In 1984, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a one-off comic book that found extraordinary success despite being self-published by two unknown comic creators. Three years later, Turtlemania was born when the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series hit the airwaves. And while the franchise has waxed and waned over the following 36 years, it’s never completely gone away. There have been multiple animated shows, two different live-action film series, and several reboots. It seems like every generation gets its own TMNT.
- 12. Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (1997)
- 11. Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018)
- 10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)
- 9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
- 8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
- 7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
- 6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012)
- 5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)
- 4. TMNT (2007)
- 3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003)
- 2. Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019)
- 1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
For this generation, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem may be the definitive TMNT. It’s a film that actually focuses on the Turtles’ youth and their desire to live openly among humans. And while we can’t judge that film until we actually see it, we can revisit all of the previous adaptations. That’s why we’ve put together this list of all of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies and TV shows while ranking them from worst to first.
When it comes to picking the worst adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it almost always comes back to Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. The thing you have to keep in mind is that this series came at a time when the popularity of the TMNT was truly at a low point. Someone at Fox Kids and Saban came up with the idea of doing a Power Rangers-esque Turtles series for television. The biggest problem with that is the Turtle suits were very unforgiving on a TV budget, and this definitely felt like a step down from the films.
And yes, this is the show with the female Turtle, Venus de Milo, whom everyone seems to hate. To be fair, bad writing didn’t help Venus make her case with the fans. The funny thing is that the TMNT comics have successfully introduced a female Turtle, Jennika, who is wildly popular. Maybe Venus was just ahead of her time.
This is going to be the controversial pick on this list because Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a fan base that absolutely loves it. But I hate it, and I can tell you why. First, the visuals are ugly and a big departure from all of the previous Turtles series. This show also took far greater liberties with the source material than any of the previous adaptations. Some of those things I could have possibly learned to live with. But this series’ biggest crime is that it rewrites the personalities of the Turtles. And that I can not abide.
Again, you may feel differently. This is a case of personal preference, after all. But Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has the distinction of the shortest run of any TMNT series. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence.
In theory, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows should be better than the movie that came before it. It really does seem like the filmmakers heard the complaints from the previous film, and they added more aspects of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series like Krang. But this film really goes off the rails early when it introduces Casey Jones (scab actor Stephen Amell) as a dimwitted corrections officer turned vigilante. And Tyler Perry is extra-silly as Dr. Baxter Stockman.
The effort is there, but this movie just doesn’t work. And the film’s lack of success at the box office suggests that the audience rejected it.
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Megan Fox gets a lot of hate for her role as April O’Neil in the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its sequel, Out of the Shadows. And while she isn’t right for the role, it’s not like the scripts did her any favors. Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman were charged with rebooting the live-action franchise on the big screen for the first time since 1993. Unfortunately, their instincts were wrong on almost every choice, including the slightly grotesque redesigns of the Turtles themselves.
The biggest problem with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze is that it was rushed out in a year to capitalize on the success of the first movie. New Line Cinema didn’t have enough faith in the longevity of the franchise to give this film a chance to have a true production cycle and enough time to get everything right.
It also seems like the studio got a little scared of letting the Ninja Turtles be ninjas since they barely use their weapons in this movie. The story itself is nothing special. Shredder comes back and ultimately mutants into a Super Shredder, and Vanilla Ice has perhaps the most forced rapper cameo of 1991 while appearing as himself shortly before breaking out into a TMNT-inspired rap.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III gave the original live-action Turtles one last chance to redeem themselves, even though it jettisons most of the Turtles’ familiar settings and enemies. The short version is that April O’Neil (Paige Turco) finds herself stuck in Japan’s distant past, and the Turtles only have a short window to follow her back and return to the present before their time runs out. Say what you will about it, Turtles III is better than Turtles II.
It was understood that Nickelodeon would have a more kid-oriented take on the TMNT for the network’s first project with the franchise. Sure enough, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does make the title characters teenagers, and it makes April O’Neil even younger than they are. The CGI models take some getting used to, but it largely stays true to the TMNT mythos with an expanded roster of characters and classic villains.
This is the one that started it all. 10 seasons is a long time for any animated series to run, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is solely responsible for making the TMNT into a phenomenon in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The first few seasons are admittedly better than the middle seasons, because the villains aren’t treated as jokes and there are actual stakes in the stories. This series does have some shaky seasons that veer pretty close to self-parody, before course-correcting in the later seasons and closing out in season 10 with a strong finish for the entire show.
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem isn’t the first animated film in the franchise. TMNT did it in 2007, and it felt like a natural continuation of everything that came before it. The film picks up after Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) returns to NYC following an extended period of training in South America, only to find that his team is barely holding together. Raphael (Nolan North) has even gone out on his own as a costumed vigilante.
This film also really wanted to Buffy-up April O’Neil as an action heroine, which is probably why Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar was cast as April. A similar phenomenon happened years later when Gellar voiced Teela in Masters of the Universe: Revelation. It works better here.
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As much as the franchise owes to the 1987 series, it wasn’t exactly comic-book-accurate. The comic was much darker and serious and played to an older audience. The 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series couldn’t match the comic exactly, but it was a lot closer to the source. More importantly, this was the series that revitalized the entire franchise after the live-action films fizzled out and Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Creatively, this is the best TMNT animated series to date.
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The amazing thing about the Batman vs. Teenage Ninja Turtles animated movie is that it works as both a Batman story and a TMNT story. It does this by staying true to the personalities of both the Dark Knight and the Ninja Turtles. This film also has some excellent action, especially the early battle between Batman and Shredder and Batman’s subsequent fight with the TMNT.
However, the movie’s humor really helps tie it together with some genuinely hilarious moments, especially with Alfred’s frustration with the Turtles during an impromptu pizza party in the Bat Cave. That’s the kind of thing that just doesn’t happen very often.
It’s been 33 years since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit theaters, and it remains the gold standard for the live-action films. CGI models may be able to make more convincing Turtles in the present, but these suits looked fantastic for 1990, thanks to the efforts of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. This is an origin story for the Turtles, which re-envisions their first meeting with April O’Neil (Judith Hoag) after she runs afoul of the evil ninja clan, The Foot.
And where The Foot goes, Shredder (James Saito) is sure to be close behind. As the Turtles bond with April, they discover Shredder’s connection to their master, Splinter (Kevin Clash). In the end, these Turtle boys will have to face the Foot in a climatic showdown. None of the sequels or the reboot movies have come anywhere close to this one.
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