A then-unknown Diaz was set to play the female lead in the 1995 martial arts flick

By Drew Mackie
Updated August 20, 2015 02:00 PM
Getty; Everett Collection

The Mortal Kombat movie hit theaters 20 years ago this week. If that doesn’t take you back, you might not have been in the target demographic for the graphic violence that made the games such a hit with preteen boys.

However, you might also be surprised to learn that the martial arts flick was a huge success. Made for just $18 million, it has earned $122.1 million to date, making it one of the more lucrative video-game-to-movie adaptations ever.

Not only was it the 22nd top-grossing movie of 1995 – right in between The Bridges of Madison County and Nine Months – it trounced the other teen-friendly movie that opened on Aug. 18, 1995: The Baby-Sitter’s Club, which made only $3 million on its opening weekend, compared to Kombat‘s $23.2 million. (There’s a “Finish her!” joke in here somewhere.)

This week, The Hollywood Reporter interviewed the film’s key players, and one of the surprise tidbits is that the female lead was nearly played by a different actress: Cameron Diaz.

Cameron Diaz: Her Changing Looks

As in the original game, the main female character in the movie is Sonya Blade, a U.S. Special Forces agent who infiltrates a martial arts tournament. In the movie, the role was played by Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (then just Bridgette Wilson), who had previously appeared in Last Action Hero and Higher Learning. In the THR interview, associate producer Lauri Apelian revealed that Diaz was set for the role until right before shooting began.

“We originally had Cameron Diaz cast as Sonya Blade. We were at New Line when The Mask was in postproduction,” Apelian recalled. “New Line said, ‘Why don’t you look some of the dailies that are coming in from this film and see what you think of this young, unknown actress?’ As soon as we saw the dailies from The Mask, there was no question that she was a star.”

Diaz, however, broke her wrist while training for the fight sequences.

“She couldn’t do the martial arts stunts we needed,” Apelian said. “We were very happy with Bridgette. It was great she was available.”

Wilson-Sampras, who was finishing up her lead role in the Adam Sandler comedy Billy Madison at the time, recalled that the last-minute job worked out perfectly.

“I went and filmed Billy Madison and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to lose the part because they couldn’t make a decision,’ ” she said. “Then on my last day of filming on Billy Madison, they called me up asked, ‘Will you do it if we fly you out the next morning?’ and I said ‘Yeah!’ I was so happy both worked out.”

In playing the role, Wilson-Sampras did all her own stunts.

Diaz, of course, went on to star in My Best Friend’s Wedding and A Life Less Ordinary. Wilson-Sampras, who married tennis star Pete Sampras in 2000, would star in I Know What You Did Last Summer and Shopgirl.

Mortal Kombat, meanwhile, spawned a less successful sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, in 1997, as well as TV spin-offs in 1996 and 1998.