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Discover the history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and how this gang became a pop culture icon

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From comics to movie screens, mutant characters were also very successful in video games; understand

the history of Ninja Turtles originates in the 1980s and all tree One of the unlikely characters came to light in the following decade, the 1990s. The group of four turtles who knew how to fight and were passionate about pizza had their debut in a story published in comics.

Soon after their first appearance, the teenage turtles and sewer dwellers of Manhattan They became a true phenomenon and conquered TV screens, movie theaters, won several titles in video games and are still part of the imagination of thousands of fans.

Next, follow some of the trajectory of the pupils of Master Splinter and how they became icons in pop culture.

How did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appear?

It was a random night in 1984 when two friends created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In your apartment, Peter laird e kevin eastman They got inspiration and designed a turtle that wore a mask and a type of sword.

At the end of that afternoon, after several ideas, the two friends had already drawn four turtles, first named just Ninja Turtles. However, the name would change to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, going a bit in line with other stories of the time that were published in comic books.

Initial tmnt drawings
Initial drawings of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, done by Eastman and Laid. Photo: Google/Reproduction.

Some time later, and taking advantage of an amount they should receive in tax refunds, plus a loan granted by Kevin's uncle, the two created the Mirage Studios and published the early history of Ninja Turtles.

The first appearance took place in comics released by the two friends independently and the original idea had just one edition that soon grew and achieved great success, becoming a periodical publication.

Throughout all the years of existence, the Ninja Turtles They have had great success in everything they have done, becoming a solid franchise with many years of experience in the most diverse formats.

The four Ninja Turtles

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The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the orphanage: Raphael (center), Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello (back). Photo: Google/Reproduction.

Initially, four turtles were raised. The initial sketches didn't show many differences, and it's possible to notice that the four appear in the first comics without color distinction on the stripes, as they all use the same red.

Trained in the art of Ninjutsu — Japanese martial art that used ninjas to advance into enemy territory — by Master Splinter, a mouse with special skills and techniques in martial arts, the four Ninja Turtles they brought special and different characteristics, in addition, of course, to their common passion for pizza.

  • Leonardo — is the leader of the group and known for his courage and dedication. The name is inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, important Renaissance painter. Your weapons are katanas and ninja-tos, two swords used in combination: wears a blue mask;
  • Donatello — intelligent and cunning, Donatello, with the purple mask, is the turtle responsible for technology. His name is also a tribute to the Renaissance artist and his weapon is a Bo, a type of long stick used in Ninjutsu. Donatello is known for using his intelligence to resolve conflicts in the least violent way possible;
  • Raphael – known as the bad boy of the class, Raphael wears a red mask and a weapon called “you know”, a kind of steel trident-dagger. His aggressiveness is a strong point and Raphael is always ready for a good fight;
  • Michelangelo – named after the Renaissance painter, sculptor and architect Michelangelo. He can be considered the most playful of all turtles and his immaturity is sometimes a comical element and he has an adventurous and innocent side. He wears an orange mask and his weapons are a pair of nunchucks.

Other characters

    In addition to the good-natured Ninja Turtles, there are also other characters important to the plot and the entire story that keep the quartet obsessed with pizza and martial arts. Check out!

    Master splinter tmnt
    Master Splinter in his classic version. Photo: Pinterest.
    • Master Splinter – the mutant mouse is the sensei and father figure of the turtles. Learned the Ninjutsu with your master, Hamato Yoshi. In some series, Splinter is himself Hamato Yoshi transformed into a mouse and his name is a parody of Stick, mentor of demolisher;
    Photo by April O'Neil
    April is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' best human friend. Photo: Google/Reproduction.
    • April O'Neil – she is a great human friend Ninja Turtles and also sparks a love interest in Casey Jones. Initially she appears as a programmer and assistant to a scientist and, soon after, as a television reporter;
    Photo by casey jones
    Casey Jones is also active in the fight against crime in New York. Photo: Pinterest.
    • Casey Jones – the character fights crime and always appears with a hockey mask and sticks for golf, hockey and other sports. He has an interest in April O'Neil and is great friends with her. Ninja Turtles;
    tmnt destroyer photo
    The Ninja Turtles' greatest enemy hid in their armor. Photo: Pinterest.
    • Destroyer – is the arch-enemy of Ninja Turtleshead of Foot Clan and strikes terror in New York. Uses a kind of armor with sharp objects and together with the alien krang, they try to make life difficult for turtles;
    krang tmnt photo
    Krang is an ally of the Destroyer as well as an interplanetary threat. Photo: Screen Rant
    • krang – the villain wants to dominate the Earth and, alongside the Destroyer, poses real dangers to human beings, placing Ninja Turtles to work. The monster uses a mechanical body and its real body is inside a glass dome, in the body's torso;
    Baxter stockman´s photo
    The brilliant scientist transformed into a fly. Photo: Screen Rant.
    • Baxter Stockmann – Dr. Baxter Stockman is a brilliant and frustrated scientist who ends up working for the Destroyer, creating any kind of obstacle for the Ninja Turtles. After taking a mutant serum, he ends up turning into a fly and using his intelligence for evil;
    TMNT villains photo
    The two mutant villains also gave the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a lot of work. Photo: Google/Reproduction.
    • Bepop and Rocksteady – the two were humans who transformed into a mutated boar and rhinoceros, respectively. They follow orders from the Destroyer and, before transforming, they were dangerous criminals who worked as arms dealers, for example.

    Presence in comics and television

    the history of Ninja Turtles is intrinsically linked to comics. During the 1980s, the four turtles were introduced to the public through a comic book that had a modest print run of 3 copies.

    The first stories of Ninja Turtles are more aimed at an adult audience and, in their debut, the mutant quartet trained by the ninja mouse, Master Splinter, reached a second printing of 15 thousand copies.

    ninja turtles comics
    The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their original version. Photo: Google/Reproduction.

    The success in a time without today's technological means was largely due to word of mouth from readers, who praised the script of Eastman e Laird, with four strong turtles that left nothing to be desired when compared to other characters, such as demolisher, one of the influences of the turtles.

    However, the characters' greatest success happened on television. The story begins in 1987, when Mark Freedman, executive of the brand specializing in toys Playmates Toys showed interest in making dolls of Ninja Turtles.

    However, negotiations for the toys involved the production of an animated series involving the four characters and their universe. The production of this series was seen as a way of leveraging the brand of Ninja Turtles and increase toy sales.

    tmnt toys
    Thousands of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys have been sold over time, confirming the group's status as a pop phenomenon. Photo: Pinterest.

    In the wake of other well-known productions that suffered the same fate — He-Man and the Masters of the Universe e Commands in Action, for example — the Ninja Turtles They were promptly taken to the television universe.

    In 1987, the animation produced by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, Inc initially shown in 5 parts. With the instant success of the cartoon, sales of the toys launched also reached impressive numbers. Out of curiosity, the television program was shown on 125 stations around the globe, while the comic books managed to reach 125 thousand copies per month.

    The design of the Ninja Turtles was made public with a series of changes. The turtles started to have different colors, no longer wearing only red stripes. Thus, the personalities were also changed, bringing more lightness to the episodes.

    Another modification is also the origin of Master Splinter, which in the drawing is a kind of mutation. What is worth saying is that the animation underwent several modifications to cater to the majority of children. Thus, it was more interesting to bet on other elements than feelings of revenge, for example.

    Thus, the cartoon script was more concentrated on Ninja Turtles and his saga to combat enemies — Destroyer, Bebop e Rocksteady. There were also changes to the enemies' henchmen, who were now represented by androids.

    The animated series was a success, reaching 10 seasons and ending airing in 1996. The broadcast followed the American schedule and, in the beginning, the series was always shown on Saturday mornings, later shown from Monday to Friday.

    The first films

    With such success in animation, it didn't take long for the Ninja Turtles reach other formats and thus reach cinema screens. The quartet's first film debuted in 1990 and was well received, considering its modest budget of US$13,5 million.

    First Ninja Turtles movie
    The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' film debut took place in 1990 and was a success. Photo: New Line Cinema/Disclosure.

    The story brings the rescue of April O'Neil by Ninja Turtles, who promptly take her to the sewers of New York for further care. The unfolding of the story brings the participation of Casey Jones, who together with the other characters try to fight a criminal organization commanded by Destroyer.

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debut trailer in cinema, in 1990.

    Production was in charge of New line cinema and brought the characters into live action, with visual characteristics and costumes very similar to the animation. The film, however, was poorly seen by critics but not by the public (42% of the critics on specialized websites, while the score given by the public is 81%), which filled cinemas around the world to see the premiere of the beloved films. turtles.

    The film was responsible for earning more than US$130 million, being considered, until 1999, as the most profitable film made independently. In its debut year, the first feature film of Ninja Turtles managed to be responsible for the 9th highest box office worldwide.

    ninja turtles movie
    The big screen sequel came in 1991. Photo: New Line Cinema/Disclosure.

    The second film followed the same formula and was released in 1991, with the title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Oze's Secret. In this sequence, the turtles appear without weapons and fight with their hands. The story is also concentrated on elements that permeate the origin of Ninja Turtles and Master Splinter.

    Overall, the film was not very popular and was classified as a sequel that would add nothing. The film's budget was US$25 million, managing to raise around US$79 million. Much less than the first feature of the class.

    This first block of film productions brought another film, this time the third in this format live action. The history of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 takes place in 17th century Japan and time travel transports April and turtles to the site. During the film, the Ninja Turtles try to rescue April O'Neil, in addition to finding Michelangelo, while fighting the villain, Lord Norinaga.

    Ninja Turtles 3
    The last film in the first block of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles productions was not exciting. Photo: Shutterstock.

    As much as the third film tried to rescue some elements from the first, this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feature film is considered the worst of all, and much of it is criticized for the shallower script and sometimes seen as lazy.

    The third film in this first phase of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a budget of US$21 million and grossed the equivalent of US$54,5 million at the box office. It was the four turtles' melancholic goodbye to the cinema screens, in this first visit.

    New appearances

    In 2007, Ninja Turtles returned to cinema screens with the feature film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Return. Made with computer images, the film features four turtles saving New York of the dangers of Maximus Kong. The film, which grossed US$52 million, featured Chris Evans, Patrick Stewart e Sarah Michelle Gellar

    Ninja turtles return
    After a hiatus from film productions, the turtles returned in 2007. Photo: Pinterest.

    With a rather strange appearance, the Ninja Turtles appeared in The Ninja Turtles, of 2014. reboot The hit series took many people to cinemas around the world and raised R$1 billion. China was responsible for boosting the box office, contributing to increasing the film's total revenue, estimated at US$434,6 million.

    With such success, he followed up with another film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016). The second title in the sequel was not very exciting and not even names like Megan Fox (April O'Neil), Tony Shalhoub (Splinter) and Brian Tee (Shredder) guaranteed a third film from the group.

    This second film had a budget estimated at US$135 million and a box office of US$245 million, much less than its predecessor, considered a box office phenomenon around the world.

    Photo of the new ninja turtles
    Ninja Turtles appeared with a new look, quite different from that of the 1990s. Photo: Pinterest.

    The most recent adventure in the turtles' cinemas was the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023). The film has good action scenes and fun is guaranteed. Names like Seth Rogen e Jackie Chan lend their voices to bring some characters to life. The last film was quite successful at the box office (grossed US$135 million), and received a sequel, scheduled to be released on screens around the world on October 9, 2026.

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time

    The presence of Ninja Turtles extended beyond television and cinema screens and the adventure of the four turtles led by Master Splinter ended up in video games. The 1990s were able to present fans around the world with the franchise's games. Walking through the arcade and then consoles of the time, the Ninja Turtles were a great success among many players.

    Among all the games released, the highlight is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, idealized by Konami. Initially created for the arcade, the game appeared for the Super Nintendo, arousing the curiosity of fans.

    The game, in style beat 'em up, it's a beating from beginning to end. The story begins when, on a random night, the inhabitants of the New York sewers watch April o'neil reporting that the Statue of Liberty had been kidnapped by a krang giant. 

    After what happened, Shredder (o Destroyer) appears on the screen and the hunt begins. To the Ninja Turtles They just didn't count on unexpected time travel. Thus, Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello embark on the adventure and go through various dangers to rescue the Statue of Liberty. 

    Coming from the arcade, the characters entered the universe of Super Nintendo through the front door. The game, developed for the console 16-bit da Big N had numerous improvements. The characters appear in a similar way to the famous cartoon and each of them has their own combat style during the game's phases.

    First phase of the game for the SNES.

    With very elaborate graphics for the time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time It also presents the player with intuitive gameplay without major problems. There are 10 phases in which the turtles travel through time, facing the ninjas of the Pé clan, until reaching the final confrontation with the Destroyer

    The game begins on a bridge in New York and then the stages unfold through other city settings, such as the sewers. At the Super Nintendo there is a phase at the Technodrome, headquarters of the Destroyer.

    Photo turtles in time snes
    Photo: Konami/Disclosure.

    After this phase, the Ninja Turtles are transported by their enemy for a journey through time that begins in Prehistory, passes through a pirate ship, through the Wild West, goes to the future (there are phases in 2020 and 2100) and returns to the final confrontation, in the present of game in 1992.

    The end result of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time It's quite positive, as it manages to deliver fun with well-groomed details, solid and easy gameplay for fans of the good-natured quartet.

    Others games

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989) – NES

    The debut of Ninja Turtles in video games it happened in 1989, in the game released for the Nintendo (NES). The game was created by Konami, but in order to be sold in the United States, for bureaucratic reasons, it was distributed by Ultra Games.

    The game is set in New York City and, during the stages, the player can choose any of the four turtles. There are six different phases, with their own missions that must be followed. The game was a success and became legendary, in addition to being recognized for its difficulty.

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989) – Arcade

    The arcade version came in the same year and, in arcade machines, depending on the version, four players could play at the same time, each with the turtle of their choice.

    The game itself is inspired by the cartoon, and this is apparent in the graphics and designs of each character and scenery. In the best style beat'em up, Ninja Turtles They challenged their enemies in fun-filled stages.

    The game was a success worldwide, especially in North America. At the end of 1990, the Konami had already managed to sell 20 thousand units of arcade machines with the game outside of Japan, with 14 thousand of these machines being in the United States.

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (1990) – NES

    After the resounding success of the arcade version, the Konami would produce the game version Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game protocols for NES. The console 8-bit da Nintendo would receive a great version of the game, originally made for arcade machines, full of features that would improve the experience.

    This version for Nintendo It's a console classic. The graphics leave nothing to be desired, despite all the limitations imposed on the video game. It is also considered one of the most difficult games to beat, requiring a little more attention from the player, but nothing impossible.

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (1991) – NES

    This is the third game in the series for Nintendo. Following the same proposal, the beat 'em up for the console it has basically the same controls as the first game in the series. In total, there are eight phases in which players must go through the most varied adventures.

    While on vacation in Florida, Ninja Turtles are watching the news, when April O'Neil is kidnapped by Destroyer, which also puts the fate of all of New York in danger. Then begins a journey in search of saving April and Big Apple.

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist (1992) – Mega Drive

    The first game of Ninja Turtles made by Sega It caused initial surprise, but soon after it was well regarded for the video game. The game uses some elements from other titles, being influenced by the arcade version and, even more, by the version of Turtles in Time. Super Nintendo.

    The characteristics are elements with lots of color and stages similar to the inspiring game. In total, the player needs to go through 5 scenarios, which end with the final confrontation with the Destroyer, at the Technodrome.

    Gameboy trilogy and fighting games

    During the height of Ninja Turtles, in the 1990s, other consoles also gained games featuring captivating characters. The first game released for the gameboy was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of The Foot Clan (1990), a platform-style game, with five stages in total.

    Gameboy tmnt
    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debut on Gameboy. Photo: Google/Reproduction.

    Soon after, it was time to be released. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers (1991), which had basically the same plot as the first game, with the difference of having graphical improvements.

    To close the trilogy, it was time to be released for gameboy the game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue, in 1993. Considered as the best game for the console, it is possible to explore a map using the skills of each of the turtles.

    Tmnt on gameboy
    The second game in the series for the Gameboy. Photo: Google/Reproduction.

    Tireless in video games during this first phase of life, the Ninja Turtles they still appeared in different titles than what fans were already used to. It is the case that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters, launched in 1993 for the SNES e Mega Drive and in 1994 for the NES.

    In these titles, the Ninja Turtles They participate in a tournament with other players, to find out who is the strongest. In games you can choose characters like April O'Neil and even the Destroyer, besides the Ninja Turtles and other characters.

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles today

    After that night of creation, kevin eastman e Peter laird They would never have imagined that turtles designed in a strange way would be such a huge success worldwide. The truth is that soon after the invention, Ninja Turtles They achieved stardom almost instantly.

    Nickelodeon ninja turtles
    After being sold to Nickelodeon, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appeared in a new series. Photo: Nickelodeon/Disclosure.

    The franchise became a profitable business, with the exploitation of the image of the quartet and all the other characters in different media, which included insertions on television - with the animated series -, films in cinemas, responsible alone for moving around 310 million dollars, in addition to toys and all sorts of items.

    Since its creation, the rights of Ninja Turtles were owned by the Mirage Group, which ended up selling the rights to the franchise for 60 million dollars to Viacom Group, which holds rights to Paramount e Nickelodeon.

    The deal was sealed in 2009 and the new producer created a series, which ended up being published in 2012. The inspiration for the series came from the original episodes, although they explored in a slightly more acute way the aggression and fight scenes of the Ninja Turtles.

    In addition to the games Arcade, Nintendo ou Super Nintendo, the figure of Ninja Turtles was also present on other consoles, such as PlayStation, as it is also possible to play the turtles' adventures in computer games.

    To celebrate this success of the characters, in 2022 the series was launched The Cowabunga Collection, which had 13 original titles from Ninja Turtles, available, including for PlayStation. Among the games present in the collection are the first arcade version, in addition to the classic Turtles in Time.

    Photo cowabunga collection
    Collection features classic Ninja Turtles. Photo: PlayStation Store.

    Furthermore, the Ninja Turtles were recently on the big screen, with the feature film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023). The film had an estimated cost of US$70 million and grossed US$135 million around the world.

    As Ninja Turtles also got a game, released in 2022. Available for PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge It was a great success. Adventure is in the best style beat 'em up and reached the mark of 1 million copies sold in just one week of release.

    See also other features

    Sources: Time, Turtle Pedia, New York Times

    Text proofread by: Pedro Bomfim

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