A toy Michelangelo the ninja turtle plays a scaled down TMNT arcade machine

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What Happened to the TMNT Competitors from 1992?

In 1991, it seems like there were sharks circling around the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While toy sales had broken the one billion dollar mark from 1988 through 1991, things appeared to be cooling off for the turtles according to a story in the LA Times.

1990 was a year like no other for the TMNT franchise or just about any entertainment franchise in history. I’d argue that a lot of the memories that people have of the turtles, if not for the original episodes of the cartoon, were from 1990.

  • The TMNT game for the Nintendo Entertainment System was released in the summer of 1989, it sold one million copies by May of 1990, but sold a total of four million by the end of the year.
  • February 1990 – The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade cabinet is the highest grossing game in American arcades every month for the rest of the year.
  • March 30, 1990 – The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie is released and becomes the biggest independent movie in history in theaters, selling over $200 million of tickets at the box office.
  • August 17, 1990 – The stage show Coming Out of Their Shells tour kicks off at Radio City Music Hall, which was broadcast live on Pay Per View. The tour played forty cities in the United States and went international in 1992. The cassette was released to Pizza Hut and sold over three million copies.
  • October 3, 1990 – The Coming Out of Their Shells VHS is available for purchase at Pizza Hut
  • December 1990 – Playmates’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures are #1 toy of 1990’s kids most wanted for the holiday season.
  • December 14, 1990 – The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game is released for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
  • While I can’t find exact numbers, I can somewhat deduce that there was around $450 million in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy sales in 1990.

In December of 1991, Carla Lazzareschi declared “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mania is cooling.” But after a year like 1990, it’s understandable that things might slow down. 1991’s Secret of the Ooze hit $75 million at the box office, triple its budget, but it fell short of the $200 million the first movie made. 1991 saw the release of Turtles in Time in arcades, Back From the Sewers for the Game Boy, and The Manhattan Project for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The 1990 arcade game was still one of the top arcade games for 1991, behind Street Fighter II. The Playmates toys sold approximately $300 million in 1991, down about 1/3 from 1990.

What was ready to take the Turtles’ place looking ahead to in 1992? Let’s look back at the contenders according to the LA Times, keeping in ind that the TMNT toys lasted through 1994:

You don’t remember these?
  • Hasbro was readying the Rockin Rollin Miner Ants. The Ants lasted four comics long in 1990 after being introduced in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #40. The six ants lived in a coal mine, traveled on roller blades, and listened to rock music. They didn’t make it to toys.
  • James Bond Jr was another piece of Hasbro’s attempt to dethrone the turtles. The cartoon lasted until the end of 1992 with 65 episodes. Hasbro released about a dozen James Bond Jr action figures, a few vehicles, but the franchise didn’t make it out of 1992.
  • Tyco Toys brought The Incredible Crash Dummies based on the PSA crash test dummies from the 1980s to toys in 1990, a series that amazingly lasted through 1994. The Crash Test Dummies also got a CGI TV special, Game Boy, Nintendo, and Super Nintendo game.
  • Kenner was leaning heavy on its line of toys for Batman Returns, which had 21 figures, 11 vehicles, two playlets, a giant Batman, and two electronic figures. The movie was released in the summer of 1992 and the toys were released through 1993.
These things weren’t going to become the next Ninja Turtles anytime soon
  • Galoob was leaning on its Trash Bag Bunch, which was a cool concept. It was basically a blind box of smaller toys in a small trash bag that dissolved in water. Unfortunately they were too weird to possibly catch on.
  • Mattel, aside from Barbie, was relying on toys from Hook and American Gladiators to eat into the turtles marketshare. Is anyone out there clamoring for a Zap action figure?

Needless to say, 1992 wasn’t the best year for the turtles, but they outlasted seemingly every competitor that came for their green throne at the 1992 Toy Fair.