Surf Ninjas

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Surf Ninjas
Three teenage boys stand on a yellow surfboard, riding a tidal wave.  They wear yellow-and-orange bandannas, are armed with sword-like weapons, and are smiling.  Beneath their surfboard is an old, armored man with a shocked look on his face, reaching up with his right hand for help.  Beside the surfboard are the words "Surf Ninjas", followed by a dragon emblem.
Theatrical poster
Directed by Neal Israel
Produced by Evzen Kolar
Written by Dan Gordon
Neal Israel
Starring Ernie Reyes, Jr.
Rob Schneider
Leslie Nielsen
Music by David Kitay
Cinematography Arthur Albert
Victor Hammer
Edited by Tom Walls
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • August 20, 1993 (1993-08-20)
Running time
87 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4,916,135

Surf Ninjas is a 1993 American comedic family film involving martial arts, directed by Neal Israel and written by Dan Gordon. The film stars Ernie Reyes Jr., Rob Schneider, Nicolas Cowan, and Leslie Nielsen. Surf Ninjas follows two teenage surfers from Los Angeles who discover that they are crown princes of the Asian kingdom Patusan and reluctantly follow their destinies to dethrone an evil colonel that rules over the kingdom.

Surf Ninjas was filmed in Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Thailand. A video game was also developed and released in conjunction with the film. Surf Ninjas was released in the United States on August 20, 1993, becoming popular but being received generally unfavorably by critics. The film was released on VHS in December 1993 and re-released on DVD in September 2002.


Ernie Reyes, Sr.  ... Zatch
Ernie Reyes, Jr.  ... Johnny
Nicolas Cowan  ... Adam
John Karlen  ... Mac
Rob Schneider  ... Iggy
Leslie Nielsen  ... Colonel Chi
Kelly Hu  ... Ro-May
Tone Loc  ... Lieutenant Spence

Johnny and Adam are surfers living in Los Angeles with their adopted father Mac following their escape from the country of Patusan after it was overrulled by General Chi, a tyrant afraid of a legend that on his sixteenth birthday, the older prince (Johnny) would defeat him and free the country from his rule. Two weeks before his sixteenth birthday, Johnny makes a fool out of himself during a school assembly where he was to make an opening speech for an embassador and after returning home, Mac chides him on needing to be more responsible. They are then attacked by several ninjas, and Mac is taken from them as a mysterious warrior named Zatch takes the boys to safety. At home, Zatch and Johnny argue over letting Mac be taken, while Adam's Sega Game Gear begins showing events happening in the area that they are unaware of at that point. They are attacked by more ninja, and Zatch rigs their house to explode, leading their friend Iggy into believing that when he says "What If" whatever he says comes true. He then "loses" the said power by saying "What if I lose this power?" much to Zatch's amusement.

Traveling to a Patusani hotel, Johnny; who was informed of his destiny to be a great warrior, meets Ro-May, his betrothed bride, and falls in love with her at first sight. Adam is told of his destiny to become a powerful seer, which explains the visions he sees in his Game Gear, which is no longer functioning properly. The group is attacked yet again by Chi's men, and Johnny awakens his power, displaying martial arts skills he hadn't had before. With Adam's help by controlling some aspects of his environment with his Sega, Johnny is able to overcome his adversaries, but they realize that the city is not safe for them and they make sail for Patusan, where Johnny's destiny is to liberate it and become its reigning monarch.

The group locates a trove of ancient weapons belonging to the monarchy for Johnny to train, and after several failures, finally manages to disarm Zatch in hand-to-hand combat, indicating he is ready. After saving a village, the group rallies one of the Patusani villages to face General Chi. Johnny and Adam teach the villagers how to surf, so they can get into the royal city unnoticed by entering the unguarded side of the island. Once they arrive, they find and rescue Mac, then Johnny goes after Chi and they battle. Chi uses several underhanded techniques to stop Johnny, but ultimately fails in defeating him. With Adam's help, he is thrown into the water, where his cybernetic implants (installed after a tragic accident of being trampled by an elephant) overload, causing Chi's destruction. As the country celebrates, everyone, including the embassador that Johnny sang for at the assembly, await Johnny's first order as emperor. Johnny dissolves the monarchy, turning Patusan into a democratic country instead, wanting to return to his normal life. He takes Ro-May as his girlfriend though, as he isn't ready to be married either.


Surf Ninjas was filmed during the summer of 1992.[1] Filming locations included Thailand and Hawaii.[2] The second half of the film was shot first, and the crew moved to Los Angeles to film the first half.[1] New Line Cinema and Sega of America established a financial relationship in which a Sega Game Gear video game would be developed for the film. Game designers began developing the video game Surf Ninjas when the film was only in its scripting phase, receiving creative input from director Neal Israel.[3] In turn, Sega partially financed the film. Screenwriter Dan Gordon said that he wrote action sequences that would both suit the film and serve as a springboard for the video game.[4] In the film, one of the lead characters is shown playing the Surf Ninjas video game on a Sega Game Gear. The video game was released before the film's release, and it was considered the first movie-based video game to be developed concurrent with the movie and it was also the first to precede the film itself.[3]


The studio New Line Cinema released Surf Ninjas two weeks earlier than its commercial release date in Evansville, Indiana and Lubbock, Texas as part of a test of regional markets. The early release marked the first time that a major film was released in Evansville before its national opening without any local ties. The president of theatrical marketing at New Line, Chris Pula, selected Evansville for its family-oriented audiences. Pula explained, "Evansville is traditionally a strong family market. Also, we have a strong relationship with the exhibitors in that area." The president said that the studio was testing the film in a larger market than usual due to its uncertainty about the film's reception, and that the studio would measure its marketing success with ticket receipts.[5]

Surf Ninjas was widely released in 1,321 theaters in the United States on August 20, 1993. Over its opening weekend, the film grossed $2 million,[6] placing 13th in box office rankings ahead of Manhattan Murder Mystery.[7] Surf Ninjas ultimately grossed $4.9 million in the United States.[6] The film was released on VHS on December 29, 1993.[8] It was subsequently released on DVD on September 3, 2002.[9]

Critical reaction[edit]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times called most of Surf Ninjas "only mindlessly watchable" and called the film "another of Hollywood's efforts to prove that the American mall mentality is at home in any corner of the globe". Maslin also found the film to lack in actual surfing content.[10] Lynn Voedisch of the Chicago Sun-Times described Surf Ninjas as "a marriage of pop icons that simply was fated to be", citing children's love for ninjas, especially the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and for the surf culture. Voedisch considered Rob Schneider's presence as comic relief unfunny, believing that Leslie Nielsen should have received more screen time as the dictator.[11] Calvin Wilson of The Kansas City Star called the film "a disgrace... even by Hollywood standards", seeing it as a mess of child lead roles, unfunny cameo roles by Schneider and Nielsen, martial arts action, and lame jokes. Wilson considered the story "stale and uninspired" that involved "people we don't care about doing things we can't believe".[12]

Stephen Hunter of The Baltimore Sun thought the film's lead Ernie Reyes, Jr. was too old and too muscular to be received believably as a 15-year-old. Hunter otherwise found the Reyes to impress with their fighting skills, though the film's martial arts sequences were "bloodless and absurd". Hunter also criticized the director for depriving the film of personality, with its lack of danger, seriousness, or spontaneity.[13] Richard Harrington of The Washington Post found the film to be "a harmless summer's entertainment" for young people who enjoyed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films and 3 Ninjas. Harrington enjoyed Reyes, Jr. as the protagonist but found Nielsen to be disappointing.[14] Paul Sherman of the Boston Herald thought that Surf Ninjas was "little more than a succession of dudespeak, surfing, skateboarding, video games, generic rock soundtrack and strained knucklehead humor". Sherman admired the story arc in which the protagonists learn to accept their destinies, but he thought that "the manufactured thrills along the way get obnoxious". Sherman thought that the film would only appeal to children under 12 years old, though the film's locations in Thailand in the second half added an exotic atmosphere.[15]

Desmond Ryan of The Philadelphia Inquirer thought that Leslie Nielsen was deceptively portrayed in a major role similar to that of Lieutenant Frank Drebin from the The Naked Gun films, instead having merely "a running and unfunny gag about his malfunctioning answering machine and generally wasted otherwise". Ryan also found the film's dialogue to be "painful" and considered Surf Ninjas to be "beyond airheaded".[16] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle considered the story of Surf Ninjas to be "harmless and painfully dull". LaSalle thought that the pacing of the film was too long with only "two smirks over the course of 90 minutes".[17] Sean Piccoli of The Washington Times thought that the film's "dull stretch" was buoyed by the presence of Rob Schneider. Piccoli compared the martial arts choreography in the film to the "cartoon fantasies that little boys re-enact on neighbors' lawns: The good guys, alone and outnumbered by the charging horde, air-punch their way to glory."[18]

Ron Weiskind of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette perceived Reyes, Jr. as "a likable presence on screen" and Schneider to be occasionally humorous in his series of gaffes. Weiskind thought that even with the abundance of martial arts in the film, the scenes were generally too lifeless.[19] Joe Holleman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thought that Surf Ninjas pushed "the right buttons to guarantee adolescent enjoyment". Holleman acknowledged that the film was "not exactly a milestone in cinematic achievement", but he applauded the acrobatic choreography and the delivery of Schneider's throwaway lines in "the movie's funniest moments".[20] Sean P. Means of The Salt Lake Tribune described the film as a Toys "R" Us version of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, with "the cartoonish martial-arts sequences [owing] their entire existence to the villains' stupidity". Means thought that the film was ultimately "as silly as it is forgettable".[21]


  1. ^ a b Spelling, Ian (September 3, 1993). "Surf's Up for Schneider". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  2. ^ Crawford, Sherry (August 9, 1993). "'Surf Ninjas' kicks up waves of martial arts fun for young set". Evansville Courier & Press. 
  3. ^ a b "Film studios face reality with game tie-ins". Orlando Sentinel. July 27, 1993. 
  4. ^ Paul, William (December 2001). "The K-Mart Audience at the Mall Movies". In Ina-Rae HaRk. Exhibition, the Film Reader. Routledge. p. 83. ISBN 0-415-23518-9. 
  5. ^ Crawford, Sherry (July 31, 1993). "Evansville to get early showing of 'major' film in marketing test". Evansville Courier & Press. 
  6. ^ a b "Surf Ninjas (1993)". Box Office Mojo. Box Office Mojo, LLC. Retrieved November 11, 2007. 
  7. ^ "`Fugitive' Runs Away With the Summer Box Office". San Francisco Chronicle. August 24, 1993. 
  8. ^ "Coming soon to video". Austin American-Statesman. December 3, 1993. 
  9. ^ "Surf Ninjas DVD Features". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment, Inc. Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  10. ^ Maslin, Janet (August 21, 1993). "Making Waves in Asia". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Voedisch, Lynn (August 22, 1993). "West Coast Surf Culture Gets A Taste of Far East". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  12. ^ Wilson, Calvin (August 20, 1993). "Bad script wipes out 'Surf Ninjas'". The Kansas City Star. 
  13. ^ Hunter, Stephen (August 21, 1993). "Tepid 'Surf Ninjas' is a wipeout and a waste of its comic and martial arts talent". The Baltimore Sun. 
  14. ^ Harrington, Richard (August 21, 1993). "'Ninjas': Silly surfing safari". The Washington Post. 
  15. ^ Sherman, Paul (August 21, 1993). "'Surf Ninjas' tries but is too juvenile". Boston Herald. 
  16. ^ Ryan, Desmond (August 23, 1993). "'Surf Ninjas' hits the beach with gags and a vengeance". The Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  17. ^ LaSalle, Mick (August 21, 1993). "'Surf Ninjas' Wipes Out". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  18. ^ Piccoli, Sean (August 20, 1993). "These `Surf Ninjas' run short of silliness". The Washington Times. 
  19. ^ Weiskind, Ron (August 21, 1993). "'Surf Ninjas' chops at humor but ends up a total wipeout". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  20. ^ Holleman, Joe (August 25, 1993). "Wave of cool humor just right for teens". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 
  21. ^ Means, Sean P (August 26, 1993). "Goofy, inconsequential 'Surf Ninjas' coasts on a wave of inanity". The Salt Lake Tribune. 

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