that manage to be entertaining despite having bad acting, bad directing and low-budget film sets. Well, Annihilation filled all the above requirements. Unfortunately, it missed out on the 'still fun' clause.
The movie is famous for being riddled with continuity errors and gaping plot holes. It picks up immediately at the end of the first film, yet the actors are wearing different clothes and many of them have been replaced. The entire movie just comes off as a particularly low-effort outing for everyone involved.
9 Tony Jaa Became Liu Kang
Tony Jaa gained fame after Ong Bak for convincing audiences he must actually be either a fully CGI person or permanently attached to a set of wires that allowed him to perform such impossibly acrobatic stunts in mid-air.
But before finding success as the next big action star, Jaa was a stuntman working behind the scenes in Hollywood.
For Annihilation, Robin Shou had a very busy schedule filming the bulk of the movie. This prevented him from filming all the fight scenes himself. For his fight with Barka, Jaa played the role of Liu Kang.
8 Work Hard, Party Harder
The thing about the MK films was that they were populated almost entirely by young, fit, good looking people who realized they weren't exactly making the next Oscar contender. As a result, a lot of the time, the behind-the-scenes atmosphere resembled less a film set and more a frat party.
The actress who played Sonya reported that while she left the film sets early, she heard tales of legendary ribaldry from her cast mates. Also, the fact that they were in a foreign country with less strict laws helped make the party even more pumping for everyone.
7 The Director Lost Faith
The first Mortal Kombat movie was a legitimate blockbuster and was the first movie adaptation of a video game that the audience liked. But it did not seem that way while the movie was actually being made.
In fact, the director was convinced that he had made a bomb and that the film would end his innings in Hollywood. That is why he decided to take a vacation to Hawaii on the day of the film's premiere. He heard on the phone from his friends that the movie was a success, and hastened back to L.A.
6 Christopher Lambert Was A Huge Help
Christopher Lambert played Raiden in the first film. And he was a source of great support for the crew. Lambert was already an established name in the film business. And he really believed in the first MK film.
He personally bankrolled parts of the film, and frequently brought the entire crew dinner.
Lambert also dubbed his own lines for the French release of the movie. While Lambert's dedication helped the first movie become a hit, he was not convinced by the script for the sequel. That is why he choose to opt out of Annihilation.
5 Terminator 2 Inspired The First Movie
When Terminator 2 came it, a video game companion piece to the movie was created under the supervision of Larry Krasnoff. The game was a slick and entertaining adaptation. It was a huge hit and established Krasnoff's authority in the field of movie-videogame adaptations.
When he played the Mortal Kombat game, he became convinced that it had the potential to be a huge money spinner if properly adapted for the big screen. Krasnoff had to work long and hard convincing producers to back the first Mortal Kombat movie, but his perseverance paid off in the end.
4 The Director Bluffed His Way Through
When Paul W.S. Anderson applied for the position of director of the first MK movie, he had a lot of enthusiasm, but not a lot of practical experience. Aware that he was supposed t be making a special-effects-heavy movie, Anderson read every book he could find about visual effects and CGI.
When he was interviewed for the role, Anderson was able to make it seem like he was an expert in making such kinds of films. He then had to learn large parts of the actual process of adding special effects while making the movie itself.
3 Van Damme's Mortal Kombat Connection
Mortal Kombat and Jean Claude Van Damme have had a special connection since the start. The game was actually conceptualized as a vehicle for the action star. It was supposed to star Van Damme.
But then due to various reasons, that incarnation of the game never materialized.
Instead, Johnny Cage was created as a stand-in for Van Damme in the game. When the first movie was being made, the makers hoped they could get Van Damme to play Cage. But once again it was not to be. Van Damme opted to do Street Fighter instead.
2 Steven Spielberg Almost Cameod
Mortal Kombat may be viewed as a B-movie, but it almost had an appearance by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Steven Spielberg is a huge fan of the game. He's such a big fan that he agreed to make an appearance in the first movie.
But then due to scheduling conflicts, Speilberg was unable to film his scene. Instead, the makers of Mortal Kombat used Sandy Helberg, a German actor with a passing resemblance to Spielberg. You can see him directing Johnny Cage in his introductory scene on an action film set.
1 Jackie Chan's Influence
The first Mortal Kombat would not have been the success that it was without the exhilarating fight scenes. Instead of using stuntmen for the action and hiding their faces during the close-up shots like most Hollywood blockbusters, the movie hired actors who were also martial artists, as is done in the action movies of China.
Robin Shou had worked with legendary Chinese action filmmaker Jackie Chan in the past.
Thanks to this experience, Shou had developed a keen sense of action in the vein of Chan's cinema. He was able to bring this expertise to the action scenes in Mortal Kombat, many of which he personally choreographed during the reshoots that occurred.