The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are one of the most recognizable and beloved brands of all time. Starting as a comic book from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984, the Turtles are now a worldwide phenomenon. The story of the Turtles and their battles against the Shredder span decades of movies, comics, and television. Let’s rank the top 5 Ninja Turtles.
#5- 1990 Film
If you’re a Millennial, or a younger Gen-Xer, you probably remember the day the Turtles hit the big screen. 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brought Leo, Mikey, Donnie, and Raph to the real-world via Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. A die hard group of filmmakers made sure their amazing work made it through a troubled production. This movie takes pages from the comics and marries them with the kid friendly 80’s cartoon.
The story elements are all there. Shredder and Splinter have their history, the brothers want to do teenager things, and April and Casey are there too. The animatronics and effects are phenomenal, and reminded the world that Muppets are bad ass. It’s not all perfect though. There are some corny moments and the editing has some rough edges. However, this movie delivers great Turtle action, world building, and some of the most quotable lines in cinema history.
#4- 1987 Animated Series
Look, there are no Turtles without the 1987 animated series. Sure, the comic would have been a classic and loved for a long time, but it was this cartoon that solidified the teen-aged mutants in the greater public sphere.
Designed from the ground up to sell toys, and lots of them, the 1980s toon brought fans a whole slew of fantastical enemies, allies, and technology. The Shredder, voiced by the late GREAT James Avery, uses techn provided by General Krang to try and smash his enemies, the Turtles. This partnership brought us fly-mutant Baxter Stockman, Bebop and Rocksteady, and the Technodrome.
Almost everything you think of when it comes to the turtles, other than the names and general story, likely comes from this iteration of the Heroes in a half-shell. Cowabunga, dude!
#3- TMNT (2007 CGI Film)
This one may be controversial. The 2007 CGI film, TMNT, seemed less like a feature length film and more like the beginning of a new series. However, you will be hard pressed to find better character deep-dives in any other Turtles series or movie.
Seemingly set after the events of 1993’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 (but you only see that at the very end) we learn that our heroes have all but gone their separate ways. Leo is in a sort of exile, training and brooding in the jungles of South America, Mikey works birthday parties, Donnie is running a tech support company to help pay the bills, and Raph is out being Raph. Each brother gets their time to discuss the trauma of their history, their desires, and express their love and respect for their family and friends.
This movie didn’t get as much love as others due to the antagonists being unknown, other than Karai, but it laid the foundation for so much. Many fans have been dying to see Karai be a focus of an older group of Turtles. However, if you look at it as a part of an existing history, then it doesn’t feel as out of place.
The action is great, the animation is beautiful (We’re still mad Imagi failed and we never got that Gatchaman movie), and the voice cast includes Chris Evans as Casey Jones. Basically, if you haven’t seen it, go correct yourself!
#2- 1984 Comic Series
Wait, the original comic book Turtles are only #2? Yes, we know there are no more pure Ninja Turtles than these Ninja Turtles, but who they were is not who they are. The comic is still amazing though.
Self published by Eastman and Laird’s Mirage Studios in 1984, the first issue kills off the Shredder. That classic rooftop scene from the film comes right from the comics. Eastman and Laird didn’t run out of ideas though, and the mutated Terrapins quickly met a bigger threat in the Triceratons, a space-faring race of alien Triceratops.
While this didn’t bring us multi-colored bandannas, the catchphrase of “Cowabunga”, or Bebop and Rocksteady, it brought us almost everything else. Karai, Rat King, and the Utrom all got their start in the classic comics. The first volume is a must read for any Ninja Turtles fan.
#1- 2012 Animated Series
That’s right, we said it, the 2012 Nickelodeon CGI series is the best version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nothing else can come close. If the 1990 film blended the original comic and cartoon, this series blends ALL prior versions of the Turtles into the most complete feeling set yet.
The humor is top notch, and a lot of it is delivered via Donnie and Raph over Mikey. However, Greg Cipes brings Michelangelo to life in a way no other voice actor has. Mikey is truly the heart of his family and this show. The show rests heavy on the teenager experience, including romance. Leonardo and Donnie both go through awkward unrequited love, Raph falls for a salamander, and April and Casey do April and Casey things. It works.
In addition to the exploration of teenage romance, the four brothers get entire arcs to shine one their own. We get to see and hear inner-monologues and private moments. We watch the Turtles grow from past experiences. Hell, there’s even an arc where Mikey learns that it’s best to never meet your idols. Also, The history between Splinter and Shredder is explored here more than anywhere except the comics, and their arc in Season 3 ends shockingly.
The animation looks odd at first, but you’ll quickly settle in. Also, the endless amount of source/older material references and other pop-culture Easter eggs will have you engaged on repeat viewings. While the last season feels out of place, the first 3 are near perfect and the 4th is fairly decent. Regardless, this version offers everything you love about the TMNT, but more of it. Also, things you didn’t even know you wanted from the Turtles are served up in 5-star story-telling.