The Forgotten Fourth ’90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie

Did you know we almost got a fourth live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the '90s that would've featured a fifth turtle and an "Evil April"?!?!

Live-action Mikey and Donatello in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
Photo: New Line Cinema

This is a big year for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Not only is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem releasing in cinemas in August, but March also marks the 30th anniversary of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. Considered to be one of the worst depictions of the martial artist amphibians onscreen, and a lacking successor to its two previous live-action hits, the New Line Cinema release marked the end of a largely successful franchise that began with Jim Henson. But the mutant mania didn’t have to end there. In fact, it almost didn’t. 

Many people aren’t aware that a fourth instalment to the series almost came to fruition. The canceled project won’t ever see the light of day, but modern fans who’ve since witnessed many animated, comic book, and even Michael Bay-produced CGI versions of the character, will surely be intrigued by what could’ve been. What was the film about, why was it canned, and could it have lived up to the heights of the original hit? 

The Premise for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4

Not a great deal is known about the plot of the fourth instalment, but it worked under two different titles throughout its production. First named The Foot Walks Again, an homage to the villainous Foot Clan that had been antagonists across the series, it was later referred to as The Next Mutation. Both names speak to elements of the plot that forged the basis of the script, but the direction was very clearly to make a genuine sequel to the previous movies. This would not have been a soft reboot, but a firm extension of the already beloved continuity. 

It was later revealed that the tone of the movie would have been far grittier than the previous versions. Indeed, the idea was for a darker plot that would have seen a brand new turtle introduced. Named Kirby after the legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby, the addition likely would have split audiences, departing from the lore that had previously existed in comic books and the cartoon. Kirby would’ve been the mutation that the title makes reference to; the next hero in a potentially long line of additional figures, this dude wearing a white bandana to contrast from the four original turtles. The less-kid friendly movie would have pitched Kirby as the most hardcore member of the group, with the character acting as a catalyst for the change of direction. 

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Most interestingly, the movie was intending to feature the turtles undergoing a second mutation, linked to the characters aging. This would have allowed the team to develop different powers, change slightly visually, and have further issues to contend with as they get to grips with their alterations. Naturally, it would have also been a logical way to sell more toys, with any action figure from past movies becoming outdated thanks to the upgrade in design. 

Character Concept Art

We also know of some of the other characters that would have been included in the sequel. Thanks to additional concept art of the movie, drawings were produced for characters like Fang, Shredder, Spyder, Nano Spyder, Kasey, Talbot, Bugman, and Evil April. That list of names should give a general idea of new and returning villains while the story would have clearly seen April corrupted and perhaps even betray the group. The idea that April might have served as some form of antagonist does suggest that the narrative was moving in a lot of different directions, hinting that the original premise might have been overstretched, especially if she too got splashed with some ooze. 

The mention of Spyder and Nano Spyder appeared to be original creations for the movie, suggesting again the film was departing from canon in its bid for an imaginative story. The concept art here strongly implies that Nano Spyder might have been an upgraded iteration of Spyder, with the villain perhaps morphing to contend with the newest turtle abilities. In the years since, the concept behind the foe has never been recycled, implying that there wasn’t anything particularly memorable about the new creation. 

On top of this, the return of Shredder added yet another villain to the project, with his surprising comeback in spite of his previous fate linking to The Foot Walks Again title. The character would have been rebuilding The Foot to its former glory, adding to that pre-existing rivalry. Just like Spyder and the turtles, Shredder was supposed to be upgraded into Super Shredder. This picks up on the ending of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991), and is an idea that has been played with on the small screen where Shredder occasionally evolved to be even more menacing. 

The Script

Considering concept art had already been put into production for The Foot Walks Again, it might come as no surprise that a script had actually been created for the piece. In fact, three scripts are known to exist from the production, which may account for the various villain choices and alternative titles. The first was written in 1995 by Christian Ford and Roger Soffer (writers who would go on to pen the Shaquille O’Neal-starring Kazam in 1996). The second was a rewrite of this draft in 1996 by Craig Shapiro and John Travis. The final version was a new draft from the latter two submitted in 1997.

It could be that what we know about the cinematic outing is a result of the combination of these various scripts. Therefore, it might be that all of these diverse elements were never intended to be balanced in a single film. 

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But the fate of the scripts themselves are up in the air. Kevin Eastman actually auctioned off one draft of the screenplay, although it’s unclear who bought it and where the other versions currently reside. While there are always rumors as to who purchased the piece, there are occasionally personalities who emerge on fan forums claiming to have bought the script and will one day release it to the public. The validity of these announcements have not been proven, but there is always hope for TMNT fans that one day the screenplay could leak and reveal its many secrets.   

Performance of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

When analyzing why the project was cancelled it is vital to look at the performance of the previous trio. The first two outings were financial successes, with mixed critical responses. The 1990 iteration achieved $135 million at the U.S. box office while its 1991 sequel, The Secret of the Ooze, boasted $78.7 million million. This clear drop-off didn’t stop a third movie going into production, but with the film garnering $42.3 million during its domestic run in 1993, questions were starting to get raised as to the longevity of the franchise. While New Line clearly toyed with continuing the series as late as four years later, the declining numbers offer an important insight as to why there was some hesitancy by the indie studio to go all-in on another production. 


Despite the box office drop, the 1995 to 1997 story production dates and creation of concept art does suggest that New Line continued, albeit at a much slower pace or with a sense of urgency than after the previous releases. Clearly lessons were learned from those other projects, with the creative team ensuring that they had plenty of time to truly get the beats right. It’s not uncommon for there to be three variations of a script, but clearly something wasn’t working. Those wide-ranging narrative elements that have previously been touched upon could have been far too much to contend with. But the era is also important. 

Turtle mania was slowing down in the late ‘90s. In fact, the popular animated TV show, which had run from 1987 finally came to an end in 1996. This indicated audience fatigue with the brand, including after a new live-action series that we’ll touch on further. Meanwhile New Line seemed to pivot to a new franchise targeting the same audience by the late ‘90s: Mortal Kombat.

With no TV revivals until 2003, studios had obviously read the mood and attempted to rest the teenage mutants. That in no small part would have also influenced the decision to cancel the film, which naturally would have filled that gap. 

Recycled Names 

Despite the big screen adventure never getting past the scripting stage, there have been a few references to the project on the small screen. Firstly, the 2012 animated series actually includes an episode titled “The Foot Walks Again.” Season 5, episode 19 sees the turtles of the modern era team-up with their 1980s counterparts from the original animated show, to take on Shredder and The Foot. It’s a fun combination of eras and a nod-and-wink towards the classic variation of the turtles that the live-action movies attempted to adapt. It’s thus thematically about the old becoming new once more. That’s not the only way that the forgotten fourth film lives on though. 

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The Next Mutation might have never made it to cinemas, but it did launch on the small screen. The live-action show that ran from 1997 until 1998 was in fact given that same title. Although there aren’t many plot elements that transfer over, Shredder and the Foot Clan are still the key antagonists of the series. What’s more, just like the movie, a new turtle is introduced to the group. Although instead of another dude who is even more hardcore, her name is Venus de Milo and her debut has continued to split fans. However, it was an inclusion that showed how the fourth film was morphed into something new, even if it didn’t quite hit the mark as audiences might have hoped. 

The canceled fourth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles marks a fascinating period in history that saw the end of Turtles mania. While the essence of the production lived on, fans can be safe in the knowledge that a new era of mutant supremacy might be about to launch on the big screen thanks to Mutant Mayhem. Regardless, it would have been pretty fun to see how the overstuffed film could have panned out, especially with the new characters it would have added to the canon. Perhaps one day we will get to see that fabled screenplay.