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Mortal Kombat ending explained: 2021 movie's sequel teases, cameos

The fighting game adaptation doesn't have any postcredits scenes, but sets up further adventures and exciting possibilities.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
Expertise Culture, Video Games, Breaking News
Sean Keane
4 min read
Mortal Kombat character Sub-Zero

The ending may hint at Sub-Zero's future.

Warner Bros

Mortal Kombat, which is leaving HBO Max after this Sunday, introduces us to new fighter Cole Young as he flees mean icy ninja Sub-Zero and teams up with klassic characters from the games. The movie comes almost 24 years after the iconic series' last cinematic outing, and improves on that in every way

Along with the intense fights, fatalities and Easter eggs, we get a few tantalizing hints of possible sequel plot lines. Let's take a look at what happens at the end of the movie and what it might mean for a possible sequel.

Warning, SPOILERS coming at you like a jet of flames from an undead ninja's skull.

spoiler alert

Hints of resurrection

After Scorpion takes fiery vengeance on Sub-Zero following their epic confrontation, Cole's family is rescued and Shang Tsung's plan to invade Earthrealm is foiled. The slightly miffed baddy confronts Raiden and pals.

"Death is only another portal," says Shang Tsung as he teleports Sub-Zero's charred corpse and Goro's sliced-up body away, hinting that they'll be back.

Mortal Kombat character Noob Saibot

Noob Saibot is Sub-Zero reborn, but meaner and shadowier.

Warner Bros/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

In the games, death is a bit of a revolving door since popular fighters have often been killed and returned later in the series. Sub-Zero is a prime example -- the original, Bi-Han, was killed by Scorpion after the first game in 1992. His brother, Kuai Liang, took over the role and is Sub-Zero in every game from 1993's Mortal Kombat 2 onward.

However, Bi-Han wasn't gone. The slain Lin Kuei ninja was resurrected by Quan Chi (the same sorcerer who brought Scorpion back) and transformed into shadowy villain Noob Saibot, who first appeared in Mortal Kombat 2. The Sub-Zero we see in the movie is Bi-Han, so it's likely his return will play out similarly in a movie sequel.

His name is a reference to series creators Ed Boon and John Tobias -- it's their surnames spelled backward. Both lean into it with their Twitter handles, @noobde and @therealsaibot.

Goro's return is less complicated. He was believed killed during the first game, but showed up again in 1997's Mortal Kombat 4. He's just too iconic to stay dead.

Goro's fight with Cole in Mortal Kombat

Goro's fight with Cole didn't end well for the Shokan warrior.

Warner Bros/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

In the movie, Shang Tsung also implies that he has plenty more goons waiting in the wings (hopefully they'll get more chance to display personalities).

"Next time I see you, I will not bring fighters. I will bring armies," he warns, before teleporting away like the kowardly meanie he is.

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Stepping into the Cage

Raiden tells Cole, Sonya Blade, Jax and Liu Kang they have to track down new champions.

"Who's first?" says Cole.

The movie's final moment sees him heading to Hollywood to find Johnny Cage, and we see a poster for Citizen Cage: Fight for your Rights (which sure sounds like Oscar material to me). The actor and martial artist isn't visible on the poster -- because he hasn't yet been cast -- but we catch sight of his tacky "Cage" belt.

Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat 11

Johnny Cage's ego was too big for the movie.

Warner Bros/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

Johnny is one of the game series' major recurring characters, having shown up in most entries since the original. He played a huge role in the 1995 movie but didn't appear in the 2021 film because he chews scenery a little too similarly to Kano, according to producer Todd Garner.

"The reason we held back Johnny Cage is he is a very egotistical guy. He's a scoundrel. He's funny. He's bigger than life … and so is Kano," Garner said during a March press event "So you go, 'All right, are we just gonna have two guys competing to out-funny each other and out-ego each other in this movie? Or do you hold Johnny Cage back?'"

Since Kano is killed with a gnome to the eye, that won't be an issue if this movie gets a sequel. Johnny married Sonya in the games, and their daughter Cassie joined the roster in 2015's Mortal Kombat X.

Return to Kombat?

Despite all this setup, a sequel hasn't yet been confirmed -- it'll depend on this movie's success. During the March press event, Garner expressed hope that people will love it enough that they'll be able to bring more the games' gloriously complicated lore to the big screen, Marvel Cinematic Universe-style.

In the games, Shang Tsung is the only the first villain our heroes face. He's working for Outworld ruler Shao Kahn, who's the Emperor Palpatine to Shang Tsung's Darth Vader. Shao Kahn isn't even mentioned in the new movie, only seen in a mural and in statue form, so there's some flexibility in how they can implement him.

Beyond those Outworld baddies, plenty of other realms and villains have been introduced in the series' 29-year history. If this movie does well, you'd better get ready to test your might against another vast cinematic universe.