Films to watch before 'Mortal Kombat'

Lewis Tan as Cole Young in Mortal Kombat
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Since the first Mortal Kombat game released in 1992 — competing with Japanese rival Street Fighter II released a year prior — the games and subsequent film franchise have featured brutal action and over-the-top finishing moves called Fatalities. Not only did the game scare concerned parents but even lead to a senate hearing on violent video games.

As video games evolved into a legitimate art form, Mortal Kombat’s use of violence would help usher in the creation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. Similar to the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system, it was supposed to prevent children from accessing inappropriate content. Like many popular video games released during the 90s, merchandising was key. This included cinematic adaptations. 

With Mortal Kombat getting a reboot by first-time director Simon McQuoid set for release April 23, we thought it might be nice to break down some films worth checking out before you dive into the new. Only one of them is Mortal Kombat! (Though we're not going to tell you not to check out the incredible animated Mortal Kombat Legacies: Scorpion's Revenge!) 

Big Trouble In Little China

John Carpenter’s quirky martial-arts fantasy may have been released in 1986 as a box office bomb, but it’s grown to become a certified cult classic. The Kurt Russell and Kim Cattrall vehicle about a truck driver being sent on a wild adventure in San Francisco's Chinatown district even inspired Mortal Kombat. From Lighting (James Pax) serving as the motivation to create thunder-god Raiden to David Lo Pan (James Hong) being credited as the idea behind series main villain Shang Tsung, Big Trouble In Little China is a must-see for any fan of the fighter. 


 The early development of the original Mortal Kombat game doesn’t exist without Jean-Claude Van Damme. Initially conceived as an arcade game to be released alongside 1992’s Universal Soldier (more on that later), developer Midway lost the license. Paying homage to Van Damme, the Hollywood actor turned tournament fighter Johnny Cage. In fact, Cage’s outfit and “nut-buster” special move is inspired by Van Damme’s character in Bloodsport. Ironically, the famed action star would lead the much-hated cinematic adaptation of MK’s Eastern rival Street Fighter.  

 Universal Soldier  

 Before becoming one of the most decorated directors of disaster films, Roland Emmerich directed Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren sci-fi auctioneer Universal Soldier. Like many action films of the early 90s, a video game adaptation to accompany the release was in development using a digitized version of Van Damme. Once plans fell through, developers Ed Boon and John Tobias would start over with the same idea to use digitized actors that early entries in the series would be known for. 

 Enter The Dragon  

Bruce Lee wasn’t alive to see Enter The Dragon open the door for future action films to come. The pioneering action star definitely wouldn’t have envisioned himself serving as video game inspiration. However, the Robert Clouse directed 1973 martial arts epic also inspired Mortal Kombat character and de-facto hero Liu Kang. Besides using Lee’s signature fighting yells and utilizing nunchakus as weapons in later entries, developers have mentioned Enter The Dragon as being an influence even in the narrative. 

 Mortal Kombat (1995) 

Not only did 1995’s Mortal Kombat set the standard for future cinematic adaptations of video game franchises but even the series itself.  How exactly did the original 1995 film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson inspired the game it drew inspiration by? The cyborg villain Kano was initially described as a Japanese-American underworld crime leader of the Black Dragon. Trevor Goddard’s Australian-tinged portrayal in the film would be something the series eventually made into actual canon in later series entries. Taking things even further, actor Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa reprised his role as Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat 11 DLC storyline "Aftermath" last year. 

 The Terminator  

 The original Mortal Kombat film wasn’t the only movie to inspire the character design of Kano. Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 of James Cameron’s sci-fi classic The Terminator inspired the character’s bionic eye. In the most recent entry in the fighting game series, Mortal Kombat 11, Arnold Schwarzenegger also portrayed the iconic cyborg as a playable fighter. Even the pre-fight dialogue between Kano and Model 101 matches poke fun at the inspiration. 

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom

One can not discuss the Mortal Kombat series without mentioning the brutal game ending fatalities. During the initial release of the 1992 game, many concerned parents and politicians were critical of extreme levels of violence. Mortal Kombat, alongside a few other games lead to the creation of the ESRB ratings board. One of the most loved finishers involved Kano’s heart rip fatality that developer Ed Boon said was inspired by Mola Ram’s ritual sacrifice scenes in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. Coincidentally, the Steven Spillberg directed film led the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating due to outcry over the violent scene.

 Predator 2 

 Hyper violent horror and action films of the 80s like Predator served as a clear inspiration behind Mortal Kombat. It’s Danny Glover starred sequel was the clear idea behind the popular spine rip fatality done by Sub-Zero. Both the ice controlling ninja and Predator even hold their human head trophies in nearly the same way. A variant of the Predator would also make a guest playable appearance in 2015’s Mortal Kombat X. In a nod to the original Predator, character Jax received a special in-game costume that used the likeness and voice of Carl Weathers who portrayed Dillion. 

 Clash of The Titans  

Clash of The Titans is a classic adventure film somewhat based on the Greek myth of Perseus. Known for its high quality special effects (for its time), it used stop motions for scenes involving mythological monsters. The original Mortal Kombat trilogy was known for using digital actors to give the series a sense of realism. Boss character in the original release, Goro, is a four-armed half-human, half-dragon Shokan warrior who is also the current victor of the series deadly tournament. He was the only one brought to life through stop motion animation due the creators love for Clash of The Titans and Jason and the Argonauts.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 

Mortal Kombat has always mixed it’s hyperviolence with campy comedy in the same way that made A Nightmare on Elm Street such a classic franchise within the horror genre. For the 2009 video game reboot of the fighting game series, Freddy Krueger became the first of many licensed characters to be a selectable fighter that made guest appearances in later entries. Others that joined included the Xenomorph from Alien, Friday The 13th’s Jason Voorhees and Texas Chainsaw Massacre serial killer Leatherface. 

Watch A Nightmare on Elm Street on HBO Max

Ural Garrett

Ural Garrett is an Inglewood,CA-based journalist and content curator. His byline has been featured in outlets including CNN, MTVNews, Complex, TechRadar, LA Weekly and more.