With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem releasing this week, we decided to take a look back at the heroes in a half-shell’s past cinematic outings. Though the quality of the films hasn’t always been consistent, there’s no denying that they hold a soft spot in many peoples’ hearts. Here are the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies ranked.
7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
Unfortunately, TMNT III, or the one where our heroes in a half-shell venture back to 1603 feudal Japan via time travel (the ultimate franchise killer), just sort of chugs along without much energy. The fight scenes are poorly executed, the acting subpar, and even the costumes look worse than the ones seen four years earlier.
Not even the inspired return of Elias Koteas‘ Casey Jones and Corey Feldman (again voicing Donatello after a brief hiatus) can save this cheesy turd from the dregs of sequelitis, which is why it’s last on our list of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies ranked. Also, the once unstoppable TMNT franchise had lost much of its juice and was running on fumes by this point.
6. TMNT (2007)
It is an understatement to say that Ninja Turtles are a product of their time. The idea of talking, karate-chopping sewer turtles doesn’t translate to the modern era. We may be more cynical or less prone to gimmicks, or our desire for innocuous superheroes has withered. Still, audiences continue showing little interest in any variation of our big, green pals or their talking rat Splinter.
Case in point: 2007’s TMNT tried to usher in a new turtle wave via a big-screen animated extravaganza and failed spectacularly. Critics turned up their noses and moviegoers mostly stayed away, resulting in a $94M worldwide gross and what felt like the belated nail in the coffin for the franchise.
While TMNT occasionally captures the gee-whiz spirit of the early turtle productions, shoddy animation (even by 2007 standards), weak voice acting (by Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kevin Smith, and Patrick Stewart), and a ho-hum story about parallel dimensions render this entry dead on arrival.
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)
Out of the Shadows has its heart in the right place and at least deserves kudos for introducing a live-action Krang, Bebop, Rocksteady, and the Technodrome — 7-year-old me would’ve thought this was the greatest motion picture ever made! What kills the buzz is the shoddy script, flaccid performances (particularly by Stephen Amell), and Transformers-esque aesthetic that overstuffs each scene with far too many details. Plus, Donny, Raph, Mikey, and Leo continue to look like mutated monsters.
Had Out of the Shadows been an animated film rendered similarly to the popular cartoon, it might have worked. Instead, this bloated sequel lacks the spirit of its predecessor, relies far too heavily on trashy CGI and overproduced action sequences, gives Megan Fox nothing to do as April, and somehow makes one long for the simpler days of “Ninja Rap.”
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
Speaking of which, Secret of the Ooze suffers due to unnecessary changes to the cast (Adam Carl and Paige Turco) and overall design. Still, the hastily produced sequel entertains as a goofy piece of early 90s cinema, replete with Vanilla Ice and a Mortal Kombat-esque aesthetic. Gnarly elements like Keno and “Ninja Rap” are incredibly dated, but Secret of the Ooze features enough kinetic energy to zip past its numerous shortcomings. Plus, seeing Super Shredder in the finale, however short-lived, still produces chills.
I saw this with a friend in 1991, and despite some nitpicks — the turtles never use their weapons — we generally agreed it was mostly fun but not as good as the original. Today, only the power of nostalgia carries me through rewatches, which still makes it better than most of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies ranked.
Say what you will about this overstuffed production, but 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles delivers the goods in action, style, and a dash of substance. Sure, the Michael Bay aesthetic grows stale quickly. The turtle designs are of the “you either love them or hate them” variety. Yet, the movie comes closest to capturing the original film’s magic despite the needless excess.
Action sequences are competently handled, the characters have distinct personalities, and there are genuine stakes in the third act. Everyone involved was excited to bring our turtle pals into the modern era, and it’s incredible how close the pic comes to fulfilling its purpose.
Questions abound. Why is Shredder a giant transformer? Why is William Fichtner in the film? (Obviously, he was meant to be Shredder, but fan blowback resulted in nonsensical changes to the plot and significantly diminished his impact.) Why do the turtles look like monsters?
Regardless, I enjoy this occasionally thrilling blast from the past. It’s far from perfect, but still, this is the right approach to the material. More restraint and imagination might have secured a home run.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Honestly, the bar for any film to traverse is low when it comes to the Turtles. So, calling Mutant Mayhem the second-best film in the franchise may not seem like high praise, but considering how much I adore the original 1990 flick, it’s actually good news!
The new film from Jeff Rowe and Seth Rogen remixes the Turtle ingredients into something much different, which is probably a good thing, but also makes for a bizarre first-time viewing experience for someone accustomed to certain beats with these characters. Here, our heroes in a half-shell are prepubescent children who talk like YouTubers and behave like a modern version of The Goonies. It’s a little jarring at first, but you get used to it.
Splinter is also very different from previous iterations. This rat is more of an eccentric father afraid of losing his kids than a wise old karate master. Sure, he fights, but in a manner that’s more comedic than cool – which fits, considering he’s voiced by Jackie Chan.
Overall, the tone is goofier than the average Turtle flick, but there’s still an abundance of heart, wit, and fun that makes this one stand out from the others. Once you get over the initial shock, you’ll eventually fall for this infectiously entertaining romp that positions our green heroes on a much different track, setting them up for some truly unique future adventures – possibly with a few iconic villains along for the ride.
Sure, I would’ve liked a little more karate action and wasn’t particularly thrilled with the giant Kaiju battle at the end. No matter. Each character goes through their own personal arc and discovers a new level of personal value. Hopefully, audiences warm to this new take because I’m down for more adventures with these obnoxious ninja warriors.
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Kids have no idea how big a deal it was to see the Ninja Turtles on the big screen in live-action. While the puppetry and overall production might be dated, there’s no denying 1989’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the best adaptation of the cartoon/comic book to date. Despite its thin premise, there’s magic aplenty in this dark and gritty action bonanza that succinctly delivers everything fans could ask for.
The comedy sticks, the fight sequences are surprisingly fierce, and the production design oozes with enough grime and grit to make one believe they’re watching teenage turtles running amok through the streets of New York. Plus, John Du Prez’s synth-heavy musical score is divine.
Has there ever been a better April O’Neil than Judith Hoag? Or a more fitting Casey Jones than Elias Koteas? Director Steve Barron doesn’t try to get cute with the material. Do you want live-action Ninja Turtles? You got it! Here is a film perfectly comfortable in its shell that never tries to be more than it is — a quality picture for kids to savor, which is why it sits at the top of our list of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies ranked.