In the early 1980s, comic book creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird had a very silly idea. What would a turtle look like if it was a ninja? Almost 40 years later, that idea has become one of the most recognizable in the world. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may have started as a comic book, but they became toys, an animated TV show, and, very soon after that, movie stars.
In that time, the Turtles have continually evolved, both visually and in terms of pop culture resonance. Now, after almost a decade away, they’re back on the big screen. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem opens in theaters September 7 and promises to bring the Turtles back to their roots.
So where does that film rank with the other Turtles movies that have been released? Do you even remember all of the Turtles movies that have come out? Check out our ranking of all the theatrical Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies.
7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
In 2014, after almost a decade away in the live-action space, producer Michael Bay saw a window. Revisit the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but with modern technology. The result was a nostril-filled mess. A creepy, flat, movie that certainly had the best intentions and very expensive performance capture CGI, but had none of the fun or inspiration that made the franchise famous. Read our review from the time.
6. TMNT (2007)
Almost 30 years after debuting in animation, the Turtles were animated on the big screen for the first time, with mixed results. The movie had a unique look, one that was in line with the TV versions of the era, and a unique story setting beyond the usual origin stuff. But again, it doesn’t quite all come together as one would hope.
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
The third time was not the charm for the live-action Ninja Turtles. Just four years after their first film, a second sequel was released and it felt like most of the good ideas were gone. Instead, the Turtles travel back in time and it’s just not all that fun. What does work about it is the joy of seeing those original, costumed, live-action turtles in action again reminds you a bit of the two previous (and superior) films.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)
Here’s where the list goes from pretty bad movies to much less bad movies. And it’s probably controversial to include Out of the Shadows in the latter category. But I still find it to be a film that takes the faults of that first Bay-produced movie (which was obviously a hit since it got a sequel) and attempts to fix it with more weird, absurd turtle stuff. It’s still not great but in comparison to the other movies on this list, it’s better than most. Certainly better than its predecessor. Read our review from its release.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
When your movie has a climax that’s so incredibly specific to its era that Vanilla Ice appears to rap a song about your characters, it’s hard to dislike it. So yes, Secret of the Ooze is one of those ‘90s movies that’s just so ‘90s. It feels like a bigger, bolder adventure than the first film—which sequels usually are—while also keeping the heart and humor of the original. It’s simply fun.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
As is the case in so many ranked lists, it’s hard to top the original. And so it goes with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The 1990 original is far from perfect but without any real roadmap beyond the comics and TV show, it still hits that right balance of humor and action, while being a nice origin and character story too. It also established a tone and standard that every film that’s come after it has tried to live up to.
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023)
As we write this, here’s how the Turtles movies break down on Rotten Tomatoes:
- 1990 – 41%
- 1991 – 35%
- 1993 – 19%
- 2007 – 36%
- 2014 – 21%
- 2016 – 37%
- 2023 – 96%
Yes, you read that right. No Turtles movie has ranked above 41% for critics, except the new one, which MORE THAN DOUBLES THAT. Have the kids who loved Turtles just grown up into film critics? Can the movie actually be that much better than the others? Well, yes but also yes. Mutant Mayhem is a legitimate fantastic movie. Almost the final level of Turtles filmmaking, blending all of the good things from those other movies into something new and fresh. It’s easily the best of the bunch. Read our full review here.
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