The Genesis of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

On March 30, 1990, a force disrupted the American film business known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Despite critics who almost universally dissed the film, Turtle fans showed up in record numbers to prove wrong both critics and all of the studios that had turned down the opportunity to produce a film based on the comic books and graphic novels that Mirage Studios had introduced to the world from North Hampton, Massachusetts six years before. Mirage was Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman who had created the characters and story then self-published a comic series that is iconic in the extreme.

The movie smashed box office records for an independently produced film and gave New Line Cinema another feather in its multi-layered hat where the Freddie Kruger franchise of Friday the 13th movies had propelled the small distributor into notoriety and to future acquisition by Warner Brothers.

This is the story of how the Turtles came together as a movie as told by the writer and producer of the film. It is a recollection of events that happened over the past 30 years in anticipation of the 30th anniversary of the release of the film. Why thirty years has become so important in the life cycle of films and when to celebrate them is a mystery, perhaps a nod to the marketing in all of us, 30 is just another opportunity to make money.

Some say 30 is a mystical, magical year as it seems to mark when people mature into true adulthood. For Turtle fans, 30 may mean the opposite, perhaps a mental age barrier we’ll never cross because the fantasy that is the Turtles is stuck solidly in teenage sensibilities that include lots of close-to-stupid acts, laughter ‘til it hurts moments, and anxiety out the gazoo. And an abundance of pizza!

Regardless of why we celebrate things, there’s an urge in all of us to share the things that we liked or were popular with a new generation of fans.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came from the imagination and hard work of Kevin and Peter who started one of the most popular comic book franchises of all time. And COWABUNGA, DUDE!” became part of the lexicon of youth and perhaps the strangest and most endearing heroes ever created. Together with Mark and Renee Freedman who owned Surge Licensing, Mirage and the many artists and creatives who became employed there, built one of the most expansive Intellectual properties of all time.

What happened to propel that indie comic book to global stardom as an independent movie? As with any phenomena, the path to the silver screen for Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello was just as unusual and unlikely as the Turtles themselves.

Fall of 1987

Gary Propper (“GP”), former champion surfer from Cocoa Beach, Florida turned concert promoter was managing comedian Gallagher and touring the US playing primarily 3,000 to 5,000 seaters. In the late summer of 1987 GP booked the Fox Theater on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan for a Gallagher performance. Wherever GP traveled he would always find the local comic book store, because comics represented the best in graphic literature for him. He wandered down Woodward Avenue and discovered the (now) Vault of Midnight where he searched for new offerings from Kitchen Sink or Dark Horse like Xenozoic Tales or Scout War Shaman which he had optioned for movie rights. He discovered the 3 ½ year old 1st issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the small Massachusetts house, Mirage Studios.

(Shown in picture Kim Dawson (left) & Gary Propper with Michelangelo at Planet Hollywood, Lake Buena Vista, Florida