THIS YEAR THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES ENTER THEIR 35TH ANNIVERSARY.
They’ve had some incredible highs, gaining accolade and admiration across multiple generations. They became pop culture icons, rocketing to become a household name. Producing comics, video games, tv shows, movies, and more, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a billion dollar franchise.
The franchise has also suffered lows on par with The Partridge Family’s “VH1 Behind the Music.”
To celebrate everyone’s favorite Heroes in a Half Shell, I’m ranking the 35 most notable versions of the turtles to date! Keep checking back to see where your favorite ranks. We’re in the homestretch now! Not every version of the TMNT is listed, I kept it to the most notable 35. Did yours make the list? What’s your top 5? Let us know in the comments. And, in case you missed it, check out our other entries below!
13 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – NES (1989)
This game tested me at every turn. Known for it’s incredibly hard difficulty, this NES game still gets talked about today. Switching from top-down maps to side scroller, the game features plenty of enemies to drain your health and patience.
Perhaps the most notable is the infamous seaweed level. Playing as your turtle of choice, you dive in to the Hudson to navigate a maze of seaweed. During this, you need to deactivate a series of underwater bombs. And the entire thing is timed. It’s the trifecta of frustration.
I never beat it.
12 – Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018 – Current)
I can already feel the hate coming my way. But the show was tasked with completely reinventing the turtles universe, and succeeded.
They returned to hand drawn animation with bright neon colored backgrounds and a new collection of villains. There’s enough familiarity to it to remember why you loved the turtles, but is a huge departure from anything that came before it.
Yes, it’s different. That’s the point. The franchise needs to grow and evolve, and like each TV version before it, knows its audience. I feel like “RotTMNT” did exactly what the 1987 series did. It took the material before it and altered it to create a new universe for the current generation. Many adults probably feel how our parents felt when we were kids, and that’s exactly how it should be. It’s a fun show with an interesting story and great animation. Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t going anywhere soon (it’s already renewed for a second season), and I’m excited to see where the series is headed.
11 – Turtles Forever (2009)
I saw “Turtles Forever” before watching the 2003 series. This movie acts as the series finale, but you don’t need to see any of the series to love this. It celebrates everything the turtles offered the 25 years before it.
In it, the 2003 turtles come face to face with their past selves. Putting up with the constant cheesy jokes and quips from the ’87 cartoon turtles and the gritty death metal Mirage version, this TV movie truly showcased that the turtles could be any version the viewer wants. They showed other versions
This might be one of the first instances of a franchise putting effort in to explaining the different versions. Rather than shy away from the original cartoon or comics, “Turtles Forever” leans in to the idea that there are different dimensions with different turtles. This concept still exists even today, showing up as an Easter Egg recently in “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Some might even wonder if the film “In to the Spider-Verse” got a few ideas from the turtles, but we’ll never know.
10 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game (1989)
I spent all my quarters on this game at the arcade. This game was a huge improvement from the original NES game. Now played on the arcade with a joystick, the 8-way controls allowed a new level of movement to open up new depths of gameplay.
You could even play up to 4 characters! I was the oldest of 3, so this was a game we all not only agreed on, but loved playing. And we played together.
In the story, Shredder kidnaps April and the turtles need to battle through stages of Foot Soldiers and mutants to save her. It’s standard now, but at the time it was still exciting. It was so innovative at the time. The soundtrack was a masterpiece in gaming. It was frantic and energetic. It made you want to kick foot soldiers in the head with your friends and family.
The artwork on the arcade cabinet, however flawed, is still a masterpiece.
9 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / Usagi Yojimbo (1986 – Current)
Usagi Yojimbo is one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles oldest allies. While Cerabus was the first cross-over character the turtles experienced in the comics, Usagi and the turtles have exchanged appearances continually for as long as the turtles have been around.
In 1986at the end of the Donatello Macro series, the guest artist in the pin up section was Usagi Yojimbo being surrounded by the Ninja Turtles.
Since this crossover, Usagi has appeared in almost every very animated series (I’m giving Rise some time) as well as comics and action figures. The turtles have also appeared in Usagi’s series, with Stan Sakai providing the artwork for his version of the TMNT. And with the announcement that Usagi Yojimbo’s comic series will be moving to IDW, home of the turtles, we’re likely to see the ronin rabbit team up with the turtles many more times.
8 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze (1991)
“Secret of the Ooze” does what all TMNT franchises do best on their return; heighten.
The movie heightens everything. We had a Shredder, now he’s Super Shredder. We get more mutants, more Foot Clan, and more mutants. The creation of Tokka and Rahzar in place of Bebop and Rocksteady were questionable, but now have their own place in turtle history.
We learn more about the turtles origin, and the power of the ooze. We’re introduced to Keno, a new human friend. The story seems much bigger this time around. More action, less intimate.
While still a fun movie, it didn’t age as well as it’s predecessor. It remains a time capsule of the 90’s. The turtle animatronics took a bit of a hit. The mouths didn’t move as much. They seemed a bit more “cartoonish.” And, of course, Vanilla Ice. Much of the “Secret of the Ooze’s” downfall is that it shows the time period too much. That, and no Casey Jones.
7 – Playmates Toys
The toys are the reason the show was made. For real. The TV show was produced, but only because Playmates Toys insisted they release a cartoon first. If the show was successful, they would be the sole liscensee for TMNT figures for decades. There are a few exceptions now, but they remain the only producer of toys for the current version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The toys inspired collections and play time for kids all over. I had a ton. My friends had them. I was jealous of anyone with a Turtle Blimp and knew the Technodrome was, and is, the coolest playset on earth. These toys let us live as one of our favorite turtles, team up Casey Jones with Ace Duck, or neatly set up your figures in action poses. Whatever you decided to do with yours, a ton of new adventures started here.
KEEP CHECKING BACK BECAUSE WE HAVE JUST 1 MORE ROUND TO GO!
Do you agree with the list so far? I can’t wait to see the comments on this one! Let us know what you think and where your favorites stack up.