Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie Movie Poster Image

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie



Muppetry coaxes campy '90s hit out of its shell.
  • Review Date: December 21, 2006
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Release Year: 1990
  • Running Time: 93 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Fighting solves all problems here, of course.

Positive role models

While the hot-headed Raphael has problems with discipline and anger management, he's still principled, heroic, and brave. Splinter the Rat is an especially wise mentor-figure, more so than many human counterparts.

Violence & scariness

Abundant martial arts fighting that's sometime comical and slapstick (usually when it's Turtle-vs.-villains), sometimes bone-crunching and brutal (when its human-on-human). Two dead bodies seen as the result of barely offscreen karate killings. Human characters threatened with baseball bats, swords, and clubs. One character crushed in a trash compactor. Heroes knocked out and comatose, but no blood.

Sexy stuff

A brief glimpse of underaged girls in sexy streetwear.


"Damn" is as bad as it gets.


Plugs for Domino's pizza, other movies, and TV shows (how many young viewers will get the reference to Moonlighting, though?). Of course, the Ninja Turtles were an industry in themselves, with toys, games, comics, T-shirts, practically everything that could and was sold to kids.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Recreational drinking and smoking in a lawless kids' club.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie is a 1990 mainly martial arts slapstick comedy. The Foot Clan is a Hollywood glorification of a street gang, with a secret headquarters filled with adolescent attractions like skateboarding, games, music, girls,  recreational drinking, cigarettes, and fellowship. Abundant martial arts fighting that's sometime comical and slapstick (usually when it's Turtle-vs.-villains), sometimes bone-crunching and brutal (when its human-on-human). Two dead bodies seen as the result of barely offscreen karate killings. Human characters threatened with baseball bats, swords, and clubs. One character crushed in a trash compactor. Heroes knocked out and comatose, but no blood. There's a brief glimpse of underaged girls in sexy streetwear.

What's the story?

In TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE MOVIE, New York City suffers an unstoppable crime wave of petty theft that turns out to be the work of the Foot Clan, an army of runaway boys (and girls) who have been recruited into thievery a la Oliver Twist with martial arts discipline. Their grownup leaders are a displaced gang of Japanese karate villains, ruled by a master called Shredder. Just for mentioning the crimes on TV, reporter April O'Neil (Judith Hoag) becomes a target of the Foot Clan. She's rescued by Leonardo, Donatello, Michaelangelo, and Raphael -- man-sized, talking, fighting turtles who dwell in the city's sewers. These friendly mutants are former house pets granted superior size, strength, and intelligence after exposure to radioactive waste. The same befell their guardian and "master," a former pet rat named Splinter. The heroes hook up with another freelance crimefighter, Casey Jones (Elias Koteas), an ex-hockey player. After Raphael is badly injured in a skirmish and Splinter is kidnapped, they all confront the Foot Clan in a showdown.

Is it any good?


This dated movie is best for diehard TMNT fans only. It was inevitable a live-action Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie would be made, with actors in suits. The abundant martial arts violence caused some controversy at the time (in Britain this "family film" was actually censored from children), and in the era before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, critics pretty much condemned all kung-fu movies, from Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan, as R-rated bloodbaths. Just the idea of a kids' karate film raised doubts (though the Karate Kid movies were allowed to get away with it, go figure). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies made the fighting reptiles more comical and slapstick action-heroes, tossing off wisecracks and never drawing blood despite their swords and daggers. However, an aura of menace and brutality settles over the film when it's human against human, especially the wolf-packs of boys vs. April and Casey Jones.

There's something of Pleasure Island in Pinocchio about the way the movie makes the street-gang lifestyle of the Foot Clan seem appealing; a cool secret headquarters filled with skateboarding, video games, music, girls, cigarettes, and brotherhood. Even though it's supposed to be a big lie, the impression is still like a recruiting poster. Splinter the Rat, on the other hand is by far the most noble character here. He's really such a Yoda-like standout paragon of wisdom and kindness you wish the movie were more about him. Rats never had such good PR. Love them, hate them, the Mutant Ninja Turtles opened the floodgates for kid-friendly martial arts flicks in the English-speaking world, and the subsequent Three Ninjas series was pretty much Turtle schtick with teenage non-mutant ninja humans. Imagine that.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the armies of "rejected" kids who flocked to join the outlaw Foot Clan. Why would they want to join a gang? I

  • Use the Turtles as a jumping-off point to teach about Renaissance artists (Donatello, Leonardo, etc.) -- a reminder, like The Da Vinci Code, that the Renaissance is constantly popping up in pop culture. Why do you think that is?

  • How does this movie compare to the more recent ones?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:March 30, 1990
DVD release date:February 28, 1998
Cast:Elias Koteas, Josh Pais, Judith Hoag
Director:Steve Barron
Studio:New Line
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Superheroes, Adventures, Book characters
Run time:93 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:violence, some harsh words

This review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 15 years old Written byMitchell Charleston May 15, 2013


Oh CSM, why are you so overprotective? This film is a classic. I know it's not the best for kids, but it's actually a pretty action-packed film.
Teen, 13 years old Written byfluffy gizmo October 5, 2014

This is a good movie

It's no masterpiece but it's fun to watch.It's dark and a little intense for kids under 6.I don't know why parents complained about the swearing,the only swear word they used was the D word(which they used only 3 times.).They also complained about the "violence".Ignore them,it's good.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Kid, 9 years old December 22, 2012


cowabunga it's a great classic there is no real fighting just slapstick no bad words but d--- and it's darkness is not bad the sequel was better and the third was bad but that's my opinion the movie itself is great the shredder is very scary and a bit more like a dark overlord trying to make sure he kills all of new york city but the shredder is not in the film that much i rate it four stars
What other families should know
Too much violence


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?