Mortal Kombat fans, rejoice! After almost 25 years, a new live-action Mortal Kombat film is coming thanks to Warner Bros. and HBO Max. For anyone craving an R-rated take on the Midway Games martial arts classic, 2021 is your year. With the bloody fatalities and heart-pounding action you expect — and a few “get over here!” and “finish him!” throwbacks for good measure — this is the adaptation you’ve been waiting for.
The new film premieres on HBO Max next month, where you’ll be able to stream it from home at your convenience.
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If that piques your interest, keep on reading for a roundup of everything we know about Mortal Kombat ahead of its release on HBO Max.
What’s Mortal Kombat all about?
Mortal Kombat follows Cole Young, a gifted MMA fighter, who is unaware of his epic heritage. He suddenly has to face his destiny when Emperor Shang Tsung, leader of a parallel universe called Outworld, sends his best warrior, Sub-Zero, to hunt him down. Cole has to team up with other fighters to protect himself, learning the meaning behind a mysterious dragon marking he was born with. Cole winds up training under Lord Raiden, an Elder God and the protector of Earthrealm as he seeks sanctuary with others who bear the mark.
Under Lord Raiden, Cole will work to unlock his arcana, the mystical power buried deep within him. This power will allow him to stand up against the fighters of Outworld and protect Earthrealm from their impending invasion.
Mortal Kombat: The game behind the movie
Even if you’re not already a fan, there’s a good chance you’re at least familiar with Mortal Kombat.
The franchise started out as a video game in 1992, developed by Midway Games. The creators originally developed it as a vehicle for action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. They eventually moved ahead with it without Van Damme, making it the fantasy fighting game you know and love. (Keen-eyed observers may have spotted some similarities between fan-favorite character Johnny Cage and Van Damme, though.)
The premise is simple and lends itself to the fighting gameplay. In a multiverse made up of different “realms,” fighters can conquer or protect realms through one-on-one battle — the titular Mortal Kombat. Throughout multiple sequels, spinoffs, and comic book and card game adaptations, the basic premise of champions fighting has persisted. It has developed an enormous fan base. The games have kept going strong, with Mortal Kombat 11 released in 2019 and a 12th installment due out in 2023.
Mortal Kombat earns its R-rating, tying it into its video game roots. The original Mortal Kombat game was controversial. The violence was shocking to a lot of parents and even politicians. U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl pushed to censor the game, and the ensuing debate led to the formation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, responsible for putting ratings on video games, similar to the MPAA’s film rating system.
This isn’t the first Mortal Kombat movie
In 1995, the first Mortal Kombat film adaptation starred Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, and Christopher Lambert. The film was a hit. A sequel in 1997 and two spin-off TV series: Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm and Mortal Kombat: Conquest followed. The film soundtrack was also notable. It made it into the 2011 Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition as the “most successful video game spin-off soundtrack album” and was the first EDM album to receive Platinum certification in the U.S., selling over 1 million copies.
While a third Mortal Kombat feature film was in the works after 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, the diminishing returns on the sequel didn’t justify a trilogy. The new project is a reboot. It starts fresh, incorporating elements from various new entries in the franchise through the years.
Where and when you can watch Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat will drop on HBO Max April 16. It will be available to stream for anyone with a standard subscription to the service.
Mortal Kombat will launch in theaters, including IMAX, on the same day as its streaming release on HBO Max.
Mortal Kombat fans with COVID-friendly access will also have the option to see it in movie theaters. Mortal Kombat is one title included in the Warner Bros. hybrid release model for 2021. Last December, after a year of low box office earnings and endless rescheduling because of COVID-19, Warner Bros. re-jigged its release schedule and eliminated exclusive theatrical windows. Every movie hitting theaters will also premiere on HBO Max the same day. It’s a strategy the studio tried first with Wonder Woman 1984, debuting on the streamer on Christmas alongside its theatrical premiere.
The move ruffled some feathers, especially within the film industry. Exclusive theatrical windows ensure some degree of prestige, making the theater-going experience something special. That has value for producers and distributors, who like the status quo. Legendary Entertainment in particular did not take well to the announcement, having produced two of Warner’s biggest titles included in the new hybrid model: Godzilla Vs. Kong and Dune.
It remains to be seen whether this changes the film release landscape post-COVID. Mortal Kombat will offer one test case for the same-day HBO Max release strategy.
Who will you see in Mortal Kombat?
As with the 1995 film version of Mortal Kombat, a lot of your favorite video game characters appear in the sequel. From the trailer, though, this version seems to steer a little closer to their video game origins. Costumes and casting project a familiar look and feel onto the whole affair.
Included in the roster of familiar characters are Sonya Blade, Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Mileena, Kung Lao, Kabal, Cole Young, Nitara, Liu Kang, Jax, Shang Tsung, Raiden, Kano, and Goro. A few heavy hitters are taking on the roles, alongside some up-and-coming fresh faces:
- Sonya Blade: Jessica McNamee
- Bi-Han/Sub-Zero: Joe Taslim
- Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion: Hiroyuki Sanada
- Mileena: Sisi Stringer
- Kung Lao: Max Huang
- Kabal: Daniel Nelson
- Nitara: Elissa Cadwell
- Liu Kang: Ludi Lin
- Jax: Mehcad Brooks
- Shang Tsung: Chin Han
- Raiden: Tadanobu Asano
- Kano: Josh Lawson
Credit: Frederick Blichert / Android Authority
Additional cast members include Lewis Tan, playing the new character Cole Young. He’s joined by Matilda Kimber as Emily Young and Laura Brent as Alison Young, Cole’s family.
Behind the camera
The live-action reboot of Mortal Kombat has been in the works for a long time. Other versions have made it to various levels of development over the years. Kevin Tancharoen would have directed a feature film after drumming up interest with his web series Mortal Kombat: Legacy, but after years of delay, he left in 2013 to pursue other projects. Then Saw, The Conjuring, and Aquaman-director James Wan came aboard as a producer in 2015. With Wan came screenwriter Greg Russo and Australian director Simon McQuoid. McQuoid makes his directorial debut with Mortal Kombat. New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. produced the film.
That’s what we know so far about the new Mortal Kombat. Luckily, we won’t have to wait longer to learn more when it debuts next month.
Don’t forget to sign up for HBO Max if you haven’t already. Once you subscribe, you’ll be all set to watch Mortal Kombat when it launches on April 16.