This TMNT Film Has The Best Box Office (And Some Of The Worst Reviews)

For what began as an unassuming, independently published comic book series, the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" franchise has certainly come a long way in the public consciousness. Nearly four decades after the publication of the original "TMNT" issue by creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the spirited urban adventures of Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo have ballooned from their literary roots to an inordinately successful film, television, and toy empire. In fact, since the turtle brothers' first big screen outing, 1990's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," they've endured as a staple of action-adventure pop cinema through every subsequent Hollywood era — culminating in this year's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem," by far the best-received theatrical "TMNT" film yet.

All that unexpected acclaim, alas, has not quite translated to "Mutant Mayhem" also being the most financially successful "TMNT" theatrical film yet. While it's not an out-and-out flop, the lushly animated outing hasn't come close to the intake of the series' biggest money-maker: the 2014 franchise reboot "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Remembered by fans as the installment that brought the Turtles roaring back to cinematic life with a bigger budget and a more polished, more mainstream bent than its predecessors, the film made $191 million at the U.S. box office, plus nearly $294 million internationally, adding up to a whopping $485 million worldwide gross. This makes it comfortably the highest-grossing film in the franchise both worldwide and domestically, although the 1990 film still overtakes it domestically when adjusted for inflation. And, in diametrical opposition to "Mutant Mayhem," the 2014 "TMNT" was as successful commercially as it was panned critically.

Critics found 2014's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be a dud

The "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" film series has never exactly been synonymous with acclaim or prestige. "Mutant Mayhem" is actually the first theatrical flick in franchise history to get an overall positive critical reception, let alone such a strong one. This makes sense when you factor in that the most beloved storytelling in the franchise has always come from the comics and the various "TMNT" cartoon series, the glory of which the fluid, sketch-esque animation of "Mutant Mayhem" pointedly endeavors to recapture. But, even by the standards of the live-action "TMNT" films, 2014's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" was a huge critical dud.

On Metacritic, the film has a score of 31/100 from 33 reviews — the series' lowest-ever in the aggregator. On Rotten Tomatoes, meanwhile, the 2014 film is the second-lowest-rated film ever in the series, with a score of 21% from 165 reviews, just above 1993's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III" at 19%. Critics took issue with the script, editing, and CGI of the Jonathan Liebesman-directed, Megan Fox-starring film. In a particularly scathing zero-star review, New York Daily News' Joe Neumaier wrote, "The cloddish, confusing action scenes make no sense. Young viewers' eyes will glaze over from the first-person video-game style. Nonaction scenes feature people sniping at each other, or, in [Will] Arnett's case, croaking out the script's half-assed witticisms, until the Turtles show up." For many critics, it really was unsalvageable.

The 2014 film's mainstream appeal was also its artistic weak spot

Most of the mixed and negative reviews for 2014's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" made a point of criticizing the film's technical ineptitude. But then again, that criticism could also be lobbed at other films in the franchise, and none of them before or after have ever sunk to the depth of, say, a red Metacritic score. Interestingly, what explains the unusually negative response to this one film may also be what explains its extraordinary commercial success: To critics, this was the film in which the Turtles sold out.

All in all, critics found the 2014 reboot to be too overstuffed, self-serious, and mainstream-courting for its own good, to the point of squandering the offbeat geeky charm and self-effacing sense of humor that were usually at the heart of even the most technically inept previous films. The Village Voice's Amy Nicholson, a childhood fan of the original 1990 film, argued that the 2014 installment missed the point. "In the '80s, the Turtles were a spoof ... Culturally, [they] are supposed to be misfits — they've even got 'mutant' in the name," she wrote.

The Dissolve's Nathan Rabin, meanwhile, summed it up as such: "It's afraid of being too fun or too light, and doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be a [Christopher] Nolan film or a '21 Jump Street'-style spoof that turns the ridiculousness of its premise into an inspired feature-length joke."

From a commercial standpoint, that po-faced audience maximization strategy certainly paid off. But the diminishing box office returns of 2016's "Out of the Shadows" and now "Mutant Mayhem" do beg the question of how many new "TMNT" fans said strategy succeeded in creating.