Why The Last Ronin could be the best TMNT movie ever made

The Last Ronin wields the weapons of his fallen brothers.

Four decades ago, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird unleashed their independent comic book series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and took the industry by storm. Eastman and Laird’s Mirage Studios pulled off a feat that few other comic book companies in the 1980s were able to match. The success of the comic allowed the TMNT to cross over into an animated series in 1987, which only made the Turtles more popular. Toy lines, action figures, video games, and all manner of merchandise followed before Turtlemania reached its high point in 1990 with the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

In a way, it’s been all downhill from there. The Turtles’ popularity has waxed and waned over the last 40 years, but they’ve never quite recaptured the frenzy of Turtlemania. Even the most recent animated movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, managed to earn only $180.5 million worldwide. Mutant Mayhem received good reviews, but those aren’t the kind of numbers that scream box office hit.

Fortunately, there may be some cinematic redemption ahead for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Via The Hollywood Reporter (THR), Paramount is developing an R-rated adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin, which marks a very big departure from all of the previous films in the franchise. This could also be the turning point that the TMNT need to avoid the diminishing returns of Mutant Mayhem and its predecessors.

To bring everyone up to speed, we’re going to tell you why The Last Ronin could be the best TMNT movie yet.

The Last Ronin reveals the fate of the TMNT

The Last Ronin is comforted by his brothers in this statue by Sideshow Collectibles.
Sideshow Collectibles

The closest comic book analogy to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin is Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which redefined the title character and influenced every great Batman movie that came after it. Much like The Dark Knight Returns, The Last Ronin established a vision of the future for the TMNT, and it wasn’t pretty. Three of the Turtles have been killed in the war with the Foot Clan, and only a single warrior lives to carry on their legacy.

Because the comic initially hides the identity of the Last Ronin, we won’t be spoiling that surprise here. It’s enough to say that the last living member of the TMNT wields the weapons of all four of them, while he is haunted by hallucinations of his dead brothers. To avenge himself and his clan, the Last Ronin resolves to kill the tyrannical ruler of New York, Oroku Hiroto, who is also the grandson of the Turtles’ greatest enemy: Shredder.

The Last Ronin gets back to the TMNT’s roots

The TMNT in The Last Ronin.

Non-comic book readers would probably be shocked by how violent the early TMNT comics were. Keep in mind that Eastman and Laird weren’t trying to market the comic to young children when they created it. All of the things that watered down the Turtles’ harder edges came later during the first animated series and beyond. While the modern comics published by IDW are still geared toward older readers, the general public has no idea how much the concept was changed to appeal to kids. And the public would probably reject a much darker take on the TMNT if not properly prepared for it.

The ongoing kid-ification of the TMNT only accelerated in 2009 when Nickelodeon purchased the remaining rights from Laird and Mirage Studios. Shows like Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may look flashy and pretty, but they’re not true to the spirit of the original comics. In fact, the characters in that show barely resemble the TMNT as they were first envisioned.

The Turtles and April pose for a selfie in Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Nick Jr./Paramount

THR’s report that The Last Ronin is going for an R-rating is exciting because it means that the film won’t have to hold back on its action sequences. The Last Ronin can go the full John Wick and actually use his weapons as they were intended. In almost all of the previous movies, the Turtles don’t slice or dice any of their living opponents.

That may have made it easier to sell TMNT toys to kids, but it made for some dull action. If this film can deliver some great R-rated action, it could help draw in the fans who outgrew the franchise a long time ago.

It’s based on the final story by the original creators

The Last Ronin bides his time in this panel from the comic book series.

Despite their close friendship in 1984 at the start of their journey, Eastman and Laird didn’t always see eye to eye when it came to their iconic creations. That’s one of the reasons why Eastman sold off his share of the Turtles to Laird in 2000, who in turn sold all of his rights to Nickelodeon in 2009. As seen in Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us, Eastman and Laird have reconciled in recent years and renewed their friendship. And that may have led to The Last Ronin becoming a comic in 2020.

Eastman and Laird came up with the story for The Last Ronin in 1987, before the TMNT dominated the rest of the decade. Eastman co-wrote The Last Ronin comic book series with Tom Waltz, and Eastman also contributed to the art alongside Esau Escorza, Isaac Escorza, and Ben Bishop. It’s the closest thing to a reunion of the original TMNT creative team that we’ve seen in decades, and it was also a breakout hit. The Last Ronin may be darker than all of the previous TMNT adaptations, but even Nickelodeon isn’t blind to the box office potential of bringing this franchise back to its roots.

The Last Ronin is already being pushed as the next evolution

The cast of The Last Ronin in the final battle against the Foot.

If there was only a Last Ronin movie, then it might not be the game changer that the franchise needs. However, there are already signs that Nickelodeon has embraced the potential of The Last Ronin by licensing action figures, statues, and collectibles. But the biggest indication of Nickelodeon’s support beyond the new movie is that there are also plans for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin video game.

As announced in August 2023, Black Forest Games – the company behind the Destroy All Humans! remakes – is developing The Last Ronin as a third-person action-RPG that is said to be a Triple A game for THQ Nordic. In the world of video games, AAA games are generally the ones with big budgets and 40 hours or more of content for players to explore.

Leonardo battles an enemy in art for TMNT: The Last Ronin video game.
Game Informer

That’s a major investment that the Turtles haven’t gotten in years. Even the fan-favorite video game from 2022, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, was far from AAA status.

It’s anyone’s guess whether The Last Ronin movie or video game will be released first. But taken together, they represent the best chance that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can once again be more than just a kid’s property. In the right hands, the franchise could even reclaim its former glory from the ‘80s.