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
Josh Pais
Robbie Rist
Corey Feldman
Brian Tochi
Kevin Clash
Music by John Du Prez
Cinematography John Fenner
Edited by William D. Gordean
Sally Menke
James R. Symons
Golden Harvest
Limelight Entertainment
888 Productions
Mirage Enterprises
Northshore Investments
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release date(s)
  • 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.

When the New York City Police Department is unable to stop a severe crime wave caused by the Foot Clan, four vigilantes — Leonardo, Michaelangelo, 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 was followed by three sequels: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze in 1991, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III in 1993, and TMNT in 2007. Upon its release the film became the second highest-grossing independent film of all time, and became the ninth highest grossing film worldwide of 1990 and the most successful film in the franchise.


As an unsolved crime wave rises in New York City, news reporter April O'Neil covers the reports and rumors of a mysterious 'Foot Clan', a gang of ninjas plaguing the city. April continues to cover news of the crime wave, to the point where Shredder, leader of the Foot, decides she needs to be silenced. She is attacked by the Foot in a subway and is knocked unconscious while trying to fight them off. Raphael has been following her to retrieve his sai - which he had lost in a previous battle - and easily fights off the Foot. He carries April back to the Turtles' hideout, unaware one of the Foot is following. Splinter 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, Leo and Raph 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, 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 farm that belongs to April's family, and she learns that she was fired from her job when Casey hears her boss from her answering machine while fighting the Foot. 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 had 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 his master's murder at the hands of Saki, the cage that he stayed in was knocked over. Splinter had 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 reveals Shredder is in fact Oroku Saki, and they met at the home of Hamato Yoshi. Saki removes his mask and touches his scar, remembering how Splinter gave it to him. Saki then charges Splinter, who using Michelangelo's 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.

On the roof, the Turtles watch as April and Casey finally share a kiss, while they reunite with Splinter and, while trying to come up with a proper word to cheer with, Splinter suggests the phrase "Cowabunga." The Turtles unanimously agree, and Splinter declares, "I made a funny!" and laughs as the film ends.


Live actors[edit]

Voice cast[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 done 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 moulds to cast the whole body in foam rubber latex. The work at the Shop was completed within 18 weeks.[3]


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 the large fanbase, but received mixed reviews from critics.[7][8][9] Based on a sample of 39 reviews, the film holds a 44% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus "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 boxset (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 was announced and will also go for the title, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, set for a 2014 release.[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

External links[edit]