Heroes in a half-shell, turtle power! I think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a popular franchise that kind of surprised everybody with how well it was received. I mean, if you think about it, the premise is pretty weird. Four turtle brothers are mutated into humanoid creatures and raised by a mutated rat in the art of ninjutsu. They use those skills to protect New York from various villains, including other ninjas, aliens, and more. Sounds pretty crazy, right?
What makes TMNT so popular? Why do people like it so much? I think part of it is the strangeness of the story. These guys are truly unique and it makes for some rather fun scenarios to play out. It also helps that the turtles in most versions are pretty entertaining. Another factor is likely a childhood nostalgia. Many grew up with the TMNT animated series or reading the comics. Either way, the Ninja Turtles is an homage back to when they were kids.
Yet it isn’t always about pizza, crazy catchphrases, and funny quips from our turtle heroes. In fact, TMNT can get pretty dark sometimes. And the franchise itself has quite a few dark secrets and facts hiding in the shadows. Whether it’s to do with the original comics, the various animated TV shows, or the movies, the TMNT franchise isn’t afraid to get a little dark sometimes.
So, here are 20 dark facts that you likely didn’t know about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Think we missed a few? Be sure to let us know!
20 Cut Down Before Its Time
Between 2003 and 2009, an animated series of TMNT aired by Fox 4Kids. It was quite a bit darker than the previous animated series, hearkening back to the original comics. While it definitely has its lighter more humorous moments, it’s not afraid to get a little more intense. But sometimes even this show went too far in some of its ideas.
There was going to be an episode titled “Nightmares Recycled” that would bring back the Garbage Man, a rather unsavory villain. It was also going to show that this villain used to be some sort conjoined twin to Hun, one of Shredder’s main henchmen, and was separated from him and discarded. Apparently, the script was approved and some of the animation was done, but Fox pulled the plug, deeming it too disturbing. It would’ve made for a rather interesting episode at least. I guess we’ll never know.
19 He Has A Heart Of Steel... Literally
We all know that Donnie is the genius of the turtles, and he loves anything to do with machines and technology. Depending on the medium and version of Donnie, his inventions ranged from ridiculous to incredibly futuristic. But apparently Donnie himself has become a robot/cyborg in quite a few different versions and stories.
Most versions of TMNT had some sort of apocalyptic story arc/crazy what-if scenarios. And in many of them, Donnie winds up having his body destroyed so much that they make him a robot. In the Nickelodeon animated series, Donnie’s brain is uploaded into a robot after his body is destroyed. In the Mirage comics, he becomes a cyborg after an explosion heavily injures him. And the list goes on. Apparently, people love the idea of Donnie becoming the very thing he loves. It is kind of poetic, and he’d probably be the turtle to be mostly likely okay with that outcome.
18 It’s The End Of The World... No, Seriously
If you haven’t kept up with the animated series that Nickelodeon put out, you’re missing out. The series ended up being quite good, having a great mixture of intense fight scenes with light-hearted humor. But there is one story arc that is really out there.
In the arc “Raphael: Mutant Apocalypse,” a giant bomb of mutagen wiped out all of humanity and left the Earth a wasteland. Now, only mutants have survived and have split up into their own tribes. The entire arc is quite the homage to Mad Max. But the real secret is that there’s no indication that this arc is a what-if scenario. Most apocalypse scenarios are usually passed off as either a dream sequence, an alternate future, etc. But in this case, it seems that this reality is going to happen.
17 He's Really Not Okay
In the 4Kids TMNT animated series, there’s a season where something is... off about Leo. Throughout a good portion of season 4, Leo is much angrier and more paranoid, so much that his brothers start to notice and get worried. This takes place after the turtles went up against and were almost killed by the Shredder.
While the show doesn’t ever come out and say it, and many kids probably wouldn’t catch it, Leo has a textbook case of PTSD. He’s more short-tempered and he’s constantly on guard. While we don’t know for sure if he has nightmares and flashbacks, his behavior is of someone suffering from PTSD. It’s actually pretty interesting since a lot of kids shows don’t really get into the aftermath of a dangerous mission. They usually show the heroes brushing it off and being fine. But in this case, Leo isn’t fine, and it takes quite the interesting spiritual quest in order for him to confront these issues.
16 It’s All About The Toys
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has become such a popular franchise that it’s hard to imagine it not existing. But the reason the story took off as well as it did is mostly through toys. This has continued throughout most of the life of the franchise. Yes, the different TV shows and movies have done well, but it’s the merchandise where the real money was made.
This is a little depressing because in this case the series didn’t get started simply because people thought it was an interesting story; they just wanted to sell toys off of it. Then again, those TV shows and movies likely wouldn’t have come about if it weren’t for the merchandise, and TMNT wouldn’t have become as iconic as it is now.
15 Becoming Your Enemy
The Image Comics version of TMNT were known for being darker and a little bizarre. The series from 1996 were particularly cruel to our heroes. In this story arc, Donnie was blown up and made into a cyborg, Leo lost a hand, Splinter became a mutant bat (I don’t even know), and Raph got horrifically scarred.
The craziest thing though is that Raphael becomes Shredder! Yeah, he starts wearing a version of Shredder’s armor (who by this point was dead) and eventually becomes the leader of the Foot Clan. There also may be a bit of an homage to this storyline in the 2003 animated series. One of the episodes has the brothers facing their fears, and Raph’s version has him fighting the Shredder, which then turns out to be himself.
14 Turtle Girl Power?
Did you know that TMNT had a live-action series? Yep, it was called The Next Mutation, and it was pretty bad, to be honest. If you thought the 1987 series was cheesy and campy, it had nothing on this series. One element that it introduced was the concept of female mutant turtles. Yeah, it all went downhill from there.
There actually is a female mutant turtle called Venus de Milo. Apparently, she was with the other turtle brothers and was mutated along with them, but Splinter somehow overlooked her. She was raised by a man named Chung and trained in the art of Shinobi. She’s actually only appeared in The Next Mutation, and has not been included in any other reiteration of TMNT. I guess fans didn’t really like her.
13 An Epic Pizza Battle
We know our heroes in a half-shell love pizza. Ever since the 1987 series, it’s become a huge part of their personalities and image. And it continued to the live-action movies. But did you know that Pizza Hut and Dominos fought over who would sponsor the movies?
Yep, we had two major pizza chains fighting over who would get to sponsor the Ninja Turtles movies. In the end Pizza Hut won, but Dominos got to be the featured pizza that the turtles ate. Next time you’re watching the movies, take a good look at the pizza they’re eating; it’s totally Dominos. It makes sense that you’d want to be associated with the fictional characters that love pizza the most. So, I guess they both won. Man, now I want pizza.
12 Whitewashing Their Humans
April O’Neil has become one of the iconic characters in TMNT, and is best known as the turtles’ first contact with the outside world. She’s the first human to befriend the turtles, and she often ends up helping them out on their missions and adventures. While her personality has changed from reiteration, she’s remained constant in her appearance, which draws from the 1987 series. In most versions, April is white and has reddish-brown hair.
But here’s the thing: April wasn’t white in the original comics. In fact, while they never say it, she looks like she’s likely African American. At the very least, she is shown having much darker skin and has curly hair. So basically, April got whitewashed when the series went to the silver screen. Sadly this isn’t that surprising, but it’s still pretty insane.
11 Their Origins Are A Joke
It’s hard to imagine the world without the Ninja Turtles, but did you know that their origins came from a joke? The whole concept started out as a drawing of a turtle ninja Kevin Eastman made as a joke. Peter Laird then drew his own drawings of it in response. It actually wasn’t meant to go anywhere and was just something the two found amusing.
Later, the concept was explored more and the two created their own comic series from it. It then got picked up by Fred Wolf at Murakami-Wolf-Swenson to be turned into a TV series and the rest is history. It’s kind of crazy how such a huge franchise came about because two guys were messing around and making silly drawings. Inspiration really can come from the most unlikely places.
10 This Episode Never Made It To U.S. Screens
The 2003 Fox 4Kids animated TMNT series had quite a few dark episodes. But there was one episode that was fully completed, but never actually aired in the U.S. because it was so dark. The episode, titled “Insane in the Membrane” stars Dr. Stockman, and it has very Frankenstein horror feel to it.
This episode follows Dr. Stockman as he tries to create a new human body (his own body has been destroyed and he’s been reduced to a floating brain residing in various robots). He’s successful, but the body slowly starts deteriorating, along with his mind. The episode itself is actually quite good, and it gives us an interesting look into the psyche of Dr. Stockman. But Fox Broadcasting Standards and Practices pulled the episode, saying it was way too disturbing for their audience (which is valid, since it got pretty gruesome). It was aired in the UK and was included in the season 4 DVD, so you can still watch it.
9 Splinter Had Ulterior Motives
Most versions of Master Splinter in TMNT have him as the wise, older sensei rat the turtles look up to as their teacher and their father. He’s often portrayed to be compassionate, yet tough as nails. It’s also said that he trained the four turtles in ninjutsu as a way for them to blend in the shadows and defend themselves. But did you know that Splinter had a much darker reason for training them?
In the original comics, Splinter actually trained the four turtle brothers to become ninja assassins for the sole purpose of eventually taking out Oroku Saki, also known as The Shredder. This was a revenge quest, since Shredder had killed Splinter’s master. Wow, that’s a pretty messed up thing for Splinter to do.
8 This Scene Was Going To Be Much Darker
If you’ve seen the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie that came out in 1990, you may remember a scene where Shredder’s right-hand man, Tatsu, completely loses it and starts pummelling a lowly Foot solider. The others manage to stop him before too much damage is done, but it was a great way to show his rage, and it showed why the purple dragons gang started distrusting him.
But what you may not know is that Tatsu was supposed to kill that soldier. This scene has actually played out in the original comics, and in that version, Tatsu killed the soldier. The movie was originally going to stick with the death, but it was rewritten since it was seen as a little dark for this movie’s demographic. Either way, it’s still a great scene that shows that Tatsu is a man to be feared.
7 Going On Tour
So, we know that Pizza Hut helped sponsored a lot of things TMNT related, such as the live-action movies, but what you may not know is that they also sponsored a live concert tour called Coming Out of Their Shells. Yeah, it’s as bad as it sounds. Basically, you have guys dressed up in rather scary-looking versions of the turtles jumping around on stage and... playing guitars? It really is kind of bizarre.
The whole thing was really just a spectacle to get people interested in both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Pizza Hut. It was pretty much shameless marketing to both franchises. But I guess it worked, since a lot of the fans liked it, though critics hated it. Hey, whatever works and makes money, I guess.
6 Their Favorite Human Isn’t Actually Human
April O’Neil is famous in the TMNT franchise for often being the turtle’s first human contact and friend. She’s the proof that humans could see the four mutant brothers as themselves and not as monsters. But here’s the plot twist that many people don’t know about: April isn’t human.
In the original comics, it’s revealed that she’s actually a drawing come to life, courtesy of a man named Kirby King, who can create living drawings. So, while she may look and act human in every way, she actually isn’t. This idea of April not being human also shows up in the Nickelodeon animated series. In this version, April is partially human, but also part alien. She even has some pretty sweet psychic powers as a result of it.
5 These Were Darker Times
When most people think of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they think of the iconic 1987 series that gave us wise-cracking turtles who loved pizza, made corny jokes, and occasionally fought Shredder. This series was very light-hearted. But what you may not know is that the original comics that started the whole franchise were actually much darker.
The comics had a lot more violence, swearing, blood, and even the occasional drinking. In fact, one of the creators, Peter Laird, was upset by how the TV series had lightened up the turtles considerably. He had wished that they had retained some of the darker qualities of the comics and not made the series so campy. Personally, I’d have to agree with Laird that a darker TMNT series would be awesome. But some of the newer animated shows have had fun playing around with darker tones (The Fox 4Kids version went to some pretty dark places), so at least we have that.
4 Piece By Piece
In the 4Kids TMNT animated series, Dr. Stockman was an incredibly smart villain who had a serious case of megalomania. He worked for the Shredder in developing some pretty insane technology. But if he failed the Shredder, the consequences were pretty terrible for him.
Basically every time Dr. Stockman failed the Shredder, Shredder would take a part of his body. So as the series progressed, we slowly saw Stockman replacing his body with robotic parts as the shredder was gradually dismembering him. This isn’t a secret, but it’s a fact that I think many didn’t catch the first time they watched it. I know I didn’t quite grasp just how disturbing this was. I mean, the guy was slowly taking this poor doctor apart piece by piece. Yeesh, I would not wish that fate on anyone.
3 You Better Lawyer Up
This isn’t all that surprising that a franchise as big as TMNT would get some lawsuits. Any big company/franchise is bound to have a few here and there. Most of the lawsuits involve money, and some involve the usage of creative rights. Though some of these lawsuits proved to be rather interesting, if not downright bizarre.
Several people have sued TMNT for stealing their ideas, one man even claiming that his idea came from God. More recently, the filmmakers of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (1990) are suing the rights holders for earnings they hadn’t been paid. And it looks like this particular lawsuit may go up against one of the biggest film studios in the world: Warner Bros. At the very least, this should be interesting.
2 No Ninjas Allowed
Apparently at one point, ninjas were blacklisted in entertainment in the UK. The word “ninja” had been deemed by local censorship policies to be too violent for children’s programming. So, what did they do with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? They replaced “Ninja” with “Hero.” So, there is a version of the 1987 TMNT animated series that is actually TMHT.
The censorship in the UK took it a step further and edited out Mikey’s nunchaku (since that particular weapon was banned from appearing in 18-rated films), and toned down the usage of all the turtles’ weapons. Interestingly enough, those policies changed over time so that later versions of TMNT kept the weaponry and the name as well. You can still find those versions of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Censorship always makes things interesting.
1 Teenage Mutant Ninja Killers
You’d think that since these guys are ninjas, we’d associate them more with death. But the 1987 animated series showed the turtles as more fun-loving and much less violent than their earlier counterparts. But if you look at the original comics, the turtle brothers have actually killed quite a few people. Besides enemies like the Shredder, they’ve also killed many Foot Soldier ninjas. These guys had no problems taking a life.
Even in the later TMNT animated shows, there have been cases where the turtles killed someone. They (sort of) killed Shredder in the Fox 4Kids version multiple times. In the Nickelodeon version, they actually succeeded in killing the Shredder, and they’ve killed a few other enemies and aliens. The ninja turtles aren’t quite the party dudes you might think they are.