The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film is now 25 years old, and making this writer feel very old indeed. The franchise has had its ups and downs over the years, and the films have varied deeply in quality. With that, here’s my look back at the series as I rank the films in quality from worst to best.
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
The final instalment of the original Turtles series is a confusing mix of time travel, samurai warriors and ill-advised love interests. Whereas the first two films focused on a, then, modern day New York, here our heroes are sent back to feudal Japan via way of a MacGuffin April O’Neil finds at a local flea market. It’s a suitably bonkers story, that gets even further away from the dark tone set out in the first film, and is squarely aimed at children of a certain age. There are however, some nice moments here. Elias Koteas returns as Casey Jones, and there is a nice sub-story surrounding Raphael & Michelangelo and how they feel more at home in this warriors land. Unfortunately, the more interesting aspects are put aside in favour of lame jokes and worryingly bad fight scenes.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
As with all studio franchises, the pressure is always on to make the next film as quickly as possible. After 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles proved a hit, a sequel was green lit and was released just the following year. Only this time, after some complaints, the decision was made to dumb down the series. Casey Jones was dropped in favour of a young pizza delivery boy, who just happened to be a martial arts expert, Judith Hoag’s strong portrayal of April O’Neil was also dropped and Paige Turco stepped in with a performance that was a lot less spunky and the Turtles themselves used baguettes instead of weapons to fight the bad guys. It all felt a bit like pandering to the parents as opposed to making a good follow up to the previous film. Then again, this is the way of studios that hold big franchises, and the desire to sell toys was likely the strongest factor here.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
The second attempt at rebooting the Turtles franchise has mostly been a successful one, if only from a financial point of view, and already has a sequel in development. The film itself, as with any beloved childhood franchise, had its doubters from the very beginning. To a degree, people were right to be worried. Michael Bays involvement promised a Transformers style mess, while the bulked up look of the Turtles had them looking like Goombas on steroids. The film featured a throwaway storyline, some cheap gags and a sense that when the film ends, you don’t quite know what happened to the last two hours of your life. However, the Turtles’ characters are nailed on here, and there is at least one really fun sequence shot down a snowy mountainside. One does hope though, that the sequel improves on what went wrong here and it is more than simply throwaway fun.
The animated TMNT film possesses possibly the strongest cast list of any of the Turtles films. Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Patrick Stewart, Zihi Zhang, Kevin Smith and Laurence Fishburne all lend their voices to this 2007 reboot. Despite a relative amount of success, the animated reboot of the franchise never went any further than this, which is a shame as the film was really quite good. The voice cast fitted their roles perfectly, while the new animated style of the Turtles meant the action scenes were unlike those seen before and a rain drenched rooftop scene was the highlight here. The plot, of course, was typical nonsense but that can be forgiven when the result was a film that could cater to audiences both new and old, and was a sure sight better than the 2014 live action reboot.
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film is now 25 years old, and despite its aging, it still remains an essential piece of 90’s pop culture and is by far the best Turtles film to date. What may surprise viewers is just how dark the tone of the original Turtles film was. New York is portrayed as a grungy, dirty place where crime is rampant and young gangs are terrorising the city. It’s this grimy depiction of the city that did not sit well with parents, and resulted in the more child-friendly sequels. The first film remains a highly enjoyable romp, as our heroes fight to take down the evil Shredder and his Foot Clan. With the help of a sassy April O’Neil and vigilante Casey Jones, the film throws a lot at the audience, but fortunately most of it sticks. The result is an entertaining comic book ride, that is still very watchable 25 years later.