Plenty of ’80s franchises have tried—and failed—to come back from the dead. So it may come as a surprise that, at nearly 30 years old, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are alive and kicking. The reptilian GMOs named after Renaissance masters still have the world wrapped around their nunchakus, having spawned a global empire of four films, three TV shows, 21 videogames, one hair(less) metal band, a Jell-O libation, a mini pizza catapult, tur-Troll dolls, designer yarmulkes, scratch-and-sniff stickers, and sundry other schlock. We chart their enduring sludge-to-riches story.
1984 The sewer dwellers emerge for the first time on the back of Gobbledygook #1, a zine with only 150 known photocopies, created by artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. A four-volume comic series goes on to sell 1.25 million copies.
1987 The mega-popular cartoon debuts, and the turtles get individually hued headbands. They also get bold new enemies: a disembodied brain named Krang and European censors who slice out scenes involving Asian weaponry.
1989 Konami sells 4 million NES cartridges of the inaugural TMNT videogame, at the time second only to Super Mario Bros.
1990 Four actors in animatronic suits plus celebrity voice-overs help the first film rake in $135 million. The turtles then go on the Pizza Hut-sponsoredComing Out of Their Shells concert tour, netting $40 million in ticket sales.
1991 In the second movie, The Secret of the Ooze, rat-sensei Splinter delivers this pre-Matrix koan: “Do not confuse the specter of your origins with your present worth.” The film and video releases gross more than $100 million.
1997 A live-action series, The Next Mutation, introduces a female turtle named Venus de Milo. The quintet cameos on Power Rangers in Space, where they’re caught hacking into the mainframe of the Astro Megaship.
2003 Fox broadcasts a new Saturday morning cartoon, which picks up the darker vibes of the early comics. The show culminates in a TV movie, Turtles Forever, wherein the aughties heroes encounter their retro-’80s selves.
2007 In the first all-CG TMNT film, Splinter sends Leonardo to Central America for some guerrilla retraining. The protags (sans Venus) are summoned from their day jobs to vanquish a cabal of time-stalking monsters. Box office bounty: $54.1 million.
2009 For TMNT’s 25th anniversary, Viacom buys the franchise for $60 million. Toymaker Playmates, which has taken in $2 billion from the Ninja Turtles, retains the global toy rights.
2012 Transformers director Michael Bay, who specializes in turning vintage hard-shell hybrids into smash hits, will produce a fifth film. Suggested title: There Will Be Ooze.