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Every Mortal Kombat Movie Ranked From Worst To Best

Video games don't always have the easiest roads to the big screen. Even the most popular game franchises can stumble when being translated to film. From "Super Mario Bros" to "Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within," the list is a long one. But there's just something about the "Mortal Kombat" games, with their deep lore, rich cast of colorful characters and, let's be honest, profound displays of ultraviolence, that has allowed the franchise multiple opportunities to break through in Hollywood despite some rocky reception over the years.

While diehard fans of one of the most lucrative fighting game series of all time may feel as though none of the five movies on this list are the definitive adaptation we've all been waiting for, each of these films offers merit in capturing disparate elements of the source material's greatest strengths. From Paul W.S. Anderson's first attempt back in 1995 to newcomer Simon McQuoid's new HBO Max-exclusive take, "Mortal Kombat" remains a beloved series fans will flock to, forever in search of the platonic ideal of their favorite Earthrealm defenders.

So let's parse through the last 25 years of "Mortal Kombat" flicks to find out which one comes out on top.

5. Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins (1995)

The first film on this list isn't in this bottom spot because it's truly the worst. In point of fact, it's actually pretty charming. No, it's pulling up the rear because, well, it's not really a film at all — not in the traditional sense, anyway. This was a 54-minute unofficial tie-in to the 1995 "Mortal Kombat" that went straight to video, splitting its runtime between a torturously animated segment filling in the mythology behind the tournament and a short behind-the-scenes documentary about the subsequent film's production.

If you love "Mortal Kombat" but don't remember "The Journey Begins," don't fret. Your subconscious probably did you a favor and memory holed its truly horrendous animation, a curious mixture of crudely designed 2D visuals and some haunting polygonal 3D imagery that pains the eye to perceive in 2021. But its ugly aesthetic aside, this short little venture did a fantastic job of establishing the upcoming film's three major players (Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade) while providing a more shrewd and efficient representation of the game's mythos than any future adaptation would pull off.

It was out of print for the longest time, but was available as a special feature on the 2011 Blu-ray release of the '95 film. If you can stand watching the animatic-level fight scenes and cringe-y cartoon look, it's honestly a fun opening salvo for what the later film adaptations would go on to become. But, also, still the worst.

4. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)

With its single-digit Rotten Tomatoes score and controversial rep as a sequel that failed to build upon the film that begat it, you knew "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation" would rank this low. But while the movie is, unequivocally, Not Good, it seems unfair to dog it considering the finished product we all saw was far from finished. According to the legend, an incomplete workprint version of "Annihilation" tested so well when it was screened that the producers chose to release it to theaters as is, without completed special effects or any further editing. The result is an often messy, overstuffed and, quite frankly, ugly-looking movie that feels low quality, even for the very low bar of video game adaptations.

Picking up minutes after the cliffhanger ending of the original film, "Annihilation" wastes no time upping the ante, killing off a beloved character, introducing a bigger bad and — as the rest of the film would continue to do — throwing as many characters from the games on screen as humanly possible, regardless of good taste or logic. If all you want from a "Mortal Kombat" movie is to see your faves on screen in any capacity, "Annihilation" delivers the goods. Everyone from Rain to Ermac to Nightwolf shows up for at least a scene, even if none of them stick around to register more than resemblance and recognition for anyone who has played the games and utter confusion for anyone who hasn't.

Between all the casting changes (Christopher Lambert swapped out for James Remar as Raiden, Sandra Hess taking over from Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade) and the shoddy craftsmanship, "Annihilation" is an ambitious movie that tries to do far more than its 87-minute runtime could possibly allow. It's a movie that flew too close to the sun and got suitably singed for its troubles.

3. Mortal Kombat (1995)

Maybe it's the nostalgia or maybe it really is just an underrated gem, but the original "Mortal Kombat" from director Paul W.S. Anderson still feels special to this day. Sure, it's more than a little campy and the special effects don't hold up so well a quarter century later, but there's something so earnest and sincere about its matter-of-fact style that's sorely missing from its newer, modern-day counterpart. It's lean, mean, has strong fight choreography, and sells its core premise — an otherworldly martial arts tournament that holds the fate of Earth in its hands — rather well. It's a movie that works well for fans of the games, yes, but even someone who has never button-mashed their way into a fatality could watch the movie fresh and understand its strange mythology with relative ease.

But perhaps its inherent cheesiness, inconsistent performances and general schlock factor are to blame for its lack of support from critics over the years. It's definitely receiving something of a long overdue reappraisal amid the divisive reception to its 2021 counterpart, but not enough time seems to have passed for "Mortal Kombat" to be fully embraced as the cult classic its admirers know it to be. Yes, Goro being a weirdly discomfiting puppet sucked. Sure, Christopher Lambert's line readings as Raiden are, well, let's say "unique." Any and all criticisms that can be lobbed at this film are fair.

Those quibbles just don't take away from how iconic this movie was at the time of its release and how indelible it remains in the minds of those who love it.

2. Mortal Kombat (2021)

Chalk it up to recency bias and the unfair advantage of more modern special effects, but despite being savaged all over social media throughout its opening weekend, the newest attempt at bringing "Mortal Kombat" to the big screen is — at least currently – sitting higher in Rotten Tomatoes than the version many of us grew up with. The film has clearly split audiences into three distinct categories: critics who find the film appallingly dumb, diehard fans who wanted and expected more than an extended franchise prologue, and people who love "Mortal Kombat" and are just happy to have a new movie that looks fresher than the one from 25 years ago.

Is the new "Mortal Kombat" underwhelming? Of course it is. The initial trailers and marketing hyped fans up into a visible froth, suggesting its R rating, bigger budget and better CGI would mean they were finally going to get the "Mortal Kombat" of their dreams. So when this film finally debuted and was clearly designed to set up the franchise as a bloody alternative to the MCU — a way to adapt the "MK" lore to the language of corporate IP shared universes — people freaked.

Obviously the film is far from perfect. It's a little too cute at times and spends far too much time with training montages and watching characters unlock their "arcana," turning the diverse gifts of the mythology into a superpower stand-in that's easier for normies to understand. (It also doesn't feature Johnny Cage!) But Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada's respective portrayals of Sub-Zero and Scorpion are immediately iconic, the fatalities are suitably brutal and the movie clearly sets up the potential for a sequel that's more in line with fan expectations. Is that enough to make up for not actually having the tournament occur within the film? Apparently fans both watching on HBO Max and in theaters seem to think so. 

1. Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge (2020)

Here in the top slot we arrive at a surprise winner: "Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge", an animated film from last year that succeeds where all its live-action brethren have failed. With near universal praise from critics and audience members alike, "Scorpion's Revenge" has its cake and eats it, too. It tracks much of the original plot from the early games and the ensuing film adaptations, with Raiden shepherding Liu Kang, Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage through the 10th Mortal Kombat tournament to ensure Earthrealm's safety. But like the 2021 film, its spine is grafted to the centuries-long feud between Sub-Zero and Scorpion. 

For all the people who love their scant few scenes together in the 2021 film, "Scorpion's Revenge" goes even further, deepening the mythology and bringing in more elements from the game, including sorcerer Quan-Chi's tragic meddling. Being animated frees the film from the expectations of verisimilitude the studio foisted upon its live-action counterparts, so it's able to indulge in the source material's many tonal shifts with ease. Joel McHale's voice work as Cage provides ample comic relief to counterbalance the savagery of the film's many bloody fight scenes. The animation is kinetic enough to capture the tournament's intensity, while still making space for more somber notes along Scorpion's character arc. It really brings the best of all possible worlds from the games that inspired it, without sacrificing or compromising much in terms of sending the viewer home happy and itching to pick up a controller for some "Mortal Kombat" of their own.

The only thing holding it back from being every "MK" fan's undisputed fave is that it's not live-action and therefore gets graded on a curve. But pound for pound, there's not a better viewing experience on this list than "Scorpion's Revenge."