Based on the comics that debuted in 1984, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was once a powerhouse franchise that sold everything from tickets to toys to video games. The franchise is still around today, but not quite the cultural phenomenon it once was.
The franchise is not dead. Far from it, fans are still actively looking for more content. There have been plenty of movies over the past decade, and there’s a new one on the horizon as well. This list highlights the highs and lows of the cinematic history of this legendary theatrical franchise.
6 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
Making a functional sequel to a cult classic is tough. Making a third functional film is even more difficult. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III tried some interesting ideas – but it would end up being the worst in the franchise.
Rather than dealing with urban crime, as in the previous two entries, this third film decides that time to return to feudal Japan was the way to go. You have to give props to think outside the box, but it just doesn’t work well. Like any of these films; there is still a lot of fun to be had for the fans. Campiness has become a part of its central identity, and there will always be adamant defenders of any film on this list.
The first two films (more so the first) are often praised for the costume work, which had been done by the famous Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. This third movie, however, would deviate from that and instead go with All Effects Company, a competing but smaller animatronics company. This would turn out to be a mistake, as one of the biggest criticisms has to do with the appearance of the turtles themselves. It’s radically different, and radically worse. If the characters that star in the franchise aren’t good; neither will the film.
5 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Michael Bay can mean many different things to different people. To some, he’s an action director who has made many successful and enjoyable box office darlings. To others, he’s a shallow explosion machine who, while bringing no artistic merit to his films, manages to bring in tons of box office accolades. Either way, he at least seemed like a competent recruit for another successful franchise that needed to be saved from the ’90s.
Produced by Bay and directed by Jonathan Liebesman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtleswas met with some resistance from fans when the announcement was made, but after some encouraging words from co-creator Kevin Eastman, fans were more on board. It appeared at the box office, with the film grossing $493.3 million on a budget of $150 million.
It’s a reboot in every sense of the word. In that way, it suffers a bit from the normal things that define a movie franchise, such as pacing or tone. Reviews weren’t too warm either, as it was the lowest-rated film in the franchise on Rotten Tomatoes.
4 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: From the Shadows (2016)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: From the Shadows looks a lot like its predecessor, but a bit more focused. The turtle designs still annoy some, but the action and plot unfold at a faster and more enjoyable pace.
This time, directed by Dave Green, the Turtles reunite with Krang (Brad Garret) for the first time in a live-action film. Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams), Rocksteady (Sheamus), and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) all made appearances in this one. Despite the film’s quality, it was exciting to see so many iconic characters back on the big screen.
It’s a flawed movie – but it understood the central principle that these movies should be fun. He accomplished that.
3 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of Slime (1991)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of Slime represented the last truly fan-pleasing live-action movie for years. Not as good as the original, but the camp and comedy kicked it up about 20 notches.
The story picks up shortly after the first. Even though a few actors from the first film weren’t brought back, the cast is still excellent, especially new character Keno (Ernie Reyes Jr.). He goes to some pretty goofy places as more mutants spawn from the slime to battle the Turtles, but he’s the kind of campy that’s aged perfectly. Not to mention the iconic Vanilla Ice scene. Much of this movie is total gold.
Despite being another critical failure, this film found its audience years later. It’s another movie that fans have been wanting to hold on to. He’s still getting toys all these years later.
2 TMNT (2007)
Originally a John Woo project, TMNT changed a lot during its long pre-production. Normally, movies that stay this long in production end up being messy, if at all. TMNT managed to turn the tide and actually delivered a solid product.
Unlike many live-action movies, this movie is hampered or limited in scope. It might be a little more kid-friendly than the rest – but it still packs a punch and delivers some of the most precise and comedic moments any movie has ever seen. It’s not often talked about among the best – but it should be.
Chris Evans as Casey Jones is pretty much casting perfect. Too bad they didn’t do it for the live action movie as well.
1 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Probably no surprise – but the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the film is the best of all. It was also the hardest to do. Comics were a big deal back then – and the animated show was even bigger. The producers wanted to capitalize on this and push the brand even further with their name attached.
Luckily, they had help from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. The turtle design is absolutely awesome and the perfect way to bring them to the big screen. Even better than the CGI treatment they would later receive. There’s a lot of heart and soul in this movie, and you can see it in the performances, the script, and even the music. It’s by no means a perfect movie, but it is a perfect Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.
There have been plenty of 80s cartoon adaptations over the years, and this is one of the best. It ages perfectly.