Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) is a franchise that has stood the test of time. The Heroes in a Half Shell started their journey to superstardom in an '80s comic book series created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The series follows four anthropomorphic crime-fighting turtles named Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo. Despite the somewhat bizarre concept, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became a huge success, resulting in toys, TV shows, movies, and video games based on the property. The franchise is still popular to this day, and has multiple movie adaptions planned for release including a project from Seth Rogen. But before those come out, let’s countdown the best of the Turtle’s movie adventures so far!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III marked the end of the original series of TMNT movies, and it’s not hard to see why. The film was very poorly reviewed and remains the lowest rated Turtles film on IMDB. The film follows our titular turtles and their friend April O’Neil (Paige Turco) as they undertake a time-travelling adventure to ancient Japan after purchasing a magic scepter. Despite the franchise’s general wackiness, the way the time travel plot is executed is a bit too ridiculous. TMNT stories typically focus on weird science more than pure magic, so just changing the means of time travel would be an improvement.
Overall, the story was weak, and the visuals were a step down from the previous films. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop was responsible for the effects in the first two movies but not the third, leading to a disappointing drop in quality.
The 2014 reboot movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, faced backlash right from the start. Michael Bay was chosen to produce the project, leaving many fans disheartened after seeing his take on the Transformers franchise. The turtles’ designs were also disappointing. Their faces were too human, and their physiques were more akin to World’s Strongest Man competitors than teenage crime fighters. It wasn’t the worst movie, but TMNT fans have much better options to watch.
Out of the Shadows was more well received than its 2014 predecessor but was far less successful at the box office. The reboot series was planned to have a third movie, but after the sequel’s disappointment, the project was canned. Out of the Shadows brings in a ton of fan favorite characters like Baxter Stockman, the Krang, and Bebop and Rocksteady. The film is a mixed bag overall. The action is flashy, and the tone is more enjoyable, but the story is overkill, and the turtles are still ugly.
The Secret of the Ooze was the second TMNT movie produced, and a direct sequel to 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The film follows the Turtles as they battle Shredder and the mutated creatures, Rahzar and Tokka. Ooze steps back from the grittiness of its predecessor and embraces a far more childish tone. The story and jokes are strongly geared towards kids, so if you’re an adult that didn’t grow up with the film, you may not get as much out of it. But, if you can appreciate '90s cheesiness, and Vanilla Ice music, you’ll have fun with the film.
In 2007, it had been 14 years since the last Turtles movie was released, so understandably, there was some hype following the announcement of TMNT. It was set to be the first CGI animated Turtles movie, and remains the only film completely done in this style. TMNT’s story breaks from the norm by showing the Turtles living independently. After the team defeats Shredder, Donatello begins working in IT, Mikey becomes a birthday party entertainer, Leonardo travels to Central America for training, and Raphael fights crime as a solo vigilante. But when evil once again threatens the world, the brothers have to put aside their differences and save the day. The movie is a greatly entertaining and unique Turtles adventure with an appreciated darker tone. Every Turtles fan should watch this movie.
Even fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may have missed this one. Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a direct-to-video crossover movie released in 2019. The film introduces the Bat Family to the Ninja Turtles as they team up to fight Ra’s al Ghul, the League of Assassins, and the Foot Clan. The movie merges the two franchises neatly and the story will keep you engaged. The fight scenes are well executed and don’t hold back on violence, earning the film a PG-13 rating. Batman vs. TMNT was well received by critics and fans alike, boasting an incredibly impressive 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. If you’re a fan of the Turtles or Batman, do yourself a favor and watch this movie.
The Turtles’ first appearance on the big screen came in the 1990 movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. To bring Leo, Raph, Donny, and Mikey to life, director Steve Barron hired the legendary Jim Henson and his company, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Henson said the Turtles were the most advanced creatures he had ever worked on, but despite the challenging project, he delivered incredible results. The Heroes in a Half Shell were brought to life better than most fans could have ever hoped, but unfortunately, they would be one of the last projects Henson worked on before his death.
On top of the excellent costumes, the film provides a charming story filled with goofy jokes, entertaining action, and a gritty aesthetic that inspired many future TMNT projects. The film received mixed reviews from critics but was a huge box office success. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles grossed $202 million against a $13.5 million budget, making it the highest-grossing independent film until The Blair Witch Project beat it in 1999.
Finally, we have 2009’s Turtles Forever. This animated movie is a celebration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a love letter to the series’ fans. The film brings together the 1987, 2003, and the Mirage comics versions of the ninjas in a stellar crossover. The interactions between the Turtles are great, the story is fun, the fights are compelling, and the aesthetics are all on point. This is a must watch movie that should satisfy fans of any Turtles generation.
Kyle Grammatica is a Features Writer for Collider. When he’s not writing, you can find him drawing, fishing, or at a baseball game.