Fighting games are ideal for trash talking your competitors. There’s nothing like slinging a few insults at your friend mid-round to up the ante of the fight. But if you’re too busy mashing buttons or entering combos, the characters in Mortal Kombat are happy to do the trash talking for you. While Scorpion may have the most iconic line of the series, the character of Johnny Cage has a never-ending arsenal of antagonistic insults and cocky comebacks to shower his opponents with.
The arrogant martial arts expert has been a mainstay of the Mortal Kombat series since the original game made its arcade debut back in 1992. There are a bunch of things that are glaringly obvious about Johnny Cage– his acting profession, his crush on Sonya Blade, his inability to take his sunglasses off indoors– but there’s more depth to this seemingly shallow MK character than meets the eye.
Here are 15 Things You Never Knew About Johnny Cage.
15. He was based on Jean-Claude Van Damme
Believe it or not, the original Mortal Kombat game was actually conceived to revolve around Belgian martial art film star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Series creators Ed Boon and John Tobias were tasked with creating a fighting game for Midway in less than a year, and wanted Van Damme to play the game’s protagonist and record the character’s sprites. Of course this never came to fruition, as Van Damme couldn’t participate in the project due to other commitments.
While the Shaolin monk Liu Kang became the new series protagonist, Van Damme still served as an inspiration for Johnny Cage. The character’s appearance mirrored Van Damme’s character Captain Frank Dux from the 1988 film Bloodsport, even borrowing a few signature moves from the Belgian martial artist, including the infamous leg-split/groin punch combo. While Cage’s personality has certainly evolved in the last 25 years, the character’s roots remain intertwined with “The Muscles from Brussels.”
14. He’s killed three times in the original series
Of course, in the kombat mode of the MK games, Johnny Cage has probably died a million times over; but even in the story mode the character has been killed off an impressive number of times. Before the timeline reset with the 2011 reboot, Johnny Cage was stuck in a never-ending cycle of being killed and resurrected. While the exact amount of times the character is killed remains up for debate, it appears as though the character was definitely terminated on three separate occasions.
After appearing in the first two games, Cage is absent from MK3, though his name can be seen on a headstone during the graveyard stage. In the follow-up game, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, the character’s bio states that Cage was killed by one of Shao Kahn’s extermination squads that was sent to Earth, and the actor is later brought back to life with the help of Raiden. Between the events of Deadly Alliance and Deception, Cage is killed while fighting in Outworld and resurrected by Onago to serve as his slave. He’s eventually relieved of his servitude to the Dragon King only to be killed a third and final time in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, after being decapitated by an unknown enemy. This death comes as no big surprise, though, as nearly all the characters are offed by the end of Armageddon.
13. He’s the most meta MK character
He may be no where on the level of Deadpool, but as far as Mortal Kombat characters go, Johnny Cage is definitely the most self-referential kombatant in the franchise. After Van Damme was ruled out to portray the character, Cage immediately became a parody of cocky martial arts actors, but the satire didn’t stop there. Even in the ending of the original game the character’s epilogue reads that following the tournament Cage would return to Hollywood to star in Mortal Kombat: The Movie, along with many of its successful sequels.
In MK4, Cage is even set to star in Mortal Kombat: The Death of Johnny Cage– a play on the character’s repeated deaths and resurrections. In the 1995 live-action film, Cage faces of against Goro and defeats the four-armed beast, but not before Goro crushes the actor’s sunglasses. In the MKX intro scenes, Cage even gives a nod to the movie, reminding Goro of the glasses he still owes him before the two throw down.
12. Brandon Lee was originally cast to play him
Once again, Van Damme was approached to portray Johnny Cage in the live-action film, but he was already committed to doing the Street Fighter movie. Instead, actor and martial arts expert Brandon Lee, son of the legendary Bruce Lee (who served as inspiration for Liu Kang), was cast to play Johnny Cage. Brandon Lee had only starred in a handful of films in the late ’80s and early ’90s before being selected to star in the massive video game adaptation. However, the actor was tragically killed by an accidental shooting while making The Crow.
Actor Linden Ashby, who had previously studied Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu, was ultimately cast in the role. While some of the character’s storylines had changed dramatically from the games– particularly Scorpion and Sub-Zero, who appear as mindless slaves to Shang Tsung– the character of Johnny Cage proved to be a pretty faithful adaptation, all the way down to leaving an autographed photo on the remains of his opponent, which was taken from the game’s “Friendship” fatality.
11. He would’ve been resurrected in the third film
After he read the script, Linden Ashby chose not to reprise his role in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and we definitely can’t blame him. In fact, only two actors from the first film chose to return for the sequel, which led to a mass recasting of characters. Chris Conrad took up the role of Johnny Cage, who is killed almost immediately in the film by the Outworld Emperor, Shao-Kahn.
There were plans for a third film, which would have been titled Mortal Kombat: Devastation, and would have featured Conrad being resurrected as Cage, reminiscent of the games where Raiden often brings the character back to the good side. There were even talks to resurrect the character in Annihilation, which would’ve provided a nice book-end for the film (not that it would have made the movie anywhere closer to enjoyable). However, Cage was left dead when Warner Bros. acquired the film rights, and a big-budget Mortal Kombat reboot has yet to see the light of day.
10. He joined the tournament to revive his acting career
Most of the characters who end up fighting for Earthrealm have noble reasons for doing so. Liu Kang fought to restore the balance between good and evil in the centuries-old tournament. Lieutenant Sonya Blade chose to fight as it was the only way to rescue her Special Forces Team from Shang Tsung’s control. But Johnny Cage arrived at the tournament simply to restore his acting career and continue his life of fame and fortune.
Cage has an impressive filmography for a fictional character, starring in over 30 films– four of which revolve around his experience in the Mortal Kombat tournaments. However, critics and audiences alike failed to believe that he was performing all the stunts himself, and that he most likely used a stunt double and special effects to make him look far more impressive. In reality, Cage was trained around the world by a number of martial arts experts, and he joins the deadly tournament under the sole purpose to prove his detractors wrong and revitalize his dying career.
9. He won Celebrity SMASH TV
On top of his impressive filmography, Cage has also starred in a commercial for Cage Cologne, as well as making an appearance in an episode of the celebrity version of SMASH TV. For those of you who aren’t arcade game enthusiasts, SMASH TV was originally a shoot-em-up game released in 1990. The game took place in the then-future of 1999, where contestants would participate in a violent gameshow in front of a live studio audience. Suffice it to say, the game heavily borrowed from the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man.
Since Midway Games held the rights to SMASH TV, the “gameshow” became popular amongst the inhabitants of Earthrealm, despite the fact that nobody ever seemed to win. However, during an episode of Celebrity SMASH TV, the camera-friendly Johnny Cage managed to make his way through the deadly game in Deadly Alliance. The actor even ended up donating the winnings to charity, which was rather uncharacteristic of the money-hungry character up until that point in the series.
8. He entered the first tournament as a lone wolf
The characters in the original game all share a previous connection to the tournament or a fellow fighter in some way. For instance, Sonya Blade tracks Kano to the island, where Kano intends to steal the fortunate of Shang Tsung. However, Johnny Cage has no personal connection to any of his fellow fighters, and he enters the tournament out of nothing but pride. This is expanded on in the film when Shang Tsung disguises himself as Cage’s former trainer in an attempt to unwittingly lure the actor to his island.
When the series rebooted in 2011, the new incarnation of Johnny Cage was far more arrogant and clueless than any we’d seen before. He even had his own name brazenly tattooed across his chest. Once again, Cage returned to Shang Tsung’s island out of pride, but it took him a lot longer to find out that the other fighters weren’t just there for the fun of it. After defeating both Reptile and Baraka, Cage continues to believe that they were simply actors wearing make-up, until Shang Tsung ultimately tells him to kill his opponent and Cage suddenly realizes the tournament is no longer a joke.
7. He was the first character ever created
The game was created in just 10 months with a bare-bones production team consisting of four employees. Ed Boon, who continues to work on the series, served as the game programmer, while Dan Forden (“Toasty!”) worked on the sound, and John Tobias and John Vogel worked on the art. Real actors were used to portray the characters and record the digital sprites.
Martial arts expert Daniel Pesina was cast to play the Hollywood film star, along with a number of other characters in the first two MK games, including Sub-Zero and Scorpion. Meanwhile, Daniel’s brother, Carlos Pesina, was used to portray Raiden.
Cage was the first character ever created for the series, and in fact, the prototype for the game was just two Johnny Cages facing off against one another. Despite being the first character created, Cage was actually the last character to be given a customized fatality, which consisted of an upper-cut so powerful it knocked his opponent’s head clean off (more on that below).
6. His Ninja Mime skin is unlockable in MKX
Aside from starring in a number of movies about his Mortal Kombat exploits, one of Cage’s most referenced films in the games is Ninja Mime. While not much is known about the plot of the film other than its tag line, which simply reads “He’s silent… but deadly,” a number of posters for the film can be seen in the urban stages of MK9. The costume was finally available for players in MKX, and could be unlocked through the mobile app.
This is another instance where the character has possibly borrowed from the career of Van Damme. In the 1996 film The Quest, which served as Van Damme’s directorial debut, the martial artist played a pickpocket living in New York City in the 1920s. The character oversees a group of young orphans and even dresses up as a quiet clown on stilts early in the film.
The characters in the MK games seem less than impressed with Cage’s film work, claiming that Ninja Mime was a waste of eight bucks. Some might say the same about The Quest, which currently holds a 14% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
5. His last name means “shadow” in Japanese
Before the game creators settled on the name Johnny Cage, the character was actually going to be called Michael Grimm, which sounds more like the name of a tortured police detective than an arrogant actor. Luckily, this was changed during pre-production, and the character was renamed Johnny Carlton, after a Midway Games artist and programmer of the same name. Interestingly, the character’s last name isn’t spelled with a K, despite the franchise’s trend of swapping out hard C’s with the letter K.
Many of the character’s names have hidden meanings in them or interesting origin stories. For instance, the character of Ermac was created out of rumors that stemmed from a glitch from the first game, when the abbreviation ERMACS, which stands for “error macro,” would appear on the screen. While Johnny Cage’s initials were probably borrowed from Jean-Claude Vann Damme, the word “kage” in Japanese actually means “shadow.” Cage has been displaying his shadow moves since the beginning of the series; they allow a fighter to thrust toward the opponent faster than humanly possible, which ends up leaving a shadow of green or red afterimages trailing behind the character.
4. He had a shotgun wedding with Sonya Blade
In MK9, Johnny Cage has an obsessive and often creepy crush on Sonya, which only adds to how annoying the new incarnation of the character was. Luckily, Johnny did his fair share of growing up in the follow-up game, as well as in the Mortal Kombat X comic series. Cage becomes one of the prominent warriors in defeating Shinnok, and Sonya is so impressed with his newfound selflessness that she allows Johnny to take her out on a date.
Since MKX has a 20 year gap in the middle of the game, the comic serves to expand on some of the events that have transpired in the intervening years. Johnny and Sonya “celebrate” after battling Shinnok, and months later Sonya turns up pregnant, much to Johnny’s surprise. The two marry before giving birth to Cassie Cage and the game picks up with Johnny overseeing a Special Forces team that his daughter works on. While Sonya and Johnny still have to see each other when saving the world, they have long since divorced due to Sonya’s obsession with work, and for once Johnny is the more mature character in their relationship.
3. He’s the descendant of ancient warriors
It turns out that Johnny’s talents as a fighter aren’t just a result of years of martial arts training. The character has always seemed to have some otherworldly power, which has been displayed in the character’s shadow kicks and punches in the original trilogy. However, we don’t learn the source of these powers until the reboot series, when the Earthrealm warriors are battling against Shinnok.
In the Sky Temple, after Sonya is badly injured trying to obtain the all-powerful Amulet of Shinnok, Johnny begins to emit a green halo of energy which allows him to fight and defeat the Elder God. When he isn’t able to duplicate the energy after the fight, Raiden reveals to Johnny that he is the descendant from a long line of Mediterranean warriors bred specifically to please the gods. It’s assumed that Johnny is able to summon up the power only when he witnesses a loved one in danger.
2. His powers are inherited by his daughter
Cassie Cage made a pretty impressive debut in the last MK game. With her father’s sassy attitude and her mother’s dedication to the Special Forces, Cassie is a character to be reckoned with, and she even ended up making our countdown of the most powerful kombatants in the franchise. Another aspect that makes Cassie such an intriguing character is her fear that, no matter how hard she fights, she will fail to live up to her parents’ legacy.
At the end of MKX, Johnny finds himself captured by D’Vorah, who unleashed flesh-eating parasites onto his face that are bound to leave a mark on Johnny’s acting career. But just when Shinnok uses his amulet to drain the life out of Johnny, Cassie and her Special Forces unit enter to save the day. While facing off against the Elder God, Cassie emits the same green energy that her father displayed while also fighting Shinnok. She too is able to fight on the level with the gods, and ends up saving her father’s life in the process.
1. His original fatality had a major glitch
As we’ve already mentioned, even though Johnny Cage was the first character ever created from the franchise, he was the last one to be given a finishing move. Initially, the game creators were just going to have Cage toss the losing opponent across the screen, before they conceived the idea for the “Head Pop” fatalit — an uppercut so powerful it knocked the head clean off the loser.
This fatality was far from as cool as some of the others, which included Kano pulling a still-beating heart out of the defeated, and Sub-Zero ripping the spine clean out of his opponents (a personal favorite of John Tobias). However, if the move was performed quickly enough on Scorpion, Kano, or Sub-Zero, the characters would lose their heads twice!
This spawned Cage’s Triple Punch Decapitation fatality, which would appear in later games as a parody to the glitch, further adding to the characters self-referential persona that has only increased as the series has continued.
So were you surprised to learn anything about Mortal Kombat‘s most loquacious character? Let us know!