Has any pop culture franchise been through more permutations and reboots than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? It doesn’t help that so many of these projects are named simply “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “TMNT” or some other variation thereof.
With Turtle Mania as strong as it’s ever been, and with even more Turtle adventures in the works across various media, we figured now is a great time to break down the history of the franchise. Read on to learn about all the many incarnations of TMNT across movies, TV and video games (but note that for the sake of simplicity we’re ignoring the various handheld and mobile games).
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Original Animated Series
The year 1987 is when Turtle Mania really began to take hold, as that was when the original animated series and the action figure line both debuted. The animated series helped shape public perception of the franchise for years to come, from the iconic theme song to a decidedly more kid-friendly tone than the comic book source material. The series also had much more staying power than most, lasting a full 10 seasons until it finally wrapped in 1996.
The NES Game
The TMNT franchise’s first foray into video games is also the most divisive. The original NES game boasts a unique, fairly open-ended structure and allows players to choose which of the four Turtles to control. However, the game is also well known for its level of difficulty, with many gamers having nightmares of the infamous underwater level for years to come after playing.
The Live-Action Movie
The franchise made its theatrical debut with the 1990 live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. That film is notable for both its darker, more comic-accurate tone and the animatronic rubber Turtle suits designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. As further proof of Turtle Mania’s power, the movie actually became the highest-grossing independent film in history (at least until The Blair Witch Project came along).
The Arcade Game
The Turtles migrated to arcades in 1990, spawning what is arguably still the most popular game in the history of the franchise. This Konami-produced brawler replicated a successful quarter-munching formula. The game was later ported to the NES and rebranded Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. Although the NES version suffered a major graphical downgrade, it boasts an additional level not found in the original.
Fall of the Foot Clan
Even the Game Boy got in on the TMNT fun thanks to this 1990 action game, which is based on the animated series. Fall of the Foot Clan spawned two Game Boy-exclusive sequels, 1991’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers and 1993’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
As popular as the 1990 movie was, the backlash over the dark tone resulted in this campier and less violent sequel. The Secret of the Ooze is also notable for adding a number of new characters to the franchise, including the heroic pizza delivery boy Keno and Bebop and Rocksteady fill-ins Tokka and Rahzar. Also, there was that whole “Ninja Rap” thing.
Turtles in Time
Konami followed up the 1990 arcade game with an equally popular sequel. Turtles in Time is not only a major graphical leap over its predecessor, its plot sees the Turtles battling their way through time, from the prehistoric to a futuristic New York. The game was later ported to the Super NES, with several new bosses and levels thrown in for good measure.
The Manhattan Project
Because the NES was woefully ill-equipped to handle a port of Turtles in Time, it instead played host to a different follow-up to TMNT II: The Arcade Game. The Manhattan Project features similar graphics and gameplay, though the Turtles each gained their own special move.
The Hyperstone Heist
While Sega Genesis owners didn’t get a true port of Turtles in Time, they did get this very similar arcade brawler. TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist reuses many assets from Turtles in Time, but features a different storyline and unique characters like Shredder’s top henchman, Tatsu.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
The live-action series culminated with this sequel, which thrust the Turtles back in time to feudal Japan. While moderately successful, the diminished box office numbers and withering critical reception ensured this would be the last live-action TMNT movie for more than 20 years.
With Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat all the rage in 1993, the Turtles got in on that action with a tournament fighting game of their own. The game was released on the NES, Super NES and Sega Genesis, with each varying wildly in gameplay, character roster and quality.
Mutant Turtles: Choujin Densetsu-hen
This two-part Japanese OVA is more or less a spinoff of the 1987 animated series, featuring most of the same Japanese dub voice actors. The title translates to “Superman Legend,” and the first episode features the Turtles becoming sentai heroes who merge to form the powerful Turtle Saint.
The Next Mutation
Though TMNT III basically killed the live-action franchise’s future prospects, that didn’t stop Saban Entertainment from trying to tap into waning Turtle Mania for a Power Rangers-inspired series. TMNT: The Next Mutation debuted in 1997 and lasted only one season. The series is a loose continuation of the movie trilogy and is mostly remembered for introducing a fifth, female Turtle named Venus De Milo. The Turtles also crossed over with the Power Rangers themselves in an episode of Power Rangers in Space.
The 2003 Animated Series
After going dormant in the late ’90s and early ’00s, the Turtles got a second wind thanks to a new animated series in 2003, produced by 4Kids and Mirage Studios. This series is relatively darker and more violent compared to its predecessor. That, along with a more narrative-driven approach, helped win over many fans. The series even crossed over with the original cartoon in the 2009 finale special Turtles Forever.
The 2003 Games
The advent of the new animated series led to two different video games being released in 2003, one developed for the Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube and PC and the other for Game Boy Advance. The former is specially based on the 2003 animated series and later spawned several sequels – 2004’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus and 2005’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare and TMNT: Mutant Melee.
TMNT: The CG Movie
The franchise finally returned to theaters in 2007 in the form of TMNT, a CG-animated movie that also acts as a sequel to the live-action series. This sequel sees the four estranged Turtles struggling to come together again and battle the Foot Clan’s new leader, Karai.
The 2007 Game
The franchise’s video game rights passed from Konami to Ubisoft just in time for the 2007 movie, and Ubisoft released a tie-in game on pretty much every console imaginable. Funnily enough, though, the Game Boy Advance game is the most well-regarded of the bunch, thanks to its arcade-inspired gameplay.
Turtles in Time Re-Shelled
Ubisoft released a new version of the classic Turtles in Time game in 2009 for both Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. Turtles in Time Re-Shelled recreates the levels of the arcade version with updated 3D graphics. Unfortunately, once Ubisoft’s licensing arrangement with Konami expired, the game vanished from both storefronts.
The 2012 Animated Series
After acquiring full rights to the TMNT franchise in 2009, Viacom wasted little time in commissioning a new animated series that debuted on Nickelodeon in 2012. This series broke new ground as the first CG-animated TMNT show, and was generally well-received by fans.
The 2013 Games
The TMNT video game rights shifted to Activision, leading to a pair of 2013 games inspired by the new animated series. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows was released on Xbox Live Arcade, Windows and PSN, while another game simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released on Xbox 360, Wii and Nintendo DS.
The Movie Reboot
21 years after TMNT III, the franchise finally returned to the big screen for a new live-action movie produced by Michael Bay. Unlike the previous live-action series, this reboot features CG-animated versions of the Turtles rather than actors in rubber suits. Despite generally negative reviews, this movie managed to become the franchise’s highest-grossing theatrical release.
The 2014 Games
Several new TMNT games were released in 2014 to capitalize on the new movie, though only the Nintendo 3DS/mobile game was actually based on the movie. Other 2014 releases included the Kinect-fueled minigame collection TMNT: Training Lair and WayForward’s TMNT: Danger of the Ooze, a tie-in to the CG-animated series.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
The 2014 movie reboot was followed by a 2016 sequel called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. This sequel adds fan-favorite characters like Casey Jones (Arrow’s Stephen Amell) and finally gives Bebop and Rocksteady their live-action debuts. However, the sequel failed to replicate the box office success of the original, leading Paramount to cancel plans for a third film.
Mutants in Manhattan
Activision’s final bow with the franchise came in the form of 2016’s TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan, a cel-shaded action game developed by PlatinumGames. While fans had high expectations given the developer’s pedigree, the game debuted to middling reviews and disappeared from digital storefronts surprisingly quickly.
While TMNT: Smash-Up remains the last dedicated TMNT fighting game, the Turtles did make a guest appearance in the form of DLC for 2017’s Injustice 2. The game even includes an in-story explanation for how the four brothers are able to go toe-to-toe with Superman.
Rise of the TMNT
Each new TMNT cartoon seems to arrive quicker than the last. Nickelodeon followed up the successful 2012 series with Rise of the TMNT. Though this series returns to a 2D style of animation, its wildly different approach to the main character designs certainly turned heads. To date, Nickelodeon has aired two seasons of the series.
Nickelodeon Kart Racers
Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
DC Comics and IDW Publishing crafted an epic pop culture crossover in 2015’s Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and that comic inspired this 2019 direct-to-video animated movie. The film pairs the Bat-family with the Turtles as they confront the combined threat of Shredder and Ra’s al Ghul. The comic spawned two sequels, but it remains to be seen if either will be adapted for animation.
The Netflix Movie
The next TMNT movie won’t be appearing in theaters, but will instead be exclusive to Netflix. Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and James Weaver’s production company Point Grey Pictures is collaborating with Nickelodeon and Paramount for the new feature-length animated movie. This animated TMNT movie reboot will be directed by Jeff Rowe (Gravity Falls, Connected, Disenchantment) and written by Brendan O’Brian (Neighbors, Sorority Rising, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates).