I felt a nagging sensation recently. I needed to understand why I love Mortal Kombat as much as I do. There is a time and a place for terrible movies, and the phenomena of “so-bad-it's-good,” which came up in the mid-aughts (thanks to Tommy Wiseau’s disasterpiece, The Room), but my love for this movie goes beyond that pigeon hole of a description. Upon recent rewatch, I read a review aggregated by Google stating this was: “One of the best if not only best video game movies ever made.” This...could not be true, could it? That moment was the impetus for the analysis I present to you. I’ve decided to take a serious, data-driven review of a decidedly unserious movie of the video game genre: Mortal Kombat. I set a goal for myself to metrically prove that this movie was indeed the best of this oft-despised genre.
The easiest way to approach this though, is not necessarily the best. Wikipedia has an extremely helpful source of all the live action video game films that have been completed to date.This includes 40 features, and for the sake of this study I am not including animated films, shorts, or foreign films. Although the information on Wikipedia covers all of the traditional modes of “success” (i.e. Box office revenue, average Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic Score) this does not cover the influence of the film, or the cult following of a certain film. So, I have added the following metrics: how many features after the film was released did the director helm, what’s the next film that the first billed actor starred in after this release, and the number of Google searches over time? I shall henceforth lump the cult metrics that I present to you all together in what I call the “cult longtail.”
Before I dive into my results, there are a few elements of data that I want to mention that I might have a bias towards. For instance, I'd love to gain a better understanding of the negative components of the Mortal Kombat film, and how that affects our perception of it. A couple of these elements that I would consider detractors for some are: how the CGI looks dated, Christopher Lambeth as Lord Raiden almost has a laughable “put on” raspy voice a la Christian Bale as Batman, and the film’s abrasive soundtrack. Looking back, the CGI elements can be written off as our own implicit biases towards older looking technology- and you can further extrapolate this as minor ageism when it comes to appearance. Regarding the soundtrack, it should not be held against a film for wanting to be in and contributing to the zeitgeist. Finally, throughout the film there are audio quotes from the video game itself, (aside from the endless “Finish him” and “Flawless victory” quotes from Shang Tsung) the introduction of “Fight!” and Scorpion’s endless “Get Over Here,” which can come across as grating to some. But, given the source material, I immensely enjoy these quotes. I can’t currently imagine a better way at that time to give homage to the source material and have it be as genuine and fun as it currently is.
Additionally, for every negative element of this film that I can think of there is a positive to balance that out. For instance, the Scorpion fight scene is reminiscent of Lady from Shanghai, and furthermore, I feel like some of the aside character shots are extremely well composed. (Admittedly, I have a special place in my heart for “contemplation against the sunset” shots ever since the rise of that Randy Savage meme).
With all of this in mind, let’s get into the results. First, out of 40 live action adaptations of video game franchises (to my surprise), the highest grossing box office worldwide still is Duncan Jones’ Warcraft at $439,048,914. Most recently, a close second is Detective Pikachu at $433,005,346. In stark contrast, Warcraft has an extremely low critical average from Rotten Tomatoes (28%) and Metacritic (32%). The longtail cult average of search results, collected from Google Trends worldwide search of the past 5 years is an average of 5.1 per week. On the opposite end of the gross spectrum is Far Cry, which had a box office intake of only $743,634. With a budget of $30 million, that has to sting. Let’s take a quick moment of silence for the loss of director Uwe Boll’s dignity.
Far Cry doesn’t even have enough negative reviews to grant it a critics consensus, and instead has an average review rate on Rotten Tomatoes of only 12% fresh. A bit of a surprise here is the cult longtail which has Uwe Boll directing 16(!) movies after this, and weekly average search results over a five year period is 14.5. On the downside of the cult longtail is first billed actor Til Schweiger’s next immediate feature after this which is 1 1/2 Knights - In Search of the Ravishing Princess Herzelinde . The only factor I have included in the first billed actor’s follow up film was: have I heard of it? So in this case, absolutely not. However, in the case of Street Fighter and Jean Claude Van Damme, you’re damn right i’ve heard of Sudden Death. But, I digress. Like Bobby Flay would say, on Beat Bobby Flay, the star of this dish needs to be Mortal Kombat, so where does that stand?
Regarding box office gross, Mortal Kombat took in $122,195,920; not great but certainly not Far Cry abysmal. Critically, it did better than I thought, with the Rotten Tomatoes average of 46%. One of the main immediately surprising points from the data I assembled was that out of all of the video game films on Wikipedia, Mortal Kombat has the highest rating from Metacritic. This was the only data point of my analysis where Mortal Kombat was at the top.
Regarding the cult longtail, Paul W.S. Anderson went on to direct twelve movies after this one, some of which have high notability outside of the video game film realm (Event Horizon, The Three Musketeers, Alien Vs. Predator, Death Race, and Pompei). He went on to direct Resident Evil, which is also on this list (and I additionally, thoroughly enjoy). The actor playing our favorite Lord of Thunder, Raiden (Christopher Lambert), went on immediately to star in North Star, which did not have any immediate recognition for me; this began the twilight of his career. That being said, he has still had a very active career. His highest point had (in my opinion) occurred earlier as the titular Highlander in the 1986 film debut of this legendary character. The Google results are not as favorable; however, the cumulative weekly average of worldwide search results over the past five years is 23. Not great, but the dubious honor of lowest search results goes to Assassin’s Creed with an average of 5.4. Yikes.
The most recent article written about the original Mortal Kombat film was on April 6th of this past year. However, we might see more come up soon because there is a reboot in the works with a projected release date of January 15, 2021. To be clear, this is a reboot considering there is no connection to the already existing Mortal Kombat films.
To address the data integrity of my results, I wanted to consider the following elements:
First, the most disputable of these results are the ones within the cult longtail, which can be for a wide array of reasons. For the search average, at this point and time, I am not considering if auto-complete aided some of these search results. Meaning some of these search results could very well exist due to typos, or lazy autofilling searchers. (To be fair, I include myself in this category). Regarding Google Trends, there are some instances which the film itself may not have explicitly been limited in the results. Specifically, when I searched Bloodrayne, Trends did not produce a TAG indicating if it was indeed the specific, original film in which I was attempting to cite. It could have been an amalgamation of the search results including the video game, or the other films in the franchise, which could be corrupted, and inaccurate reporting. My apologies for misrepresenting this information. There is a lot more data analysis that I would love to do on this topic, but, you know, deadlines. :) Maybe this is worth revisiting with an augmented search functionality and AI assistance, but i’d imagine the potential audience interested in that (as well as this entire article) is very, very small.
Finally, we get into the results of this study. I took the highest scoring data of each field I created and eliminated the rest. Let’s take a quick look at this. For box office gross, the highest is Warcraft. The highest Rotten Tomatoes score goes to Detective Pikachu at 68%. Also, Mortal Kombat is the highest rated on Metacritic, as I previously mentioned, with 58/100. Not a high bar compared to the rest, but nonetheless, I thought this was notable.
For the cult longtail, there were some surprising results. The director with the most directed features after their video game was Uwe Boll, who directed 22 features AFTER his terrible House of the Dead. What I can glean from my analysis of that statistic is that Uwe Boll has prospered because we do not have a merciful God.
Surprisingly, the film with the most search results per week is Need for Speed, with an average of 49 searches per week. I have previously mentioned the potential problem of the Google Trend searches that I did. The last criteria I used is what was the movie that the lead actor was in immediately after this film, and how much recognition of it I had. That honor goes to Jean Claude Van Damme, who after Street Fighter starred in fucking Sudden Death. That being said, since this component of my research is based on feeling, I partially thought about eliminating it entirely. Not one feature was at the top of two data points of the criteria I used.
Based on all of that criteria, I took the mean of all of the aforementioned categories which breaks down as follows: Average number of searches per week (21), average box office gross($146,294,028), Average Rotten Tomatoes Certified Freshness (29.6%), Metacritic score out of one hundred (47.2), and average number of features after the video game film is (7.6%). Mortal Kombat is higher than the mean of all factors with the exception of box office gross.
I can then eliminate Need for Speed, considering it’s such an outlier for every other category, as well as House of the Dead and Street Fighter, none of these features are above the mean. Then it comes down to Warcraft, Detective Pikachu, and Mortal Kombat. Interestingly, Warcraft, although having the highest gross, has the lowest average weekly searches at 5.3. This is well below the mean of the average search. It also did horrible critically, so I'm removing it. Detective Pikachu is a surprisingly strong contender, but ultimately it is too early to declare the influence of this film, and the longevity of its director, Rob Letterman.
In conclusion, after all of this analysis, Mortal Kombat, is not the most “popular” film of all time, but it is the most successful when looking at the critical and longtail cult matrices, with higher weekly searches than Detective Pikachu. And it certainly jump-started the career of Paul W.S. Anderson. If you have any thoughts on my analysis, or any critique, by all means I welcome it, as it will only help. (If I have your permission I may come back and do more edits as well), we’ll leave it up to the site views).
Thank you for coming to my Ted talk, please feel free to resume your doom scrolling at your earliest convenience.
Jordan graduated in 2009 from Susquehanna University with a degree in Creative Writing and Film Studies where he met his wife. In spite of God's will, he published his first book PESTS with Lloyd Kaufman; the CEO of the independent stalwart Troma Entertainment. You can see him being snarky and cynical on Twitter and Instagram @settlingstatic , and you can find him being deeply, deeply nerdy on Reddit @SkywardJordan.