With Mutant Mayhem in theaters bringing new fans in and lapsed fans back to the franchise, I thought it would be nice to put together a relatively quick guide to help navigate nearly 40 years of TMNT shows and movies. I’ve already done a post about TMNT comics. And if you’re looking for a comprehensive overview of Turtles toys, you can check out TMNTToys.com!
This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of EVERY TMNT release ever, but rather a very broad overview of what’s out there. If you have never watched TMNT before, or if you haven’t watched since you were a kid, these are all the major interpretations, and which shows and films are connected to which others. Hopefully, folks unfamiliar with the Turtles can start exploring a path that sounds interesting to them, and eventually branch out to try other versions.
I’ve included notes about where to find official streaming releases of each entry (mostly with a subscription to ParamountPlus.com). However, the streaming landscape is changing all the time, so if you read this too far after August of 2023, those notes may no longer be relevant. Feel free to add updates in the comments!
Also, I’ve included YouTube videos of each show’s theme song and each movie’s trailer. I can’t promise that YouTube won’t take those videos down in the future. I apologize in advance for something that’s out of my control.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the founders of Mirage Studios. The first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was printed in black-and-white, using a loan from Kevin Eastman’s uncle, which allowed for them to print about 5,000 copies. The pair first sold copies at a comic book convention in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in May of 1984. The unsold copies from the convention sold out to comic book distributors relatively quickly.
After selling out of a second and third printing, the duo made a second issue later that year. And then a third in 1985. And after multiple printings of those first handful of issues, Eastman and Laird realized they had a potential hit on their hands, and wanted to see how far they could go with it.
In 1987, they cut a deal with Playmates Toys to create action figures based on the Turtles and the other characters from the comic, but Playmates had a catch: They would only do so if Mirage Studios agreed to co-produce an animated series to help sell the toys to kids, the way that other 1980s action hero brands such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Transformers, or Thundercats had done. Eastman and Laird agreed, and Turtlemania began.
Teenage Mutant Animated Turtles
Beginning in the week between Christmas and New Years in 1987, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, and its tie-in toy line, is THE thing that made the Turtles a household name. It’s absolutely intended for kids ages 5-11. The violence is pretty minimal, the villains are mostly buffoons, and the show is heavy on slapstick and sarcastic humor. This series introduced the concept of April O’Neil being a news reporter, as well as the evil mutants Bebop and Rocksteady. The series lasted until 1996 for 10 seasons, producing 193 total episodes.
The last three seasons are only eight episodes each, and are a soft reboot for the series. These are known as the “Red Skies” episodes by fans, because all 24 episodes takes place during a perpetual dusk. It’s less goofy than the first seven years of the series had been, but the changes made have received a truly mixed reaction from fans of the time.
Nickelodeon announced that they FINALLY obtained the distribution rights to this show in the summer of 2023 (it was previously a bit of a contractual mess thanks to the studios involved in the show’s production). Other than the five-episode pilot miniseries released in a single YouTube video (with a different recording of the theme song), it’s currently not officially streaming anywhere. That should likely change within the next year or so. Complete DVD box sets of the show are easy enough to obtain.
Live-Action Mutant Ninja Turtles
In 1990, Golden Harvest Films, in association with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, and distributed by New Line Cinema, created the first live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. This film took plots from several issues of the original Mirage comics, but added elements from the animated series to create a version of the Turtles that would work for both audiences. Darkly lit, with a far more serious tone than the cartoon, but still sillier than the Mirage comics, while managing to be more grounded than both, to a lot of fans from the era, this is still THE definitive piece of TMNT media.
This movie became the highest-grossing independent film in history upon its release, and would hold that record until 1994 when Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction took that title.
This movie and its two sequels are constantly changing where it’s streaming. As of summer 2023, Warner Bros has the distribution rights, so it’s usually streaming on Warner Bros’ streaming service, MAX (formerly HBO Max). They’re also currently on Paramount Plus. It occasionally pops up on Netflix. Digital copies are available pretty much wherever you buy digital movies. DVDs and BluRays for all three movies are available for dirt cheap everywhere.
Just a year later, a second live-action TMNT movie, titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, was ushered into theaters. This one was a lot lighter in tone than the first movie, taking a lot more inspiration from the animated series than the previous movie had, while still retaining a more mature feel than the cartoon. Fans who grew up with this movie still love it. New evil mutants Tokka and Rahzar immediately became iconic Turtles villains, and the concept of Super Shredder still gets used to this day.
And then in 1993, this happened:
I would characterize this film as being closer to a live-action adaptation of the animated series than a sequel to the previous two theatrical releases. And it suffered for that. But, it had been five years. All the kids who grew up on the original animated series were becoming teenagers, and they didn’t want what this film delivered. Add to that, the fact that Jim Henson’s Creature Shop didn’t work on this film, so the turtle costumes looked significantly worse, and it was just bad news all around.
Side note: Some copies of this movie have subtitled it “Turtles in Time.” While the plot does have to do with time travel, Turtles in Time was the subtitle of the second TMNT arcade game by Konami, later ported to the Super Nintendo. This movie originally was titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.
Ninja Turtles: The Worst Mutation?
Between 1996 and 2001, Fox Network gave complete control of the Saturday morning Fox Kids programming block to Saban Entertainment, creators of the Power Rangers franchise. Suddenly, shows from other production studios, such as Warner Bros.’ Batman: The Animated Series and Animaniacs, were off the block, and replaced with even more Saban shows.
One of those new Saban shows, beginning in 1997, was the live-action Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. This series introduced a fifth turtle, a female mutant, named Venus DeMilo, who was trained in Chinese martial arts and could control her chi energies. The Foot made appearances in a few early episodes, but the main antagonist was a new villain called the Dragon Lord. The show lasted for a single 26 episode season and was unceremoniously cancelled.
This show isn’t officially streaming anywhere, although if you want to waste your money, you can buy single episodes from Amazon or Apple TV. But don’t. This is by far the worst TMNT show. Avoid it.
…And for the next few years, that was it. In 2000, co-creator Kevin Eastman completely sold his 50% ownership of the Turtles franchise to Peter Laird. It truly seemed like the Turtles were gone for good.
21st Century Turtles
In the fall of 2003, 4Kids Entertainment — The company responsible for bringing the Pokémon anime to America — began airing a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series on the Fox Box, the new title for the lineup of Saturday morning cartoons on Fox affiliate networks (later retitled 4Kids TV). This new cartoon was much more mature than the 1987 series, and pulled a lot of elements directly from the original Mirage Studios comics, while still maintaining ideas popularized by the 1987 cartoon and 1990s films. The first four built a complex, multi-layered narrative. TMNT co-creator Peter Laird oversaw every script, meaning there would be no Next Mutation happening ever again.
There were some behind-the-scenes decisions made about the tone of the show getting a little too dark for the network after season 4. As a result, season 5 didn’t air on TV, and instead went straight to DVD. The sixth-season brand refresh that was intended for the 2008 fall season got bumped ahead to 2007. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward saw the Turtles and Splinter sent 100 years into the future. They meet Cody Jones — the descendent of April O’Neil and Casey Jones — and his robot servant Serling, and have high-tech adventures in the future.
In the fall of 2008, Fast Foward came to an end, seeing the Turtles, Splinter, and Serling return to the present day as the 2003 series’ final season was re-re-tooled to become TMNT: Back to the Sewer.
All seven seasons are available to stream on Paramount Plus.
CGI Mutant Ninja Turtles
With 1980s nostalgia in full swing and the Turtles back on top of things with the one-two punch of a new comic series by Peter Laird, and the success of the 2003 animated series, a CGI animated feature film, titled simply TMNT was released in the summer of 2007. This movie picks up a few years after the Turtles have disbanded. They have to deal with interpersonal conflicts in order to reunite to stop a new evil.
While there are Easter Egg-style references to other Turtles’ media, it’s not necessarily a proper sequel to any specific show or movie. This is a fun, one-off story. It’s not necessary for any deeper understanding of the Turtles, but the rooftop fight Leo and The Nightwatcher is a fan-favorite moment in franchise history.
This movie is currently streaming on Paramount Plus.
Released in November of 2009, 4Kids produced a finale to the 2003 series (and its two refreshes) in the form of a movie titled Turtles Forever. This special event saw the Turtles from the 2003 cartoon meet the Turtles from the 1987 cartoon, and team up to defeat the 2003 Shredder. The eight Turtles even ended up interacting with the 1984 black-and-white Mirage Comics Turtles in the final act, bringing the entire franchise full-circle in “Shellabration” of the franchise’s 25th Anniversary.
You can totally watch Turtles Forever after only seeing the first four season of the 2003 cartoon. It’s better if you’ve seen everything, but you don’t need to sit through Fast Forward or Back to the Sewer if they don’t work for you.
Turtles Forever is currently not streaming anywhere officially, but there’s a version of the director’s cut with a few minutes of extra footage on Archive.org.
In 2023, the entire series was (finally!) released in an 18-disc DVD box set, including all 7 seasons and the broadcast version of Turtles Forever. Note, it looks like episode 110 from season 5 is missing from disc 13. In actuality, that episode was never produced, and the episode numbers never got re-adjusted. All of the completed episodes are included in the box set.
Sellout Mutant Ninja Turtles?
It was announced in October of 2009, just a couple of weeks before Turtles Forever was released, that Mirage Studios would be selling the entire Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise to Nickelodeon. Peter Laird explained on his blog that after 25 years of basically nothing but Turtles, he needed to get away, but wanted to make sure that the new stewards of the ninja teens would be a company that would ensure that there could be new generations of Turtles fans long after he was gone.
Effectively, that makes Turtles Forever the end of the Mirage Era of TMNT. Given the movie’s subject matter, that’s actually really appropriate.
As part of the sale, Peter Laird DID retain the right to self-publish and distribute up to 18 issues of TMNT-related comics per year. However, to date, he has yet to exercise this right.
Teenage Mutant Nickelodeon Turtles
In 2012, once all the details of the buyout were complete, a brand-new TMNT CGI animated series started airing on Nickelodeon. This was the first interpretation of the Turtles where nobody from Mirage Studios had to give approval, and the results were…pretty good! The kids watching Nick in the 2012 who grew up with this show are now young adults, and all have the same fond memories of this version of the Turtles that the people who grew up with the 1987 and 2003 cartoons have for that show. Heck, even a few oldschool TMNT fans have said that this is probably the overall best animated series.
As a fun aside, the four Turtles have a bit of an all-star cast for their voices in this series. Rob Paulsen, the voice of Raphael from the 1987 cartoon, as well as countless other voiceover roles, provides the voice for Donatello. Actor Sean Astin (The Goonies, Lord of the Rings) voiced Raphael. Greg Cipes, the voice of Beast Boy in the Teen Titans animated shows, voices Michelangelo. Actor Jason Biggs (American Pie, Orange is the new Black) voiced Leonardo in the first two seasons, and was replaced by actor Seth Green (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Family Guy) beginning in season 3, following the character’s throat injury.
As of this writing, the first two seasons are streaming on Netflix, and the full series is on Paramount Plus. There’s also a full series DVD box set available.
Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes studio made a deal with Paramount to produce a live-action TMNT movie in 2014. Titled simply Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this had all the hallmarks of the Platinum Dunes Transformers movies — Lots of high-octane action, an overabundance of CGI effects, and very little characterization, and even less respect for the source material.
Early notes for the film’s script leaked online, and the Turtles’ origins were going to be changed drastically — Instead of mutated turtles, they were going to be turtle-like alien monsters. Additionally, The Shredder wasn’t going to be Oroku Saki, but a businessman named Eric Sacks. Heavy reshoots were done shortly before the movie came out to make the movie fit more in line with established Turtles lore, which…actually made the movie WORSE, somehow? I don’t know, this film is maybe the worst Turtles thing since Next Mutation.
Despite all that, the 2014 film made enough money that a sequel was greenlit and released in 2016, titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. It’s notable for having the first live-action (CGI) versions of Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang, and the Technodrome. Admittedly, I disliked the 2014 movie so much that this is the only TMNT movie that I refused to see in theaters. And I’ve still never seen it.
If you liked the Michael Bay Transformers movies, you might enjoy these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flicks. Otherwise, you can just skip these as footnotes in TMNT history. They’re both on Paramount Plus.
Dark Knight Detective Ninja Turtles
In 2015, IDW Publishing and DC Comics teamed up to create a crossover comic between Batman and the TMNT. Over the next couple of years, two sequels, and a spin-off based on the cartoon versions were released.
2019 saw a straight-to-BluRay & digital animated adaptation, titled Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And it is AWESOME. Shredder teams up with R’as al Ghul and the Joker, and it’s up to the Heroes on a Half-Shell and the Dark Knight Detective to stop them and mutated versions of all the major Batman villains. Look, outside of the Animated Series, I’m not the world’s biggest Batman fan, and *I* bought this movie the day after a friend let me borrow it. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.
Pretty sure this is on Max, and it just got released in a 5-movie DVD box set with the 90s live-action films and 2007’s TMNT.
In 2018, just a year after the previous Nickelodeon series came to a close, a brand-new, traditionally-animated TMNT cartoon was announced, titled Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Taking a cue from other popular cartoons of the time, such as Teen Titans Go! and Steven Universe, each episode of Rise of the TMNT consists of two 11-minute episodes, rather than a full 22-minute episode. 70 segments across 39 episodes were produced over two seasons, focusing on the Turtles when they’re a bit younger than we’re used to seeing them. Each Turtle is given a unique body type, Raphael uses twin tonfa instead of his usual sai, and is the leader of the group. And along the way, the Turtles pick up mystical super powers.
This show is perfectly fine for a younger audience, but many long-time TMNT fans tend to think it’s a little too different from what came before. Give it a shot and make up your own mind!
Rise of the TMNT can be found on Paramount Plus.
However, released in 2022, a straight-to-Netflix finale for Rise, titled Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie was released on the streaming platform. It’s basically The Terminator meets TMNT, with the alien race of the Krangs in the place of the Terminators, and it is a LOT of fun. Even if you skip all of the rest of Rise, this movie is worth your time.
This movie is exclusive to Netflix.
And that brings us to today.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is the brand-new CGI-animated film released in August of 2023. It has a completely fresh animation style, and was produced by longtime-TMNT fan Seth Rogen. Jackie Chan voices Master Splinter, hip-hop superstar Ice Cube steals the show as the new villain, Supafly, and I really enjoyed it.
Mutant Mayhem has already been greenlit for a sequel, and there will be a 2D animated series on Paramount Plus to bridge the two movies. I was unable to find dates for either, but that will be what TMNT shows and movies are doing for the next few years.
Mutant Mayhem is still in theaters when I’m writing this, so go find your nearest cinema and see it!
Four animated series consisting of over 500 episodes, seven theatrical releases, a live-action series, and three straight-to-video releases. And literally hundreds of comics. That should get you started.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all related characters and concepts, are the property of Paramount and Nickelodeon.