How Mortal Kombat (1995) was debatably the best, most ultimate, or at least most honest video game movie of all time…

Last week saw the release of the 2021 movie, Mortal Kombat. Due to this, I thought it would be the perfect time to look back at the original Mortal Kombat film, which was released in 1995. Although a sequel came out two years later (Mortal Kombat Annihilation), it did poorly at the box office which meant viewers had to wait nearly 25 years until the next Mortal Kombat flick. For the record, I won’t spend too much time on Annihilation as it doesn’t have the character or charm that the original film had. But, what exactly made the first Mortal Kombat movie so successful?

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Why did Mortal Kombat do so well at the box office?

Financially, numbers don’t lie. This film was released on a budget of $18 million and raked in over $124 million. As mentioned, the less I speak about the sequel the better…but for now those are so pretty impressive numbers. The context of this success boils down to a different culture which was more obsessed with traditional martial arts. Although it was in a previous decade, the likes of The Karate Kid had got the public interested in combat culture.

This, combined with the release of the original Mortal Kombat video game created a perfect storm. In 1992 it made its debut on the SNES system and is still incredibly popular to this day. At the time, it had great graphics which included explicit violence, blood and gore. Teens across America and the globe couldn’t get enough of it and within 3 years, the film was made. Combined with the public lust for martial arts and intriguing back story, it was the perfect storm. It should be noted that this was no easy feat either. Traditionally video-game crossover movies often suffer when hitting the big screen.

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What was Mortal Kombat about?

Unsurprisingly, the movie was based on the video game. However, in fairness it was very true to its roots and didn’t stray for the sake of appealing to a more mainstream audience. Directed by Paul Anderson, the plot surrounded a tournament with earth’s best fighters going against other-worldly enemies that possessed supernatural powers. For instance, in one scene, Johnny Cage is stalked by Scorpion who literally transports Cage to the underworld.

The story goes that if the humans lose, then earth will be invaded and taken over by these alien fighters who are intent on destruction. Long story short, after plenty of action, the humans win and return to earth, only to hear the other world Emperor declare that he wants their souls…directly setting up a sequel. It’s a movie trope as old as time, but it is what it is.

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So, was Mortal Kombat actually any good?

As with all things in life, this depends entirely on context. These days, it has a 5.8 rating on IMDB, which means it’s a slightly above-average movie in the eyes of the public. However, judging it by modern metrics is unfair. Firstly, back in the day – the graphics were actually quite impressive and didn’t look too out of place. Monsters such as Goro look sloppy by today’s standards, but back then expectations were lower. So, don’t expect the slick CGI that is used in the 2021 remake, but instead remember to respect things that haven’t aged particularly well either.

On to the story, it’s what it says on the tin. If you’re expected some kind of deep, cinematic masterpiece with iconic lines and meaning, then this film simply isn’t for you. Nor was it intended to be either. Instead, Mortal Kombat is purely an action-adventure movie from start to finish. With this said, you can expect plenty of fighting, action, and decent choreography.

Speaking of choreography, Mortal Kombat took an interesting route down this avenue. Instead of sticking to known actors, they also used real martial artists from Japan and other Asian countries. This gave the fight scenes a realistic feel which simply cannot be executed without real practitioners. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed either, with all of the usual characters involved such as Liu Kang, Reptile, and Kano. The shooting locations were on-point too, with the crew filming in Thai temples to add to the fighting-based backdrop.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the film was the soundtrack. Mortal Kombat’s theme tune has always been iconic and a hit with its fan base. However, no one could have foreseen the CD soundtrack achieving platinum status. Ok, this was the ’90s which meant a bigger audience for selling music…nonetheless it seems more people than expected wanted to go out and hear the music from the film.

In brief, if you go into it with an open mind and you know exactly what to expect, then you won’t be let down. For anyone else that expects otherwise, you have to question why you’d chose to watch this film in the first place. Because of this, if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill and want something easy to watch, Mortal Kombat is a decent option.

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Final Thoughts and the legacy of the original Mortal Kombat movie

At its time, some of the critics could be accused of snobbery, and since then the movie has slowly but surely risen in popularity with viewers. Often, people now praise it for staying faithful to the original video game. Moving on from critical analysis, the movie had an undeniable impact on Mortal Kombat in pop culture. As touched upon, it birthed a sequel, but also led to an animated TV series and even a novel that was based on the script. Since then there’s also been 18 MK video games and counting…so you could say that it did quite well.

So, don’t be afraid to watch this movie. If you’re a fan of the games then great, but even if you’re not then it’s still an easy watch and should keep you entertained. For more information, feel free to check out the trailer too, which in honesty, will probably give more information on it than I am capable of.