The world’s most fearsome fighting teens went mainstream 30 years ago today with their first feature film!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Directed by Steve Barron
Story by Bobby Herbeck
Screenplay by Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck

I was a late-comer to the Turtle party. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon hit the airwaves in 1987, but it was never a must-watch for me like Transformers or GI JOE. But in the spring of 1990, after I broke my leg riding a bicycle, I made my way to the theater on crutches to watch the Turtles’ theatrical, live-action debut.

Even with a broken leg and never a big fan of the Turtles, 10-year-old me couldn’t resist turtle costumes designed by Jim Henson Studios.

The film is, of course, an origin story, letting the audience know how these four turtles mutated into anthropomorphic beings who grew up to become teenage ninjas who live in the New York City sewers and eat pizza. And they’re all trained by a mutated rat who used to be the pet of a ninja master. And what would four fighting turtles be without a clan of ninjas to fight, led by a dude dressed as a cheese grater?

The whole premise is ridiculous, and it definitely shouldn’t work as a live-action movie, but somehow everything about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is fun. The Turtles meet up with newscaster April O’Neil and hockey-mask-wearing vigilante Casey Jones as they figure out how to beat Shredder and the Foot Clan. The film is much more grounded in reality (as much as the concept can be) than the 1987 cartoon series. There’s no Krang (the living brain in a robot body) or minions Rocksteady (a guy mutated into a rhinoceros) and Bebop (a mutated warthog) to raise the level or weirdness.

It’s really a modern classic.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) is available to stream on Netflix.