Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a 1990 American live-action independent film, directed by Steve Barron and based on the comic book characters of the same name. It was released on March 30, 1990. The 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, Elias Koteas, and the voices of Brian Tochi, Robbie Rist, Josh Pais and Corey Feldman as the four title characters.

When the New York Police Department is unable to stop a severe crime wave caused by the Foot Clan, four mutated vigilante turtles — Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael — come forth to save the city. Under the leadership of mutated rat, 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 comic book 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, the turtles having different-colored masks, as opposed to the uniform red masks of the comic, and their love for pizza.

The film became the second-highest-grossing independent film of all time, as well as the ninth-highest-grossing film worldwide of 1990. It was the most successful film in the series until the 2014 reboot. It was followed by two sequels, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze in 1991 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III in 1993.

Made in three months, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seems to be the most popular film version with the fans, most likely because of its true-to-original form with its darker feel, emotional story, realistic effects and costuming. The fans were treated to the most realistic live action version of the Turtles, complete with cutting edge animatronics and use of costuming materials. The film's creatures were designed by Jim Henson's Creature Shop (this being one of Jim Henson's last projects as he would pass away later that year.)


In the beginning of the film, April O'Neil is seen doing a newscast on the sudden wave of crimes. It is reported that these robberies of all kinds are happening suddenly and without warning, and without witnesses. She also notes that most witnesses only catch a glimpse of the robber who most of the time seems to have been a teenager.

As April leaves the Channel 3 News building, she is attacked by a group of the juveniles after witnessing them stealing equipment. Raphael's sai is then thrown into the street light and the four turtles defeat and tie up the attackers, saving April. They then return to the sewers just as the NYPD arrive. During their escape, Raphael forgets to retrieve his sai. Before the police notice it however, April secretly puts the weapon in her purse.

The Turtles are then seen walking home through the sewers, celebrating their victory. They meet with Splinter to discuss the outcome of their first fight on the surface. As Splinter gives them notes on their fight and reminds them of what it is to be a ninja, Michelangelo is ordering dinner for the family. Splinter reprimands him for not paying attention and suggests them all meditate on the events of the evening. The moment is interrupted however, as the boys crank up the song "Tequila" and start dancing to it, Michelangelo suggesting "it's like meditating". Raphael, disgusted at the immaturity his brothers are showing, goes off alone to see a movie (Critters). After the film, Raphael witnesses a couple of purse-snatchers and intervenes. One look at his sai sends the would-be crooks running. They escape into the local park where they are ambushed by Casey Jones. Before Casey can deliver his final blows, Raphael intervenes. The purse-snatchers take the opportunity to escape, so Casey takes out his frustration on Raphael, who ends up losing their one-on-one fight. Casey escapes, calling Raph a freak which angers him even more than losing and he chases Casey into the night. Raphael returns home later that evening only to run into Splinter. Splinter discusses Raphael's anger with him and to not alienate himself from his brothers.

In the morning, April is seen in her apartment with her boss, Charles Pennington, telling him about her attackers from the previous night. After an interview with NYPD Chief Sterns on TV, Raphael follows her into the subway to retrieve his missing sai. But the Shredder had already sent several members of the Foot Ninja to silence April. She is jumped and Raphael comes to her rescue after retrieving his sai. He then carries April to his home with the others, but he did not know he was followed.

When April wakes up, she is told the story of the Turtles' past by Splinter. She is then introduced to Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael. The Foot Ninja who followed Raphael is seen peeking into the home of the Turtles. The Turtles then take April home, where they have some pizza and tell jokes. After they leave, they return to find their home sabotaged and Splinter missing. The Turtles are outraged and return to April's home and stay there until they could hear more about Splinter's location.

After April's boss was blackmailed by Sterns because of his delinquent son, he went to April's home and told her to relax and not to push any buttons with Stern that day. Danny, Charles Pennington's son, spotted Michelangelo while in the apartment. When he returned to the east warehouse, the Foot's hideout, he told Shredder of the Turtles' location.

During her report, April ignored Pennington's warning and took another stab at Chief Sterns. Back in the apartment, Raphael was angry that the Turtles were doing nothing to save Splinter and he went to the rooftops to vent his anger. From across another rooftop, Casey Jones spotted Raphael in danger, because Raphael was jumped by the Foot, thanks to Danny telling the Shredder where they were. After April got home, she took the other Turtles on a tour of her antique shop, without the knowledge of Raphael being in trouble.

Meanwhile, Raphael was defeated and thrown through the rooftop window, crashing into the antique shop below. The Turtles fought against the Foot members endlessly. Eventually, Casey Jones arrived and rescued the Turtles. He gave them time to escape the building, which had been set on fire during the conflict. While he fought off the Foot, he overheard April's answering machine. It was Pennington, firing April from her job for having disobeyed his warning regarding Chief Sterns. The Turtles, Casey, and April then escape to April's old farmhouse as the NYFD arrives to fight the blaze.

Back in the hideout, the Shredder is revealed to be holding Splinter as his prisoner. He is disappointed at the Foot's inability to ultimately defeat the Turtles. In the farmhouse, the Turtles are seen recovering from their first real defeat. After Raphael recovers, they all train to defeat the Foot. Meanwhile, Casey and April seem to be getting closer together by the minute. One night, the Turtles have a telepathic encounter with Splinter, and that is their sign to go back to New York City.

After fixing a truck at the farmhouse, they return to their sewer home. They learn that Danny Pennington had run away from both his home and the Foot to hide with the Turtles. But, he is having constant nightmares and he leaves the sewers to go back to the warehouse. Casey is awoken by Danny and follows him to the warehouse. Danny meets with the captured Splinter once more to hear the tale of his past. But, as he is leaving, Shredder catches him and learns that the Turtles are back. He then sends the Foot back into the sewers, to finish the Turtles. But this time, he too was going.

Meanwhile, Danny is caught by Casey and after learning that Shredder ordered for Splinter to be killed, they rush to free him. Casey then has a fight with Tatsu, Shredder's right hand man, and defeats him with a golf club. Splinter and Casey then convince the juveniles who were following the Foot to go home. They leave the warehouse to follow the Foot to help the Turtles, only to find that the noise from the fight has attracted a large crowd. The Turtles easily defeated the Foot members and their fight led to the rooftops.

They then had their first encounter with the Shredder. They take turns fighting the Shredder and are defeated. After one last round of attacks, the Turtles are defeated and forced to choose between sacrificing their weapons or saving Leonardo, who is on the ground under Shredder's weapon. They throw away their weapons, but before Shredder could kill Leonardo, Splinter appears on the rooftops and reveals to him that he is the rat who attacked him so long ago.

Shredder charges Splinter but Splinter throws him over the rooftop, with Michelangelo's nunchaku. Shredder falls into the back of a garbage truck, where Casey Jones flips the switch to crush him. The NYPD then arrive and April is rehired to do the report on the case. Casey and April then share a passionate first kiss as the Turtles look on from the rooftops. The Turtles are happily reunited and they happily hug their master and father, Splinter. The films ends with the four Turtles cheering "Cowabunga" and Splinter laughing because "he made a funny."


Major characters[]

Minor characters[]

  • Beaten teen - Joshua Bo Lozoff (debut)
  • Cab driver - Louis Cantarini (debut)
  • Charles' secretary - Cassandra Ward-Freeman (debut)
  • Garbageman - Kevin Eastman (uncredited) (debut)
  • Hamato Yoshi (debut) (flashback only) (death)
  • Head thug - Sam Rockwell (debut)
  • June - Kitty Fitzgibbon (debut)
  • Movie hoodlum #1 - Joseph D'Onofrio (debut)
  • Movie hoodlum #2 - John D. Ward (debut)
  • New recruit - John Rogers (debut)
  • Police officer #1 - Winston Hemingway (debut)
  • Police officer #2 - Joe Inscoe (debut)
  • Shinsho - Ju Yu (debut)
  • Talkative Foot #1 - Tae Pak (debut)
  • Talkative Foot #2 - Kenn Troum (debut)
  • Tall teen - Robert Haskell (debut)
  • Tang Shen (debut) (flashback only) (death)
  • Technician - Mark Jeffrey Miller
  • Thug - Skeet Ulrich (debut)
  • All four actors who played the Turtles also appeared in cameos as minor characters, with David Forman (Leonardo) as a gang member, Michelan Sisti (Michelangelo) 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. Although he, along with Corey Feldman, didn't reprise their roles in Secret of the Ooze, Corey did return for the third film, though Pais was once more replaced, that time by Tim Kelleher.


Filming took place from July to September 1989. The film's budget was $13.5 million. A lot 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.

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. They were produced as moulds to cast the whole body in foam rubber latex. The work at the Shop was completed within 18 weeks.


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. Items included advertising in print, radio, and television, and several rebate coupons.

Alternate versions[]

The UK version was severely censored due to its censorship guidelines considering Eastern fighting weapons like the nunchaku. Alternate shots of Michelangelo were used in order to conceal his nunchaku weapon, or omitted altogether - for instance, the show-off duel between Michelangelo and a member of the Foot Clan. Also, the death scene of Shredder was heavily cut because of this. The uncensored version was released on DVD in 2005 in the UK due to relaxations of the censorship laws.[1] 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 Japanese subtitled version contains edits that remove all references to Japan, such as changing Splinter's homeplace to Korea and all references to "ninja" with "combat" or "warrior". In addition, various Japanese-sounding names were replaced with more Korean-sounding names and one shot was even replaced. Despite these changes, the scenes with Michelangelo's nunchaku remained intact.[2]


The film was a commercial success and was praised by the large fanbase, but received mixed reviews from critics. Based on a sample of 38 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." 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 and being too dark, but it was mostly stylized and not graphic. The film was praised for largely staying loyal to the original comics while also integrating several elements from the cartoon series.

Box Office[]

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. 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. The film was also nominated for awards by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films.


Home release[]

The film was first release on VHS by Family Home Entertainment, who also had distribution rights to the original television series. This version omits the New Line Cinema logo for the FHE's own logo at the beginning of the film. In 1990, the film reached No.4 in home video market.[citation needed]

The film was released to DVD in Region 1 on September 3, 2002 by Warner Home Video[3]; it includes only minor special features such as a trailer and interactive menus. The film was also released in the mini-DVD format.

On August 11, 2009, the film was included in a special 25th anniversary boxset, 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 theatrical 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.


See also[]


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  • April O'Neil being a news reporter, the Ninja Turtles saying "Cowabunga", Michelangelo's surfer accent, their love for pizza, and the multi-colored bandannas originate from the 1987 TV series. The overall plot, meanwhile, is adapted from Mirage's 1-3/Me, Myself and I/What Goes Around... Comes Around!/Silent Partner, True Stories and Return to New York story arcs.
    • In What Goes Around... ...Comes Around! Leonardo fights the Foot outnumbered, but in the film Raphael is the one who gets trapped and thrown through a skylight window leading to the Turtles fleeing from the city.
  • Some of the Foot Clan in April's apartment were brutally burned to death in the fire.
  • The edge of the backdrop is visible when Shredder is running towards Splinter with his staff.
  • The Turtles are 15 years old in the movie.
  • Judith Hoag would later be replaced by Paige Turco for the role of April in the second and third live-action films.
  • When Splinter throws Shredder off the roof, a man's head is seen hold up Splinter from behind and in other scenes, human hands are seen around the Turtles, like when Mikey puts his head in his shell there are hands holding up his arms, or when Donnie is skateboarding through the sewers you can see a hand swing across while he's moving. When Donatello is laughing at Leo and Raph hugging in the bathroom, you can see and actor's mouth when he leans back while opening his mouth. Michelangelo's neck is torn when he turns to the side and punches a foot ninja after putting his head in his shell. When Raphael is falling into the antique shop, human hands are seen instead of Raph's hands.
  • In "Turtle Power", one of the songs from the soundtrack, Raphael is mistakenly mentioned as the "Leader of the Group". Ironically enough, this is the case in the Nickelodeon series, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
  • Bringing Splinter to life was a three-man job. Giving the turtle's rat sensei a sense of life wasn't any easy task and required the use of three puppeteers, including Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash who provided Splinter's voice.
  • The creators of the movie filmed it at North Carolina Studios and on location in New York City. Some of the places in the movie were created, such as April's house.
  • Casey and Raphael battle in the park, which is something that happened in the original TMNT comics Raphael issue "Me, Myself and I". Casey Jones has no backstory in the film like he does in some other versions, but he does tell April he used to play sports professionally before he got hurt less than a year ago.
  • April also mentions to the Turtles that the antique shop used to be her father's and that he loved junk. She says, "It's kind of dumb to lose money on a business because you miss your father," and Donatello says to her, "No, it isn't." April's father might have recently died or moved someplace else.
  • Splinter's clothes are torn and beaten-down, unlike other versions of Splinter.
  • When the Turtles are fighting the Foot Ninjas in the streets, you can see a building with the words MMix on it.
  • Donatello and Michelangelo perform a shell bash twice in this movie.
  • Michelangelo's nunchakus are brown and have a rope instead of a chain like in other depictions.
  • Inside of Shredder's lair you can see a box with the words Archie Comics on it when it's close to the part when a young boy is skating on a skating ramp. Inside the Turtles' home you can see a clock, a stove, small pictures of Japanese words, and a punching bag, along with other things in the background. It's possible that the Turtles got their couch and stove from the junkyard and had Donatello fix it up.
  • Director Steve Barron has directed a number of music videos for such famed artists as Michael Jackson, ZZ Top, and Bryan Adams, but has few feature films under his belt.
  • Raphael watches the film Critters when leaving the lair, troubled by the lost of his sai.
  • A teenager plays a Narc arcade video game in the Foot's hideout.
  • Instead of Michelangelo, Donatello is the main skateboarder of the brothers.
  • Footage from this movie was used latter on in the intros for the Red Sky seasons of the 1987 TV series, mixed in along with footage from the show.
  • Actor Josh Pais had anxiety about wearing his Raphael mask. The actor was the only one to provide his own character voice, but wasn't a fan of wearing the Turtle mask because of severe claustrophobia. Pais would immediately remove his mask after every cut.
  • The costumes were incredibly hot, way too big, and fell apart. The costumes had nearly 60 pounds of animatronics inside them, so this, coupled with the summer North Carolina humidity, caused each of the actors to lose almost 20 pounds. The costumes also didn't hold up that well and took a lot of wear and tear. Replacement limbs were kept on supply so they could be switched out when needed.
  • Besides being hot, heavy, and prone to damage, the Turtle costumes were also too big to fit in a manhole, forcing producers to have custom manholes built.
  • For a time it was the highest-grossing indie film. Not even the big, bad studios of Hollywood could stop the wave of Turtle power, and the Turtles were making a lot of money in 1990. At the time of its release, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the second-highest grossing indie film ever, raking in $201 million at the box office. The Turtles' indie crown was lost a few years later when Pulp Fiction passed it by making $213 million.
  • The actors inside the Turtle costumes all have cameos in the movie without their Turtle suits on.
    • Josh Pais "Raphael" — Plays the passenger in the back of the cab when Raph leaps onto the cab's hood.
    • Lief Tilden "Donatello" — Plays the Foot messenger that meets April in the subway station.
    • David Forman "Leonardo" — Portrays a gang member at the warehouse when Casey Jones fights with Foot Clan leader Tatsu.
    • Michelan Sisti "Michelangelo" — Is the pizza delivery man who delivers the Turtles pizza in the sewer.
  • Actress Judith Hoag wasn't a fan of how the movie came out. The actress has said that she enjoyed making the film, but there was a "mystical through-line" with the Turtles that was cut, and she wasn't happy about it. "But one of the producers called those parts ‘fluff' and said that ‘all the kids wanted to see was the fighting.' I disagreed with him then and I disagree with him now."[citation needed]
    • This was the primary reason that Hoag did not reprise her role in Secret of the Ooze. Well, that and money. "I wanted the ‘fluff' back in the script and I wanted conditions on the set to improve. I also wanted a raise."[citation needed]
  • Sam Rockwell gives a shout out to the comic's creators. When Sam Rockwell's character tells the police to "go check out the East Warehouse over at Lairdman Island" this is a nod to the TMNT comic's creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.
  • Jim Henson wasn't happy with the violence in the movie. Jim Henson's Creature Shop did all of the Turtle costumes, using some of the most advanced technology at the time. Despite the success of his company's reptilian creations, Henson was reportedly unhappy with the film's finished product, viewing the violence as "excessive, pointless and not his style."
  • The producers kept the movie from having a punk rock soundtrack. Danny's Sid Vicious t-shirt was added at the advisory of director Steve Barron who wanted the film to have a punk rock soundtrack. The producers wanted something a bit more commercially friendly, which is why we got a soundtrack that included MC Hammer and songs like "Turtle Power."
  • The movie caused a battle of corporate pizza giants. Never before had a movie caused the pizza business to see so many dollar signs, and Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza both wanted a piece of the pie. Pizza Hut was able to secure a $20 million marketing campaign with the movie, but it was Domino's who got the privilege of feeding the reptiles in the movie. In the end though, Pizza Hut steamrolled over everything Turtle-related, sponsoring the "Coming Out of Their Shells" tour and all video games.
  • The producers were concerned about a particular death scene. The scene with Foot Clan leader Tatsu beating up one of his soldiers raised some concerns with the producers, because they thought it was too violent. In the comic book and the movie's script, Tatsu is said to have killed the boy, but that's not the kind of thing that gets a movie a PG rating. The scene was re-cut at the last-minute with Tatsu sparing the boy's life to let the audience know that he wasn't murdered in a family movie.
  • An alternate ending included April pitching a comic book. An alternate ending was filmed, but cut from the movie that included April and Danny pitching their story about the Turtles to a comic book publisher. The publisher dismisses the idea as being far-fetched as the Turtles watch on from outside of his window.
  • The Japanese version of this movie was known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, a name normally used for the 1987 TV series in the UK and Germany.
  • It was revealed at SDCC 2020 that numerous networks turned down the movie due to fears that writers could not successfuly adapt a live action movie from a comic book series; networks were later proven wrong and the movie was a hit.[4]



Deleted and alternate footage[]


  1. Comparison between UK PG VHS and UK PG DVD
  2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) - Alternate versions - IMDb
  3. TMNT: Original Movie DVD (English). Mirage Studios (September 2002). Retrieved on March 7, 2020.
  4. First TMNT Film 30th Anniversary | Comic-Con@Home 2020

External links[]

  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Films [view]
Theatrical releases

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)  · The Secret of the Ooze  · Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III  · TMNT  · Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)  · Out of the Shadows  · Mutant Mayhem

Coming Out of Their Shells  · Operation Blue Line  · We Wish You a Turtle Christmas  · Turtle Tunes  · Turtles Forever  · Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  · Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie  · Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  · 35 Days of Kevin Eastman  · The Making of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Behind the Shells