Whenever I read an article or online comment saying there’s never been a good video game movie, I get just a bit annoyed. I get downright vexed if those articles or comments specifically call out the Mortal Kombat movies for being bad because, dammit, the Mortal Kombat movies are great. Well, at least the first one is. Yes, they’re ridiculous and immature, but then the games they’re based on are also ridiculous and immature.
The Mortal Kombat movies are the most respectful, accurate video game-to-movie adaptations ever made. Yeah, that’s kind of a sad statement, but, on the other hand, it’s not, because Mortal Kombat is awesome in any form. So, in honor of the recent passage of the Mortal Kombat movie’s 20th anniversary, it’s time to cue up the most ear-slayingly awesome movie theme song of the ’90s…
… and strap yourself in for a totally sincere, non-ironic rating of every fight scene in Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
17) Raiden vs. Shao Kahn (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation)
This is Raiden’s only real one-on-one fight in either movie, and it suuuucks. First off, this isn’t Christopher Lambert Raiden, it’s the infinitely lamer James Remar version. Second, the big bad Shao Kahn gets his ass handed to him within seconds. Finally, and most egregiously, after getting punked out, Kahn manages to kill Johnny Cage out of nowhere. Johnny Cage was the star of the first movie, man. That is not cool, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, even by your standards.
16) Kitana vs. Sindel (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation)
Annihilation featured a lot actors who had no particular action movie or fighting experience. The way they covered for this, particularly in fights featuring women, was to just have them spin around a lot in hopes nobody would notice they weren’t actually doing anything. That’s all this fight is. Kitana and Sindel twirl (rather slowly) in each other’s general direction, then Kitana arbitrarily wins.
15) Sonya Blade vs. Ermac (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation)
In Annihilation’s final action scene, everybody takes on their nemesis, or logical opponent. Liu Kang faces Shao Kahn, Kitana faces Sindel, Jax tackles Motaro, and Sonya, well, Sonya doesn’t really have a nemesis. In her own words, she has to take on the “leftovers,” so she fights Ermac (the eminently forgettable red Scorpion clone). The fight is about as nondescript as you’d expect.
14) Sonya Blade vs. Mileena (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation)
This is really the only woman vs. woman fight of any significant length in either Mortal Kombat movie, so of course it takes place in a mud pit. And Sonya is wearing a white tank top. Tsk tsk, Mortal Kombat. That said, it does end with Sonya slapping Mileena in an armbar then kicking her in the face until she’s unconscious, so there’s a bit of badassery mixed in with the shameless titillation.
13) Sub-Zero vs. Scorpion (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation)
Sub-Zero vs. Scorpion! One of Mortal Kombat‘s most iconic rivalries! This ought to be good! Well, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation has a way of tearing the spine out of things that ought to be good. Most of the fight takes place on an ice bridge that looks like something a middle schooler might build out of paper mâché for a science fair project. Also, the dude playing Sub-Zero this time around is super sh*tty, and the fight doesn’t really have an end. Scorpion just kidnaps Kitana (half the fights in Annihilation end in a woman being kidnapped or held hostage) and disappears into a portal made of pink wrapping paper.
12) Liu Kang vs. Smoke (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation)
Okay, this is the point in our list where the fights actually start to get good. Yes, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation had some good fights. This is just a solid, basic throwdown. Also, Smoke shoots missiles out of his chest and blows up at the end of the fight, so this one checks all the important boxes.
11) Sonya Blade and Jax vs. Cyrax (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation)
Just in terms of effects and direction, this is probably the best fight in Annihilation. Cyrax has these neat little homing mines he shoots out of his chest, and the weird operating gallery this scene takes place in is a good setting to stage a fight. Unfortunately, Jax and the Annihilation version of Sonya are pretty lousy fighters, so that brings the scene down a bit.
10) Liu Kang vs. Baraka (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation)
Okay, I’m largely ranking this fight this high because I’m a Baraka fan. He was my dude in Mortal Kombat II. This scene was also relatively creative. Baraka swinging around on chains Batman-style and him and Liu Kang fighting on top of Kitana’s hanging prison are two of the more unique moments in Annihilation.
9) Liu Kang vs. Sub-Zero (Mortal Kombat)
The story of this fight is, “Liu Kang is the densest guy on the planet.” Before the fight, Kitana tells Liu Kang that Sub-Zero’s weakness is the “element which brings life.” Shucks, I wonder what that could be? Before the fight, Raiden also secretly leaves a bucket of water laying around for Liu Kang’s express use. Eventually, after fighting to a standstill with kicks and punches, Sub-Zero starts very slowly charging up his freeze attack, while Kang stands so close to Raiden’s buckets, he’s almost tripping over them, and he still doesn’t get it. Kitana has to reappear and repeat her “element of life” cheat code before Kang finally figures out he has to throw water at Sub-Zero to unlock his Fatality. I liked this fight back in the day because, well, I was a kid and kids are dumb, but watching it today is kind of mentally exhausting.
8) Jax vs. Motaro (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation)
Well, they tried. I’m sure a solid half of the meager Mortal Kombat: Annihilation effects budget went to pulling this scene off. Pulling off being a very relative term. The centaur-like Motaro consists of actor Deron McBee’s upper body teetering around on a computer-generated lower body that wouldn’t have passed muster on the Sega Dreamcast. You kind of have to admire the balls of the people who thought, “Sure, these effects were worthy of being projected on movie screens around the world.” That said, this fight is one of the few in Annihilation that tells an actual story. Jax has his cybernetic enhancements ripped off during the match, and has to beat Motaro with good ol’ American muscle, so, y’know, U-S-A, U-S-A and all that.
7) Johnny Cage vs. Goro (Mortal Kombat)
Unlike Motaro, Goro was from the original Mortal Kombat was purely a practical effect. This lends Goro a real charm, but it also severely limited what they could do with him. Basically, they couldn’t do an actual fight, so Johnny Cage punches him in the balls, runs away, then leg-sweeps him off a cliff. Not much of a fight, but it is pretty resourceful, and Johnny’s “Those were $500 sunglasses, asshole” line is the stuff of legends.
6) Liu Kang vs. Dee Jay (Mortal Kombat)
Okay, the movie doesn’t actually identify this guy, but come on, it’s totally Dee Jay in a crossover from Super Street Fighter II, right? You’ll never convince me otherwise. This is also a pretty solidly choreographed fight, and features Shang Tsung stealing poor Dee Jay’s soul, so yeah, it rates high even though one of the guys technically isn’t a Mortal Kombat character.
5) Sonya Blade vs. Kano (Mortal Kombat)
Some may object to me rating this fight so highly, but whatevs. Trevor Goddard is a marvelous misogynistic dickbutt here, and this scene has a certain touch of realism most other Mortal Kombat movie fights lack. Also, I’ll admit, 14-year-old me was pretty into anything involving Bridgette Wilson wrapping her legs around somebody’s head. Sonya isn’t treated terribly well over the course of these two movies, but she gets her undisputed kickass moment here.
4) Liu Kang vs. Shao Kahn (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation)
This scene is amazingly abysmal achievement. An absolute “so bad it’s good” treat. The fight starts out somewhat nondescript, but then Liu Kang turns into a f*cking dragon. In response, Shao Khan turns into some sort of King Ghidorah-looking thing. The effects for both creatures make Motaro’s 32-bit goat legs look like a breakthrough in CGI technology. Eventually, they turn back into human form, and Liu Kang beats on Shao Kahn (who’s played by the great Brian Thompson) until he dies, and a dragon flies out of his carcass. Wait, I thought Liu Kang was the dragon? That minor quibble aside, this fight is obviously a Flawless Victory.
3) Liu Kang vs. Shang Tsung (Mortal Kombat)
Don’t get me wrong, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is one of the great scenery-munching villains of all-time, but he’s not a super great martial artist, and the climax of Mortal Kombat over-complicates things just a bit. The bits where Shang Tsung calls on the souls of defeated enemies to fight for him, and takes on the appearance of Liu Kang’s dead brother probably made Paul W. S. Anderson nod mighty contentedly while writing the script, but they slow down the action. That said, Liu Kang’s final barrage of kicks and punches culminating in him knocking Shang Tsung onto a bed of spikes with a fireball is pretty ballin’. A really good scene, but not the best.
2) Liu Kang vs. Reptile (Mortal Kombat)
Word is, this scene was specifically added to raise Mortal Kombat‘s martial arts movie cred when some test audiences complained the fight scenes weren’t up to snuff. When it comes to punchy-kicky action, this is definitely the best fight in either Mortal Kombat movie; one of the few that wouldn’t look out of place in an actual Hong Kong action movie. The fight is hard-hitting, features dudes being put through tables and ends with Liu Kang bicycle-kicking Reptile through a damn wall. Can’t argue with that.
1) Johnny Cage vs. Scorpion (Mortal Kombat)
And here we are, No. 1 with a bullet. This Johnny Cage/Scorpion fight is a legit awesome melding of creative staging and solid martial arts action. The beginning of the fight takes Scorpion’s familiar spear attack and elevates it in a way that only would have been possible in a movie at the time. Then, suddenly, we’re through a portal and in some sort of weird ladders n’ skeletons-filled dungeon. The reason for the ladders and scaffolding quickly becomes obvious, when Johnny Cage breaks out the friggin’ Gymkata. In the end, Scorpion whips off his mask, revealing his frowny skeleton face, and starts breathing fire at his opponent, but Johnny manages to slice Scorpion’s head in half with a knife-edged shield, which CAUSES HIM TO EXPLODE. Whaaaat? This is basically three really good fight scenes stitched together into one great one. Also, everything about this scene really draws on the Mortal Kombat characters and world. It’s a fight that couldn’t have happened in anything but a Mortal Kombat movie.
So, there you have it, a brutally detailed ranking of every Mortal Kombat movie fight. Got your own ideas about how these battles should be ranked? Hit the comments and let’s fight it out.