| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
If the realm of Outworld wins Mortal Kombat ten consecutive times, its Emperor Shao Kahn will be able to invade and conquer the Earth realm.
Shaolin monk Liu Kang and his comrades, movie star Johnny Cage and military officer Sonya Blade, were handpicked by Raiden, the god of thunder and defender of the Earth realm, to overcome their powerful adversaries in order to prevent Outworld from winning their tenth straight Mortal Kombat tournament.
Each of the three has his or her own reason for competing: Liu seeks revenge against the tournament host Shang Tsung for killing his brother Chan; Sonya seeks revenge on an Australian crime lord Kano; and Cage, having been branded as a fake by the media, seeks to prove otherwise.
At Shang Tsung's island, Liu is attracted to Princess Kitana, Shao Kahn's adopted daughter. Aware that Kitana is a dangerous adversary because she is the rightful heir to Outworld and that she will attempt to ally herself with the Earth warriors, Tsung orders the creature Reptile to spy on her. Liu defeats his first opponent and Sonya gets her revenge on Kano by snapping his neck.
Cage encounters and barely beats Scorpion. Liu engages in a brief duel with Kitana, who secretly offers him cryptic advice for his next battle. Liu's next opponent is Sub-Zero, whose defense seems untouched because of his freezing abilities, until Liu recalls Kitana's advice and uses it to kill Sub-Zero.
Prince Goro enters the tournament and mercilessly crushes every opponent he faces. One of Cage's peers, Art Lean, is defeated by Goro as well and has his soul taken by Shang Tsung. Sonya worries that they may not win against Goro, but Raiden disagrees. He reveals their own fears and egos are preventing them from winning the tournament.
Despite Sonya's warning, Cage comes to Tsung to request a fight with Goro. The sorcerer accepts on the condition that he be allowed to challenge any opponent of his choosing, anytime and anywhere he chooses. Raiden tries to intervene, but the conditions are agreed upon before he can do so.
After Shang Tsung leaves, Raiden confronts Cage for what he has done in challenging Goro, but is impressed when Cage shows his awareness of the gravity of the tournament.
Cage faces Goro and uses guile and the element of surprise to defeat the defending champion. Now desperate, Tsung takes Sonya hostage and takes her to Outworld, intending to fight her as his opponent.
Knowing that his powers are ineffective there and that Sonya cannot defeat Tsung by herself, Raiden sends Liu and Cage into Outworld in order to rescue Sonya and challenge Tsung.
In Outworld, Liu is attacked by Reptile, but eventually gains the upper hand and defeats him. Afterward, Kitana meets up with Cage and Liu, revealing to the pair the origins of both herself and Outworld. Kitana allies with them and helps them to infiltrate Tsung's castle.
Inside the castle tower, Shang Tsung challenges Sonya to fight him, claiming that her refusal to accept will result in the Earth realm forfeiting Mortal Kombat (this is, in fact, a lie on Shang's part).
All seems lost for Earth realm until Kitana, Liu, and Cage appear. Kitana berates Tsung for his treachery to the Emperor as Sonya is set free. Tsung challenges Cage, but is counter-challenged by Liu.
During the lengthy battle, Liu faces not only Tsung, but the souls that Tsung had forcibly taken in past tournaments. In a last-ditch attempt to take advantage, Tsung morphs into Chan.
Seeing through the charade, Liu renews his determination and ultimately fires an energy bolt at the sorcerer, knocking him down and impaling him on a row of spikes.
Tsung's death releases all of the captive souls (including Chan's). Before ascending to the afterlife, Chan tells Liu that he will remain with him in spirit until they are once again reunited.
The warriors return to Earth realm, where a victory celebration is taking place at the Shaolin temple. The jubilation abruptly stops, however, when Shao Kahn's giant figure suddenly appears in the skies.
When the Emperor declares that he has come for everyone's souls, the warriors take up fighting stances.
- Christopher Lambert as Raiden, god of thunder and protector of Earthrealm who guides the warriors on their journey. He desires to aid the heroes in defending Earthrealm, but as he himself is not mortal, he is not permitted to participate in the tournament and may only advise them and act to prevent cheating.
- Robin Shou as Liu Kang, a former Shaolin monk, who enters the tournament to avenge his brother's death. As in most of the games in the Mortal Kombat series, Liu Kang is the main protagonist.
- Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage, a Hollywood superstar that enters the tournament to prove to the world that his skills are for real. Ashby trained in karate and tae kwon do especially for this film. Despite the intensity of the fight scenes coupled with the actors performing most of their own stunts, on-set injuries were surprisingly minimal; the only notable occurrence was a mildly bruised kidney Ashby suffered while shooting Cage's fight scene with Scorpion.
- Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung, a powerful, sadistic and treacherous sorcerer, he is the film's main antagonist who killed Liu Kang's brother Chan. Tagawa was the filmmakers' first and only choice for the role; he was instantly selected after he came to his audition in costume, and read his lines while standing on a chair
- Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade, an American Special Forces officer from Austin, Texas who's in hot pursuit of Kano, the criminal who killed her partner. Cameron Diaz was originally set to play Sonya, but she broke her wrist during a martial arts training session prior to shooting and was replaced by Bridgette Wilson, who was jokingly nicknamed "RoboBabe" during production by director Paul W. S. Anderson. Wilson performed all her own stunts, including fight scenes.
- Talisa Soto as Princess Kitana, the Outworld emperor's stepdaughter who decides to help the Earth warriors. Soto had previously appeared alongside Tagawa in Licence to Kill.
- Trevor Goddard as Kano, an Australian criminal who joins forces with Shang Tsung.
- Chris Casamassa as Scorpion, an undead warrior under Shang Tsung's control. As with the games, Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon provided the voice of the character.
- François Petit as Sub-Zero, a cryomancer warrior under Shang Tsung's control. The rivalry between Scorpion and Sub-Zero is only briefly mentioned by Shang Tsung at the beginning of the movie.
- Keith Cooke as Reptile, a creature who serves Shang Tsung. Cooke portrayed the character's human form, while his lizard form was rendered with the use of computer-generated imagery. Reptile's vocal effects were provided by Frank Welker.
- Tom Woodruff, Jr. as Goro, the undefeated champion of Mortal Kombat.
- Kevin Richardson provides the speaking voice of Goro, while his vocal effects are provided by Frank Welker.
- Kenneth Edwards as Art Lean, a martial artist and friend of Johnny Cage who competes in the tournament.
- Steven Ho as Chan Kang, Liu Kang's younger brother.
- Gregory McKinney as Jax, Sonya's Special Forces partner. Steve James was originally cast to play Jax, but he died a year before production on the film began.
- Peter Jason as Master Boyd, Johnny Cage's sensei.
- Hakim Alston as a fighting monk on the beach.
- Frank Welker provides the voice of Shao Kahn, the Emperor of Outworld.
Sandy Helberg is briefly seen in the beginning of the film as the director of Cage's latest movie.
Originally, this part was to be a cameo appearance by Steven Spielberg, but scheduling conflicts forced him to back out; the "director" character in this scene still resembles Spielberg.
Robin Shou said that in the original script he "was supposed to fall in love with Talisa Soto [Kitana]. 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."
Also scripted but not filmed were a short battle between Sonya and Jade, another of Shang Tsung's servants, and a scene where Shang Tsung allowed the heroes a night to mourn the loss of Art Lean and bury him in the Garden of Statues, underneath the statue of Kung Lao.
Originally not included in the movie, Reptile was added in response to focus groups being unimpressed with the original fights in the film.
Robin Shou and Paul W. S. Anderson noted that neither knew what Reptile's lizard form would look like until after filming, making the pre-fight sequence difficult to shoot.
Phra Nang beach was the scenery used for the fight between Liu Kang and Kitana Although the movie was primarily based on the first game in the series, there are several notable elements that were incorporated from the second game, Mortal Kombat II (MKII). Outworld was seen in the movie, but was never mentioned in the first game (only mentioned in the video game's manual).
Similarly, Shao Kahn is seen in the final scene of the movie, but was not even referenced in the first game. Jax and Kitana were introduced in the second game as well.
Shang Tsung's ability to steal the souls of fallen victims—seen twice in the film—was first seen in MKII as one of his Fatalities while his youthful appearance debuted in the second game but is seen throughout the film.
According to Tagawa, this was in order to avoid the excessive makeup that would have been required to duplicate Shang Tsung's aged appearance in the first game.
In his match with Reptile, Liu Kang uses his "Bicycle Kick" special move, which was first introduced in the second game, as was Reptile's ability to turn invisible.
After killing Scorpion, Cage drops an autographed picture of himself near his remains, in a reference to his Friendship move in MKII. When Reptile assumes his human form, the voice of Shao Kahn (sampled directly from the second game) can be heard announcing "Reptile". The Shadow Priests, seen before the final battle, were first seen in the second game as part of two of the backgrounds.
Cameron Diaz was the original choice to play Sonya Blade but she broke her wrist before filming begun and Bridgette Wilson replaced her last minute. Brandon Lee was the filmmakers' first choice to play Johnny Cage, but his tragic death at the set of The Crow forced them to re-cast the role.
Jean Claude Van Damme was offered the role but turned it down in order to do Street Fighter and the role eventually went to Linden Ashby. Russell Wong, Dustin Nguyen, Keith Cooke and Phillip Rhee all auditioned for the role of Liu Kang.
Filming began in August of 1994 and ended in December of 1994.
The Outworld exterior scenes were filmed at the abandoned Kaiser steel mill in Fontana, California; the site is now the Auto Club Speedway. All of Goro's scenes were filmed in Los Angeles.
The shooting locations in Thailand were accessible only by boat, so cast, crew and equipment had to be transported on long canoe-like vessels. Producer Gerrit Folsom constructed an outhouse in a secluded area near the set in order to alleviate the problem of repeated trips to and from the mainland.
The filming locations in Thailand include the Wat Phra Si Sanphet and Wat Ratchaburana temples. The arrival of Earth's contestants via boats, Liu Kang's medidation scene and the fight between Liu Kang and Kitana were filmed in the Railay Beach and Phra Nang Beach respectively.
The bows of the boats were fitted with ornamental dragon-head carvings and used in the movie as the fighters' secondary transport to Shang Tsung's island from his junk.
The film was originally scheduled for a May 1995 U.S. release, but was pushed back to August. According to co-producer Larry Kasanoff, this was because New Line Cinema's executives felt the film had the potential to be a summer hit.
It was released on October 20 in the United Kingdom, and on December 26 in Australia.
"Mortal Kombat" opened on August 18, 1995 and was #1 at the box office for the weekend, with $23.2 million, nearly eight times the opening amount of the only other new release that weekend, The Baby-Sitters Club.
At the time, it was also the second-highest August opening after 1993's The Fugitive. The film enjoyed a three-week stint at number one, grossed $70 million domestically, and earned an estimated $122 million worldwide.
"Mortal Kombat" received a score of 33% on Rotten Tomatoes sampled from 30 reviews, with an average score of 4.5/10.
The consensus reads: "Despite an effective otherworldly atmosphere and appropriately cheesy visuals, Mortal Kombat suffers from its poorly constructed plot, laughable dialogue, and subpar acting."
As of 2015, the film holds a "mixed or average" rating of 58/100 on Metacritic, based on reviews from twelve critics.
Critics praised Anderson's frenetic direction, the exotic locations, imaginative production design, soundtrack and some fight sequences, in particular those choreographed by the main lead Robin Shou. However, much of the criticism was directed towards the simple minded story and weak performances.
Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa was particularly praised for his over-the-top performance as evil sorcerer Shang Tsung, in a role that made him internationally famous.
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly called Mortal Kombat "a contentedly empty-headed extended advertisement for the joy of joypads (filmed in cheesily ornate cinema de Hong Kong style)" and too noted how it "is notably free of blood and gore."
According to Stephen Holden of The New York Times, "Mortal Kombat might be described as mythological junk food. Although there is talk of the three kombatants' having to face their deepest fears to prevail, the action is so frenetic and the dialogue so minimal that the allegory is weightless."
Roger Ebert said he was "right in the middle" and noted that the fans might be disappointed by the film's killings being much less brutal than the notoriously violent Mortal Kombat video games.
Similar to Ebert, Marc Savlov from The Austin Chronicle mentioned that "It's the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy and Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, but you may recall, you loved that stuff as a kid. I know I did," giving it a 2.5/5 star rating.
Laura Evenson from San Francisco Chronicle mentioned "Mortal Kombat the movie has everything a teenage boy could want: snakes that jut out of a villain's palms, acrobatic kung- fu fighting and a couple of battling babes. Everything, that is, but an interesting plot, decent dialogue and compelling acting" commenting however that Mortal Kombat will become a cult classic.
Kevin Thomas of Los Angeles Times gave the film a much more positive review, writing that "as impressive as the special effects are at every turn, even more crucial is Jonathan Carlson's superb, imaginative production design, which combines Thailand exteriors with vast sets that recall the barbaric grandeur of exotic old movie palaces and campy Maria Montez epics. John R. Leonetti's glorious, shadowy camera work and George S. Clinton's driving, hard-edged score complete the task of bringing alive the perilous Outworld."
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave it a "thumbs up" rating on Siskel & Ebert, calling it "the only half-way decent video game movie [he] has ever seen" and "a lot of fun," saying he was positively surprised by its various high quality production values, including the "often sensational" special effects, exotic locations and the cast of characters being "clearly drawn out of appealing types."
Leonard Klady from Variety awarded the film 3.5/5 stars, stating that "But where others have sunk in the mire of imitation, director Paul Anderson and writer Kevin Droney effect a viable balance between exquisitely choreographed action and ironic visual and verbal counterpoint."
Kim Newman from Empire magazine said, "By the time the big, world-saving bout comes around, it's hard not to wish that Shung Tsu would settle the fate of mankind by asking Liu Kang what the capital of Venezuela is... rather than engaging him in yet another round of supernaturally assisted dirty fighting" with a final rating of 3 stars out of 5.