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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) Poster

Trivia

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This was the highest-grossing independent film of all time, having made $135 million in domestic box office and $66 million in the foreign box office.
Robin Williams, who was a big fan of the franchise, provided Judith Hoag with information regarding her character through his comic book collection; the two were co-starring in Cadillac Man (1990) when the Turtles film went into production.
The actors who physically portrayed the Turtles also had cameo roles in the film:
  • Josh Pais, who plays Raphael, plays a passenger in the back of a taxicab right after Raphael hops on the cab's hood


  • Michelan Sisti, who plays Michaelangelo, plays the pizza delivery man who delivers the pizza to the Turtles' sewer


  • Leif Tilden, who plays Donatello, plays the Foot messenger that meets April in the subway station


  • and David Forman, who plays Leonardo, plays a gang member in the warehouse during Casey's fight with Tatsu.


Judith Hoag was not asked to reprise her role as April in the film's sequels due to her own personal complaining - particularly about the six-day schedule and the amount of violence in the movie.
In the script and novelization, the young boy that Tatsu attacks was to die from the beating. The sounds of the boy breathing and others saying he would be all right were added at the last minute after the movie ratings board objected to the scene. In the French version of the movie, Shinsho does die.
A week before the movie opened, Mark Friedman gave a special screening for his partners at Playmates Toys, the company that produced the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) line of action figures. To his surprise they hated it and declined to produce any movie based toys off of the film due to the violent content language and overall dark tone the movie presented. It was 24 years later when Playmates decided to finally make merchandise based on this movie when they released toys of the four turtles.
Originally, Steve Barron wished to replicate April O'Neil's jumpsuit look from the early Mirage comics and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) cartoon. The look was going to closer resemble the cartoon with a yellow colored jumpsuit and a big head of red hair (as opposed to a green jumpsuit and brown hair). However, Judith Hoag found the jumpsuit "horrifying" and the idea was nixed. The yellow raincoat April wears in the beginning of the movie is a homage to the yellow jumpsuit she wears in the 1987 cartoon.
The film was set in New York City, but actually much of the filming took place in North Carolina, with only a couple of location shoots done in New York City to capture famous landmark areas.
Jim Henson, whose workshop provided the movie's turtle costumes, was reportedly upset about the level of violence in the finished movie. While he was proud to have helped advance the art of animatronics, he viewed the violence as "excessive, pointless, and not his style." However, as Steve Barron had directed the pilot episode of The Storyteller (1987) which set the tone for the entire series, Henson agreed to do it as sort of a favor to Barron.
Josh Pais (Raphael) suffers from claustrophobia; so after filming Raphael's scenes, he would have to take the helmet off very quickly.
Brian Tochi (the voice of Leonardo) and Robbie Rist (the voice of Michaelangelo) are the only actors who appeared in all three live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies.
The Foot Clan is a parody of the Hand, a clan of ninjas from the Marvel comics.
All three newswomen seen or mentioned in the film are named after a month: April, May, and June.
In the comics and the cartoons, the turtles are around 3-4ft. tall. However, for obvious costuming reasons, the turtles are the same height as April, Casey, Shredder, and the Foot Clan (Between 5'6-6'0).
During the battle with Shredder, Leonardo is the only turtle to successfully land a strike when he hit Shredder on his arm with his sword.
According to the audio commentary on the German version of the DVD the movie was originally planned to be made and released in the mid-1980s, before the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) cartoon was on the air. The movie was intended to be a direct comic book adaption, but no studio or country (except France and Germany) wanted to invest in the project.
Toward the end of the movie, one of the street punks says to the police chief "Check out the East Warehouse over on Lairdman Island." The creators of the Ninja Turtles were Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.
In the original trailer, there is a shot of the turtles rising up from what looks like a swamp. The shot was cut from the final release but is part of a longer scene that was later used near the end of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991).
It took three puppeteers to operate the Splinter puppet. Kevin Clash performs the puppet while the facial expressions are remote controlled by another puppeteer and the arms are controlled by the puppeteer who works along with Kevin during the performances of the puppet.
Editor Sally Menke, primarily known for collaborating with Quentin Tarantino, made her feature film debut working on this film.
All of the shirts that Danny wears in the film have a picture of The Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious on them.
In the Foot Warehouse, the boxes in the foreground near the skate half-pipe read Mirage. This is a reference to Mirage Comics, the comic book company that originally published Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's "Ninja Turtles" comic.
In the film, April is a reporter for Channel 3. In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) cartoon, she was a reporter for Channel 6.
To help disguise how cumbersome and slow the turtles' costumes were, dialogue scenes were shot at 23fps (frames per second), so that when they were played at the normal speed of 24fps they appeared a bit sharper. For the same reason, fight scenes were shot at 22 or 23fps.
The four Turtles are named after artists of the Italian Renaissance: Donatello Bardi (1386-1466), Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519), Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), and Raffaelo Santi (1483-1520). The names of Michaelangelo and Raphael as Turtles have been Anglicized.
Josh Pais as Raphael is the only actor who physically portrays and voices the same turtle; all the other turtles are portrayed by both body and voice actors.
Many major studios such as Walt Disney Pictures, Columbia Pictures, MGM/UA, Orion Pictures, Paramount (whose parent company Viacom would acquire the TMNT property in 2009) and Warner Bros. turned down the film for distribution as they were worried that despite the popularity of the cartoon and the toy line the film could potentially be a box office disappointment like Masters of the Universe (1987) was just a couple years prior. The film finally found distribution roughly halfway through the initial production via the then small and independent production company New Line Cinema which at that point had been known more for distributing low budget B movies and arthouse fare.
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The motors that were built into each Turtle head to create facial expressions were packed very tightly into it and very uncomfortable for the performers in the suit. Josh Pais has described the noise 'like being in Grand Central Station at rush hour with a tin can over your head'.
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There are also numerous deleted scenes (mostly on the farm) that give the four turtles much more character development, expanding on April and Casey's romance, and would put later scenes into a different context:
  • April and Casey's reaction to Mikey's "turtle wax" joke was originally one of relief after he goes through a severe depression where he destroys a punching bag and part of the barn's wall.


  • An extended training sequence where Leo proves a point by turning his mask around and fighting blind followed by the other Turtles taking turns doing the same. The scene rather famously has Donatello sporting a straw hat.


  • Various scenes of the Turtles training on their own or in pairs trying to master the technique Leo shows them earlier.


  • Some of the April and Casey scenes involve him trying to help her with a stuck truck door while she declines and exits on the driver's side. Another leads into the scene of the two of them talking on the porch swing where the night before she shows him her drawings the Turtles but tries to hide the one she did of him in a beanie, they both share a laugh over it.


  • A game of "ninja hot potato" where the Turtles toss around an apple and the holder has to defend against the other three while taking a bite out of it. It makes the later scene where Raph finishes off an apple after defeating a squad of Foot ninjas a call back.


According to Josh Pais on the podcast 'I Was There Too', the director Steve Barron was fired near the end of production as the producers though the film would become too dark. It is uncertain how different the film would have been if he had final cut.
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Jim Henson's Creature Shop's London based crew worked long hours to construct several versions of each Turtle over the course of the ten-week pre-production period. The costumes had to be perfect down to the last detail and were handcrafted by Henson artists.
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When Raphael got knocked into the trashcan by Casey Jones, the face and the animatronics inside head caved in and broke the stunt guy's nose. Raph's original stunt guy is replaced by one of the Foot Soldier stuntman named Ken Thorne. Ken did a lot of the major scenes as a Foot Soldier, including the nunchuck face off against Michelangelo.
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After design sketches were created, the construction team used the studios' backlot to create some of the sets. There were problems with the manholes that led to the Turtles' home, in that an eight-foot square room had to be constructed beneath them, but found water at about five-feet, and thus had to pour concrete into the underground rooms to keep the water out.
In the 1980s, the first pitch Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird got for a film treatment was from schlockmeister Roger Corman's New World Pictures. The idea was to have the Turtles played by four comedians who were popular at the time - Gallagher, Sam Kinison, Bobcat Goldthwait and Billy Crystal. The actors would be dressed in turtle shells and have their arms and legs painted green. Another treatment received at the time took the Turtles into R-rated territory and included a scene with partially nude nuns on roller skates fighting the heroes.
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Golden Harvest approached Limelight Entertainment about co-producing the film with Limelight's Steve Barron tapped as director. Barron had recently directed several episodes of The Storyteller (1987) for Jim Henson. Golden Harvest knew that a live action TMNT movie would require extensive use of animatronics and Barron's experience in that field would be invaluable to the production.
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For the flashback of the turtles growing up, Steve Barron was going for a retro look and decided these scenes would be shot on Super 8 film. Because these scenes used real turtles as well as a mini puppet young Splinter and young Turtles, they were time consuming scenes and were given to the second unit under second unit director Brian Henson.
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The Turtles themselves were created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop in London. Jim Henson said that the creatures were the most advanced that he had ever worked with. The creatures were first made out of fiberglass, and then remolded out of clay. They were produced as molds to cast the whole body in foam rubber latex. The work at the Shop was completed within 18 weeks.
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Mark Freedman strongly felt that a theatrical release for the Turtles was necessary if the property was to maintain its popularity
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When getting this movie started, Mark Friedman knew it would have to offer a significantly different experience from the Fred Wolf produced animated TV show. Therefore, an effort was made to make this movie stay as close as possible to the vision co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird presented in their original comic book series.
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Actor and martial artist Ernie Reyes Jr. was brought in to replace an injured Hong Kong stuntman who had initially performed Donatello's stunts. Reyes Jr. said the suit got so hot during filming, that he had to drink a gallon of water a day just to keep hydrated.
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The scene where Raphael exits the movie theater was originally going to be different. There would have been no poster for Critters (1986) showing, and Raphael would have commented, "Cool car. Stupid costume." This would have been a reference to Batman (1989), which was in theaters during the filming of this movie.
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Pizza Hut engaged in a $20 million marketing campaign tied into the film (despite the fact that Domino's Pizza was used as product placement in the film itself). Items included advertising in print, radio and television, and several rebate coupons.
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The movie's budget was just over 13 million, roughly one-third of what Batman (1989) had cost. To produce a special effects blockbuster, the studio had to spend money carefully. Unexpected help from the state of North Carolina who offered to help with work permits to drum up business for the bankrupt Dino De Laurentiis studios in Wilmington North Carolina which had been taken over by the state. Establishing shots of iconic elements like the New York City skyline and its subway systems were filmed on location in the Big Apple, as they couldn't easily replicated on a North Carolina soundstage.
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To get the right design for the sets, production designer Roy Forge Smith and art director Gary Wissner went to New York City four months prior to filming and took still photographs of rooftops and other various locations.
Scott Wolf has an early role as a Foot recruit.
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With the exclusion of Josh Pais, all the actors who voiced the Turtles in this film later voiced characters in TMNT shows.
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Professor Toru Tanaka was originally considered for the role of Master Tatsu before Toshishiro Obata got the part.
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Live Entertainment Inc. announced that the film would go to VHS via its Family Home Entertainment label on October 4, 1990. The suggested price was $24.99 per cassette.
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At one of the first story meetings, director Steve Barron had met with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird to go through the comics. Barron told them "the movie's right there" to which the co-creators approved. Todd Langen was hired to write the final script.
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Filming began in July 1989, a mere two weeks after the theatrical release of Batman (1989). Two months were allocated for filming and the production came together much faster than a typical Henson project.
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One of the writers, Bobby Herbeck, wrote Casey Jones to have a cricket bat after attending a Cricket game with director Steve Barron. The cricket bat was not in the original Raphael #1 comic.
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The first scene in the opening credits is a zoom into a New York sewer. This is an iconic shot from the title sequence of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987).
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David Forman would play Leonardo again for the 2nd and last time, when he made a cameo in Bernard and the Genie (1991), where Leonardo is a little boy's doll which magically comes to life and demonstrates some martial-arts fighting skills.
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Russell Mulcahy was considered to direct.
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This is the first time that the Turtles use their Short Names, being Leo for Leonardo, Donnie for Donatello, Raph for Raphael, and Mikey for Michelangelo, which they generally refer to themselves in Every Incarnation but the Original Comics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) and TMNT (2007).
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Corey Feldman said he was offered only $1,500 US Dollars to do voice work for this film. Corey accepted, believing the producers who told him that this was only a small low-budget independent film, hoping that it would have moderate success on VHS, if they were lucky. The movie ended up making millions of dollars at the box office.
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When Donatello ("Donnie") shows Michaelangelo the old pizza that was left over by Danny a few days earlier, Donnie asks "Do you like penicillin on your pizza?" This is a hint that the pizza has gone bad and is covered with mold. Mold is the origin of the antibiotics known as penicillin. That the pizza is ruined is confirmed when both Donatello and Michaelangelo starts to hum the military funeral tune "Taps" to indicate the pizza is inedible.
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The scene where April is being delivered the message by the foot, it says it's the City Hall station, but was actually filmed at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn G train station in Brooklyn.
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In the background of one of the shots of the city, there is a clear poster for Critters (1986) hanging on a wall outside a theatre.
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Benny Urquidez & Richard Norton were considered for the role of Casey Jones & were also considered to do fight choreography for the movie as well.
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Jeff Imada, James Lew & Kam Yuen were considered for fight choreography on this film.
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Cameo 

Kevin Eastman: creator of "Ninja Turtles", a citizen.
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

The plot is heavily inspired by stories from Kevin Eastman-Peter Laird's original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" comics:
  • 'The Turtles Origin is Told' (the origin of the turtles is told by Master Splinter and the team fight and defeat The Shredder)


  • 'Me, Myself and I' (Raphael encounters Casey Jones for the first time)


  • 'What Goes Around Comes Around' (the Foot Clan critically wounds a Turtle)


  • 'Silent Partner' (a fight in April's home between the Foot and the Turtles and Casey)


  • 'True Stories' (the Turtles hide out at April's farm to convalescence)


  • and 'Return to New York' (the Turtles finally confront the Foot and the Shredder).


In the original ending, after the Turtles have defeated The Shredder and they are celebrating on the rooftop, a scene was to follow where April and Danny go to a comic book publisher to pitch an idea of walking talking turtles. The publisher rejects the idea, thinking the idea is too far fetched, all the while unknown to him the Turtles are watching through the building window. Michaelangelo seems to fall, but it's revealed he's hanging on the ledge, commenting on what he just heard. The clip can be seen online, featuring the voices of the on set performers for the Turtles, before their voices were dubbed for the final cut.
The gang member who snitches to the cops at the conclusion, is a young Sam Rockwell. He also delivers the line "Regular or Menthol" when asked if he had smokes.

See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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