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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Why the Franchise has Lasting Power

30 years later and the heroes in a half shell are still going strong. The animated show's a hit, the comic is fun, and there's a new movie on the way! We explain why turtle power is still popular and likely won't fade away anytime soon.

*Click here for recommended music*

Back in 1983, Kevin Eastman drew something pretty ridiculous: a turtle wearing a mask and armed with a pair of nunchucks. The sketch was made just for fun and this generated a friendly competition between Eastman and Peter Laird as they tried to one up each other with the silly premise. The end result was four masked turtles, each armed with different melee weapons.

As we all know by now, the two decided to move forward with this totally absurd idea and flesh out the team's story within the pages of a comic. Eastman said he didn't expect the debut comic -- an issue which was a gritty and fun nod to several other franchises -- to sell well, but the polar opposite happened and eventually the heroes in a half shell turned into a household name. In fact, the franchise has become so popular that co-creator Kevin Eastman placed the first picture of a ninja turtle on sale for a whopping $2 million dollars. That can buy a whole lot of pizza.

The famous characters are celebrating their 30th anniversary and it really is a great year to be a TMNT fan. The animated show on Nickelodeon had some fans worried because it looked too kid friendly, but they've been killing it since the very first episode. It's a show that finds the right balance between appealing to pre-existing fans and generating new fans, too. That's more than clear with the impressive merchandise sales. Meanwhile, IDW is publishing some memorable and superb TMNT comics. It's plenty familiar and has everything we love about the iconic group, but they've also taken big steps to instill noteworthy and exciting changes.

One thing both of these projects have in common is they show a whole lot of respect for the source material as they sprinkle in just the right amount of changes to make the mythos fun and refreshing. On top of that, there's a new live-action movie coming out this Friday. We can't comment on its quality because we haven't seen it yet, but you can bet we're anxious to check it out. Yes, it seems to bring some major changes to the designs and story, but it seems like it has a proper handle of the character dynamics and that's critical.

Even though it all basically started as a joke, this franchise has been around for 30 years and it continues to prove it has what it takes to create new fans in different generations. So, how does such a silly premise stand the test of time and adapt to make sure kids -- and longtime fans -- love it? Well, we believe it's because the Ninja Turtles focus on a few key elements that can appeal to people from any generation.

On the surface, TMNT's about odd looking characters that are awesome at fighting. The designs are just different enough and, let's be honest, who doesn't love ninjas? The aesthetic basics are simple, appealing, and certainly memorable. However, Ninja Turtles isn't just about four dudes that excel at battling ninjas and mutants --- it's about the importance of family. Above all else, Ninja Turtles is all about the bond between children and the ones who raise them. These aren't four characters that are stuck on a team with one another and won't be all that concerned if one is in danger or decides to quit. These are four brothers and the bond between them is unbreakable. This is something that IDW's storyline, City Fall, focused on as Leonardo joined Shredder's forces. Even as an only child, the connection between these siblings is something anyone can appreciate and the creators always find a way to make sure this aspect is -- forgive the pun -- oozing with emotion and showcasing how important it is to be close with the ones you love. And that's not even getting into the character dynamics they share with their father, Master Splinter, and their two best friends, April O'Neil and Casey Jones. Even if you can't see eye to eye and constantly argue with the ones in your family, it's critical to find a way to move forward and, at the end of the day, realize those are the people that matter the most in your life. No matter what the incarnation may be, being close with the people you care about is a top priority and that is regularly front and center. It's a simple yet effective message that will always stand the test of time.

While the origin story produced a gritty and dark comic book series, the franchise adapted to balance a more lighthearted tone because of the fact its protagonists are teenagers. The story embraces what it's like to be young and obviously, that's something everyone can relate to. Whether you're experiencing those years as you discover the franchise or if they're in your past, we all know what it's like to goof around with the people closest to us, celebrate our favorite food (who else craves pizza after watching TMNT?), and learn from the person we respect the most in life. Even though we're talking about heroes that battle ninjas and save the world from aliens, these elements have the potential to hit close to home for all of us.

Last but most certainly not least, this franchise endures because its characters each have personalities that will always appeal to someone. Leonardo's the leader who just wants to protect his family, Raphael's passion sometimes makes him hot-headed, Michelangelo's the lovable clown, and Donatello's the intellectual one that loves technology. These common yet different qualities always find a way to establish a link to fans and we often select our favorites based on these personalities. Sure, some out there pick a favorite based solely on the mask's color or the weapon, but a majority find the personality to be the most appealing attribute and our preference is something that can change as we grow. How many of you thought Leonardo was lame when you were younger but have a newfound appreciation for the character? No matter how much society may change, these will always be personalities people can connect with.

Relatable characters and an emphasis on family and entertaining action means the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are unlikely to fade away anytime soon. No matter what age you may be when you discover the franchise, these core elements play a prominent role in the franchise's biggest incarnations and are something anyone and everyone can appreciate. Yes, the franchise may have started as a joke, but over the years, the heroes in a half shell have proven they have lasting power and will always find a way to create new fans. As said above, it's a great time to be a fan of the franchise and, considering how popular the new animated show is, it looks like the latest generation's kids will grow up with a whole lot of love for Ninja Turtles. Maybe in 30 years they'll be voicing their opinions about a new TMNT reboot.

Why do YOU think TMNT has stood the test of time and remains popular? Share your thoughts with the world in the comments below!

54 Comments
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Posted by Master_Thief

Rocksteady make a TMNT game PLEASE

Posted by darkbeam

Great article.

Posted by Battle_Forum_Junkie
Posted by i_dont_like_comics
Posted by KEROGA

Beautiful Article. :)))

Posted by MaccyD

Would City Fall be a jumping-on point in the IDW series?

Posted by Blade_R

Nice article, I enjoyed reading it. Weird thing is as a child, I never got into TMNT, some of my friends liked them, but I was into DBZ and never watched the show. But in my freshmen year in high school my parents had another child (My parents had me very young, like 17 &18) and one day when I was visiting (Which is very often, im a family guy lol) my little sister (who was probably 5 at the time) started telling me all about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That's how I found out they remade it, from her. So I started watching it with her and I really got into it too lmao

idk its just funny to me how I never watched or even acknowledged TMNT as a kid and now my little sister is the same age I was when my friends would tell me about TMNT but I never listened but the second my sister did I was more than happy to sit down and watch it with her, and what do you know? I enjoy it a lot.

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Posted by ZZoMBiE13

I had a friend in high school who was a big fan of the original run of turtle comics. He'd draw pictures of the turtles on his book covers in algebra class. He showed me a few of them, but I never was that big a fan of TMNT.

I get why people dig it though. By the time TMNT started getting big originally, I was all into horror movies and such. But yeah, fun ninja antics is pretty universally appealing.

Posted by danhimself

that was my absolute favorite song off of the original live action movie soundtrack...I listened ot it all of the time when I was a kid!

Posted by SpitfirePanda

The animated show from 2006 wasn't bad, but it took the scope of the story too far out, far too fast imo (the shredder should never have been a kraang). The current animated show is a lot more fun, especially since the Shredder and the characters are well defined. Great article.

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Edited by Wolverine08

#TurtlePower

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Posted by MadeinBangladesh

Seriously TMNT movie is a horrible to begin with. THey need to stay as animated.

Anyway, Michael Bay is gonna bastardize franchise and people still go the theaters to watch the crap and make em tons of $$$. -_-

Posted by k4tzm4n

Seriously TMNT movie is a horrible to begin with. THey need to stay as animated.

Anyway, Michael Bay is gonna bastardize franchise and people still go the theaters to watch the crap and make em tons of $$$. -_-

So I take it you're not a fan of the '90 movie?

@darkbeam said:

Great article.

@keroga said:

Beautiful Article. :)))

The animated show from 2006 wasn't bad, but it took the scope of the story too far out, far too fast imo (the shredder should never have been a kraang). The current animated show is a lot more fun, especially since the Shredder and the characters are well defined. Great article.

@blade_r said:

Nice article, I enjoyed reading it. Weird thing is as a child, I never got into TMNT, some of my friends liked them, but I was into DBZ and never watched the show. But in my freshmen year in high school my parents had another child (My parents had me very young, like 17 &18) and one day when I was visiting (Which is very often, im a family guy lol) my little sister (who was probably 5 at the time) started telling me all about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That's how I found out they remade it, from her. So I started watching it with her and I really got into it too lmao

idk its just funny to me how I never watched or even acknowledged TMNT as a kid and now my little sister is the same age I was when my friends would tell me about TMNT but I never listened but the second my sister did I was more than happy to sit down and watch it with her, and what do you know? I enjoy it a lot.

Thank you!

@maccyd said:

Would City Fall be a jumping-on point in the IDW series?

Yes, it's a serviceable jumping on point. If you have the cash, I'd still recommend getting the first trade (change is constant) and Secret History of the Foot Clan. If you're cool with buying digital comics, you have perfect timing because ComiXology currently has a TMNT sale. I can provide a link if you're interested.

Rocksteady make a TMNT game PLEASE

It would be great, wouldn't it?

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Edited by dccomicsrule2011

@madeinbangladesh: ...wait so you didn't like the Original TMNT movie of the 90's either? O_o (I'm not counting the sequels, there were not even a fraction as good as the original)

Also, very nice article - even though it was a little long (that's just because I'm lazy xP)

Posted by Xwraith

This was a great article. I'd actually never thought that much about the family aspect of TMNT until I read this.

Posted by HushoftheWind

I love growing up along side the tmnt being that I'm just 4 years younger than them. Tmnt has always been special to me bc the series, in particularly the various animated series, always seemed to resonate with me as I got older. I love being a turtle.....fan lol

Posted by w0nd

Have you guys seen the new "Turtle Power" documentary that is out right now?

Posted by MaccyD

@k4tzm4n: Actually, the comixology sale is the reason I'm asking. I've heard nothing but praise about the series and the sale gave me the perfect opportunity to check it out.

Posted by MadeinBangladesh

@k4tzm4n: no. They just look goofy and weird live action.

Posted by AllStarSuperman

So happy you went with the Partners in Kryme song, Its my favorite out of all the Turtles theme songs.

that was my absolute favorite song off of the original live action movie soundtrack...I listened ot it all of the time when I was a kid!

I listen to it now....And I hadn't even gotten into the TMNT until like 2 or 3 years ago.

@maccyd said:

Would City Fall be a jumping-on point in the IDW series?

I would highly recommend reading from the beginning, its all great.

#TurtlePower

NINJUTSU!

Posted by MadeinBangladesh

@madeinbangladesh: ...wait so you didn't like the Original TMNT movie of the 90's either? O_o (I'm not counting the sequels, there were not even a fraction as good as the original)

Also, very nice article - even though it was a little long (that's just because I'm lazy xP)

no. As I said, the turtles look weird and goofy live action.

Posted by tparks

Go ninja.

Edited by w0nd

@maccyd said:

Would City Fall be a jumping-on point in the IDW series?

there is a big change before that, and an in depth story about their family. You really should read from the start. it explains why they wear the colors they do, and other minor things that seemed not important that they made important.

Edited by joshmightbe

Seriously TMNT movie is a horrible to begin with. THey need to stay as animated.

Anyway, Michael Bay is gonna bastardize franchise and people still go the theaters to watch the crap and make em tons of $$$. -_-

As i've said many times before, if the franchise can survive "The Next Mutation" they can survive anything.

Posted by StMichalofWilson

###

#TurtlePower

Go Ninja! Go Ninja, Go!

Posted by ScrappyDont27

Great article. TMNT just seems to have that magic to it tat keeps it going

Posted by MuyJingo

I don't think the franchise does have staying power. Between people say 27 - 35 it's remembered primarily as a 90's cartoon that ranks below Rugrats and Ahh!, Real Monsters or as the 90's movies with a hokey Vanilla song. Younger people don't seem to have ever even really watched it, based on unreliable loose conversations with people in their teens / early 20s.

Early reviews from the movie seem to indicate it is bad, and not terribly accurate to any incarnation, although the character personalities are right. The show *is* too kid friendly, and when it stops selling toys it will be cancelled, probably around the time of the movie hitting home video.

The IDW comic is the best shot the franchise has of sticking around, and even that has low numbers, although enough to sustain it.

It seems like the kind of franchise that will be rebooted maybe once a decade in some form, but won't really catch on unless they come up with a formula that works. Which the movie doesn't seem to have done.

Posted by PunyParker

Awesome piece.
Bravo.

Posted by pingclang

Amazing article. I think you definitely hit the nail on the head as to what makes the Turtles stand the test of time. The family dynamic, the amazing personalities and just the fun of the whole concept makes it something we can all love. The Turtles have been in my life for 26 years and that really says something about how good it is. Sure, I grew up on the 80's cartoon that's goofy fun but now that I'm grown I can love the Mirage comics and the current comics. It's great stuff and can't wait to see what the future holds for the brothers four.

Posted by sinestro_GL

This article was a lot longer than it should have been...my article would simply have said, "Because it's awesome!"

Great article, Gregg!

TUUUUUURTLE POWER!

Posted by AmazingWebHead

*sniff* That was beautiful, man.

("Turtle Power"! Thanks! XD)

Posted by chaos911

The turtles will stay for a long time. Btw how long is the average lifespan for a turtle? I know tortoises can live to 100 years but what about turtles?

Posted by Ostyo

@k4tzm4n: I SAID IT ONCE AND I'LL SAY IT AGAIN. MAN, DO I LOVE BEING A TURTLE FAN!

Posted by JackRogue

Great article, I really enjoyed how you went through the animated series. I made a video about the origins using the source material of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Can anybody tell me if I got anything wrong?

Edited by conbar24

@maccyd: Yeah its a good jumping on point, but I'd still recommend the issues before city fall. You'd be missing out on some great stuff if you just skipped them completely.

Posted by BallsMonkey

Chris Sims did an article a little while ago about the same topic. He basically said that it's general strangeness and it's parody nature have what kept it around for so long. I would say that both that and your article are mostly correct.

What helps Turtles connect with their fans is that strong family aspect and great character dynamics between the Turtles. The fact that there's only four of them, and there's a Turtle for pretty much everyone has ensured it's place int he hearts of millions. Plus the characters work in so many different genres (action, comedy, horror, sci-fi), that there's tons of storytelling potential.

What helps the Turtles appeal in terms of the mainstream is just the general parody and whimsical nature of it. Unlike other comic book superheroes, they don't take themselves too seriously. They have fun with all the standard tropes of the genre without losing sight of just how ridiculous it all is. TMNT always worked best when it wasn't following the same paths as Batman, or Spider-Man, or X-Men, because it really can't, it doesn't have the same weight as those. TMNT has carved a nice little niche for itself amongst a broad audience. It's the one parody that's truly withstood the test of time. It's the "Weird Al" of comic book superheroes.

Posted by BallsMonkey

@muyjingo said:

I don't think the franchise does have staying power. Between people say 27 - 35 it's remembered primarily as a 90's cartoon that ranks below Rugrats and Ahh!, Real Monsters or as the 90's movies with a hokey Vanilla song. Younger people don't seem to have ever even really watched it, based on unreliable loose conversations with people in their teens / early 20s.

Early reviews from the movie seem to indicate it is bad, and not terribly accurate to any incarnation, although the character personalities are right. The show *is* too kid friendly, and when it stops selling toys it will be cancelled, probably around the time of the movie hitting home video.

The IDW comic is the best shot the franchise has of sticking around, and even that has low numbers, although enough to sustain it.

It seems like the kind of franchise that will be rebooted maybe once a decade in some form, but won't really catch on unless they come up with a formula that works. Which the movie doesn't seem to have done.

Sorry, but I just have to completely disagree. You can't say a franchise that has gone on for 30 years doesn't have staying power. It's survived through both the 80's and 90's while others from that era like Thundercats, Transformers, and Power Rangers pretty much coast by off nostalgia alone. It's been funny, it's been serious, it's evolved with the times. Others have been too one-note to grow, but TMNT continues to be a viable franchise.

I saw the new movie, its good. Not great, but good. Pretty much on par with the 90's movies, it'll do fine, it'll make money. But you're wrong about the IDW comic. It's great, but is pretty much driven by the nostalgia of older fans. The new cartoon will ensure the franchise's longevity. It's proven to be massively popular with older fans while hooking a whole new generation of kids, kids who will grow up with fond memories of TMNT just like we did. They'll continue to support the franchise through their youth, then grow out of it, then return to hit with they hit their 20's, share the next incarnation of Turtles with their kids, and bitch about the next reboot movie while reliving the glory dayd of the "original" Michael Bay movie. It's an endless cycle.

Posted by KidSupreme

Turtles Rule!

Posted by Lurkero

I think any franchise can be long lasting with the right marketing and timing

Each iteration of TMNT takes on the mood of that generation. I don't read TMNT comics, but each of the cartoons are well done for their time

Posted by BiteMe-Fanboy

No matter what generation, the Ninja Turtles will always catch the attention of youngsters and a lot of them will still enjoy TMNT when they get older.. It'll be a continuous cycle.. But I don't ever see Ninja Turtles being as popular and huge as it was in the late 80's-early 90's. Kids were literally obsessed. Me being one of them.

Posted by mattwing87

TMNT has been my favorite franchise since I was 3 and I am now 27. I had a shit ton of action figures and I enjoyed all the movies and each animated series. I always enjoyed the "family" aspect of the turtles and how each had their own personality and a master of their own weapon. I love when they switched weapons around and couldn't handle each other's weapons lol.

I am not looking forward to the new TMNT movie. I don't like how they look or the apparent changes to their personality. Raphael, my favorite, sounds like an uneducated gangsta like Mudflap and Skids in Transformers 2. They also seem to be lacking the "family" aspect. I have decided NOT to see TMNT in theaters since I am not that excited for it as should be and I don't want give any money to Michael Bay. I'll probably just download it and check it out myself.

Posted by Avenging-X-Bolt

Great article bro.

Posted by LyraFay

Nice article. I remember that 90s movie and there was live action series too wasn't there?

Posted by TheFirstLantern

my dad started watching the animated series and he loves it. he know wants to watch the movie.

Posted by superior_prime_maybe

This is a great time to be a fan of the turtles. With the nick series, and the idw comics.
I really hope the nick series get an animated movie with a big budget

Posted by The_Titan_Lord

Nice article.

Edited by MuyJingo

@ballsmonkey: I think you misunderstood me. I completely agree it has had staying power to this point. I don't think it has staying power to continue much further into the future. You mention Thundercats, Transformers and Power Rangers, with Transformers and Power Rangers the only franchises of these four to do more than coast along on nostalgia. TMNT is trying to get to that level with the new show and movie, but I just don't see it happening.

The movie sounds like a flop going by early reviews, and since it's such a nostalgia driven franchise, if the movie clashes too much in a bad way with what people imagine the franchise should be, it's going to do badly. The show is purely toyetic, and when sales die down, expect the show to also.

I guess we will just have to wait and see where things are another 10 years from now.

Posted by BallsMonkey

@muyjingo: But Turtles has already passed that level. The fact that there is a new show and new movie proves that. Nickelodeon wouldn't have paid $6 mil for the franchise if it didn't have staying power. And the fact that the show is a huge hit proves it more. Power Rangers has never had a hit since Might Morphin, and the repeated recent attempts to re-capture that shows there's not much to it other than nostalgia. Transformers never had enough depth to appeal past it's premise. TMNT's premise is what hooks people, it's character depth is what keeps people there.

The movie isn't gonna flop. It's not gonna break the box office, but it's not gonna flop. It's an okay movie, a good kids movie. They'll like it, they'll support it, it'll hold the number 2 spot. It gets the characters right and that's all that really matters.

And also, all those shows I mentioned before, as well as all boys action franchises, are toy-driven. All of them. Their success is made or broken by ti;s toyline. Just show happens Turtles is one of the best at it. It's part of the reason why it's lasted so long while others like Samurai Jack, Gargoyles, and Young Justice die early. Commercial success.

Posted by MuyJingo

@ballsmonkey: You can't say it has already passed that level, we are not far enough into the future to say. Nickelodeon paid for the franchise because they are taking a gamble. Yes, I'm sure they did their research and everything, but it's still a gamble, just like the people who purchased the rights to the Terminator franchise.

In fact, we could make an interesting comparison with the Terminator franchise. There have been 4 movies, 3 of which did very well at the box office and had a very positive reception from critics and general movie goers. The franchise has launched novels, comics, pinball machines, arcade games, video games and even a brief TV show.

Does the franchise have staying power to continue for another decade? Well, it's hard to say. The shift between casts and directors seemed to hurt the fourth movie, and a lot depends on the 5th movie which is meant to be a reboot of sorts. Sort of how this TMNT movie is.

Maybe the reboot will be successful and we will get more movies over the next 10 years. Or maybe it just ends. It could also go either way for TMNT. The movie could flop, and toy sales could run out of steam to sustain the show. 6 mill for a franchise is not much at all, and if they generate 100 mil from that, they've done well. I'd bet money the franchise gets sold in the next 2 years.

We have to wait and see what the future holds. We both have different predictions, so...let's wait and see :)

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