Top 5 Worst Versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Turtles from the 2003 cartoon (left) meet with the Turtles from the 1987 cartoon (right) and the original Mirage comics Turtles in TURTLES FOREVER (2009)

The Turtles from the 2003 cartoon (left) meet with the Turtles from the 1987 cartoon (right) and the original Mirage comics Turtles in TURTLES FOREVER (2009)

I love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I discovered them in one of my first visits to a comic book store when I was barely a teenager. Their original, black and white comic was around issue 8 or 9 from Mirage and I fell in love with it. I watched the first season or so of the original cartoon, saw the live action films in the theater, and played the video games. I’ve only seen snippets of the 2003 and 2012 cartoons, so I can’t claim to be an expert on all things TMNT but I’ll always have a great affection for the characters. However, there have been some BAD interpretations of the Turtles. One of the weird things about them is they’ve been rebooted many times so there’s a lot of different takes on them. Most of the time, the important elements are there. Other times… not so much. Here are the  worst takes on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

#5 Volume 3

Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird co-created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and self-published them through their comics imprint, Mirage. Volume 1 lasted from 1984-1993. It was very popular but Eastman and Laird were busy managing the Turtles across other media and a huge chunk of the series was handled by guest teams of creators so it often felt like an anthology. From 1993-1995, they rebranded the book in full color and continued the continuity with their main creator, Jim Lawson, but sales cooled and the title went on hiatus. Cut to 1996, where Erik Larsen, one of the guys running Image Comics, took TMNT under the Image banner. It went back to being black and white and was written by Gary Carlson with art by Frank Fosco.

I can’t quite fault Volume 3 as bad but they went so over the top with the dark and gritty take on the Turtles that it just didn’t work. I think they over-compensated to combat the goofy cartoon stuff. Leonardo gets his hand cut off. Raphael gets his face permanently scarred. Donatello is nearly killed and becomes a cyborg. Splinter is transformed into a bat creature. The series came to an end in 1999, partly because co-creator Peter Laird did not care for the way it was going. The title eventually relaunched for a Volume 4 in 2001 which completely ignored Volume 3 and picked up 15 years after Volume 2. So Volume 3 isn’t considered canon by the original creators anymore. To be fair, your mileage may vary on this one.


Raph has seen better days.

#4 The Next Mutation

TMNT became a live action show for one 26-episode season from 1997-1998. The results were cheap and corny. It was produced by Saban who also produced Power Rangers and there was even a very forced crossover. Perhaps the worst sin the show created was adding a fifth Turtle, Venus de Milo. She (yes, she) had been raised by someone else. Her story is crap. Supposedly she was exposed to the mutagen along with her 4 brothers but Splinter just missed her when he picked them all up. She wandered down to Chinatown in Manhattan and was raised by a Chinese magician. He took her to China and raised her like a daughter. Sometimes the magician and Splinter would meet in dream world and talk about the Turtles but kept this a secret for… reasons. Eventually, her dad dies and she goes to New York to join the other Turtles.

The show had really poor animatronics and lazy stories. Ostensibly, the show was set in the film continuity (Splinter’s ear was missing from when Shredder cut it in the first film) but April and Casey Jones never showed up. Co-creator Peter Laird detested the character of Venus de Milo and forbids any version from ever referring to the character.

Which way am I looking?

Which way am I looking?

#3 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

There have been four films, with a fifth about to come out later this year. The results have ranged from fun and cool to completely embarrassing. TMNT 3 is the latter. Released in 1993, the film contains no villains from the comics or cartoons. It disappointed fans and bored everyone else. Basically, April buys an antique that transports her back in time to feudal Japan. The Turtles go back to save her and are confronted by Lord Norinaga, a corrupt feudal lord, and Walker, an evil English trader. Boring, boring enemies. The fights are completely uninspired and the story makes no sense. The jokes are painfully lazy. And the costumes look absolutely terrible. You can see all the seams and the Turtles’ mouths don’t even come close to syncing up with the dialog. Everything about this is a disappointment at best. If you want to know more and get a good laugh at the same time, I strongly recommend watching the Angry Videogame Nerd review of this film by clicking here.

Their mouths almost never close corectly

Their mouths almost never close correctly

#2 “Coming Out of Their Shells” Tour

In 1990, at the height of their popularity, the Turtles went on a live concert tour. Everything about it screamed quick cash-in. The suits looked like a high school drama club was tasked with assembling them over a weekend. Once again, the problem is going cheap. The whole show boasts the production values of your average cable access show.

The show was sponsored by Pizza Hut so a lot of the singing was about how great pizza is. Michelangelo sings “Cowabunga” which is about how pizza kept him from a life of crime. April O’Neil interviews kids in the 30-minute video version and they all look terrified to say anything. One kid stammers out that he’s there to see “Raphangelo.” The fact that they left that in there makes me wonder if they cut anything out. If you look at the Turtles’ gaping mouths, you can frequently see the performer inside. For closeups recorded off-stage, they shoved pink paper in those openings which I guess is supposed to be some kind of messed-up tongue. The music is poor, so do yourself a favor and skip this if the opportunity presents itself.

Clothes courtesy of Thrift City, apparently.

Clothes courtesy of Thrift City, apparently.

#1 We Wish You a Turtle Christmas

Look, the fact is this Christmas music special is so bad, I already reviewed the whole thing for the site. Read about it here, if you dare. The fact is, it’s the worst thing to have the TMNT brand on it. The masks don’t just look cheap, they look scary with the Turtles in a permanent rictus-like grin, designed to give you nightmares. Splinter looks like a corpse. The story makes no sense. They give each other literal garbage for Christmas presents. They sing their songs using goofy voices that change constantly. It’s… abysmal.

They're coming to get you, Barbara!

They’re coming to get you, Barbara!

  • Great list I agree with all of them, though you may need to leave a spot for the new movie turtles depending. As bad as volume 3 of the comics was the art was decent.

  • Chris Piers

    Yeah, you’re probably right. In fact, I could have listed some of the goofy toys but I think that warrants its own post!

  • Dex

    I have an odd gap in my TMNT fandom. Starting with the original comics, the first 2 movies (time, time, time) the most current cartoon series. Of this list, I’ve only seen the live tour. My mom was working at a local affiliate UHF station and got free tickets. I had the soundtrack too. I don’t really remember much about it and maybe that’s for the best?

  • Con W

    ‘Turtles III’ was pretty fun – although the animatronic models WERE pretty terrible. 7/10. As for the rest, I agree with you 100%.

  • Mark

    I used to have the first movie on VHS. I seen the 3rd in the cinema. and the second I seen tons of times…especially in High School as it was one of the few videos the school had and when a teacher was off or we just had to pass time before getting off for holidays we got to watch it.