Midway Games launched arcade fighting game Mortal Kombat in 1992, in the hopes of presenting a rival to the most dominant one-on-one beat ’em up game of the time: Street Fighter II. Not only did Mortal Kombat prove every bit as popular with gamers of the time, but it also spawned a franchise that lives on to this day.
It also became one of the first video game properties to be adapted into a feature film. Directed by British filmmaker Paul Anderson (before he added the initials ‘W.S.’ to his screen credits), 1995’s Mortal Kombat was widely declared the best video game movie yet made. So, what better time to look back at the original Mortal Kombat movie from 1995? Get over here and read the following things that you might not have known…
20. Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down Mortal Kombat to star in the Street Fighter movie instead
Here’s a fun fact about the original Mortal Kombat game: it was largely inspired by Jean-Claude Van Damme. The game’s designers initially wanted to make a game in which the Belgian action star himself was a playable character. When these plans failed to come to fruition, they instead not-so-secretly modelled the character of Johnny Cage on Van Damme (in particular his performance in Bloodsport).
For this reason, Van Damme was the first actor offered the role of Johnny Cage in the movie. However, the Muscles from Brussels declined, instead choosing to take the role of all-American hero Guile in rival video game movie Street Fighter. Most fans agree Mortal Kombat is the better movie, but it seems likely Van Damme was attracted by the $8 million payday from Street Fighter.
19. Brandon Lee was offered the role of Johnny Cage before he was killed
With Van Damme out of the picture, the role of Johnny Cage was still up for grabs for a while. In the hopes of casting a big name, the role was offered to another up-and-coming action star: Brandon Lee. Lee had a couple of minor action movies to his name at the time in Showdown in Little Tokyo and Rapid Fire, but he hadn’t exactly lived up to the groundbreaking reputation of his father.
That said, the did carry serious martial arts kudos, being as he was the son of Kung Fu movie legend Bruce Lee. Sadly, this casting did not come to pass either, as Brandon Lee was tragically killed in a firearms accident on the set of The Crow. As a result, the role of Johnny Cage was finally taken by the comparatively lesser-known actor Linden Ashby.
18. Cameron Diaz was originally cast as Sonya Blade, but had to pull out due to an injury
Bridgette ‘RoboBabe’ Wilson made an impression as Sonya Blade in Mortal Kombat, but things were almost different. Wilson was a late-in-the-day replacement for the actress originally chosen for the role: Cameron Diaz. Model-turned-actress Diaz had not long since risen to fame with her first film role in The Mask opposite another 90s blockbuster Midas, Jim Carrey.
Sonya Blade would have been the second role Diaz had ever taken in a motion picture. Unfortunately, the actress had to drop out of the project when she suffered a wrist injury. It would be another five years before Diaz took her first action-oriented role in 2000’s Charlie’s Angels, which she enjoyed so much she followed it up with the critically derided Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
17. Sonya Blade actress Bridgette Wilson performed all her own stunts
With Cameron Diaz out of the picture, the role of Sonya Blade went to Bridgette Wilson. A former Miss Teen USA winner, Wilson was a relative newcomer to the movie industry. After making her acting debut in Last Action Hero, Wilson went on to roles in Higher Learning and Billy Madison. Despite her inexperience in action roles, Wilson insisted on doing all her own stunts and fight scenes on Mortal Kombat.
At one point Wilson even dislocated her shoulder performing a stunt, but the on-set paramedics were able to pop it back into place, after which she got straight back to work. Wilson’s fierce dedication and physical strength led director Anderson to nickname the actress ‘RoboBabe.’ Wilson would go on to have minor roles in I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Wedding Planner before marrying tennis legend Pete Sampras and retiring from Hollywood, her reputation secured.
16. Goro was a $1 million animatronic controlled by 16 puppeteers
Mortal Kombat features some use of CGI, but back in the 90s the use of practical puppets was still commonplace in special effects-driven movies. Where today such characters are usually created digitally, Mortal Kombat’s Goro was brought to life almost entirely live on set. According to production designer Jonathan A. Carlson, “They spent $1 million on that puppet.”
This was no small thing for a movie budgeted at $18 million, never mind the labour costs. Carlson recalls, “[Goro] had 13 to 16 puppeteers. The cables were going all over the place. One guy would be doing the eyeballs. The other guy would be doing the eyebrows. The other guy would be manipulating something else.” For this reason, the animatronic often proved very difficult to work with.
Paul W.S. Anderson reflects, “He broke down a lot, and we would have to wait for him. Goro became the diva of the set. Everyone would joke about it and say, ‘Goro won’t come out of his trailer.’” Still, some computer trickery was used on Goro in post-production: Anderson notes, “we did little bits of CG enhancement to help with his lip sync and stuff.”
15. Robin Shou broke his ribs in a fight scene but kept on filming
As you might expect from a film so heavily based around martial arts, things got very physical for the Mortal Kombat cast. Liu Kang actor Robin Shou was under particular strain, as on top of playing one of the lead roles, he also helped out with the fight choreography. Minor injuries were commonplace on set – but Shou got it particularly bad when he fractured some ribs shooting the fight between Liu Kang and Reptile.
Shou recalls being aware of the injury, but decided not to tell anyone: “What’s the point? If I told them I fractured the ribs, they’re going to stop production and then there goes my Hollywood dream … I was hurting … I told Keith Cooke, who plays Reptile, ‘I’m hurt on the right side of my ribs so don’t kick me there.’ I muscled through the fight and then went to the hospital.”
Johnny Cage actor Linden Ashby also had some rough moments: the actor recalls urinating blood after being kicked in the kidney.
14. Chris Casamassa (Scorpion) was originally hired as a stunt man
The cast of Mortal Kombat is mostly made up of actors who were unknown at the time. This made it a unique opportunity for previously untested stars to take centre stage. This included martial artist Chris Casamassa, who auditioned for the movie purely in a stunt performer capacity. However, the producers and studio were so impressed by Casamassa, they decided to do more with him.
Casamassa (whose previous credits included an uncredited appearance in The Karate Kid) was cast as one of Mortal Kombat’s most iconic bad guys, Scorpion. Despite this, Casamassa did not provide Scorpion’s voice. That task was given to Ed Boon, co-creator of the Mortal Kombat games series. Scorpion’s iconic “get over here!” just wouldn’t sound as good in any other voice.
13. Steven Spielberg was supposed to make a cameo appearance
There weren’t too many household name film industry figures on the set of Mortal Kombat. This might have been different, as early on there were plans for a cameo from one of the most famous filmmakers ever. In one scene near the start of the movie, we see Johnny Cage making a movie. Originally the legendary Steven Spielberg (reportedly a big fan of the video game) was set to make a cameo as Cage’s movie director.
Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts meant that Spielberg was unable to appear, and actor Sandy Helberg took the role instead. Several years later, Spielberg would make a similar cameo in another New Line Cinema production, Austin Powers in Goldmember, directing the flamboyant opening musical number. The more meta the cameo, it seems, the more likely Spielberg is to take it up.
12. Christopher Lambert personally dubbed his own character for French audiences
Easily the biggest name in the Mortal Kombat cast is Lord Raiden actor Christopher Lambert. Born in America, Lambert was raised in France where he enjoyed his first success as an actor. Later, he landed the lead role in 1986 action fantasy Highlander, which became his signature role. Having a well-known bilingual actor in the cast of Mortal Kombat offered some practical advantages.
As Lambert speaks French, he dubbed over his lines himself for the French language version. Lambert’s take on Raiden proved popular enough for the actor to voice the role in 2019 video game Mortal Kombat 11. This is surprising given just how different Lambert’s portrayal of Raiden is compared to the video games: he’s more of a European nobleman, only occasionally donning the classic Chinese rice hat the character sports in the 2D fighter.
11. Lambert’s Highlander co-star Sean Connery turned down the role of Raiden
Director Paul WS Anderson must have been eager to cast a Highlander actor in Mortal Kombat. Originally the role of Lord Raiden was offered to no less an actor than James Bond legend Sean Connery. When Connery declined, the filmmakers instead approached Christopher Lambert, who accepted. Connery would instead star in 1995 in First Knight, playing King Arthur.
Lambert and Connery first worked alongside one another in Highlander, and the two became good friends. Both actors later admitted the only reason they made the widely derided Highlander II: The Quickening was to work together again. Mortal Kombat director Anderson later demonstrated his Highlander fandom even further by hiring Highlander director Russel Mulcahy to direct the third Resident Evil movie.
10. Some of the film’s locations were only accessible by canoe
Principal photography on Mortal Kombat began in August 1994, and ended four months later. A good portion of the film was shot in the US, in Los Angeles and Fontana, California. On top of this, the cast and crew also spent some time shooting in Thailand. Some of the Thai locations chosen for the film were so remote that they were only accessible by water.
Because of this, the cast and crew often had to be transported to and from the set in long canoes. Curiously, not long before Thailand had also been the principal location for rival video game movie Street Fighter, though this makes a little more sense: Bison’s Shadaloo crime organisation is based in Thailand in the games, and players fight his right-hand man, Sagat, on a stage based on the real-life Ayutthaya Historical Park.
9. A love story between Liu Kang and Kitana was cut from the final film
Robin Shou was cast in Mortal Kombat as Liu Kang; this was the actor’s second American film role, after several films in his native Hong Kong. Shou shares scenes with Talisa Soto (best known for Bond movie Licence to Kill) as Princess Kitana. We see hints of a romantic connection between Liu Kang and Kitana in the film, but at first there was going to be a bit more to the relationship.
Shou explains, “In the original script I was supposed to fall in love with Talisa Soto. I was looking forward to it, but they thought we have so much action, we don’t want to add romance to it. They cut it out.” Later, Robin Shou and Talisa Soto would be the only core cast members to reprise their roles in 1997 sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
8. Trevor Goddard’s performance as Kano inspired the game creators to rewrite the character as Australian (although Goddard was really British)
In what would be a more controversial move today, some of Mortal Kombat’s Asian characters were re-written as white. As well as casting Christopher Lambert as Lord Raiden, the movie also casts Trevor Goddard as Kano. In the game, Kano was Japanese-American, but when Goddard was cast the character was rewritten as Australian.
The makers of the Mortal Kombat videogame were so impressed by Goddard, that they rewrote the character’s backstory. In all the Mortal Kombat games that followed, Kano was Australian, in line with the character’s portrayal in the film. The irony is that Goddard (who sadly died in 2003) was actually English, although he had often claimed to be of Australian descent in his Hollywood career.
7. Because of the limited budget, Christopher Lambert paid for his own transport and accommodation in Thailand
With a budget of $18 million, Mortal Kombat was a comparatively cheap movie by blockbuster standards. This goes some way to explaining why the film boasts no big-name actors, outside of Christopher Lambert. As Lambert’s asking price was considerably higher than his co-stars, originally the filmmakers only expected to have him on set for the scenes shot in LA.
The plan had been to use a stand-in for Lambert in the scenes shot in Thailand, because there wasn’t room in the budget to pay the actor to be there. However, Lambert himself insisted on being present throughout production, so the actor voluntarily paid his own airfare to Thailand as well as covering his own accommodation.
As if this wasn’t enough, Christopher Lambert is also reported to have paid for the cast and crew wrap party once the shoot was over.
6. No humans are killed on camera because producers wanted to get a PG-13 rating
From the offset, the Mortal Kombat video games have been controversial due to how graphic the violence gets. Despite this fact, the filmmakers on the Mortal Kombat movie were contractually obliged to get a PG-13 rating. For this reason, the production consulted the Motion Picture Association of America for advice on how to avoid the dreaded R-rating.
Associate producer Lauri Apelian recalls, “What we learned was if you killed a human onscreen, you got an R rating.” This might seem an odd conclusion (we could name countless PG and PG-13 films which show people dying), but it was the rationale the Mortal Kombat filmmakers followed. It is for this reason that one of the only on-camera deaths in the movie is the monstrous four-armed Goro.
5. Tom Cruise tried to visit the set but was turned away by an over-zealous medic
When photography began on Mortal Kombat, the first scenes were shot in an aircraft hangar at Santa Monica Airport. In this very same airport, another hangar was used by a certain Hollywood star with a passion for flying: Tom Cruise. Johnny Cage actor Linden Ashby recalls that at this time the set had “a medic who was a funny guy, quirky.”
“He was very into security on the set. He should have been a security guy instead of a medic.” The medic in question was so serious about security that when Cruise stuck his head around the door to say hello, the superstar was turned away. Ashby recalls, “[Cruise] was like, ‘Hey what are you guys shooting? Can I check it out?’ And the medic goes, ‘You’re not in this movie. Go away!’ And Tom Cruise goes, ‘I just want to see,’ and he goes, ‘I don’t care who you are, get out of here!’ He turned away Tom Cruise!”
4. Director Paul W.S. Anderson convinced everyone he was an expert on CGI after reading lots of books on the subject
Paul W.S. Anderson (or Paul Anderson as he was then simply known) had directed only one film before Mortal Kombat: a low-budget British production called Shopping. This alone was enough to convince associate producer Lauri Apelian that he was right for the job: “I was totally blown away [by Shopping]… I said, ‘We’ve got to get this guy.'”
Anderson has made plenty of FX-driven movies since (including Alien vs. Predator and the Resident Evil series), but he’d never worked with special effects at the time. The director recalls, “I had no experience with visual effects, so I went to Samuel French’s book store and I bought every single book I could find on visual effects, on matte paintings, on CGI.”
“I had the jargon down. It sounded like I knew more about CG than anyone else in Hollywood, even though I’d never been into a visual effects house.” Anderson admits, “I kind of bluffed my way in, but I think they could see the enthusiasm.”
3. Midway Games had no faith that the movie would be successful
These days, everybody seems anxious to get their intellectual property turned into a movie franchise. You might think, then, that Midway Games would have been open to the idea when producer Larry Kasanoff approached them to request the film rights to Mortal Kombat, recognising its potential as a massive multi-media franchise.
On the contrary, Kasanoff recalls that Midway Games boss Neil D. Nicastro told him, “You’re full of c**p! It’s just an arcade game!” After this, Kasanoff says that this “began a three-month process of me trying to convince them that it was more than just an arcade game. They didn’t believe it.” The producer says he “finally just wore them down and they optioned the rights to me.”
Kasanoff was proven right, as on top of the video games we’ve seen Mortal Kombat comic books, novels, animated movies, both live-action and animated TV shows, collectible cards and even a live stage show.
2. The film’s soundtrack went platinum
As well as boasting intense action, the Mortal Kombat movie also sports a killer soundtrack. As well as an original score by George S. Clinton, the movie features many tracks from popular artists of the time. A Mortal Kombat soundtrack album was released on CD and cassette, comprised mostly of techno and industrial heavy metal.
On the techno side, there are tracks by such acts as Orbital, Utah Saints and Psychosonik. Meanwhile on the heavier side, there are also songs by the likes of Fear Factory, Napalm Death and Type O Negative. The soundtrack proved very popular with fans of the movie, going platinum within a year of going on sale, and the title theme remains iconic, perhaps being the most recognisable video game theme of all time for its “Mortal Kombat!” yell.
1. It was the most commercially successful video game movie of the era
Mortal Kombat arrived in cinemas in the wake of Super Mario Bros, Double Dragon and Street Fighter. These earlier films hadn’t set the bar particularly high for the new subgenre of video game movies. This being the case, it’s a small victory that Mortal Kombat went down a fair bit better with critics and audiences.
It made over $122 million, which was the highest box office gross of a video game movie up to that point. The film was successful enough to spawn a sequel in 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation – and, of course, ultimately a reboot in 2021. That film was also a mild box office success, making $83.6 million from a budget of $55 million.