Twenty years ago this week, the first Mortal Kombat film opened in movie theaters everywhere before taking the weekend box office crown for three weeks in a row on its way to $122 million worldwide. All prior video game movie adaptations — including Double Dragon and Super Mario Bros. — had been box office disasters. Even today, the video game movie genre still struggles in Hollywood. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original Mortal Kombat movie, several of the films stars, producers, and director Paul W.S. Anderson spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in an oral history of the project, revealing several previously unknown details.
As Mortal Kombat producer Larry Kasanoff recalls, it was a battle to even get Midway to seriously consider bringing Mortal Kombat to other media.
“I played the Mortal Kombat arcade game in their office for half an hour,” said Kasanoff. “I turned to [former Midway Games chief] Neil D. Nicastro and I said, “This is Star Wars meets Enter the Dragon. This is not just an arcade game. This is a whole phenomenon.” I said, “If you give me the rights to this, I promise you I will produce this, not just in movies, but in every medium in the world.” He looked at me and said, ‘You’re full of crap! It’s just an arcade game!’”
But the battles didn’t stop there. Associate producer Lauri Apelian confirmed that Cameron Diaz was almost Sonya Blade in the movie, until an unfortunate accident prevented it from happening.
“We originally had Cameron Diaz cast as Sonya Blade,” explained Apelian. “We were at New Line when The Mask was in postproduction, and Cameron Diaz was not a household name. No one knew her… 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. She broke her wrist right before shooting to the point where she couldn’t do the martial arts stunts we needed. We were very happy with Bridgette [Wilson-Sampras]. It was great she was available.”
According to Apelian, “We also inquired about Sean Connery for the Raiden role. But we understood at that time that he really wanted to golf. He wasn’t interested at that time in doing a physical role.”
The role of Raiden ultimately went to Highlander star Christopher Lambert. Anderson noted that having Lambert on the set helped his first big budget film go more smoothly.
“When you make your first Hollywood movie, there’s a great danger as a young filmmaker that you will be overwhelmed by the scale of them,” said Anderson. “Having the big guy on set, the person who is being paid the most money, who is the biggest name, be someone like Christopher really helps you. He was laid-back, he was chill, and nothing was too much trouble for him. And that person sets the tone on the set. Because if it’s not any trouble for him, it can’t be trouble for anybody else.”
Anderson also revealed that Lambert went far above the demands of his original contract to ensure that the Mortal Kombat movie was as good as possible.
“With Christopher, we did a creative deal so he only worked for like four or five weeks, for X amount of dollars,” explained Anderson. “He was expensive, and he wasn’t going to be able to come to Thailand because he would be going way over what we’d paid him. So I developed this plan where we were going to do close-ups of Chris in L.A. and then wide shots of a double in Thailand, and then edit it together creatively. Christopher, when he found out, said, ‘Forget about that. I’m coming to Thailand.’”
“[Lambert] sensed this was going to make it a better movie if he could be there in those landscapes,” continued Anderson. “And it is. I’m sure his agents and manager and lawyer were furious with him, because he basically came to Thailand for free. When he was there, he paid for the wrap party as well.”
The whole thing is an insightful read, so head over to THR to get even more details on what went down. Mortal Kombat fans, what were your favorite fights in the original movie? “FINISH HIM!” and share your opinions in the comment section below!
Speaking of Mortal Kombat, our own Malik Forte weighs in on how fighting games in 2015 need to improve: