For anyone born from roughly 1984 until today, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise has been a permanent fixture in the geeky landscape of entertainment. The four radical, pizza-eating brothers have had a near constant presence in the pop culture landscape since their debut. While the 1987 cartoon of their exploits is what skyrocketed them to popularity, it was the first three live action movies that cemented them as a legendary franchise. The first movie is a near miracle. It is a fun romp that is not without its serious, dark edge, and it fully embraces the source material. The other two movies have their merits, but are also significantly lower in quality.
However, all of these movies have moments that make the audience wretch. When watching the movies, these scenes make you shake your head or yell at the screen. These moments are sour marks on the movies and sometimes even stop the film dead in its tracks. They threaten to tarnish the legacy of what these movies were and how they have influenced generations of fans. The following 16 moments are the worst of the worst and by far the most cringe-inducing moments across the TMNT movies.
16. THE VANILLA ICE GUEST APPEARANCE (TMNT 2)
Vanilla Ice was, for a time, the most popular musician in the United States. However, due to the legacy, or lack thereof, of his career, his appearance at the end of the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie screams cheap tie-in. The novelty of his cameo at the time is now a reminder for filmmakers to pick their musical cameos more carefully.
Let’s face it. Many of us may have at one point or another legitimately enjoyed the Ninja Rap song supposedly invented on the spot by Ice and his back up band. However, now it is painful to listen to. It’s an obnoxious song with little depth that is grating in its simplicity. Every time the phrase “go, ninja, go” is sung, it seemingly gets louder and drowns out the other characters in a void of white noise.
15. THE TGRI SET (TMNT 2)
TGRI is the laboratory that conceived of the mutagen that turned the Turtles and Splinter into their humanoid selves. When the Turtles infiltrate the building, we see this lab that looks like it’s been made out of cardboard. The set of this scene is beyond cheap looking. It looks like they took leftover scraps of wood from other places and slapped them together at the last moment.
Moreover, the equipment in this lab are mind-boggling dumb. The center piece is some giant triangle contraption that has black and red flashing wires leading into it. In the background, always out of focus, are large computer banks with bright flashing buttons. Even a child could look at this set and know something is deeply wrong with it.
14. CASEY JONES AND SPLINTER SPEECH (TMNT 1)
Towards the end of the first movie, Casey Jones has brutally taken down Tatsu, Shredder’s right hand man. Splinter and Casey give a speech to the remaining members of the foot clan who have been brainwashed by Shredder into believing that they are all family. Splinter urges them to realize they have been used by the Shredder. Casey scoffs at the notion that they are in fact a family.
Here’s the thing though: all these young men have been conditioned into doing terrible things for the Shredder. They steal and attack random New Yorkers in the name of Shredder. A few words from a mutant rat and long-haired vigilante aren’t going to do a lot of good to convince them otherwise. These kids are going to need years of therapy to undo the effects of Shredder’s teachings.
13. FIRST FIGHT SCENE (TMNT 2)
About three-and-a-half minutes into the second movie the audience catches their first glimpses of the Turtles. They jump into action in one of the most iconic shots of the trilogy. What follows is a fight scene that is epic in its ability to disappoint the viewer. The first movie was chastised by overzealous parents for its depiction of violence, so the filmmakers sought to tone down the violence.
This opening battle sets the mood for the rest of the movie. In the second movie, the Turtles barely use their weapons to fight the bad guys. They use yo-yos, sausages, ties, and even foam bats to take down the nameless thugs. The kicks and punches are punctuated with wacky cartoon sound effects. The whole scene is aggravating to watch and immediately sours the experience.
12. “HOCKEY!” (TMNT 3)
Four elite warriors, the personal bodyguards to Lord Norinaga, are magically transported through time to New York City in the early 1990s. Do they act with honor? Do they draw upon their years of training to overcome the trials and tribulations of time travel? Nope! They end up being hockey-obsessed dimwits who prat fall on top of each other for the whole movie.
There’s nothing wrong with silliness in the TMNT franchise. It is, after all, for children first and foremost. However, these characters are supposed to be high-caliber soldiers. They’re supposed to have discipline and training. It would be far different if four random poor townsfolk were swapped places with the Turtles. Instead, the antics of the four bodyguards are full of cringe moments.
11. WET WILLIES (TMNT 3)
As a commitment to portraying the Ninja Turtles as non-violently as possible, there is a running gag in which they give wet willies to one of the bad guys throughout the movie. Of all the characters in the movie to give a wet willy to, it’s the grossest, most slovenly character in the film. This is the one guy we want to see get punched or kicked.
First of all, the Turtle’s fingers are so large that it doesn’t seem like it would be all that bad to get a wet willy. It would probably be more painful than disgusting. Second, the character Niles is perpetually dirty and sweaty. It’s probably a refreshing change to have his ears cleaned. Third, wet willies have got to be the bottom of the barrel as far as childish pranks go. Ugh.
10. IMPRESSIONS (TMNT 1)
Michelangelo stands in April O’Neil’s apartment kitchen. He’s in the middle of a string of impressions including Rocky Balboa and James Cagney. To Mikey’s credit, April is super into it. Leo laughs politely because you know he’s heard it before and Donny sits back sipping on a soda. Raph, however, has the right reaction. He audibly sighs about what is transpiring.
Is there anything more sad and desperate than someone doing impressions at a party? We’ve seen that Michelangelo is more than capable at providing genuine laughs. He’s quick on the draw with other jokes and quips. There’s something about impressions that reeks of attention seeking “look at me” behavior. C’mon, Mikey, you gotta have confidence in yourself. You don’t always need to be the center of attention.
9. TATSU IS ESSENTIALLY BOBA FETT (TMNT 1 & 2)
At first, Tatsu is depicted as being a stoic warrior who is prone to fits of anger. Other characters cower in fear when he steps into a room. He is shown fighting his own Foot Clan members without mercy. But when push comes to shove and he goes up against one of the Turtles, or even Casey Jones, he is defeated in a hilarious and undignified manner.
That’s why the most apt metaphor for his character is to say that he is Boba Fett from Star Wars. Like the bounty hunter from the galaxy far, far away, Tatsu is all talk and no walk. When we, as an audience, are finally given and opportunity to see Tatsu throw down in a fight, it’s over before it even begins. What a waste.
8. CASEY JONES, BABYSITTER (TMNT 3)
Casey Jones, the capable, too-cool-for-school friend of the Turtles proved himself to be great in battle. He defeated Raphael in their first encounter with a cricket bat. He took down Shredder’s number two in command, Tatsu with a golf club. What happens when the Turtles have to go back in time?
He sticks around New York City to babysit the displaced Japanese men who have swapped places in time with the Turtles. He sits them down in front of a television to watch hockey, feeds them junk food and takes them to an arcade. There isn’t even a random scene of Casey stopping crime. He just shows up in the Turtle’s home sewer out of nowhere. Casey’s abilities as a vigilante are completely and utterly wasted in this movie.
7. KENO DISRESPECTS THE LADIES (TMNT 2)
After a fairly fun opening montage in which we see various New Yorkers eating delicious-looking pizzas, we are introduced to Keno, the new human sidekick character. Keno works at a pizza shop and is sent on a delivery to April’s apartment. But before he heads over to Ms. O’Neil’s place, he sees a group of women and says something horribly rude to them for no good reason!
Keno offers a ride to one of the women on his scooter (real cool, dude!) and when she declines, he implies that she is overweight. This group of women was just hanging around outside a pizza shop when some dorky delivery guy says something nasty to them. Even worse is that Keno has zero character development over the course of the movie. By the end of the film, he’s still the same impulsive dweeb.
6. THAT FLAWED ANIMATRONIC LIP SYNC (TMNT 1)
Shortly after April O’Neil is rescued by the Turtles and it’s explained how they became mutant ninjas, she is escorted back to her apartment. As a sign of gratitude, she offers them pizza. Michelangelo literally zooms out of the sewer in a vertical jump that would put LeBron James to shame. He yells, “Let’s go for it!” and it ends up being one of the biggest laughs in the first movie.
The problem with, and cringe aspect to, this moment is that it’s the single worst lip sync in the entire movie. The Jim Henson animatronic heads in the movie are amazing. It’s easy to suspend your disbelief and truly feel like large mutant turtles are living among humans. This moment completely breaks the immersion and you suddenly remember it’s all fake.
5. SUPER SHREDDER IS A BUST (TMNT 2)
At the end of the second movie, Shredder is blasted through a wall vis-a-vis sound waves (which is not possible at all). Moments afterwards, Shredder ingests the ooze that mutated the Turtles and becomes the Super Shredder. Literally two minutes after that, Shredder rips apart a dock with his bare hands and kills himself by accident. Great job, dude!
Throughout the whole movie, Shredder is never really seen as a threat to the Turtles. He has Tokka and Rahzar do all his dirty work. When he finally steps into the fray himself, we are not treated to an epic battle like in the first movie. Rather, the so-called fight is over before it even begins. What a waste and shameful send off to an all-time great movie villain.
4. DANNY IS A TRAITOR (TMNT 1)
It’s understandable what the filmmakers wanted to do with the Danny character in the first movie. They wanted to show a young man intoxicated with the allure of joining the Foot Clan and following Shredder into battle. That abandoned warehouse full of skate ramps and arcade games is really cool after all.
But Danny, why oh why did you have to be the one to sell out the Turtles? You saw they were crashing in April O’Neil’s apartment. You could have just kept your mouth shut and had four cool turtle friends. But no, you had to pipe up and let Shredder know where they were staying. That led directly to Raph getting jumped and almost dying. Even after all that, you betrayed the Turtles again by ordering an anchovy pizza!
3. MICHELANGELO INCREASINGLY WACKY (TMNT 1, 2, & 3)
Michelangelo started off as a goofy character with lots of charm in the first movie and devolved into a quip machine by the third movie. If the live action series continued he would have been reduced to making nothing but wacky, guttural noises for the full running of the film. Look to the scene in the third movie in which he rides on a horse backwards for further proof.
Mikey has and always will be the favorite character of young Turtles fans. He is, after all, the party dude. There’s nothing wrong with that. If the character is handled correctly, he’s funny and the heart of the group. However, there’s an ocean of difference between a character who makes jokes and what Michelangelo ended up being on screen.
2. THE MUD SCENE (TMNT 3)
The turtles have traveled back in time, rescued April in a dungeon, and make a daring escape down a dirty sewer chute. What follows is the single most agonizing scene across all three of these live action movies. A full two minutes in, each character has to comment on the fact that they landed in a mud pit and it’s disgusting. They basically all have the same reaction too. It’s a clear moment of padding the run time of the movie.
Unlike the Super Shredder scene from the second movie, in which two minutes felt like 30 seconds, these two minutes drag on forever. What’s worse is the music in the scene is annoying strings being plucked to create a slapstick mood that is infinitely grating. Viewers should be awarded a medal for sitting through this scene.
1. BAD COSTUMES (TMNT 3)
By far the most cringe-inducing moment of the TMNT live action movies is the decision to move away from Jim Henson’s animatronic suits. The suits in the third movie looked like cheap action figures. The skin on the suit looked like hard plastic and was far too brightly pigmented. The eyes were far too big with too much white space showing. Watching the movie, you become painfully aware that these suits did not allow for nearly as much expressive features in the Turtles’ faces.
The suits from the first two movies were absolute technical marvels. They were cutting edge and immersed the audience into believing human-sized ninja turtles existed. It was an act of supreme disrespect to Jim Henson’s legacy to use another company’s animatronic suits.
What scenes from the original live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies made you cringe? Let us know in the comments!