Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990 film)

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
North American release poster
Directed by Steve Barron
Produced by Simon Fields
Kim Dawson
David Chan
Screenplay by Todd W. Langen
Bobby Herbeck
Story by Bobby Herbeck
Based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 
by Kevin Eastman
Peter Laird
Starring Judith Hoag
Elias Koteas
Brian Tochi
Robbie Rist
Corey Feldman
Josh Pais
Raymond Serra
Music by John Du Prez
Cinematography John Fenner
Edited by Sally Menke
Golden Harvest
Limelight Entertainment
888 Productions
Mirage Enterprises
Northshore Investments
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • March 30, 1990 (1990-03-30)
Running time 93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $13.5 million[1]
Box office $201,965,915

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a 1990 American live-action film, and the first film adaptation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. It was directed by Steve Barron and released on March 30, 1990. This film presents the origin story of Splinter and the Turtles, the initial meeting between them, April O'Neil and Casey Jones, and their first confrontation with The Shredder and his Foot Clan. The film stars Judith Hoag and Elias Koteas in supporting roles, along with the voices of Brian Tochi, Robbie Rist, Josh Pais and Corey Feldman.

When the New York City Police Department is unable to stop a severe crime wave caused by the Foot Clan, four vigilantes — Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael — come forth to save the city. Under the leadership of Splinter and together with their new-found allies April O'Neil and Casey Jones, they fight back and take the battle to The Shredder. The film kept very close to the dark feel of the original comics, and is a direct adaptation of the comicbook storyline involving the defeat of Shredder, with several elements also taken from the 1987 TV series that was airing at the time, such as April being a news reporter, and the turtles having different-colored masks, as opposed to the uniform red masks of the comic.

The film became the second-highest-grossing independent film of all time, and became the ninth-highest-grossing film worldwide of 1990. It was the most successful film in the franchise until the 2014 film. It was followed by two live-action sequels: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze in 1991, & Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III in 1993; and one computer-animated: TMNT in 2007.


As an unsolved crime wave rises in New York City, news reporter April O'Neil (Judith Hoag) covers the reports and rumors of a mysterious 'Foot Clan', a gang of ninjas plaguing the city. April's coverage eventually gains the attention of the Shredder, leader of the Foot, who orders her to be silenced. She is attacked by the Foot in a subway and knocked unconscious while trying to defend herself. Raphael (who has been following April to retrieve a sai he had lost in a previous battle) emerges from the shadows and easily fights off the Foot. He carries April back to the Turtles' hideout, unaware that one of the Foot is following him. Splinter (voiced by Kevin Clash) then recounts to an astonished April their origins: once ordinary animals living in the sewer, they were mutated into intelligent, human-sized creatures by a discarded canister of toxic waste. The Turtles escort April back home. Upon their return to the sewers, the Turtles find their home ransacked and Splinter kidnapped. With nowhere else to go, the four distraught Turtles return to April's apartment and spend the night there.

Meanwhile, the Foot Clan continues to grow, incorporating a number of delinquent teens into their ranks. One of these teens is Danny Pennington, the son of April's supervisor Charles Pennington, who is arrested for robbery. After bailing Danny out of jail, Charles stops by April's apartment, where Danny incidentally catches a glimpse of one of the Turtles in hiding. He then reports back to Shredder, who has been searching for the Turtles.

At April's apartment, Leonardo (voiced by Brian Tochi) and Raphael (voiced by Josh Pais) get into a heated argument. Raph goes to the roof, where the Foot ambush him. Comatose, he's thrown through April's skylight, and the Turtles scramble to defend themselves from the Foot. Things look bleak until the arrival of Casey Jones (Elias Koteas), who helps them fight off the remaining Foot warriors. However, the building catches fire during the melee, and the Turtles are forced to retreat.

They retreat to a farmhouse in upstate New York that belongs to April's family and has been vacant since her father passed away a few years ago, and Casey informs her that she was fired from her job after hearing an answering machine message shortly before the escape. Raph eventually recovers from his coma, and the Turtles train together vigorously while April and Casey fall in love. At one point, Leo manages to make contact with Splinter through meditation, and after the Turtles witness him in a shared vision, they decide to return to New York to find and rescue him.

Despite being a member of the Foot Clan, Danny has secretly been taking counsel from Splinter, who shares with him the story of his master Hamato Yoshi's murder by a rival ninja named Oroku Saki. Splinter explains that during the struggle, Splinter's cage was broken and he lunged at Saki's face, clawing and biting him in vengeance for his master. Saki, bleeding and enraged, sliced off part of his ear with a katana. When Danny learns Shredder intends to have Splinter killed, he and Casey set him free from captivity.

Although the Foot were set to ambush the Turtles in the sewers upon their return, the Turtles manage to turn the tables on them. The fight escalates into the streets above and eventually onto a rooftop, where the Turtles finally face off against Shredder, but prove to be no match for him. Leo eventually scores a hit with his ninjato, but is ultimately disarmed and pinned to the ground. Before Shredder can finish Leo off, Splinter appears and challenges him to a fight. Splinter names Shredder as Oroku Saki, and Saki removes his mask and touches his scar, remembering how Splinter gave it to him. Saki then charges Splinter who, using Michelangelo's (voiced by Robbie Rist) nunchaku, ensnares the Shredder's yari, leaving him to dangle precariously over the roof's edge. In desperation, the Shredder throws a tanto from his belt, but when Splinter reaches up to catch it, his grip is released and Saki falls into the back of a garbage truck. Casey then pulls the lever to activate the compactor, crushing the Shredder. As the police arrive on the scene, the teens inform them on where all the stolen goods can be found.

Reunited with Splinter, the Turtles watch as April and Casey finally share a kiss. While trying to come up with a proper word to celebrate their victory, Splinter suggests the phrase "Cowabunga." The Turtles unanimously agree, and Splinter declares, "I made a funny!" and laughs as the film ends.


Live-action actors[edit]



* All four actors who played the Turtles also appeared in cameos as minor characters, with David Forman (Leonardo) as a gang member, Michelan Sisti (Michaelangelo) as a pizza delivery man, Leif Tilden (Donatello) as a messenger of The Foot and Josh Pais (Raphael) as a passenger in a taxi.

‡ Josh Pais, who portrayed Raphael, is the only actor to portray a Turtle on screen and provide his voice.


Jim Henson on set with the suit actors.

Filming took place from July to September 1989.[2] The film's budget was $13.5 million.[1] Much of the production took place in North Carolina (with a couple of location shoots in New York City during the summer of 1989 to capture famous landmark areas such as Times Square, Empire State Building, and the Hudson River), at the North Carolina Film Studios, where New York rooftop sets were created. Production designer Roy Forge Smith and his art director, Gary Wissner, went to New York City four months prior to filming and took still photographs of rooftops and other various locations. While in NYC, Smith and Wissner were allowed to explore an abandoned Brooklyn subway line, as they could not gain access to a city sewer, but the structure of the subway had the same principle as a sewer. They also went to a water tunnel which had large pipes running through it.[3]

After design sketches were created, the construction team used the studios' backlot to create some of the sets. There were problems with the manholes that led to the Turtles' home, in that an eight-foot square room had to be constructed beneath them, but found water at about five-feet, and thus had to pour concrete into the underground rooms to keep the water out. In order to make the sewer authentic, a tide-mark was given, and it was covered with brick, plaster and stucco paint to give the walls a realistic look. The Turtles themselves were created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop in London. Jim Henson said that the creatures were the most advanced that he had ever worked with. The creatures were first made out of fiberglass, and then remolded out of clay.[4] They were produced as molds to cast the whole body in foam rubber latex. The work at the Shop was completed within 18 weeks.[3]

Many major studios such as Columbia Pictures, MGM/UA, Orion Pictures, Paramount, and Warner Bros. turned down the film for distribution as they were worried that despite the popularity of the cartoon and the toy line the film could potentially be a box office disappointment like Masters of the Universe was just a couple years prior. The film finally found distribution roughly halfway through the initial production via the then small and independent production company New Line Cinema which at that point had been known more for distributing low budget B movies and arthouse fare.


Live Entertainment Inc. announced that the film would go to VHS via its Family Home Entertainment label on October 4, 1990. The suggested price was $24.99 per cassette. Pizza Hut engaged in a $20 million marketing campaign tied into the film (despite the fact that Domino's Pizza was used as product placement in the film itself). Items included advertising in print, radio and television, and several rebate coupons.[5]

Alternate versions[edit]

The UK version was severely censored due to its censorship guidelines considering Eastern fighting weapons like the nunchaku. Alternate shots of Michaelangelo were used in order to conceal his nunchaku weapon, or omitted altogether - for instance, the show-off duel between Michaelangelo and a member of the Foot clan. Also, the death scene of Shredder was heavily cut because of this and the Turtle Power song was edited to change the word 'ninja' to 'hero' as per the UK TV series. The uncensored version was released on DVD in 2004 in the UK due to relaxations of the censorship laws.[6] The German theatrical voice-dubbed version is identical with the UK version, i.e. it omits the usage of the nunchaku. Furthermore, the German dubbing audio track contains several "cartoon-like" sounds in order to soften the violence of the fight scenes. Although the German dub of the film was released with uncensored picture on DVD in Germany, the German dub audio version with the "funny noises" was still kept, because they were permanently merged into the German voice-dubbing audio.


The film was a commercial success and was praised by its fanbase, but received mixed reviews from critics.[7][8][9] Based on a sample of 49 reviews, the film holds a 41% rating score on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is exactly as advertised: one-liners, brawls, and general silliness. Good for the young at heart, irritating for everyone else."[10] Roger Ebert gave it 2½ stars out of 4, saying, "this movie is nowhere near as bad as it might have been, and probably is the best possible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie. It supplies, in other words, more or less what Turtle fans will expect." The film was also criticized for its level of violence, though Ebert opined that it was mostly stylized and not graphic.[11]

Box office[edit]

The film opened at the box office in North America on March 30, 1990, entering at #1 over the weekend and taking in more than $25 million.[12] The film turned out to be a huge success at the box office, eventually making over $135 million in North America, and over $66 million outside North America for a worldwide total of over $200 million, making it the ninth highest grossing film of 1990 worldwide.[1] The film was also nominated for awards by The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films.[13]

Home release[edit]

In 1990, the film reached No.4 in home video market.[14] The film was released to DVD in Region 1 on September 3, 2002; it includes only minor special features such as a trailer and interactive menus. The film was also released in the MiniDVD format.[citation needed]

On August 11, 2009, the film was included in a special 25th anniversary box set (25th anniversary of the original comic book, not the movie), released to both DVD and Blu-Ray formats. It also contains Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, and 2007's animated release, TMNT. No additional features, other than theatical trailers, were included.

In Germany, however, a "Special Edition" was released on March 12, 2010 with additional features, including an audio commentary by director Steve Barron, an alternate ending, and alternate takes from the original German release where Michelangelo's nunchaku had been edited out.[15]

Warner Home Video released the film along with Secret of the Ooze and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III as part of a "Triple Feature" on Blu-ray in June 2012, minus the fourth film TMNT. Warner Home Video released the film separately on Blu-ray on December 18, 2012.



Following the huge success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the box office, several sequels were created. Only a year later, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze was released in theaters and was a commercial success. In 1993, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was released in theaters and the reaction was poor. After a 14-year absence from the theaters a fourth film was released in 2007, though unlike the first three, this was a CGI animated film. A reboot, also with the title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, was released in 2014.[16]


  1. ^ a b c "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2005)". Boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved September 24, 2006. 
  2. ^ "Business Data for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". IMDb.com. Retrieved September 24, 2006. 
  3. ^ a b "TMNT I". ninjaturtles.com. Retrieved September 24, 2006. 
  4. ^ "Mock Turtle Suits". Entertainment Weekly. March 30, 1990. Retrieved 2010-12-07. 
  5. ^ Pendleton, Jennifer. "RELEASE OF `NINJA TURTLES' WILL FUEL BUSY VIDEO-BUYING SEASON THIS FALL." Los Angeles Daily News at The Deseret News. July 22, 1990. Retrieved on September 6, 2011.
  6. ^ Comparison between UK PG VHS and UK PG DVD
  7. ^ "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". Entertainment Weekly. March 30, 1990. Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet (March 30, 1990). "Review/Film; Nonstop Action in 'Mutant Ninja Turtles'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  9. ^ "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". Variety. December 31, 1989. Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  10. ^ Rotten Tomatoes - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". rogerebert.com. Retrieved September 24, 2006. 
  12. ^ Broeske, Pat H. (April 3, 1990). "Turtles Wax the Opposition at Box Office : Film: Moviegoers spent more than $25 million on the opening weekend of the New Line Cinema movie.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  13. ^ "Ninja Turtle Movie Honored by Sci-Fi Academy". The Los Angeles Times. March 8, 1990. Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  14. ^ Hunt, Dennis (October 18, 1990). "Ninja Turtles Barrels Up Rental Chart". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  15. ^ "‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Alternative Extended Ending". /Film. Retrieved 2010-11-09. 
  16. ^ ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Reboot Finally Gets An Official Title Retrieved April 23, 2013

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