The ’80s Martial Arts Movie Influences of Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge

From Jean-Claude Van Damme to Sonny Chiba's Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge isn't shy about its influences.

Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge
Photo: Warner Bros. Animation

Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge is a bone-crunchingly brutal take on the beloved game franchise and the heart-wrenching backstory of the titular warrior, Hanzo Hasashi. The newest Warner Bros. animated offering is also stacked with homages to classic martial arts movies and ’80s action flicks that the creators, writer Jeremy Adams and executive producer Rick Morales, tell me was vital to their vision of Mortal Kombat, which Morales reveals made the R-rated animation “the movie that I’ve always wanted to make.”

Watching Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge as an action fan, it’s easy to see where the team pulled from, especially when it comes to the real life inspiration for Johnny Cage, the Muscles from Brussels himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme. There’s even an instantly recognizable triple roundhouse kick which Morales confirms was an intentional nod to the iconic European martial artist. “We pulled from Van Damme stuff for sure, especially with Johnny Cage. There are shots in there where we’ve done things that they used to do in Hard Target–a personal favorite of ours–and Bloodsport. There’s lots of stuff like that.”

The fact that the franchise was already so influenced by things that made such an impact on the pair meant it felt like a perfect fit, which gave Morales the ability to channel some of his biggest cinematic passions. “I am and have always been a fan of horror films and ’80s action. So between me and Jeremy, we’d been working together at the time and we have a relationship and we know what our likes are and what fits in this space. Especially because in Mortal Kombat they draw a lot of influence from ’80s action films and all kinds of different stuff like Bruce Lee movies and martial arts, so it’s steeped in all the stuff that we love so much.”

Adams agrees, singling out some of the things he was most excited to pay homage to when it came time to craft the narrative and action of Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge. “I am obsessed, especially with martial arts and action movies from the late ’70s and 80’s. This had that kind of feel in terms of what we wanted to make. One of the hallmarks of ’80s action movies is that an action hero would kill somebody and they would make it funny. They’d stab somebody and say something like ‘stick around.’ So that was really great, especially when it comes to someone like Johnny. He was always that perfect kind of ’80s action comic relief.”

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Another character who gets to channel an action dynamo is Sonya Blade with her penchant for witty quips. “Sonya’s got the Schwarzenegger one liners. I was referencing Commando a lot and all the kinds of ’80s cheese that we just love,” Morales laughs. 

Something that’s really cool is how much of the already established Mortal Kombat lore references martial arts history. Morales revealed that a poster in Johnny’s apartment for Ninja Mime–that I assumed was a reference to the classic Van Damme-directed adventure flick The Quest–was actually already part of Mortal Kombat lore, existing in the games as a critically lambasted franchise that Cage starred in during his time as an action star. Adams also connected one of the most memorable martial arts moments with a vital game mechanic that the film utilizes to horrifying effect. “There’s this old Sonny Chiba movie called Street Fighter and you would see those x-ray punches and Rick was really intentional about taking all of these easter eggs from the Mortal Kombat series and putting them in.” 

Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge is unrelenting in its intensity and dedication to crafting something truly brutal. Adams revealed that even the pacing and atmosphere was inspired by one of the best action directors ever, as well as a famed piece of classical music. “I’m a big John Carpenter fan, too. So when I started writing the film, I was thinking about that wonderful composition ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King,’ where it starts out somewhat reserved but once it starts going it doesn’t really stop. There’s not a lot of breathing room in this movie. It keeps ratcheting up and ratcheting up.” 

Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge is available digitally now.