Mortal Kombat is an integral part of '90s culture, as are the two film adaptations inspired by its loose narrative. While gaming movies are almost exclusively always bad, the first Mortal Kombat film actually managed to turn a profit.
The original film's success paved the way for blockbusters films like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, as it proved people wanted to see their favorite games brought to life. The sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, was less groundbreaking, but still fun in a “what the f*ck am I watching” sort of way.
Stories from the set of Mortal Kombat make it sound like everyone had a great time making the first film, sans Cameron Diaz, who broke her wrist while training and had to step down from her role as Sonya Blade.
The commercial failure of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation halted plans for another full-length sequel, but the behind the scenes stories from the original two films give die hard fatality fans a glimpse at the amazing video game movie that never happened.
No one expected a movie about an arcade game to make bank, but the first Mortal Kombat film grossed $122.1 million on an $18 million budget. In addition to slaying at the box office, the soundtrack managed to go platinum, selling over a million units just 10 days after it was released.
This success shocked pretty much everybody, including the cast and crew. In the days leading up to Mortal Kombat's premiere, director Paul W.S. Anderson was terrified the film would flop, so he decided to go on an impromptu vacation to Hawaii during the opening weekend.
In a retrospective interview, Anderson told the Hollywood Reporter, "we get to the middle of absolute nowhere in Hawaii and I read the movie is No. 1. And I go 'Damnit! Why aren't we in LA?' I've got the number one movie. I should be in LA making the most of it."
The list of Hollywood heroes who were almost cast in the first Mortal Kombat movie reads like a rap sheet of every famous person from the '90s. While tons of stars (such as Sean Connery and Johny Depp) didn't make the cut, Cameron Diaz was cast as Sonya Blade thanks to her performance in The Mask.
Lauri Apelian, the film's associate producer, described seeing Diaz on-screen to the Hollywood Reporter, saying, "As soon as we saw the dailies from The Mask, there was no question that she was a star. We put her into training, because she had not really done this kind of martial arts work before."
Unfortunately, Diaz broke her wrist during a practice session, and had to be replaced by Bridgette Wilson-Sampras.
Before moving to Thailand for the majority of the shoot, the first month of filming for Mortal Kombat took place in Santa Monica, CA. After wrapping on Fridays, the crew liked to frequent a bar located by the airfield where Tom Cruise owned a hangar.
One fateful night, Cruise (who was actually considered for the part of Johnny Cage) stopped by the bar, but an on-set medic wouldn't let him in. Linden Ashby (who was picked to play Johnny Cage) said Cruise asked if he could hang out, to which the medic replied, "You're not in this movie. Go away!" Cruise objected, saying, "I just want to see," but the medic was adamant, and turned him away.
The first Mortal Kombat film succeeded in part because the cast and crew came together to make the best of a tough situation. Despite the tight budget and mandated PG-13 rating, the crew tried to keep the mood light while on-set, and leaned into guilty pleasures intrinsic to the fantasy karate genre. Unfortunately, none of this brilliance stuck around for the film's sequel.
For various reasons, all but two of the original cast members refused to reprise their roles for Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. While some allegedly had scheduling conflicts, many were likely turned off by the script, which (judging by the final product) was a complete mess.
In a 1997 review for Entertainment Weekly, film critic John R. Leonetti condemned Annihilation, calling it "fragmented and monotonous, without a semblance of the gymnastic cleverness that at least made the first Mortal Kombat film into watchable trash... as debased as movies come."
Other critics seemed to agree. As of 2018, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation has a 3% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The single positive review listed is a 2003 retrospective published in a daily newspaper from Lawrence, KS.