No Mortal Kombat character has suffered more at the hands of backstage drama than the cocky Earth realm warrior Johnny Cage. Starting out as the game's version of action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, the character's name was subsequently changed to Johnny Cage. Originally played by Daniel Pesina in the first Mortal Kombat game, the character was then portrayed by Linden Ashby in the live-action 1995 movie based on the game.
But then Johnny Cage was killed off in the sequel movie, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and was also missing from the roster for several games. In a series of tweets, John Tobias, the co-creator of the gaming franchise, revealed that there was a secret system in place that allowed them to determine which characters were the most popular among players, and Cage simply did not make the cut.
"[Co-creator] Ed [Boone] and I wanted to add as many new characters to the MK2 roster as possible. This meant that we were going to have to leave a couple behind. How to make that choice? We added character select audits so we could see how many times each character was chosen. Ed also added a secret button tap sequence that let us walk up to any coin-op game in any arcade, tap in the button sequence and access the audit menu from the attract mode... The outcry from players missing Kano and Sonya in MK2 fueled their return in MK3. Johnny Cage (despite rumor and nonsense) was cut because he was the least selected character in MK2; as were, believe it or not, Raiden and Baraka..."
The truth is, what makes a character appealing in a movie is very different from their appeal in games. Mortal Kombat is filled with fantastical and bizarre fighting characters that wield magic and technology in new and fascinating ways. By comparison, Cage's appeal as a Hollywood loudmouth was limited for players.
Still, the character enjoys great popularity among fans today, especially for his appearance in the original Mortal Kombat movie. In fact, fans were very unhappy to learn Cage would not be appearing in the upcoming live-action reboot of Mortal Kombat. But the film's producer Todd Garner has previously hinted the character will have a substantial role in the sequel.
"Johnny Cage is obviously the elephant in the room, and there's a number of reasons why Johnny Cage was problematic in this particular movie out of the gate. One, he's a very big personality, right? He needs his own space. It's very hard to just throw him in a movie, like I said, with Kano. So, taking him out was very easy not only for the movie, but for the sequel. I want to make a sequel, and I've now got Johnny Cage, which hasn't been used in the first one. So, I have a big stick and carrot that maybe they'll let me have a Johnny Cage real presence in the second one."
Directed by Simon McQuoid and produced by James Wan, Mortal Kombat stars Lewis Tan as Cole Young, Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade, Josh Lawson as Kano, Tadanobu Asano as Lord Raiden, Mehcad Brooks as Jackson "Jax" Bridges, Ludi Lin as Liu Kang, Chin Han as Shang Tsung, Joe Taslim as Bi-Han and Sub-Zero, Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzo Hasashi and Scorpion, Max Huang as Kung Lao, Sisi Stringer as Mileena, Matilda Kimber as Emily Young and Laura Brent as Allison Young. The film arrives in theaters and on HBO Max on April 23.