Warner Bros.' New Line Cinema label is partnering with the Burbank studio’s video game unit Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment to adapt for the big screen the tournament fighting series, which debuted on video game consoles in 1992. New Line is aiming to produce the new film next year and release it in 2013.
Like several other media companies, including Walt Disney Co., Warner has produced its own video games based on its film properties, such as June’s "Green Lantern."
"It's really important that we show we can bring our game properties to movies instead of just the other way around," said Warner home entertainment President Kevin Tsujihara.
In 2009, Warner Bros. acquired Mortal Kombat maker Midway Games out of bankruptcy for $49 million. In April Warner released the ninth Mortal Kombat game, which was one of the most successful in the series, selling more than 3 million copies.
Some of that success was credited by the studio to a promotional Web series it produced called "Mortal Kombat: Legacy." The nine-part series, made for about $2 million, was directed by Kevin Tancharoen. Previously known for directing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s unsuccessful “Fame” remake, Tancharoen garnered new attention in 2010 by producing his own short film based on Mortal Kombat, which became a viral hit on YouTube and convinced Warner to let him produce the Web series.
Tancharoen has now been tapped to direct the feature film, which is being written by his partner Oren Uziel. New Line president Toby Emmerich said the idea to do the movie came entirely from the work the director did online.
"The new game and the online shorts prompted us to consider a reboot of a brand we hadn’t been actively thinking about," he said.
New Line produced two “Mortal Kombat” movies in 1995 and 1997 when it was an independent studio owned by Warner Bros. parent Time Warner and it licensed the rights from Midway. Though the first picture performed relatively well at the box office, grossing $122 million worldwide, they weren’t well received by fans and Emmerich granted that they “haven’t aged well.”
Tancharoen said his new movie, which is expected to be produced for well under $100 million, will offer a more realistic take on the Mortal Kombat characters, who are best known for over-the-top killing moves called "fatalities."
Because the Mortal Kombat games and movies are now being made under the same studio roof, the film’s release is expected to be coordinated with the next game. Emmerich and Tusjihara both said they hope the next Mortal Kombat game will come out when the movie hits theaters, or potentially in a single package along with the DVD and Blu-ray.
Development of a “Mortal Kombat” movie had been held up by litigation between Warner and producer Lawrence Kasanoff, who worked on the two 1990s movies. The studio prevailed in one lawsuit over royalties owed for the years 2000-2004, but cases are pending over royalties for 2008 and ownership of the movie rights.
While Tsujihara declined to comment on the litigation, people close to the movie but not authorized to discuss the matter publicly said they believed the two sides were close enough to a resolution to move ahead on the project. Kasanoff and his attorney did not return calls requesting comment.
-- Ben Fritz
Photo: A scene from the latest Mortal Kombat game. Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.