Re-Reviewed: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ unlikely big screen success

If anyone who saw the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1984 suggested it would be the start of a multi-million dollar multimedia franchise, they would have been committed.

But Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became a media empire so vast that it continues to endure almost 40 years later. For a lot of fans, their first experience with the heroes in a half shell was the 1990 live-action movie and it made a lasting impression.

Black and white turtles

The first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles+ published by Mirage Studios debuted at a New Hampshire comic book convention in 1984. It was printed cheaply, on newsprint and in black and white, which added to the tone of the story.

Their origin was designed to parallel that of Daredevil’s. Both featured a traffic accident resulting in radioactive materials being spilt. It’s also worth noting that Daredevil’s mentor was named Stick and the Turtles were trained by a rat named Splinter.

In addition to Daredevil, the development of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was influenced by three other titles. The New Mutants, Ronin and Cerebus all provided elements to what became the Turtles’ early defining attributes.

As time went on and more comics were published, the Turtles developed their own unique world, characters and stories. In turn, they became the concepts that influenced other comic books. Some of them were just parodies, like the Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Elephants.

While the comics continued to flourish, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles moved from comics to being a media franchise. A hugely popular animated series launched in 1987 along with a massive toy line from Playmates. Then in 1990, a live-action feature film was released.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the big screen

The fact that the first movie to feature the Turtles was live-action was a bit of a surprise back in the day. But a combination of martial artists in costume, animatronic heads and superb voiceover work brought the young reptile ninjas to life.

At this point, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were best known from their animated series and the original black and white comics. There was also an Archie Comics series that launched in 1988 with a decidedly different tone from the comics that started it all.

The 1990 movie borrowed elements and ideas from all of these sources. That being said, the heaviest influences came from the original comic books. The tone of the movie was a bit darker than some may have expected, though nowhere near as dark as something like The Crow.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles featured the four main Turtles with Splinter, trying to live their lives out in the sewers of New York. They met two new friends in a reporter named April O’Neil and a sports-themed vigilante named Casey Jones.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, TMNT

MADRID, SPAIN – JUNE 23: Employees of the Madrid Amusement Park dressed as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pose for a photo on June 23, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. Parque de Atracciones de Madrid welcomed visitors back after Spain lifted its state of emergency. Spain has reopened its borders to visitors from most of Europe after three months of lock down to stop the spread of coronavirus. (Photo by Juan Naharro Gimenez/Getty Images)

At that point, New York City was under siege by a force of ninjas named the Foot Clan. They were led by a master martial artist and nefarious villain who called himself Shredder. The movie was a comic book action fighting extravaganza, though it had little depth beyond that.

More and more Turtles

Critics were not overly kind to the movie but fans seemed to love it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a massive opening weekend for 1990, and would go on to be the ninth-highest grossing film of that year.

No one would ever refer to it as a serious drama but it did right by the source material. The movie was filled with one liners and surprisingly good fight scenes. All in all, it was a solid martial arts flick framed in a story about growing up and honoring family.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did well enough that it spawned two sequels, each one increasingly worse than the one before it. In more recent years, there have been two rebooted additional live action movies with CGI Turtles. They also weren’t very good.

While not everyone was a fan of that first film in 1990, if you enjoyed it then you’ll enjoy it now. The movie holds up, though there are still few ’90s touches that stick out. Regardless, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remains the best big-screen live-action interpretation of the comics to date.

Did you enjoy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Are you a fan of the franchise? Let us know in the comments below!