Shao Kahn

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Shao Kahn
Mortal Kombat character
Shao Kahn as seen in Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks
First game Mortal Kombat II (1993)
Created by John Tobias (with brainstorming input from Ed Boon)
Designed by John Tobias (early games)
Voiced by Steve Ritchie (MKII, MK3, UMK3, MKT, MK:SM)
John Vernon and Michael Des Barres (MK: DotR)
Perry Brown and Patrick Seitz (MKvDC)
Bob Carter (MK2011)
Frank Welker (first film)
Motion capture Jorden Brown (MKvDC)
Portrayed by Brian Glynn (MKII, MK3, UMK3, MKT)
Brian Thompson (second film)
Jeffrey Meek (Konquest)
Aleks Paunovic (
Fictional profile
Origin Outworld
Fighting styles Tai Tzu (MK:D, MK:A)
Lui He (MK:D)
Weapon War Hammer (MK3, UMK3, MKT, MK:D, MK:SM, MK:A)

Shao Kahn is a boss, announcer, and recurring playable character from the Mortal Kombat fighting game series, first introduced in Mortal Kombat II in 1993.

Shao Kahn (often misspelled as Shao Khan) is the Emperor of Outworld, known for his godlike strength, extreme brutality and knowledge of black magic, and serves as the main antagonist in most of the game series and the extended franchise. Like his subordinate Shang Tsung, he has the power to consume others' souls (only told in the primary story line of the series, and never actually physically seen). Later in the series, his abilities are toned down to make other bosses appear superior. Shao Kahn's wife was Sindel and he was also a father figure to Kitana and Mileena.


In video games[edit]

Shao Kahn originally served as an advisor to Onaga when the latter ruled Outworld as the Dragon King. Onaga's Empire had become the most powerful in the realms and so he began searching for a way to become an immortal. Before his goal could be realized, Shao Kahn made his move by poisoning Onaga and taking his kingdom, leading whatever troops that remained loyal to the Dragon King. Kahn continued with many of the former Emperor's plans. He continued to add lesser realms to Outworld, either through direct conquest or through the Mortal Kombat tournament. Prior to Earthrealm, Kahn's greatest challenge was a Shokan village. Kahn promised to let the village remain in peace if Prince Goro represented him in the Mortal Kombat tournaments (this promise was not upheld, but it is not clear if Kahn was responsible for this); Goro would then win nine of the ten consecutive tournaments needed to dominate all of the realms. A milestone in his military victories was the merging of Edenia with Outworld. After his warriors had won in Mortal Kombat, Kahn invaded the realm. On the battlefield, Kahn killed King Jerrod, and took his Queen Sindel as his forced wife, raising her daughter, Princess Kitana, as his own. He had the young princess trained as his personal guard and assassin. Sindel took her own life in an attempt to escape subservience to the Emperor. Unwilling to be denied, Kahn held her soul in Outworld, stopping her transition to the afterlife. Kahn had also instructed his sorcerer Shang Tsung to create a Tarkatan-based clone of Kitana, called Mileena, so that she could watch over her and make sure Kitana does not jeopardize his rule. As Kitana grew up, she would not remember her past, and assumed that she and Mileena were Kahn's twin daughters.

Kahn had entrusted Shang Tsung with the task of making sure Outworld won the tenth consecutive Mortal Kombat tournament, which would allow his armies to invade and conquer Earthrealm. But when Liu Kang defeated Shang Tsung, Kahn exercised a loophole in the rules of Mortal Kombat. As Outworld had won the previous tournament, they had the right to challenge the latest winners (Earthrealm) to another tournament. This victory would overrule the previous tournament and allow Kahn to rule all of the realms. Shao Kahn spared Tsung's life and restored his youth. Kahn then concocted a plan to lure the Earthrealm champions to Outworld; if they could be killed, they would not be able to cause further damage to his plans. He captured Kano and Sonya Blade to use as bait, and enraged Liu Kang by sending Baraka and his troops to destroy the Shaolin temple. Despite Kahn's vast power, Liu Kang's determination saw him through, and he defeated the despot. Unwilling to accept defeat, Kahn called his armies to destroy the Earthrealm warriors, who fled back to Earthrealm, out of Kahn's clutches.

By the time of Mortal Kombat 3, Shang Tsung was able to resurrect Queen Sindel in Earthrealm, and Kahn would be able to cross the border to claim her. Kahn had Tsung proceed, and once he invaded Earthrealm, he began to merge it with his own realm of Outworld. Nearly every living being in Earthrealm had their souls ripped from their bodies by Kahn, claiming them as his own. Only a few managed to avoid this fate. Kahn's day finally seemed to have come. But not all hope was lost, as Lord Raiden had protected the souls of a handful of warriors (and some like the robots Sektor and Cyrax had no souls to take and he also could not detect them). Kahn sent extermination squads to hunt them down and kill the remaining survivors. It would be these chosen warriors task to try to stop Kahn, and return Earthrealm to its normal state. In the ensuing fights, Kahn was confronted by Kung Lao, another Shaolin monk and descendant of the warrior Goro defeated to become champion of Mortal Kombat, but Kahn crushed him. It was Liu Kang who again managed to defeat Kahn. Worn down from the battle, Kahn recalled his squads and retreated back to Outworld; this stopped the merge with Outworld, and restored Earthrealm to its original status. To make matters worse for Kahn, many of his loyal soldiers had abandoned him, and Kitana had succeeded in turning Sindel to her side, restoring Edenia as an independent realm.

The Emperor was now greatly weakened, and would remain so for a period of several years, remaining inactive during Shinnok's war against the gods. The Edenians had in the meantime made peace and military treaties with the Shokan, on whom Kahn had always heavily relied, and were ready to attack Outworld a few years later. It was only through his new commander Kano's ingenuity, and the stealth of his unreliable assassin Noob Saibot (who critically wounded Goro) was Kahn able to save the day (in a manner of speaking) and force the Edenian army into a draw. Soon afterwards, the Deadly Alliance of the sorcerers Quan Chi and Shang Tsung entered his throne room, and swore false allegiance to the emperor. Quan Chi and Shang Tsung caught Shao Kahn off guard and seemingly killed him. This would appear to be the demise of Kahn, in the Nintendo GameCube version of Mortal Kombat: Deception it is however revealed that he did not die, and that it was a clone that Quan Chi and Shang Tsung killed. The real Kahn appeared to the wounded Goro and, using what little power he had left, revived him, thus gaining Goro and the Shokan as allies once again.

In the events of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Shao Kahn is the Warlord of Outworld once again. It was revealed in the biographies of Shang Tsung and Mileena that Shao Kahn had regained power after Onaga's defeat, by storming his own fortress (then under the command of Mileena who had earlier deceived and used Kitana's Edenian force to capture the fortress) with the aid of Goro and Shang Tsung. When he succeeds in using his own brute force to storm the throne room, Mileena surrenders to him and Shao Kahn becomes Outworld's ruler once more. Later on, he would go on to form an uneasy alliance with Quan Chi, Shang Tsung, and Onaga in the hopes of defeating Blaze and seizing his godlike powers. The alliance faltered and Kahn was carried away from Blaze by Onaga after Tsung nearly knocked him off Blaze's pyramid. Kahn managed to escape and killed Blaze, causing Armageddon. He then defeated Raiden, the last remaining kombatant.

He and Darkseid are the key villains in the crossover game Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. At the beginning, Shao Kahn is shown after his defeat limping into a graveyard where he meets with his secret ally Quan Chi. Where they are shortly confronted by Raiden, who uses a lightning bolt on Shao Kahn, which knocks him into Quan Chi’s portal. This event, along with a similar event between Superman and Darkseid in the DC Universe, results in the creation of Dark Kahn, who serves as the main antagonist in the game. After Dark Kahn is defeated, Shao Kahn ends up in the DC Universe's Darkseid's throne room, where he discovers he has lost his powers. He is promptly imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, where he, like countless other criminals, would lose his powers due to the effects of the zone. In Shao Kahn's ending, the Phantom Zone, known for neutralizing its inhabitant's powers, has no effect on him due to his magic, instead the opposite happens, and the zone returns his powers to him, whereby he frees an army of Kryptonian villains. In gratitude they swear allegiance to the emperor, and plan to help him conquer all of the universes.[1]

In the Mortal Kombat (2011) reboot of the game's backstory, Shao Kahn defeats and delivers the final blow to Raiden, but not before the latter could send a message to his earlier self by way of a cracked talisman. By sending himself a message earlier on, Raiden tries to prevent the future from happening in the past. The talisman then periodically informs Raiden of his progress in preventing Armageddon by becoming less and less cracked. The story then proceeds to concatenate the stories of all of the previous games into a cohesive plot that includes all of the main characters from the past games. Raiden eventually realizes that Kahn's efforts to merge the realms must not be stopped, because by doing so, the Elder Gods take action against Kahn. Liu Kang tries to defy Raiden's order to not fight Shao Kahn, and as a result is killed by Raiden in a twist of events. By stopping Liu Kang it causes Shao Kahn to continue to break the rules and merge the realms before completing his victory in Mortal Kombat between Outworld and Earthrealm. This enrages the gods, causing them to give Raiden their power and destroy Shao Kahn completely.

Design and gameplay[edit]

An unmasked Shao Kahn, as depicted in the Mortal Kombat II comic book by John Tobias

Kahn's attire for Mortal Kombat II was developed by Mark Runion.[2] Kahn started out unmasked and with large gnashing teeth similar to Baraka, since everyone from Outworld was originally supposed to be of Baraka's race.[3] The idea of all inhabitants of Outworld being Tarkatan was later dropped. It was originally stated that Shao Kahn is a demonic character, and his monstrous visage from the official comic books, as well as Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks lends credibility to that. However, in the most recent games he appears to be more along the lines of a large, powerful human. His face has only appeared in Shaolin Monks, in which he is hit with his war hammer and his helmet breaks.

In MKII, Kahn was digitally resized to a taller height to make him tower over the playable characters. Ironically, the actor who played him, bodybuilder Brian Glynn (who "couldn't believe" he was going to be in a Mortal Kombat game), was not nearly as imposing in comparison; a photograph published in GamePro of Glynn and Mortal Kombat co-creator Ed Boon standing side-by-side, which was snapped during production of the game, showed that Boon was taller.[4] In many official depictions of Shao Kahn made by Midway, he is shown wearing a cape, though he never wore one in his original digitized appearances. Mortal Kombat: Deception was the first time in which he wore the cape in-game. Mortal Kombat sound designer Dan Forden explained that the reason for Kahn not wearing the cape in earlier games, in addition to Kabal not being able to wear a trenchcoat in Mortal Kombat 3, was that loose flowing clothing took up memory.

Shao Kahn originated as an unplayable boss character in MKII. He is fought as a boss (in most cases, the final boss) in most of his appearances, but became a player character for the first time in the home ports of MK3 as an unlockable character. He would also be playable in the home ports of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, the Nintendo GameCube and PlayStation Portable versions of Mortal Kombat: Deception, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon and Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. In Mortal Kombat (2011), Shao Kahn is once again a non-playable boss. He is also the final boss in the beat 'em up spin-off, Shaolin Monks.

Shao Kahn's special moves consists of things such as shoulder dashes and attacks from his wrath hammer. In Mortal Kombat 3 and its updates, his moves cause the opponent to stun if they are blocked. Ever since Mortal Kombat 2 a distinctive characteristic of Kahn in boss fights has been his taunts, where before and during rounds he laughs or says insults such as "You weak pathetic fool", "You will never win" and "You are nothing".

Other appearances[edit]

Shao Kahn makes his first appearance in MK comic books during the Battlewave miniseries by Malibu Comics, though he already was present in the first, Blood & Thunder. Shao Kahn remained mostly faithful to his game counterpart, being the Emperor of Outworld and attempting to take Earthrealm for himself. In Battlewave, Shao Kahn would arrange a different plan to open the portals. He kidnaps Sonya Blade and, by means of hypnosis and brainwashing, convinces her to marry him; the marriage would weaken the barriers between realms enough to allow Shao Kahn to seize Earth easily (and make Sonya the queen of both realms and his wife). During these two series, he never appears wielding his trademark helmet (instead, he is always shown with his visible face and design taken from the official Mortal Kombat II comic by John Tobias), and he is seen wearing his helmet only in the comic Kitana & Mileena (according to which he actually loves Kitana).

Shao Kahn appears in both Mortal Kombat films. In the 1995 first movie he is referred to simply as "The Emperor" and makes a brief appearance at the end, as a special effect and voiced by Frank Welker. Kahn (his name, incorrectly hyphenated in the closing credits of Annihilation, was additionally misspelled as "Shoa-Kahn" on the DVD release's fight scenes menu), played by Brian Thompson, is the main antagonist in the 1997 sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. In the film he fights Raiden, Johnny Cage and Liu Kang. He brutally kills Johnny Cage in the film's opening scene, murders his own allies Rain and Jade in cold blood and then Raiden (later brought back to life) near the end prior to his final fight with Liu Kang. In addition, Kahn and Raiden were portrayed as brothers, with Shinnok as their father, though neither of them shared any relation in the games (with the exception of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe in which Raiden's biography states that the two are brothers, although the game itself is non-canon). The only subplot taken directly from the games' storyline was his past relationship with Kitana and Sindel; a segment in the film featured Kitana, imprisoned in Kahn's fortress, mentioning the destruction of her family and Sindel's subsequent suicide under his rule.

He was played by Jeffrey D. Harris[5] and Ted Nordblum in the 1995-1996 stage show Mortal Kombat: Live Tour. A Shao Kahn action figure was released in 1996 by Toy Island in the Mortal Kombat Trilogy series.[6] He was also one of the characters featured in the collectible card game Mortal Kombat Kard Game.

Shao Kahn was played by Jeffrey Meek (who also played Raiden) in the TV series Mortal Kombat: Konquest. Despite having lost much of his physical stature from the games and movies, the character has a much more threatening disposition, serving as the mediator of the Mortal Kombat matches. Meek played opposite himself in the series finale, where Kahn battles Raiden in a void seemingly between the realms. With Kung Lao dead, Shao Kahn forces Raiden into submission and commenced full military assault on Earthrealm. The series was discontinued following this event.

He also makes several appearances in the cartoon series Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm, in his usual role of Outworld's emperor and the leader of enemy forces. He was voiced by John Vernon and Michael Des Barres in separate episodes.

Aleks Paunovic portrayed an unmasked (human) Shao Kahn for the web series Mortal Kombat: Legacy two-part episode "Kitana & Mileena", dealing with his early rule over the conquered Edenia and an alternate version of his relationship to Sindel, Kitana and Mileena.


Fans of Mortal Kombat expect a certain level of brutality, what with all the grisly stage finishers and gory Fatalities. But not even the world's biggest S&M devotee could derive any joy from Shao Kahn's merciless beatings. The number of egos and wallets left in shambles by Shao Kahn is innumerable.


Shao Kahn has been nominated to Nintendo Power Awards '94[8] and '95[9] in the category "Worst Villain" of the year (in the sense of "best"), coming second place for 1995.[10] In the eliminations of GameSpot's vote poll for the title of "All Time Greatest Game Villain", Shao Kahn won against Officer Tenpenny from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas[11] but barely (49.9% to 50.1%) lost to General RAAM from Gears of War.[12] GamesRadar also praised Shao Kahn's role as an antagonist, putting him in their 2013 list of the best villains in video game history at number 24,[13] and including him among the 12most unfair gaming bosses in 2014.[7] Complex ranked Shao Kahn from Mortal Kombat II as the "coolest" boss in fighting game history in 2012, stating that "in the history of fighting games, no boss has ever been cooler or more exciting to lose against."[14] In ScrewAttack's Death Battle battle of the fighting game bosses episode, Shao Kahn defeated M. Bison from the Street Fighter series, overcoming him due to his battle experience of over ten thousand years in addition to the absorption of billions of souls, all of which grant him power.[15]

In 2011, ScrewAttack ranked Shao Kahn as the fourth best Mortal Kombat character.[16] On the other hand, GamePlayBook ranked him as the fourth worst Mortal Kombat character, criticizing him for looking like "he failed WWE training camp".[17] In UGO's 2012 list of the top Mortal Kombat characters, Shao Kahn placed as 16th.[18] In their retrospection listing of MK characters, UGO stated most favorite thing about him was the fact that "his speaking voice is the voice of the announcer heard throughout the series."[19] Complex placed him seventh on her 2013 list of most brutal fighters in Mortal Kombat, adding that "he was brutal not only in his strength but his cunning, too."[20] He was voted the series' ninth greatest character in a poll by Dorkly that same year.[21]

In 2010, Game Informer featured him on their list of gaming's "crappiest" fathers, commenting he "is more like an abusive, drunken stepfather than a crappy biological father [and is] also a terrible husband."[22] The character's incarnation in the 2011 Mortal Kombat has been criticized for how hard it is to defeat him to the point of frustrating gamers;[23][24] that same year, CraveOnline included him on the list of top five "bosses you want to kill but can't".[25] The fight against Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat 3 was also noted for its difficulty; in 2013, Complex ranked it as the 23rd hardest boss battle in video games.[26]


  1. ^ Midway (2008). Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Level/area: Shao Kahn Ending. 
  2. ^ Staff (June 1994). "The Minds Behind Mortal Kombat II". GamePro (59): 117. 
  3. ^ GamePro 58 (May 1994), p.29.
  4. ^ GamePro 59 (June 1994), p.121.
  5. ^ "POP REVIEW; Heroes in Outworld, Fighting to Save the Earth - New York Times". 1995-09-16. Retrieved 2012-01-05. 
  6. ^ Captain Coder. "Shao Kahn Action Figure Gallery". Figure Realm. Retrieved 2013-07-20. 
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ Nintendo Power 70 (March 1995)
  9. ^ Nintendo Power 82 (March 1996)
  10. ^ Nintendo Power 85 (May 1996)
  11. ^ "All Time Greatest Game Villain - Shao Kahn vs. Officer Tenpenny". Retrieved 2013-07-20. 
  12. ^ "All Time Greatest Game Villain - General RAAM vs. Shao Kahn". Retrieved 2013-07-20. 
  13. ^ GamesRadar Staff (May 17, 2013). "100 best villains in video games". GamesRadar. Retrieved June 21, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Shao Khan — 15 Of The Coolest Boss Battles Ever". Complex. Retrieved 2013-07-20. 
  15. ^ "DEATH BATTLE! - Shao Kahn VS M. Bison". Retrieved 2013-11-05. 
  16. ^ "ScrewAttack Video Game, Top 10: Mortal Kombat Kharacters | Video Clip | Game Trailers & Videos". Retrieved 2013-07-20. 
  17. ^ "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". 2010-08-06. Archived from the original on 2010-08-06. Retrieved 2012-01-02. 
  18. ^ UGO Team (2012-02-28). "Top 50 Mortal Kombat Characters - Mortal Kombat". Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  19. ^ UGO Team (2012-02-28). "Shao Kahn". Retrieved 2013-07-20. 
  20. ^ Hanuman Welch, The Most Brutal Fighters In "Mortal Kombat",, July 21, 2013.
  21. ^ "The Greatest Mortal Kombat Character of All-Time (Vote Now!) - Dorkly Toplist". Retrieved 2013-12-19. 
  22. ^ "Gaming's Crappiest Fathers", Game Informer, September 09, 2010
  23. ^ Walton, Mark (2011-04-20). "Mortal Kombat Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 2011-07-07. 
  24. ^ Clements, Ryan (2011-04-19). "Mortal Kombat Review". 
  25. ^ Erik Norris (2011-05-30). "5 Bosses You Want To Kill But Can't". CraveOnline. Retrieved 2013-07-20. 
  26. ^ Elijah Watson, The 50 Hardest Video Game Bosses (And How To Beat Them),, July 1, 2013.

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