Because of their many incarnations over the years, as long as you were born in the late ‘70s, then you’ve at least heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The heroes in a half shell started out as an underground comic book series, but exploded in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with their syndicated cartoon show. And with popular cartoons come film adaptions. There are six Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movies in total that found their way to the big screen, with some of them being good, and some of them being… not so good.
Now, I’m not counting television movies like Turtles Forever. Nor am I counting the recent Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles because 1) that went direct-to-video, and 2) that’s not fair. I mean, come on. Batman’s in it. Of course that’s going to be the best one. But since the original movie is now having its 30th anniversary (I know, right!), I thought it was time to at rank the six theatrical TMNT movies. So grab yourself a slice of pizza and take a look at this list. Cowabunga!
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
The final installment in the original trilogy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is even worse than the Michael Bay TMNT movies, and that’s saying something. This is the one where the turtles go back in time to feudal Japan because of a magical scepter. Once in the past, the turtles have to face off against… some random dude named Lord Norinaga. Boredom ensues.
This is by far the worst movie in the series since the choreography is terrible, the villains are awful, the costumes look like they’ve been through hell and back, and the plot is just straight up yawn-inducing. Plus, Michelangelo is gone for a large portion of the movie since he gets kidnapped. The Angry Video Game Nerd had the right idea when he sliced this movie in half with a katana.
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)
You would think a TMNT movie with Baxter Stockman, Bebop, Rocksteady, and Krang would at least have some redeeming qualities to it, but no. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a complete mess and almost as boring as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. The action is messy and oftentimes hard to follow, the turtles are even more obnoxious in this one than in the last movie (more on that one in a second) and the aforementioned fan-favorite villains don’t live up to the hype.
What’s this one about? I don’t know. Something about the Shredder being broken out of prison and ending up in another dimension where he encounters Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) who wants to take over the world. There’s mutagen involved, and all the elements are in place for this to be a great Turtles movie, but it all just falls flat on its face. So hard in fact, that Paramount has decided to just reboot the turtles all over again rather than make a sequel. Ouch.
One big fault though is that the main character seems to be April O’Neil, who’s played by Megan Fox. Another huge problem is that the turtles’ backstory is directly tied to April since her father had a science experiment called “Project Renaissance” (Ugh) which involved the turtles and Splinter before they were transformed. Plus, the turtles are just straight-up annoying. Especially Raphael. And he’s my favorite! The rest of the plot is standard Ninja Turtle fare involving Shredder and the Foot Clan. Again, it’s not a terrible movie, but it doesn’t really do anything right. And yeah, the turtles look hideous.
Okay, now we’re getting to the good ones. The 2007 Turtles movie was the only one done in CGI, and it turned out so well that you kind of wonder why more of them weren’t made in this style. The story begins with the turtles doing their own separate thing after they defeated the Shredder, and they only come together after strange creatures from the past start attacking New York City.
I like this one in particular because it’s so different from all the others. It’s the only TMNT movie (besides the abysmal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III) where the Shredder isn’t even in it. Instead, we get his second in command, Karai, played by Zhang Ziyi. I also like the idea of all the turtles on their own and coming together only because they have to, which highlights all of the turtles’ very different personalities. Overall, a great turtles movie.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
As a kid, this one was my favorite. It involved the mutagen that created the turtles, but now, it’s in the hands of the Shredder. And he uses it to create two new monsters in Tokka and Rahzar. He also uses it on himself to become SUPER SHREDDER (played by Kevin Nash). It’s much sillier than the first movie, and a lot more fun, too.
But that also might be its problem, since it feels so much more inconsequential in the process. There are a lot more jokes in this movie, and next to none of them land if you’re an adult (though they make my kids laugh). Plus, the plot, which sounds great on paper, feels more like an extended episode of the cartoon, which was probably why I liked it so much as a kid, but quickly get bored by it today. Still, it brings back good memories, so this might be a biased pick placing it so high on this list, but one that I think a lot of people would agree with.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
The first and best Turtles movie, this is the film that’s closest to their gritty origin, and it even takes story lines from the comic book series. As an introduction to the turtles, it can’t be beat. The story is actually really depressing. The Shredder wants to start an army called the Foot Clan, and he’s enlisting street urchins. The turtles go through a lot of peril (including escaping a burning building!) on the way to the Shredder, but it’s their master, Splinter, in the end who defeats him. This is fitting since Splinter wants revenge for his master’s murder at the hands of the Shredder when he was once known as Oroku Saki.
The action is incredible, the story reaches great depths for a “children’s movie”, and it’s surprisingly dark for a PG-rated film. The Secret of the Ooze and TMNT are good Turtles’ movies, but the first film is the only one that I would say is a legitimately good movie in general.
And that’s all the Turtles movies that were released theatrically. But what is your favorite TMNT movie? Sound off in the comments.