Twenty years ago today, the live-action take on Eastman and Laird's trailblazing indie comic hit the big screen. And you should thank it for changing Hollywood for the geekier.
There had been comic book-based movies before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — Superman and Superman II, Tim Burton's Batman, Swamp Thing, Howard the Duck, to name a few — but if you'll look at that list, one thing is clear: the films that had heroes that were part of the fabric of Americana did well, and the ones that didn't, didn't.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles changed all that. Based on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's movement-defining independent comic, TMNT cost New Line Cinema a mere $13.5 million to make and raked in more than $200 million worldwide — and this was in 1990, back when $200 million counted for something. In the wake of that success, Hollywood studio executives took notice and started looking deeper into the comics catalog for material, rolling out a bounty of films based on relatively unknown characters: The Rocketeer (1991), The Crow (1994), The Mask (1994), Tank Girl (1995), Judge Dredd (1995), Men in Black (1997), Spawn (1997), and Blade (1998). Some hit it big, some didn't, but the gates to the comic mines had been flung open, never to close again.
As for the movie itself...it's okay. The comics' pulpy arch seriousness — you can, after all, play it but so straight when your heroes are turtle martial artists — was eschewed for a more playful, merchandisable tone. There was a little too much breakdancing and pizza.. But the kung-fu was solid, the character-design brilliance remained intact (four irradiated turtles, each who wields a different weapon while taking on the name of a Renaissance master? Come on!), and the usually tricky origin story stuck the landing.
So, hey, if you're hoisting a glass today, or obsessing over every last millisecond of the Scott Pilgrim trailer (sqeeee!), give a silent toast to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The movies would be a far less awesome place without it.