Update: Changed headline to say "one of" the first great comic book films. Superman was released in 1978.
The world was a very different place when the original live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was made in 1990, and this oral history of the film from The Hollywood Reporter shows just how far Hollywood has come in its thinking about comic book films.
"Gary [Propper] and I made the rounds to virtually every studio in Hollywood," producer Kim Dawson remembers. "I had worked at Showtime, and one of my first calls was to Peter Chernin, who went on to run Fox for a long time. But Peter goes, 'Are you guys out of your minds?' Howard the Duck was just released. Nobody felt like a comic book could be converted into a live-action character."
Gary Propper, for reference, was the manager of Gallagher, the standup comic who hits fruit with a hammer.
They finally found financing, put the actors through hell with the Henson-created suits and masks, and did what they could with the film's $13.5 million budgets.
"I didn't want to do something that was bloody. I didn't want to watch that film. Funnily enough, Batman came out at the same time. It was that sort of tone I was already aiming for," director Steve Barron said. "The films that I loved, there was a sense of humor but a sense of peril as well. Of real peril, of grounded peril. Like something that had repercussions for what you did but had a wonderful sense of fun with it. I was a big fan of Ghostbusters."
The result was an amazing film, based on an inherently silly premise, that still feels more "real" and human than most superhero or comic book films.
The 1990 film stands up to this day as the right way to treat the characters, and the rest of the history of the film is definitely worth your time. It also made over $200 million worldwide and convinced the world of Hollywood, along with 1989's Batman, that comic book films were kind of a big deal.
The entire oral history of the film is a treasure trove of interesting stories, from a time before every comic has been optioned for an upcoming film in this or that universe.