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Vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from Playmates 

Most collectors ignored the initial release of the Playmates Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, and even 4-5 years later most of these figures were still plentiful and easy to pick-up.

However, time has proved them wrong, as despite this and the huge numbers that were produced, many have appreciated substantially in value over time, particular over the last decade or so. In fact, demand has been so strong that there have been several “Retro” and “Classic” lines as well as re-releases over recent years.

In the UK, the Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show was called Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and had all references to Michelangelo’s nunchaku removed due to a brief, cultural taboo on that particular ninja weapon and even the word ‘ninja’.

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A Collapsible Table:

The initial releases were all part of the same general series and did not have any sub-sets or “waves” of figures, although later releases had different themes with special header cards.

The only way to tell the difference between the original figures and later releases or re-issued figures is by the different header cards and the number of figures pictured reveals when they were released.

The initial cards used were:

  • Type A card – 1988 10 figures
  • Type B card – 1989 14 figures
  • Type C cards – 1989 19 figures

After the first three releases things started to get a lot more complicated and confusing. Except for April O’Neil and Leatherhead, the figures on the type A, B, and C cards were shipped in large quantities for several years.

Then in 1993, most of the figures were re-released on “Pizza Back” header cards, with new product numbers.

Each of the four turtles had very distinct characteristics, body tones and different coloured bandanas. This was a stroke of genius as it meant kids were able to quickly and easily identify each of them.

Donatello (Purple Bandana) was the creative genius and was the brains of the team and designed all their vehicles.

Leonardo (Blue bandana) was the boss and commander and Splinter’s star pupil. He had an extremely well-balanced temperament and was a very skilful fighter.

Michaelangelo (Orange Bandana) was the wild and crazy turtle, adept and deadly with the nunchuku! His only passion greater than the nunchuku and partying is eating pizza!

Raphael (Red Bandana) was the comedian, always quick with a witty comment that is only beaten by his speed and skill with the deadly sai.  

They all had the same basic body sculpts Each of the turtles had swivel heads, allowing for movement left to right and hinged articulation on the shoulders for up and down movement and a cut at the forearms for rotating the arms. They had semi-ball jointed hips but no knee articulation.

Each of the turtles also came with a weapons “pack” that included two fist daggers, a kama, two ninja stars, a weapons rack and two of their signature weapons.

The Teenage Mutant Turtles ( TMNT) Backing Cards

The different Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backer cards available are:


Type A1/A2 (10 back) 10-backer card picturing 6 Turtle and 4 “Foot Clan" figures on the back and with a turtle shell or foot symbol on the front showing the character's affiliation Fan Club mention for each one of the soft head turtles


Type A2 (10 back) - Fan Club is mentioned for soft head turtles (despite the flyer not being included)/1st batch of hard heads had these cards also

Type B (14 back) - 2nd wave Cards picturing 8 Turtle and 6 “Foot Clan" figures on the back, and no group affiliation symbol on the front.

Type A3 (10 back) PACKAGE PRINTED IN HONG KONG & ASSEMBLED AND PACKED IN MACAO with Fan Club mention on back for the earliest hard head turtles and without the Fan Club mention

Type C1 (19 back) [April is not seen] picturing 10 Turtle and 9 “Foot Clan" figures Note: Many of the figures on type B and type C header cards.- 3rd wave minus General Traag

Type C2 (20 back) [April is visible] - Only General Traag and Casey Jones appeared on these cards

 1990 (Biggest Year for Original TMNT Basic Assortment Releases In All of History)

 Type A3 (10 back) - Donatello is the only turtle with a Pop-Up Mutant Display that has a Fan Club notice on the back.

Type A4 (10 back) - Pop-Up Mutant Display 1st wave figures (minus Donatello)/ No Pop-Up Mutant Display hard head figures

Type B (14 back) - 2nd wave Pop-Up Mutant Display figures

Type C1 (19 back) - Most of the 3rd wave Pop-Up Mutant Display figures

Type C2 (20 back) - General Traag w/Pop-Up Mutant Display

Type D (28 back) - picturing 4 Wacky Action figures at top plus 24 (type D1) or 27 (type D2) other figures. Most of wave 4 (not Mondo Gecko [late wave 4 release])

Type E1 (27 back/31 back/33 back/37 back) - Wave 5 (w/Mondo Gecko included)

picturing 7 Wacky Action figures at top plus 30 (type E1) or 32 (type E2) other figures.

April with orange pockets, blue stripe, says “Press" (#5005) on type A header card


 Type E2 (44 back) - Wave 5 + 1988 & 1989 figure re-releases

Type F (45 back) - Wave 6 with 7 Wacky Action figures, initially 22 turtles (in 3 rows) and 15 Foot Clan (in 2 rows) on the back.

Type G1 (68 back[Slash is missing]) - Zak the Neutrino only

Type G2 (69 back) - Most of Wave 7 (except Zak the Neutrino)

teenage mutant ninja turtles COO and Copyright

All the TMNT figures released between 1988-97 had the “1988 Mirage Studios, Playmates Toys” trademark on the COO, with either Maccau, China or No COO (Country Of Origin). All the “soft head” figures have either a “Maccau” or “China” stamp, with Macau being the earlier ones. If you have a MOC figure, the easiest way to check if you have a “soft” or “hard” head figure is to check if there is a seam on the head. All the “sot head” figures were seamless.

Soft Head and Hard Head Figures

When Playmates first acquired the TMNT license, no one thought they would be the huge hit they proved to be, and still are.

As a result, Playmates wanted to play it safe and cut costs as much as possible with there initial release, so the figures were made with “soft” seamless heads as these were a lot cheaper to manufacture. The production run, compared to later runs, was also very limited.

However, as history has proved, they needn’t have worried because they were an instant huge success, so they “soft” heads were replace by better quality and more durable “hard” heads.

I will stress that this rubber head situation only applied to eight of the series one figures, the only two of the series one figures that DID NOT have a hard head were Rocksteady, who didn't ship with the first wave), and the foot clan soldier. These soft head figures were only used for the very first shipment of TMNT figures and all later shipments used the hard heads.

This means that the only thing we can say with certainty for the LOOSE TMNT figures is that any “soft” headed figures with a Macau COO will been among the very first produced followed by the China COO “soft” heads.

All the other figures date stamped 1988 could have been produced any time from 1988-97. Some of the figures (see below), were not released until 1990 in the UK, possibly due to production problems caused by their unforeseen popularity.

No StripesNo Stripes
No PressNo Press

Playmates The Teenage Mutant Turtles (TMNT) April O'Neil

The original April O’Neil figure is one of the most valuable of all the Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures ever released. This figure fist appeared on a Type A1 card but she had no trims on her jumpsuit pants or arms. This was quickly corrected, and later releases had the stripes on her jumpsuit.

There were also two verions of the Type A card. On the Type A1 header card the turtle shell and character name imprint, on the left of the bubble, covered the top of April’s head on the accompanying image below. Whereas on the other figures the shell and names were shorter, so they didn’t cover the image. On the Type A2 header cards the Shell and character name were moved up and centred so that it didn’t cover the image. 

To add to the confusion, the April figures WITH the stripes can be found on both type A1 and A2 header cards. After all this the April figure was not included in the 1989 release and was not re-released until 1991 with a new design.

The 1991 version of April had a shirt collar and breast pockets on the yellow jumpsuit with the word “PRESS” on the left-hand pocket, this jumpsuit also had the blue trim on the legs and arms, and orange boots, instead of the original white boots.

There is a rarer, variant April figure that does not have “PRESS” on the left-hand breast-pocket. Rumour has it that this was removed due to complaints that children were pressing it, thinking it would activate a special feature!! 

I have no idea how true this story is but is certainly sound plausible. Suffice it to say that this variant is quite hard to find and valuable (but not as valuable as the original April with no trims).

Other rare April figures to keep a look out for are:

  • April, the Ninja Newscaster
  • Channel 6 News Van, with a special edition April figure
  • Cave Woman April with Radical Raptor
  • Bride of Frankenstein April
TMNT LeatherheadTMNT Leatherhead
TMNT LeatherheadTMNT Leatherhead
TMNT LeatherheadTMNT Leatherhead

Playmates The Teenage Mutant Turtles (TMNT) Leatherhead

Leatherhead was included in the initial assortment released in 1988 but he was included in the 1989 assortment but was not released in nay of the later assortments, although he was still featured on the back of the header cards and in the Playmates catalogue until as late as 1992.

Other short-packed figures from the vintage 1988-1997 line were the Scratch and Hot Spot figures from the 1993 release and the Black Belt Boxer Mike from the “Ninja Action” assortment also released in 1993.

Ray Fillet V1Ray Fillet V1
Ray Fillet V2Ray Fillet V2
Ray Fillet V3Ray Fillet V3

Playmates The Teenage Mutant Turtles (TMNT) Ray Fillet

The original Ray Fillet figure changed colour, depending on the temperature, which was a great feature, but it was expensive and it was not a popular figure to the feature was quickly removed.

This, of course, led to several different possibilities of variations as new header cards were also released. The earlier, changing colour figures were purple with a red “V” on their chest or red with a purple “V”, depend on the temperature, whereas the non-colour changing figures were yellow with a blue “V” on his chest.

The original header cards had a starburst with “Awesome Mutant Colour Change” in it and showed Ray’s chest changing colour. A second header was produced without the starburst but still with the images showing him changing colour and finally a third header was released with neither the starburst or images. 

Therefore, the non-colour changing Ray could be found on any of these three types of header cards, but the starburst with images being the rarest and of course the changing colour Ray Fillet on the original header card being the rarest of them.

Playmates TThe Teenage Mutant Turtles Timeline

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles where something of a phenomenon, selling over 250 million figures in just five years!

1984: Mirage Studios published the first issue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. It was a monochrome parody of Frank Miller’s work, notably Daredevil and Ronin as well as The New Mutants and Cerebus the Aardvark.

1987: A five-episode animated mini-series of Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was commissioned in conjunction with Playmates toys to generate interest in a new line of action figures that was created in collaboration with Eastman and Laird. The basic framework of the original comic was maintained but characters were much more fun and lovable, with surfer dude personalities and a love of pizza, crazy alien and robot villains and an ineffectual, non-threatening Shredder.

1988: The subsequent animated show ran for 10 seasons and 194 episodes until 1996. The accompanying Playmates line likewise comprised of hundreds of figures, many of which had clever articulation, crazy, stylized and detailed sculpts, colorful, outlandish accessories or action features.

In the UK, the Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show was called Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and had all references to Michelangelo’s nunchaku removed due to a brief, cultural taboo on that particular ninja weapon and even the word ‘ninja’.

The original series was virtually ignored by collectors as being too juvenile and too plentiful as many of the figures were still readily available even as long as 4-5 years after their release.

The very first run of figures though released in very limited numbers with “soft heads” in order to save on production costs, as they were unsure on how popular they would prove to be.

However, after the initial production run and it’s the huge popularity later shipments were produced with a harder plastic head making the original figures a lot rarer and more in demand.

Even the mass produced figures over the ensuing decades have remained popular and despite the huge numbers produced many of them have appreciated quite substantially over the years.

Unlike later assortments the initial series and assortments had no special header cards or themes but were all part of the same generic series.

In fact, the only way to tell each series apart and the re-issues etc. is from the backing cards, similar to the vintage Star Wars figures, where pictures of the other figures available in each series were printed.

1990: The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feature film was released from New Line and Golden Harvest. Without the backing of major studios but riding the crest of an unexpected popularity tidal wave it winds up being one of the most successful independent films of all time, netting over $200 million on a tiny $13 million budget.

1991: The movie’s sequel; Secret of the Ooze emerges less than a year later. It is considerably less successful, netting only $75 million but still tripled its budget. In accordance Playmates released several more film-accurate figures billed as “Movie Star” versions but wisely stuck to their cartoonish style with the rest of the line.

1993: The third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is released. It hits the number one spot, but the law of diminishing returns is in full effect. It only doubles its budget, bringing in $42 million. Playmates, once again releases a line of movie tie-in figures in samurai armour. The animated show persisted for three more years, the toy line for five, focusing on wacky re-imagining of the central four.

1993 most of the earlier figures were re-released with new product codes and header cards known as “Pizza Backs”. Then in 1994 many of the re-issued, and some of the new figures, came with an exclusive trading card which was changed to a coin in 1995. Also because all of the trading cards hadn’t been issued by this some of the figures initially came packed with both a trading card and coin.

1997: Ninja Turtles – The Next Mutation, a live action, Power Rangers style TV show emerges from the sewer and is swiftly pushed back in. Playmates produce a line of tie-in action figures including the female turtle; Venus, but the show was of such low quality and so reviled, even by Eastman and Laird that by 1998 its cancellation precipitated a five-year hiatus of the brand.

2003: Fox airs a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated show, more serious, action-focused and closer to the original hard edge of the comics whilst still retaining some of the playful attitude of the popular period. Playmates release a new series of figures rendering the characters in a way that both updates them to the new show’s look and pays homage to the original line. This series ran for six year, culminating in 2009 when the Turtles, by way of a dimensional leap get to meet both their pizza-eating, surfer dude incarnations and their scary, Mirage comic book selves.

2007: A CG Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated movie simply entitled TMNT was released. It takes place in the established movie continuity but eschew series mainstay villain Shredder in favour of a plot about monsters in New York. It gets a tie-in toy line once again from Playmates.

2008: NECA acquire a license to produce Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures and release a line that is collector-focused and based on their first comic appearance in 1984, even going to the trouble of producing monochrome variants. They are, up to that point in action figure enthusiast terms by far the most authentic, detailed, and crafted turtle figures to date.

2012: There is much internet debate over the planned Michael Bay reboot of the movie franchise. After much derision from fans over the plotline that pitches the characters as inter-dimensional beings rather than actual mutants, they go back to the drawing board.

In September, Nickelodeon airs its new CG Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show, which attempts, like the first and fourth film to balance the humor of the original cartoon with the ninja action of the Mirage comics. Playmates once again releases a line of figures based on these designs. There were super-poseable, 6” figures based on the classic surfer dude look from the height of their popularity and another line of 4.75” figures based on the Nickelodeon show with accompanying vehicles and playsets.

Due to its declining popularity the 1996/97 figures received nowhere near the attention, or shelve space, that earlier releases had boasted and as a result many of these figures are difficult to find.

The only line from these that saw wide distribution was the Jim Lee Turtles line that came with a min-comic.

Playmates Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Crossover Lines

The two crossover lines, Star Trek Turtles and Universal Studios Monsters Turtles, have also proved to be popular with collectors.

1998 Playmates released a “retro” Turtles series that were generally sold in Kay-Bee stores and were heavily discounted. The packaging was almost identical to the original 1988 10-back cards, however they bear a 1998 copyright notice on the back so are easily distinguished from the original series.

There were also some “retro” vehicles released in this series but a definitive, or exact list of what was released in this series is not readily available and there doesn’t seem to be any official listing as although the cards feature the original 10 figures on the back it appears only nine of these were released as well as some of the figures from later series’.

 After the demise of the Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation cartoon series the franchise lapsed for several years and it was not until 2003 that Fox revived it with a new cartoon series.

Although the figures featured were reminiscent to those in 1988, they had a refreshed look and design to reflect the new cartoon series.

Also, unlike many previous releases most of the figures appeared in the TV series, adding to their popularity.

This series continued successfully through to 2006 when the cartoon series was given a new lighter look with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward, a futuristic take on the heroic mutants, which Playmates also saw as an opportunity to sell more TMNT figures.


NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

2007, for the first time, Playmates had competition when it was announced that NECA had acquired the license to produce Ninja Turtle figures based on their character likenesses from the original Mirage comic books. The first wave of figures consisted of the four Turtles and was released in comic and specialty stores in early 2008. The New York Comic Con also boasted an exclusive figure four-pack, and that same year, NECA released black & white versions of the Turtles just as they appeared in the pages of the comics.

Playmates celebrated the franchises 25 anniversary in 2009 by releasing the original 1988 series of figures Slash and the Party Wagon. Each figure came packaged with a vintage card art and a DVD containing one episode of the 1987 cartoon series.

A new CG animated TMNT series was aired on Nickelodeon in 2012 and Playmates released a wide variety of figures based on it.  To date there has been 10 waves of these figures with a variety of “special features”, play sets and vehicles as well as the basic characters.

2015 some of the figures from the 2012 animated series were re-released as Mutation figures as well as a series of Mystic Turtle figures.

There was also a one-off series of figures based on the 2014 Jonathan Liebesman Ninja Turtles live-action movie featuring Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo, Splinter, April O'Neil, Shredder and Foot Soldier. Deluxe Leo, Don, Ralph and Mikey were also released.

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