The "Mortal Kombat" franchise is filled with one of the most diverse casts ever in video games. The overall narrative Ed Boon and company crafted features superhuman warriors, soldiers, mystical warriors, the undead, cyborgs, ninjas and demigods from various realms including Earth, the hellish Netherrealm, and the dangerous Outworld. In a franchise spanning several games, all these figures clashed in the tournament to determine the true champion who could either defend or advocate invasion of the others.
We've seen some of the most badass heroes emerge, as well as a plethora of nasty schemers with the intention of ruling Earth, Outworld and any other dimension free to be conquered. This tournament has evolved into all-out war involving politics, alliances, magical artifacts, and murderous armies so that heartless despots can rule with an iron fist. Thusly, CBR decided to look at 15 of the most vile villains in the franchise!
SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for several "Mortal Kombat" video games!
15 SHANG TSUNG
Shang Tsung was the original villain kickstarting the "Mortal Kombat" franchise in 1992 before Shao Kahn entered the fray. He was a shape-shifter overseeing the tournament, aiming for one more win in order to start invading other realms. His prizefighter was Goro, but eventually they were foiled by Liu Kang, who fought for Earth on behalf of the Shaolin monks. They would have a long-standing rivalry, which even transposed to the 1995 movie.
Shang Tsung was initially very feared, but later on, he was found to be a pawn of Kahn, who himself was revealed to be lower down on the villain hierarchy. In this time however, Tsung used his stealth, wisdom, trickery and fireball skulls to inflict fear into everyone. His main attribute was absorbing the souls of others to grant him power and reduce his age. "Your soul is mine," was his favorite catchphrase, as he set about owning every piece of his enemies' essence, finding a path to immortality, and partnering with anyone who would help him overthrow Shao Kahn and whoever else ruled Outworld.
14 SHAO KAHN
Shao Kahn was one of Outworld's Emperors and was seen as the big baddie in "Mortal Kombat II," as well as in the third and "Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3" editions. His presence was an overshadowing one as he intimidated folks with his hammer, armor and of course, that demonic helmet. He took over after killing Princess Kitana's father, Jerrod, and corrupting her mother Sindel along the way.
Sindel committed suicide after Shao Kahn claimed their kingdom, Edenia, by force, only for Shang Tsung to bring her back brainwashed for the new Emperor to parade around. He later duped Quan Chi and Shang Tsung into thinking they killed him in "Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance," only to be forced to partner with the duo after Onaga (The Dragon King) arose to regain his throne as Emperor. Shao Kahn eventually worked with Quan Chi, Shang Tsung and Onaga to defeat Blaze (another major villain) in yet another battle for power, while maintaining his hatred for Earth's allies such as Liu Kang and the Elder God, Raiden. Kahn was always about the bigger picture, partnering with anyone who could return him to Outworld's throne.
Kano is one of the franchise's biggest fiends -- a slasher who debuted in the original game, and a mercenary belonging to the Black Dragon. He constantly tries to kill Sonya Blade and Jax Briggs of Earth's Special Forces, which also saw him run afoul of Sonya's husband, Johnny Cage, and daughter, Cassie.
Kano plies his trade via arms dealing and this cutthroat mentality saw him installed as a general of Shao Kahn's armies. His cybernetic metal faceplate houses an infrared eye laser, which enhances his attitude even more as it no longer revolves around his deadly knives alone. The criminal usually sells his services easily to whomever is in power, as seen in "Deadly Alliance" where he flipped on Kahn after he got dethroned, and also shockingly offered to fight for Kotal Kahn against Goro's army. His rivalry with Mavado's Red Dragon, and failed attempts to retrieve the Kamidogu dagger from Sub-Zero in "Mortal Kombat X" are further evidence that he's not to be trusted, and would easily risk the fate of the world to the highest bidder.
Reptile is a slithery reptilian creature that's been seen as a mindless lackey for most of the franchise's duration. However, apart from his costume and lizard-esque look evolving, so too has his role over the last few years. The acid-spitting ninja turned more to his animalistic nature in look and feel, while transitioning from a mindless spy to a loyalist for Outworld's new Emperor, Kotal Kahn.
He was used as a pawn by Shao Kahn, Shinnok and Nitara, which led to him finding Onaga's egg and being used as the vessel for the Dragon King's rebirth. After he was separated and allowed to roam aimlessly again, Reptile found himself seeking new direction, which eventually came in the form of Kotal Kahn. Reptile ended up being tasked with taking Mileena down to show his true value in the wars to come. He may change leaders often, but when he follows one, he does so blindly and sometimes, to the death. However, he still remained a nemesis of Earth based on his dark past.
After defeating Kung Lao, Goro marched on to nine straight victories, only to lose in the 10th tournament final against Liu Kang. This prevented the invasion of Earth, scuppering Shao Kahn and Shang Tsung's plans. As a dragon-hybrid warrior and fallen prince, he tried to redeem himself to his people and fellow Shokan warriors such as Kintaro and Sheeva.
He would re-align with Shao Kahn later on as he felt this was what he needed to secure the future of his people, but in"MKX," he realized that there was a power gap which he could exploit in Shao Kahn's absence. Goro grew confident that his army was strong enough to tackle Kotal Kahn and rule Outworld, but he underestimated Kotal Kahn, who was enraged at his father's death. He ended up losing his arms in the one-on-one battle, and was then exiled by his people. Later on, Goro maneuvered behind the scenes to regain power by aligning himself with the Red Dragon, as he swore vengeance against those who banished him.
Baraka also debuted in the second game as a member of the Tarkatan species, boasting blades that can slice up anything and anyone. Embedded in his hands, he took these blades and waged war against the Shaolin and eventually aligned with Quan Chi and Shinnok when Shao Kahn fell. He would end up falling out with this duo though, as he too wanted power, so he subsequently recruited Mileena to fight for Onaga's claim to Outworld.
Later on in "MKX," Baraka and Mileena once more stepped up when a power gap popped up as he felt Mileena should take over rule, but their mission fell apart as D'Vorah killed him so that Kotal Kahn could wrest power away, thus establishing his seat on Outworld's throne. Baraka was one of those who went from lackey to recognizing there would always be a vacuum that could see anyone slip into the power seat, ergo why he wanted to rule with Mileena. Oddly enough, he was used by a xenomorph to transform into an Alien hybrid in the latest game.
D'Vorah was one of the best additions to "MKX," winning over fans with her attitude as well as how lethal a warrior she proved to be. She's a Kytinn, a species of colonial insects living inside humanoid bodies, and with these creatures in her arsenal, D'Vorah proved to be as deadly as they come. Her realm was conquered by Shao Kahn and she decided to serve him in order to avoid becoming a slave. She worked her way through the ranks and became somewhat of a general, while keeping her eye out for another chance to rise to power.
This came when she opted to serve Kotal Kahn as his closest adviser, aiding him in the civil war against Mileena after Shao Kahn's reign ended. D'Vorah uses her swarm of bugs, acid and sharp appendages to attack and maim victims, punctuated by how she killed Baraka. This solidified Kotal Kahn's rule and dominion over Outworld, and by killing off a fan-favorite, it showed D'Vorah meant business. She would prove even more sinister later on, offering her services to Quan Chi in secret.
This series has a lot of femme fatales and Tanya is one of them, hailing from Edenia ironically. Originally introduced as an innocent warrior, she was revealed to be a disciple of Shinnok, as well as an ally to Quan Chi's notorious Brotherhood of Shadow. She's a survivor, though, and is willing to worship anyone who gives her the slightest impression of power. After Shinnok's defeat, she served Shao Kahn, the Deadly Alliance, and Onaga, showing that at the end of the day, she was indeed for hire.
The assassin boasts a pole, retractable blades as well as boomerangs, painting one of the most versatile fighters in the story. She's a henchwoman who knows a lot about magic, politics and diplomacy too, which allows her to fool people often, including Edenians who felt she betrayed them drastically when the truth came out. This led to a heated rivalry with Jade as the latter saw Tanya as one of the main reasons Edenia couldn't be restored to its former state of glory.
Ermac debuted in "Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3" and was an instant hit based on how mysterious he was. He was a fusion of all the souls destroyed in all the wars in Outworld, only for Shao Kahn and his mystical priests to take control of him. Due to this concentration of souls within Ermac, he boasts telekinesis, teleportation, and the ability to travel between realms. He disappeared until the "Mortal Kombat: Deception" game when he was freed by Kenshi, a blind swordsman, whom he helped train a bit in return.
To redeem himself, Ermac also freed some of the souls, including the friends of Liu Kang and other innocents. However, in "MKX" a retcon saw him align of his own free will with Kotal Kahn against Mileena's forces. This emphasized how much he changes his perspective on who he should follow. He switched from her camp after he found her too tempestuous but while he was aligned with Mileena, they did major damage to Outworld and its inhabitants, as Reiko and Havik were tricking them down a bloody path.
Reiko was one of the franchise's most talked-about characters because of a theory that he was actually Shao Kahn. Introduced in "Mortal Kombat 4," his ending was even extended on Playstation and PC to show him entering a portal and arriving in Shao Kahn's throne room with the latter's helmet coming over Reiko's face. This was later debunked (with Boon also poking fun at it in subsequent games) and they were revealed to be separate characters but with similar attributes. Reiko not only wore armor similar to the Emperor, but his move set, hammer and hateful attitude was a near carbon-copy.
In "MKX" Reiko was revealed to be a key player who wanted the throne of Outworld for himself. With Shao Kahn finally gone, he didn't have to abide by his rules anymore and was now free to challenge the likes of Kotal Kahn to see who would rule. This showed that he did adopt a lot of characteristics from the ex-Emperor, which led to Reiko using Havik's dark magic and warrior sacrifices to ascend to godhood.
Mileena is a Kitana clone, created by Shang Tsung for Shao Kahn. This was done via Tarkatan physiology, which links her to Baraka so much. She abhors Kitana because she wants to rule Edenia and does not accept that she's the carbon copy. This led to her secretly harboring the throne Shao Kahn ruled on, and as the franchise rolled on to the 2011 reboot, her features and personality got more monstrous.
With Shao Kahn gone for good in "MKX," she used Baraka and his people to try to assert dominance but Kotal Kahn had other plans. He had D'Vorah launch an attack on her forces, killing Baraka and weakening Mileena's army. She sought other elements to help her seize power later on, eventually aligning and taking Reiko as a lover due to his past experience as a henchman for Shao Kahn (not realizing he was tricking her). Mileena would use an army of her clones at the end of that game, further compounding that she was prepared to go to any extent to attain power.
Blaze was first seen on fire in the second game (released in 1993) in the Pit stage. He was on the bridge in the distance opposing Liu Kang. He eventually ended up being transformed into a fire elemental by followers of Onaga to protect the egg which would yield the Dragon King's rebirth. When he transcended to this state, Blaze became the most powerful warrior in the lore, controlling fire, lava and heat, while possessing the ability to devour existence. He also found himself at odds with the brothers, Daegon and Taven, over who would end up in control of the fate of all realms.
He feeds off the strength of all the franchise's "kombatants" and had long been predicted to bring about the end of the world, as per the "Mortal Kombat: Armageddon" storyline. Many heroes tried to unite to prevent him from destroying things but Blaze, due to his imprisonment to guard the egg, had grown tired of a world filled with incessant war, and wanted to raze it.
Onaga is known as the Dragon King in the Mortal Kombat lore, mentioned in "Deadly Alliance" but debuting in "Deception" as the main antagonist and final boss. He then became playable in "Armageddon," as he was now one of the parties trying to put a stop to Blaze so that his personal quest to rule could continue. Things were kept cryptic about him but it was divulged that he was the long-dead ruler of Outworld, preceding Shao Kahn.
He boasted a powerful army but his untimely death saw him mummified and kept in an ancient tomb, only for the necromancer, Quan Chi, to stumble across it and try to use it to his advantage. He's one of the series' most fearful characters, through which the One Being (an all-powerful entity) is said to flow. In fact, Shao Kahn preferred to poison him rather than battle him due to his strength. Fans were left in awe when they saw Shang Tsung, Quan Chi and Raiden team up in a futile attempt to stop Onaga. This emphasized how resilient and commanding he was compared to everyone else.
Quan Chi is a conniving sorcerer from the hellish Netherrealm that cannot be trusted at all. He debuted in the animated series, "Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm" before appearing in the "Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero" video game. His first playable stint came in "MK4" though and since then, he's been one of the series' major antagonists.
He's best known for feuds with Sub-Zero and Kenshi but the most notable was with Scorpion, as he engineered the destruction of everything he loved in his human form, as Hanzo, before resurrecting him as a wraith from hell. Quan Chi can best be described as a sneaky character, allying himself with Shang Tsung and Shinnok in the past, but still keeping an eye on how to control everyone. He's always plotting to stab his colleagues in the back and his lust for Shinnok's amulet of power is a great example of how relentless he grew since his "Deadly Alliance" plan to weaponize the Dragon King. You can never guess his motive and that's what makes him so dangerous.
Shinnok is the epitome of pure evil. He's a fallen and vengeful sorcerer who's suffered a lot in imprisonment, as seen from his decaying look and royal garb (mocking the pantheon of Elder Gods he once belonged to). What makes him so despicable is that he packs a lot of power but prefers to rely on cerebral schemes, as per his alliance with Quan-Chi. This was obvious when he had the necromancer convince Shao Kahn to merge Earthrealm with Outworld against the Elder Gods' will, leaving both realms weakened and vulnerable to invasion by his forces.
Shinnok can also impersonate other beings of his choosing, and as "MKX" showed, transform into a massive demon. He's an insatiable master of magic and manipulation, which all helped him rule Netherrealm, and fueled his quest for domination elsewhere. All of this power sees him constantly threaten genocide and demand that people follow him like a cult, requesting unwavering faith and loyalty from all. He showed throughout the series that he wasn't hesitant to kill anyone who doubted, challenged, or represented a potential threat to him.
Thoughts on our picks? Let us know in the comments which Mortal Kombat villains are the most evil to you!