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From Game to Film: Mortal Kombat

Despite not always having the best reputation for quality, Hollywood loves making video game films. 

Hollywood’s infatuation with video game movies began with 1993’s Super Mario Bros. starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo and also served as the opening of Pandora’s box. Since then, movies have been made that have been inspired by everything from Doom, to Tomb Raider, to Street Fighter.

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Super Mario Bros. (1993) (Image from TechnoBuffalo)

But how do these movies do at respecting the material from which they were inspired? Honestly? I can be a bit of a mixed bag. Today, I’m excited to invite you on the start of a new journey where we take a look at these video game movies and see just how true they are to their source material.

Today’s movie is one that really isn’t all that bad and is still watchable over twenty years later. I’m talking, of course, about 1995’s Mortal Kombat, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. So how did the filmmakers do at respecting an arcade classic? Let’s find out.

The Inspiration

Mortal Kombat famously draws its inspiration from the first two games in the Mortal Kombat franchise, though there is a bit of a skew towards the first game. While the majority of the characters, including Johnny Cage, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Kano were all part of the franchise’s first outing, other characters didn’t actually show up until Mortal Kombat II, released to arcades in 1993.

An early 90’s Mortal Kombat ad. (Image from We Got This Covered)

The early games in the franchise use a style of graphics that digitized footage of real actors portraying the characters of the game. This helped give the characters a realistic look, which I believe helped in the transition to the film. At times, aspects of the characters seemed a bit larger than life, but given this was the early nineties, I’d give the game a pass.

This also led to a higher awareness of violence in video games. Games like Mortal Kombat really helped make parents aware of just how violent these games can be. For a period of time after its release, the game was used as an example of how violence in games can desensitize children.

The Story

The story of Mortal Kombat is a simple one: Raiden, the God of Thunder, gathers Earth’s mightiest warriors to compete in a tournament against the armies of the evil Shao Khan, who wishes to take over Earthrealm. In order for him to do this, he has to win ten tournaments in a row.

In terms of taking this story from the game to the film, the filmmakers did a fantastic job. The movie clearly lays out this same plot line in an easy to follow way. In terms of being based on a fighting game, the movie comes with plenty of fights and each is full of nods to the game.

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Scorpion’s Fatality: Toasty from Mortal Kombat (Image from Game Art HQ)

My favorite of these nods is when Scorpion removes his mask, revealing a skull underneath before blasting fire at Johnny Cage. Classic Mortal Kombat. Even classic catchphrases from the games like “Finish Him” and “Fatality” make their way into the movie without feeling shoehorned in.

The Characters

In terms of the characters themselves, the accuracy is a bit more subjective. Given when the game was first released, the characters weren’t able to be as fleshed out as they are in more recent installments of the series like Mortal Kombat X. Still, the characters in the games were given personality in the forms of their body language and actions. In terms of pulling these from game to film, it was again a hit.

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The heroes of Mortal Kombat (1995) (Image from ISCFC)

Johnny Cage is more of a cocky character while a fighter like Liu Kang is more humble. Given the restrictions of what was presented in the source material, the actors in the film did a great job at presenting the characters in a way that’s true to life.

In terms of physical appearances, the characters are also mostly accurate. While the original games did indeed use actors in costumes, it was hard to see the little details shine through. In that respect, characters were indeed updated for the film. These helped characters look better during close up shots and on the big screen.

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Mortal Kombat: Choose Your Fighter (Image from Binary Messiah)

While some characters do appear slightly different than they do in the games, the general design doesn’t stray too far.

The Final Verdict

When it comes to talking about video game films, I admit that I can be both too soft or too hard on films on any given day. The fact of the matter is a lot of video games movies just aren’t great. But is Mortal Kombat one of those films? No. Truth be told, the opinions on this movie are pretty equally divided. One one side, you have those that love the movie. On the other are those that hate it. 

The film suffers from issues, much like any other film. There’s a lot of humor in the film, including endless one-liners from Johnny Cage. The film also has a lot of extra story scene thrown in that don’t quite fit with the tone of the franchise. Still, it’s hard to get mad at this one.

Mortal Kombat is easily one of the most faithful video game adaptations ever put on film. If there’s one mark the film gets against it, it’s the quality of the visual effects. While the effects in the film weren’t the best twenty years ago, they haven’t aged all that well either. One of these effects is the character of Goro who looks cool for the time, but his lip-syncing leaves a lot to be desired.

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Goro in Mortal Kombat (1995). (Image from Bloody Disgusting)

If you have the chance to see this movie, should you? Absolutely. Should you watch its sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation? That’s a story for another day.

What do you think of the film Mortal Kombat? What are some video game films you think are accurate to their source material or an utter disaster? Let us know in the comments below! 

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