As we all know, Mortal Kombat has inspired a whole generation of violence upon not only the video game world but pop culture in general. The same thing can be said about the characters that game contained. So many of Ed Boon and John Tobias' fighters would go on to reach the cult-like status that was once saved for the likes of Mario and Zelda. So in celebration of all things Mortal Kombat, leading up to our review of the 2021 movie, lets take a look back at some of the best creations and icons of the Mortal Kombat series.
10. Johnny Cage
Guess we have to do the obligatory "Honor the reason this exists" character, that being Johnny Cage. Without Johnny Cage, Mortal Kombat simply would not exist. When Midway was created and started work on a tribute to all types of Martial Arts/Kung Fu movies, the first character created was Johnny Cage, originally meant to be played by Jean-Claude Van Damme as a tribute to his character in the 1988 movie Bloodsport. However, Van Damme pulled out due to his commitment to the Street Fighter movie, leaving Midway to recast the character and move forward with the development of Mortal Kombat as a direct competitor to the Street Fighter video game series. Eventually, Johnny Cage would go from the reason the game began to the hero of the franchise with the reboot of the Mortal Kombat timeline with Mortal Kombat (2011).
One of the best things about Mortal Kombat is how characters evolve over time as Midway/NeatherRealm Studios began to give a crap about character backgrounds and making as many characters as unique as possible. Mileena is one of the characters who has gone through some of the more interesting and well-created evolutions over the course of the Mortal Kombat series. Starting out as just being the sister of Kitana, Mileena was more just a slight pallet swap of the Kitana character who had Sai instead of Fans as weapons. Over time, Mileena gained a backstory where she was a clone of Kitana, created to be more subservient to Shao Khan, then adding the fact that Shang Tsung created her from dark magic which combined Kitana's DNA with that of the Tarkatan race that Baraka came from, giving her a cross-section of bloodlines that would work against Shao Khan in the rebooted timeline. Mileena shows that given enough time, even the smallest character design can become something really worth knowing about... Plus she was a pain in the ass to fight against in Mortal Kombat II.
8. Shang Tsung
Shang Tsung, the old man of the Mortal Kombat series, was a technical marvel when the first mortal Kombat game was created. Given the ability to swap into the look and move set of any character in the game, Shang Tsung was a true all-in-one character that people would spend a lot of time mastering when he became playable in Mortal Kombat II, though in a younger form. Given the limited use of RAM in the original Mortal Kombat, having Shang Tsung switch characters on the fly was something that no other video game had ever tried, even the home ports of the game would follow in this use this feature too, showing how far ahead of their time Midway was. Though Shang Tsung has lost this ability, mostly due to load times and the more complex nature of storing character models, but is still one of the most deadly characters in the Mortal Kombat franchise. Helping Shang Tsung gain popularity was the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie, where Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa played Shang Tsung and coined the phrase "IT HAS BEGUN!" as a meme forevermore.
When Mortal Kombat exploded in popularity in 1992, there obviously would be a sequel game in production after some time. While the direct opposition, Street Fighter, was still putting out rehashes and revisions of Street Fighter II, Midway decided to get a jump on their competition by putting out a brand new game, called Mortal Kombat II, which not only updated characters but added new characters and continued the story directly from the first game, something Street Fighter didn't do.
One of these new characters was Baraka, a monster-looking character with two huge blades sticking out from his forearms, making him look like one character that you didn't want to mess with. Coming from the subterranean Tarkatan race, Baraka was a good addition to the roster as it showed something more than the first game's mostly human roster. Making use of props, masks, and make-up, Baraka looked very intimidating from the get-go, with future versions of the character looking more and more monster-like with his threatening nature getting more and more extreme. One of the best creature creations made by Midway.
The original hidden character makes his appearance, and it didn't take a pain in the ass sequence of events to get him on the list. Reptile started out his Mortal Kombat career as a mixture of Sub Zero and Scorpion (Blue + Yellow = Green... Get it?) that was accessed by getting lucky on the arcade version or doing a specific sequence of things on the home console versions. After being made playable in Mortal Kombat II, complete with a new move set, Reptile would continue to change and evolve as the games moved on, with his appearance becoming more the more looking like a reptile Lizard-Man than the Green Ninja that he began as. Story-wise, Reptile is the shit-kicker of the franchise, being used by people left and right, with all of them making big promises and none of them following through, leaving Reptile to move from group to group, going nowhere fast.
5. Quan Chi
Probably the only character to come from the horrible 3D era (and the horrible 2D side-scrolling game idea) of Mortal Kombat, Quan Chi is an amazingly powerful character who should get much more respect for the general Mortal Kombat community than he really does. A powerful Necromancer, who becomes integral to the story of some of the most popular characters in the franchise, Quan Chi can manipulate people's bodies in many ways, from controlling them to making them break their own limbs or even killing themselves. Quan Chi started out as a lackey to the main antagonist of Mortal Kombat 4, the elder god Shinnok, but quickly has become the second-highest, second-in-command character in the whole franchise, equalling Shang Tsung in status and power. One of the best-looking human-based characters, Quan Chi is easily one of the best-overlooked characters in the Mortal Kombat series.
It's interesting how influence can be found through all sorts of weird moments. Kano was just a generic American bad guy with one of the most violent fatalities in the Mortal Kombat franchise, with ripping the heart out of his opponent's chest, but one small change from the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie turned Kano from low tier character to legendary status. That change? Actor Trevor Goddard, who was cast as Kano, decided to play the character with an Australian accent, something that Ed Boon loved, and decided to make canon. So Kano went from American gangster to Australian rogue and the rest is history. Yeah, this could be seen as a bit of bias since I am Australian, but we rarely get representation in fighting games as heroes or villains, and to have someone as memorable as Kano as our representative is bloody awesome in my book.
3. Sub Zero
I'm sure you could see this coming. Aside from the other Ninja character known as Scorpion, Sub Zero is one of the most recognizable characters in the whole Mortal Kombat franchise. Using the power of ice, Sub Zero freezes his opponents in place so he can take advantage of their frozen state to lay in some deadly blows, all the way through to using the nature of freezing people to rip their heads from their bodies, complete with spine intact. However, the version of Sub Zero seen in more recent versions of Mortal Kombat is the second Sub Zero, known in-game as Kuai Liang, and the younger brother of the original Sub Zero. Though just as powerful, if not more so, than his elder brother, Sub Zero has gone on to recover the Lin Kuei clan and stop the Cyber Initiative twice, and also mended the rift between his clan and Scorpion's revived Shirai Ryu clan, ending the feud between Sub Zero and Scorpion.
2. Noob Saibot/Noob-Smoke
This character gains the second spot, not only because of his trivia of being the names of Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon (Noob) and John Tobias (Saibot) backward but also because of the amazing backstory that has grown around the character since his introduction as a hidden character in Mortal Kombat II. Noob Saibot is the corrupted nether-realm spirit of the original Sub Zero, known as Bi-Han, who was killed in the events of Mortal Kombat at the hands of Scorpion, who was getting revenge against Bi-Han himself. Noob Saibot has some shadow and black-goo abilities, showing the damned and corrupted nature of the character. He also gained a partner in Mortal Kombat: Deception by the name of Smoke, who joined Noob Saibot in the nether-realm and became the first two-for-one character in the Mortal Kombat franchise. With the reboot changing the events of the timeline, Noob Saibot is on his own again, but stronger than ever, creating his own shadow clone that helps him with attacks and fatalities, making him a very dangerous character.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course, you saw this coming. Given his status in pop culture, Scorpion is the character who not only has become the flaming face of the Mortal Kombat franchise but of NeatherRealm Studios, the company that came about after Midway closed its doors. Scorpion has appeared in so many other pieces of media that it could make its own list, but I'll avoid that for now. The specter of revenge, Scorpion was once the leader of the Shirai Ryu Ninja clan, which was slaughtered at the hands of the Lin Kuei Ninja Clan and its leader Sub Zero. Though it was later revealed that Quan Chi was behind the attack on the Shirai Ryu because he wanted to create a nether-realm warrior of great power and skill, using Hanzo Hasashi as the base. While Hanzo's humanity would be restored over time, he can still call on the powers of Scorpion at anytime to use with his own skills, making him a deadly fighter and an amazing powerhouse to build a franchise around.