Johnny Cage

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Johnny Cage
Mortal Kombat character
Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat X (2015)
First gameMortal Kombat (1992)
Created byJohn Tobias
Daniel Pesina
Designed byJohn Tobias (early games)
Steve Beran (Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance)[1]
Mark Lappin (Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks)[2]
Cy Mandua (Mortal Kombat 2011)[3]
Portrayed byDaniel Pesina (Mortal Kombat, MKII)
Linden Ashby (first movie)
Chris Alexander (Mortal Kombat Trilogy)
Chris Conrad (Annihilation)
Voiced byJeff Pilson (Mortal Kombat 2011)
Andrew Bowen (Mortal Kombat X, Mortal Kombat 11)
WeaponScimitar (Mortal Kombat 4)
Nunchaku (MK: Deadly Alliance)
Brass knuckles (Mortal Kombat X)
OriginVenice, California (Earthrealm)
Fighting stylesJeet Kune Do (MK: Deadly Alliance)
Karate (MK: Deadly Alliance)
Shorin Ryu (MK: Armageddon)

Johnny Cage (real name Jonathan "John" Carlton) is a fictional character from the Mortal Kombat fighting game series and media franchise. He was introduced as the first of the series' original seven player characters in the first Mortal Kombat game in 1992, and has become a staple of the series. Inspired by Jean-Claude Van Damme, Cage is a cocky movie star who provides the comic relief of the franchise. He becomes a more rounded character in Mortal Kombat X, which introduces his and Sonya Blade's daughter Cassie Cage.

Cage has featured extensively also in non-game media and merchandise for the series. General and critical reception of the character has been mostly positive for multiple factors such as his role in the series, his characterization and gameplay, and his Fatality finishing moves.


Mortal Kombat games[edit]

In the original Mortal Kombat, Johnny Cage is a martial artist and actor who enters the Shaolin Tournament simply to prove that he does not rely on special effects in his films,[4] and he is the only character in the game who does not share a past history with the other characters.[5] He is tricked into entering the tournament by Shang Tsung, believing it would prove his skills are real and improve his marketability, but upon arriving at the tournament, he learns the truth from Raiden and aligns with the good warriors. In the 1993 sequel Mortal Kombat II, Cage disappears from the set of his latest film after following Mortal Kombat champion Liu Kang into the otherworldly dimension of Outworld, where he joins forces with other fighters in participating in a second tournament in their successful attempt at protecting Earthrealm (Earth) against Outworld's evil emperor, Shao Kahn.[6]

Cage is absent from the series continuity until the 1996 compilation title Mortal Kombat Trilogy, which expands on the events of Mortal Kombat 3 (1995) and its upgrade. He is killed by Shao Kahn's forces during an invasion of Earth, but his path to the afterlife is blocked due to a merger of the realm and Earth, which restores his soul and enables him to help his comrades defeat Kahn,[7] after which he ascends to the heavens.[8] In Mortal Kombat 4 (1997), Cage, at his request, is restored to life by Raiden so he can again fight alongside his friends, this time in attempt to defeat the forces of the disgraced former deity Shinnok.[9]

Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance (2002) mocks Cage's previous death and resurrection in that he is shooting a film titled The Death of Johnny Cage, but he is displeased with his characterization and he promptly flees the production when Raiden transports him to a new mission in Outworld.[10] However, he and fellow Earthrealm warriors Jax, Kitana, Kung Lao, and Sonya Blade are killed in their attempt to stop the Deadly Alliance from resurrecting the Dragon King Onaga.[11] In Mortal Kombat: Deception (2004), the first fighting installment in which Cage is not selectable, he and the Earthrealm warriors are resurrected by Onaga (the game's main boss character) for use as his slaves,[12] but they are eventually freed from their mind control by the partnership of reformed ninja Ermac and the spirit of Liu Kang,[13] who had also been slain by the Deadly Alliance.[14]

Cage returns along with the series' then-entire playable roster in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (2006), participating in the final tournament that would decide mankind's fate. He is one of only seventeen characters to receive an official game biography, in which he becomes the de facto leader of Earthrealm's forces after he sees multiple visions of Shinnok and tracks him down to Shang Tsung's island, where Shinnok plots to take over Shao Kahn's rule of Outworld.[15] However, Cage is killed for the third time in the original series continuity when he dies along with the other combatants in a battle royal at the Pyramid of Argus in the fictional realm of Edenia in the game's opening sequence.[16][note 1]

In Mortal Kombat, the 2011 reboot of the first three games, Cage is described as "a descendant of an ancient Mediterranean cult who bred warriors for the gods" as an explanation for his special powers.[18][note 2] His disembodied head is seen amidst the fighters' corpses in the introduction sequence that depicts the grisly aftermath of the battle and the resulting onset of Armageddon.[19] The storyline then travels back in time to the Shaolin Tournament from the original Mortal Kombat, where Cage is a cocky and talkative martial arts actor who has entered as a publicity stunt and repeatedly flirts with Special Forces lieutenant Sonya Blade. He initially considers the tournament a joke after defeating Outworld minions Reptile and Baraka,[20] until Raiden informs him of the consequences should Outworld emerge victorious, which convinces Cage to fight alongside Raiden's chosen heroes in the game's story mode.[21] However, he is later defeated in the competition by Earthrealm assassin Cyrax, who refuses to kill him.[22] In the retelling of the second tournament from Mortal Kombat II, he is eliminated by Ermac,[23] and during the events of Mortal Kombat 3, Raiden saves Cage from death at the hands of the centaur Motaro.[24] Cage and Sonya are the only Earth warriors to survive the course of the game's plot after their cohorts are killed by Shao Kahn's queen, Sindel.[25]

In Mortal Kombat X (2015), while attempting to rescue Sonya from Shinnok,[26] Cage inadvertently discovers his special powers that enable him to assist the thunder god Raiden in imprisoning Shinnok inside a magical amulet.[27] He and Sonya are later married and have a daughter, Cassie, but they divorce due to Sonya's commitment to her career.[28] Twenty-five years after the events of the reboot game, Cage is part of a secret Special Forces unit under Sonya's command and headed by Cassie, who bears her mother's looks and her father's cocky attitude.[29] Near the climax of the game's story mode, Shinnok returns and corrupts the Jinsei (the source of Earthrealm's life force)[27] while holding Cage hostage, but he is rescued after Cassie defeats Shinnok in the final battle, and the Cage family reunites.[30]

In Mortal Kombat 11, Johnny and his daughter grieve over the loss of Sonya during Earthrealm's assault on the Neatherrealm. Thanks to Kronika's combining the past and present timelines, the younger version of Johnny and the other combatants from the tournament meet their future counterparts. Johnny is disgusted by his younger, arrogant self and tries to get him to treat Sonya and their future daughter with respect. Though the older Johnny successfully defends the Special Forces base from the Black Dragon and cyber Lin Kuei, his younger counterpart along with young Sonya are kidnapped by Kano and forced to battle in a cage match. Cassie and the Special Forces rescue them both, allowing Sonya to kill both the past and present Kano. As he is recovering from his injuries, Johnny tries asking Sonya out in a more mature manner.

Design, portrayal and gameplay[edit]

Van Damme in 2010

Original concept sketches for a proposed fighting game by artist John Tobias showed a character called "Michael Grimm, the current box office champion and star of such movies as Dragon's Fist, Dragon's Fist II and the award-winning Sudden Violence"[31] (Tobias described them as ultraviolent, R-rated, "really schlocky 1980s martial arts films"[32]). Midway Games had hoped to license martial artist and actor Jean-Claude Van Damme for the game that was intended to be modeled after Van Damme's 1988 film Bloodsport,[33] and the company created a short demo reel that consisted of film footage of Van Damme inserted into a digital background in order to convince the actor to join the project.[34] However, the attempt fell through, and when the fighting game later became Mortal Kombat, the Michael Grimm character was retained as a spoof of Van Damme and renamed Johnny Cage.[33] Van Damme's split-legged groin punch from Bloodsport was included as one of Cage's special moves[5] as Tobias' idea to make fun of Van Damme.[35] According to martial artist Daniel Pesina, who portrayed Cage in the original game and the 1993 sequel Mortal Kombat II, in addition to satirizing Van Damme the character was also modeled after Daniel Rand from the Power Man and Iron Fist comic series.[36][37]

As a narcissistic Hollywood star, Cage serves as comic relief in contrast to the games' more serious characters like Liu Kang and Raiden,[38] which is embellished in the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot game with a large tattoo of his first name across his chest.[39] Cage's real name, John Carlton,[40] was taken from Midway artist and programmer John Carlton, who worked on the NBA Jam game series.[41] Cage's main role in Mortal Kombat X is as a Special Forces consultant instead of an actor; his design by NetherRealm Studios (formerly Midway Games) was their attempt to define whether or not he had taken his martial arts skills seriously since the aftermath of the 2011 reboot game, and he was outfitted in tactical gear that was designed to fit his fighting style while finding the balance between "serious or stoic" and "too goofy".[42] For Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Pesina was replaced by Chris Alexander due to his falling with and lawsuit against Midway. Cage is voiced by Jeff Pilson in Mortal Kombat (2011) and by Andrew Bowen in Mortal Kombat X.

Cage was the first character created for Mortal Kombat. Pesina said: "Johnny Cage was the first character we shot, so he’s like the father of Mortal Kombat. When we were shooting him, we did every movement we could think of to try to get some kind of idea of what path to take during the game."[35] The test prototype of the original game had just two Johnnies fighting each other,[43] and Pesina said this was when he invented Johnny Cage's finishing move of punching off the opponent's head as the game's first Fatality.[35] In Mortal Kombat X, Cage's gameplay style is split into three fighting variations like those of the other playable characters;[44] Prima Games deemed him as effective at zoning.[44][note 3]

Other appearances[edit]

In Malibu Comics' Mortal Kombat comic book line that ran from 1994 to 1995, Cage first features with the characters from the original game in the 1994 six-issue Blood & Thunder miniseries, which loosely follows the game's storyline of Shang Tsung hosting the Shaolin Tournament.[45] In the follow-up miniseries Battlewave (1995), which focuses mainly on the new characters introduced in Mortal Kombat II, Cage has resumed his acting career after the tournament, but later travels to Outworld with Jax to investigate an attack carried out by Goro. It also features his bodyguard named Bo, an original character.[46] Cage is a supporting character in DC Comics' 2015 twelve-issue Mortal Kombat X miniseries, with a chapter in the eighth issue devoted to the background of his relationship with Sonya.[47]

Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage in the 1995 film Mortal Kombat

In the 1995 live-action film Mortal Kombat, Johnny Cage is one of Raiden's three chosen warriors with Liu Kang and Sonya, and he takes part in the tournament to prove he is a legitimate fighter after Shang Tsung assumes the identity of Cage's sensei in order to trick him into participating. He defeats Scorpion and Goro, and is handpicked by Shang Tsung to fight him in final combat near the conclusion until Liu Kang accepts the challenge.[48] Cage was played by actor Linden Ashby, who had practiced martial arts before he was cast in the role.[49] He did not return for the 1997 sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, in which Cage is played by Chris Conrad. During Shao Kahn's invasion of Earth in the beginning of the film, Cage is killed by the emperor in his attempt to save Sonya when she is taken hostage.[50] Pat E. Johnson, the first film's stunt choreographer, recommended Conrad as Ashby's replacement to Annihilation's producers.[51]

Martial artist Matt Mullins plays Cage in director Kevin Tancharoen's 2010 short film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth.[52] Cage is a faltering action star who works undercover for police officer Jackson Briggs, but Baraka kills him in a brutal fight.[53] Mullins reprised the role in the third episode of the 2011 web series Mortal Kombat: Legacy, with Cage revised as an unemployed television actor who had starred in Power Rangers. Desperate to revive his flailing career, he pitches reality show pilots in which he engages in acts of vigilantism by beating up various criminals, but they are rejected by two executives. Cage later overhears one of them stealing his ideas while proposing a new show to another actor, and he assaults the executive along with two security guards. He is then approached by Shang Tsung as the episode concludes.[54] Mullins was replaced by Casper Van Dien for the 2013 second season, in which it is revealed that Cage refused Shang Tsung's offer to fight for Outworld, and reluctantly agreed to join Raiden's warriors in participating in the tournament.[55] In it, Mileena fights and beats Cage before he is saved by Kitana just as he is about to be finished off by her. Van Dien compared his career trajectory to that of the character in a 2013 interview with MTV.[56]

In a short story prequel to Mortal Kombat 3, Johnny Cage foils Mileena's assassination attempt on Sonya.[57] Cage has been licensed for various action figures produced by Hasbro,[58][59] Toy Island,[60] and Jazwares.[61][62][63] Advanced Graphics released a life-sized Cage cardboard standee in 2011,[64] and Syco Collectibles released a polystone character statuette in 2012.[65]


Cage has been rated among the top Mortal Kombat characters by various gaming media publications,[66][67][68][69] and his Fatality finishing moves over the course of his series appearances have been positively received.[70][71][72][73][74] Brad Nicholson of Destructoid enthused in 2008 that Cage was "easily the best character in a fighting game ever,"[75] and Marcin Górecki of Polish gaming magazine Secret Service ranked Cage the second-best male fighting-game character in 1996, behind Ryu from the Street Fighter franchise.[76] However, Shea Serrano of Grantland rated Cage the second-worst of Mortal Kombat II's twelve characters in 2012, on the basis of his skill being "overtaken almost entirely by his own ego."[77] In her 2015 review of Mortal Kombat X, Maddy Myers of Eurogamer questioned what she felt was the implausibility of the "white-as-snow" union of Cage and Sonya.[78] Justin Clark of Slant Magazine considered Cage to be among the "older, self-serious dinosaurs wrestling with relevance" in Mortal Kombat X, his cocky attitude notwithstanding.[79]

Critical reception of Cage's characterization in the Mortal Kombat games and alternate media has proven mixed. Chris Buffa of GameDaily wrote: "If you can't marry Brad Pitt, you can always settle for Mortal Kombat's Johnny Cage.[80] GamesRadar considered Cage a combination of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Nicolas Cage, and Robert Downey, Jr.[81] Writing for Complex, Elton Jones declared that Cage "embodies Hollywood's overpaid jerk persona perfectly,"[82] while Hanuman Welch considered Cage an exemplification of overconfidence and self-delusion, as well as a "spokesperson of the obnoxious Ed Hardy crowd."[83] Mark Walton of GameSpot castigated Cage in the 2011 reboot game as sexist and arrogant.[84] Gavin Jasper of Den of Geek praised Linden Ashby’s performance in the first Mortal Kombat film as "a perfect idea of" Cage's personality.[68] R. L. Shaffer of IGN was critical of Cage's "illogical character arc" as a former Power Rangers actor in the 2011 first season of Mortal Kombat: Legacy, as he felt it was disconnected from Cage's role in the games,[85] but Carl Lyon of Fearnet opined in his 2013 second-season review that Casper Van Dien's portrayal of the character made Cage "the loveable asshole we all know and love."[86]

See also[edit]

Media related to Johnny Cage at Wikimedia Commons


  1. ^ In Cage's noncanonical Armageddon ending, he becomes infused with the power of the gods after he defeats Blaze (the game's final boss), and thereafter gains insight into his existence that sees him abandon his "superficial former life".[17]
  2. ^ "There is no greater martial arts movie star than Johnny Cage. Films such as 'Dragon Fist', 'Time Smashers' and 'Citizen Cage' have made him one of the most highly paid actors in Hollywood. But there is more to Johnny than even he knows. He is a descendant of an ancient Mediterranean cult who bred warriors for the gods — warriors who possessed power beyond that of mortals. This legacy has made Johnny Cage a star. More important, it will aid him in the battle to come."[18]
  3. ^ A fighting game tactic in which players strategically keep opponents at a specific distance onscreen.


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