Welcome back to “Figures Wanted”, my look at classic properties that should get new collectibles. It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these. If you missed the previous articles, I have covered classic video game franchises Double Dragon and Battletoads (which are tentatively set to receive a figure line), as well as John Carpenter’s classic 1982 film; The Thing. For my newest entry, I’m talking about…MORTAL KOMBAT! No, not that video game series, which has gotten collectibles from a number of companies. I’m talking about the live action film from director Paul W.S. Anderson that debuted in 1995. The movie was extremely popular when originally released, and spawned a live-action prequel television series, and a vastly inferior sequel that embodied everything moviegoers despise about video game adaptations. With a new film set to debut in April 2021 (simultaneously in theaters and HBO Max), we figured now is the perfect time to revisit the movie.
Like the other fighting game based film, Street Fighter, the Mortal Kombat movie led to very few spin-off items. Collectibles for the Mortal Kombat live action film was limited to a small run of figures in 1995. Since then, that has been it. It wasn’t until the release of Mortal Kombat 11 that any of the films characters made their way back to the video game world. When originally released, you could play as Shang Tsung, who is portrayed once again by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. A recent update has added even more movie versions to the game, including Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage, Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade, and Christopher Lambert as Lord Raiden.
In this article, I’ll talk about the history of the film and its successful run at the box office. After that, I’ll delve into which characters would best transition to the toy world, and which companies would be best to take on the license.
The live action Mortal Kombat film debuted on August 18th, 1995. The movie hit during the early years of video game adaptations, where films like Double Dragon, Street Fighter, and Super Mario Bros. failed to capture the spirit of the video games they were attempting to adapt. Mortal Kombat could not have been released at a better time. It was the number one movie at the box office for its first three weeks in theaters. The film had an estimated production budget of $18 million, and recouped that cost within the first weekend of release. Mortal Kombat would go on to gross $70+ million in North America, and has a worldwide total of over $122 million. That might not sound like much compared to today’s mega-blockbusters, but $122 million on an $18 million budget was fantastic for the time. While critical reception was lukewarm, fans and teenagers enjoyed the fast paced action, surprisingly enjoyable comedy, mostly solid effects (for 1995 that is), and an intense soundtrack. More importantly, it showed that a video game can be appropriately adapted to the big screen if it embraced what made the game enjoyable in the first place.
The original Mortal Kombat game was a blood-soaked homage to campy kung fu films of the 70’s and 80’s. However, when Mortal Kombat 2 was released, it was clear that the creators wanted to move beyond a simple homage, and looked to carve out their own fantastical story. The movie featured characters mostly pulled from Mortal Kombat 1, with a few additions from part 2. The story, however, had much more in common with the second game. According to the movie, Mortal Kombat is a centuries old tournament between Outworld and Earthrealm. The tournament was set up to prevent the forces of Outworld from invading Earthrealm. However, if the Outworld warriors can win ten consecutive tournaments, they will be permitted by the Elder Gods to invade the realm. as the movie opens, Outworld has won nine consecutive tournaments, with the tenth set to begin shortly. The movie follows Earthrealm warriors Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, and Johnny Cage as they are guided by Lord Raiden to compete in the Mortal Kombat tournament. Each has their own reason to be there; Liu Kang is driven to avenge his brother’s death at the hands of the sorcerer Shang Tsung, Sonya is tracking an underworld criminal who killed her partner, and Johnny Cage is looking to prove that he is more than just a Hollywood actor. Along the way, they will make new allies, settle old debts, and learn that they are stronger together.
What I love about the film is that it embraced the campiness of the source material. Certain characters like Shang Tsung, Liu Kang, and Kano play things dead serious, while Johnny Cage, Raiden, and Sonya provide moments of levity when needed. Though the film is rated PG-13, and shies away from the goriest aspects of the game series, it still packs enough combat to satisfy. The fight choreographers leaned heavily on the talents of Liu Kang actor Robin Shou, as well as the actors portraying the ninjas, to make the fights look slick and brutal. Shou is said to have choreographed many of the fights himself. They also mixed in just enough of each characters signature moves to appease game fans. It was hard not to smile the first time Scorpion yelled “Get Over Here”, when Sub-Zero froze his first victim, or when Johnny Cage nut punched Goro.
At the time, Mortal Kombat received just a small run of figures from Hasbro, which barely resembled the film at all. Whether it was the stigma that Mortal Kombat carried in the mainstream, or the poor reception to some of the previous game adaptations, the film has gone 25+ years without seeing proper collectibles.
Like I mentioned earlier, the cast is made up of characters from Mortal Kombat 1. Those include Liu Kang, Raiden, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Kano, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile, and Goro. Shang Tsung acts as the films main villain, and is more in tune with is appearance in part 2. Kitana from the second game has a supporting role, while Mortal Kombat 2 characters Jax and Shao Khan make brief appearances.
Initially, I imagine the most sought after character would be the Earthrealm Heroes along with their mentor Raiden. With all four of these figure being completely unique, it would take either new molds, or really creative reuses of existing assets. Joining these could potentially be Princess Kitana. Also, with each of these, an actor’s likeness comes into play, which can be a challenge if likeness rights aren’t included with the films license (which is very likely). Ideally, each figure would include a regular and some sort of alternate portrait, and at least two sets of hands. Accessories would be fairly limited. Sonya could definitely include a gun, Johnny Cage an autographed photo, and Liu Kang could include a bo staff. The difficult aspect here, is there aren’t many opportunities to repaint these molds, which makes it harder to spread the cost over multiple releases.
In the film three of the ninja characters appear. Those include Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Reptile. Much like the video games, the three ninjas use the same exact outfit, simply with different colors. The only other major differences would come with the face shields, as those were unique to each ninja. This trio presents the best chance at recouping production costs, as the initial sculpting cost can be spread over three releases (at least). Accessories would be easy as well. Scorpion would need a swap out skull head, a fire accessory, and a swap out hand with the spear coming out. Sub-Zero could include alternate hands and an ice effect. Reptile would include a smaller “true form” reptile figure.
Shang Tsung, Kano, and Goro would make up the antagonistic figures to display alongside the heroes and ninjas. Much like the heroic figures, these would likely need to be unique molds. With Kano and Shang Tsung, you would again need to work with actor likenesses. Goro wouldn’t require any likeness rights, but would likely need to be more of a deluxe figure due to his size and complexity. again, alternate portraits, and different hands would be welcome. Accessories would be minimal for these three. Shang Tsung could include a removable jacket of some type. Kano would need his knife. Goro could include Johnny Cage’s crushed $500 sunglasses.
The only figures that come to mind were a few releases by Hasbro in 1995. At that point, they were reusing some of the G.I. Joe molds, and reworking them into action figures based on the first Mortal Kombat video game. when the film was released, Hasbro released a handful of figures based on the film using the G.I. Joe molds. These were packed on the same card backs as their video game versions, but included a sticker to denote that they were “Special Movie Edition” releases. They had little in common with the actual movie, as sculpts and color schemes barely matched what was shown on screen. These figures included Goro, Shang Tsung, Rayden, Liu Kang, Sony Blade, Johnny Cage, Scopion, and Sub-Zero. Kano and Reptile were released as well, but where included with vehicles. Johnny Cage and Goro were released as a 2-pack.
About The License
Both the movie, and the video game reside at Warner Bros. That makes things a little less complicated when dealing with the base license since you wouldn’t need to approach multiple companies. The difficulty comes in when it comes to the actor likenesses. If the contracts with the individual actors didn’t include the rights to use their likenesses on collectible merchandise, then that would require any toy company to track down each actor’s representation or estate to negotiate a license. Judging by the fact that there have been no action figures or statues featuring these actors’ likenesses, that situation seems very likely. The other major hurdle is whether or not toy companies and/or WB sees this as a profitable venture. While the game series is still quite popular, until recently, the 1995 film has rarely received any type of recognition from the game or movie studios.
Who Could Handle The License
Right now, there are three major toy companies handling the Mortal Kombat license, though they are handling different eras of the license, and aiming at very different markets. Storm Collectibles has been handling figures based on previous releases. They tend to label their figures as “Klassic” versions, and have released figures inspired by their appearances in Mortal Kombat 1 through 3. The second company is McFarlane Toys. They have been exclusively releasing figures based on the current game, Mortal Kombat 11. The third company is Diamond Select Toys, who have released a small number of 1/2 scale busts, and small scale statues based on the classic game appearances.
Of the two, I would suspect that Storm Collectibles would be the likely candidate to release figures of this nature. Since they are already handling the older designs, these could fit in quite nicely. We’ve also seen them tackle figures requiring official likenesses, with their releases of 1/12 scale versions of Hulk Hogan and Mike Tyson. Storm is a company that also likes to get the most out of their molds, reusing them for variants whenever possible. The Ninjas make prime fodder for repaints from the movie. They could even take it a step further and do paint schemes inspired by the other Ninjas from the game series, creating film inspired versions of characters such as Rain and Smoke. The major challenge would be acquiring likenesses, and their tendency for long breaks between releases. Storm’s figures do tend to be more expensive than standard retail releases. However, that higher cost has allowed them to offer some truly fantastic figures over the years. Most Storm figures are jam packed releases, with alternate heads, assorted hands, and various effects parts.
While Storm Collectibles seems like the most obvious choice based on their current releases, McFarlane Toys could work as well. They have a long history of working with cult classic film properties with lines such as Movie Maniacs in the early 2000’s. McFarlane’s current trend is to work with mostly modern properties, especially after they moved to the updated body style with more articulation. A line of figures based on the 1995 Mortal Kombat film would be a great way to reintroduce cult films into their current lines. McFarlane has done a great job in keeping their figure costs down. To keep those costs down, most of their figures have been fairly light on accessories, unless in a more deluxe pack. I personally think that’s fine, as most of the characters would work with simply an extra portrait, or just a second set of hand. Only figures like Scorpion and Sub-Zero would truly require more extensive accessory load outs.
Diamond Select Toys remains an intriguing option for sure. Of the three companies, that produce the most diverse range of collectibles. DST currently produces action figures, statues, busts, mini figures, and more for a number of licenses. While they only do non-articulated items for Mortal Kombat at this time, I could absolutely see them working out a very specific license to produce Select Action Figures of the Mortal Kombat movie characters. I would imagine there’s less desire for statues or busts based on these characters, though a reduced line of a few major characters would draw some interest for sure.
Other than Storm, DST, and McFarlane, I don’t see many other companies that could handle the line properly. NECA has never had much interest in Mortal Kombat, and seems to have passed on the license each time it has become available. The cults status of the film would also seem to rule out companies such as Hasbro, Medicom, and Tamashii Nations. I could see someone like Mezco have passing interest in creating a few in their One:12 Collective line up, but I could also seeing those being most expensive option.
Mortal Kombat’s popularity has always had its highs and lows. Right now, it’s at an incredible high. With an excellent current video game, a promising live action film on the horizon, and two well done collectible lines running concurrently, it’s the perfect time to revisit a bright spot in the franchises history. Timing is everything, and the last 25+ years has shown that Mortal Kombat will likely have another dip in popularity at some point. Once that happens, it will be that much harder to justify going back to that film.
I’ve curated some Mortal Kombat movie images, which you can see in the gallery below. these include shots from the film, and a few images of the Hasbro Mortal Kombat movie line (via eBay Auctions). Thanks for reading. Let us know your thoughts on the idea of action figures based on the Mortal Kombat 1995 movie in our discussion thread.