“Here we go – it’s the lean, green ninja team!” For millions of viewers worldwide, these words lived rent-free in their minds, summing up the light-hearted antics of the underground amphibian quartet known as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Introduced to the world of comics in 1984, the pizza-loving, kung-fu-savvy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles transcended their initial comic book medium, leading to their prestigious place in the annals of pop culture today. Before long, the Turtles became the inspiration for a series of best-selling action figures, the basis of which provided the Turtles with their own Saturday morning cartoon series by 1987.
Based on the growing popularity of the heroes in the half-shell, it seemed a natural decision for several films based on the characters of the TMNT series to make their way into production. As with any media franchise, some of these films have been met with significant critical success among mainstream audiences, while others have been released to far less favorable reviews from fans and critics alike.
From the foursome’s latest outing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: Mutant Mayhem to the series’ Michael Bay-produced reboots, here is every major Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie ranked from best to worst.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
The newest addition to the TMNT franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, happens ranks as far and away the greatest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film yet. Utilizing an inventive animation style inspired from Sony’s Spider-Verse series, the film makes exceptional use of its comic book-style presentation, building the most faithful adaptation of TMNT released thus far.
Though its visuals deserve praise, Mutant Mayhem also does a good job retaining the tone and spirit of the original comics and cartoon series – something all too absent in the Michael Bay-produced TMNT films. With a spin-off series set to premiere for Paramount+ and a sequel reportedly on its way, the film marks a new beginning for the long-stagnant TMNT series.
Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie
Given that they both originated from the comic book medium, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Batman or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles thrive in animated films, something evidenced by the dozens of great DC animated movies featuring the Dark Knight in action.
As odd as it might seem on paper, the Caped Crusader’s animated appearances have afforded him a number of interesting crossovers with pre-existing characters outside of the DC universe, as seen with 2019’s Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Pairing together about as well with ham and pineapple on a pizza (the go-to order for Michelangelo), the kitschy nature of Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles makes for an effective film, one that has tremendous fun contrasting the lax attitudes of the Turtles with the brooding personality of Gotham City’s resident superhero.
Rise of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
In 2018, the shell-shocked pizza kings found their way back onto television 20 years after their earlier animated adventures had concluded. This new series, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, aired exclusively on Netflix, its sharp wit and vibrant color scheme winning audiences over throughout its brief two seasons.
Based on the success of this reimagined series, Netflix green-lit a film continuation of Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, resulting in 2022’s Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie. While the film (like the original series) strives to reinvent the original universe of the TMNT franchise – updating the characters and story – the creative innovations allowed for a more unique TMNT film, rather than a film limited to the same tired story the TMNT franchise had fallen into telling again and again over the past two decades.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
As the 1987 TMNT cartoon series continued to rake in high viewership numbers, film producers became interested in adapting the show into its own cinematic series. The decision prompted the release of 1990’s live-action superhero movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the first of several adaptations based on the beloved comic book and animated series.
Though it benefits from Jim Henson’s amazing practical effects – which still hold up over 30 years since the movie’s release – the first TMNT film is more worthy of technical admiration than it is to sit and watch. Thanks to a threadbare plot, the characters never rise above the general personalities they were outfitted within the first issue of the TMNT comic. It may have helped the TMNT gain traction among larger audiences, but all in all, it’s far from a great film in itself (even if it is the best of the initial three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of The Shadows
The sequel to the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, marks a significant improvement upon its predecessor, boasting sharper CGI, plentiful action, and even a handful of attempts at capturing the same witty banter of the original TMNT comics.
As with the first Michael Bay-produced entry in this short-lived reboot series, though, the inconsistent humor falls flat when held up to the comic books or its animated TV show counterpart. As with most of the later CGI-heavy remakes (save for Mutant Mayhem), the movie achieves more on a glossy, technical level than a narrative one – enjoyable in the moment but forgettable the minute the credits start to roll.
After the scathing reception Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III faced in 1993, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cinematic franchise went into a lengthy hibernation, a period that eventually thawed in 2007 with the release of the animated reboot, TMNT.
While TMNT does possess some unique animation design, the movie’s disappointing storyline and poor utilization of its source material won little favor among audience members at the time. Trying its best to integrate the same witty humor viewers had come to associate with the Turtles, the movie instead flounders under the weight of its absent plotline, showing that not even the most glamorous CGI can save a directionless superhero flick.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of The Ooze
Say what you will about 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, but at the very least, it made an effort to find a taut balance between witty dialogue and eye-pleasing imagery, a combination bound to appeal to both adults and younger viewers in the audience. Abandoning this balance in favor of a far wackier atmosphere, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze instead geared itself more towards kids, lacking the same edge that made the first film worth watching in the first place.
The Batman & Robin of the TMNT franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, owes more to the vintage Adam West Batman series than it does to any other TMNT film, comic book, or TV show that preceded it. With outlandish dialogue, a kitschy story, and juvenile one-liners, it’s a miracle the franchise even continued on after the release of this film.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Following the critical shortcomings of 2007’s animated TMNT, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles again withdrew from mainstream media, returning seven years later with the Michael Bay-backed remake, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Like Bay’s ongoing work in the Transformers series, the film combined CGI and live-action characters, abandoning the exceptional practical effects of the first three TMNT films.
As much promise as the idea might have on paper, the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles suffered from the same faults as most of the TMNT films that came before it. Valuing style over substance, the movie’s heavy use of CG distracts viewers from its non-existent storyline and poor characterization. Like some of the disappointing installments of the Transformers series, 2014's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles proves that a movie needs more than stellar action and impressive CGI to pull viewers in, with a decent story, infectious humor, and strong characterization going a long way.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
While no one would city any of the original three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie as great films, the first two entries in the trilogy can seem like masterpieces compared to its concluding chapter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.
A definitive low point for the entire TMNT canon – video games, movies, or TV series included – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III remains one of the most difficult superhero movies to sit through in its entirety. With ham-fisted effects, atrocious acting, and little basis in pre-existing TMNT comic book storylines, the movie responsible derailed the entire franchise, axing any plans for future films in the ‘90s-era TMNT series.