Beginning as a cult hit in the comics scene, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was primed to take the world by storm in the 1980s. The idea behind these four teenagers formed when their creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird had a random inspiration while brainstorming. Eastman drew a single image of a masked turtle wielding nunchaku, which quickly caught on between the pair. Eventually, they developed a whole team of four “teenage mutant” turtles who would follow the lead of their teacher, a mutant rat.
The pair pulled their resources to self-publish the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book in May 1984. This comic book quickly sold out, solidifying the success of their idea. However, their audience remained small while the Turtles’ only home was Mirage Comics. However, it all changed when they caught the attention of the man who would become the “fifth turtle”, Mark Freedman. The title of the brand alone appealed to Freedman’s instincts honed from years in the toy industry.
While it took time for the Turtles to find a home at a toy company, Playmates finally took a gamble on the comic heroes. However, they demanded some changes to make the brand more appealing to children. Specifically, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles needed a cartoon series along with a more jovial tone. This led to the creation of the Murakami-Wolf-Swenson series that began airing in 1987 and lasted until 1996.
With the successful venture into cartoons, Playmates had the formula for a hit toy line. Playmates wound up making around $1.1 billion within four years thanks to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles alone. The line gained a large range of various themes and unique characters. However, some of these toys became rarer and more expensive as the years passed.
Presenting the Ten Most Expensive Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Toys from the last five years
Since the heights of the late 1980s and 1990s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have become one of the largest franchises. Thus, both fans and collectors love to hunt down the merchandise involving these radical teenagers. Some of the most expensive collectibles are mint pieces from the original toy line. However, many other items command a high price at online auctions.
For this list, we will be focusing solely on the action figures that Playmates produced. While there are multiple other items, especially the original comic book, that sell for thousands of dollars, they will not be mentioned here. We will also be excluding any arcade machines, video games, statues, movie props, or suits.
10. Playmates Rocksteady 1988 AFA 85
By 1988, both the Playmates toy line and the animated series were in full swing. Thus, it was the perfect time to introduce one of the key villains from the show, Rocksteady.
Rocksteady was one of the two main minions that the Shredder and Krang called upon to do their dirty work. Both lackeys began as simple human thugs. However, their losses against the mutant turtles left them desiring more power and revenge. So, when Shredder requested volunteers for an experiment with mutagen, he readily volunteered along with Bebop. This choice permanently changed their lives.
While the mutagen mixed Bebop’s DNA with a warthog, Rocksteady gained the powers of a rhinoceros. At the time, they both felt that the immense power of these creatures would easily give them power over the ninja turtles. However, time and time again, the incompetence of Bebop and Rocksteady led to their inevitable defeats. Despite their lack of intelligence, Krang and Shredder kept them around as their most trusted lackeys.
As one of the earliest toys created for Playmate’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle line, Rocksteady is easily one of the most sought-after action figures. Finding one in mint condition is rare, not to mention one with a high AFA rating. To little surprise, when one went up for auction on eBay, it sold for $3,386.66 on August 29, 2022. This toy had an overall AFA score of 85 (C85 B80 F85), which contributed to the closing price.
9. Playmates Splinter 1988 AFA 85
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have gone nowhere without the mentorship of their wise sensei, Splinter. This rat was a master of the martial arts and understood the ways of his ancient rivals, the Foot Clan.
There are two main versions of Splinter’s backstory: one where he was a pet rat for Hamato Yoshi, and another where he was the man transformed into a rat thanks to the mutagen. For the 80s cartoon series and toy line, they presented a Splinter that had once been a human ninja master. This honorable man had risen in the ranks of the Foot Clan until the schemes of Oroku Saki framed him as a would-be assassin. Disgraced, Yoshi traveled to New York City where he eventually ran into four baby turtles in the sewers.
After he and the turtles were exposed to the mutagen, Yoshi lost his human form and became a giant rat. Despite the loss of his humanity, he created a new family with the four turtles and passed along his teachings to them. Even though he never joined the battles against the Foot Clan, his knowledge and experience allowed the turtles to triumph.
Splinter was one of the first action figures from Playmate’s TMNT toy line. When one appeared on eBay with an AFA 85 grade, it wound up selling for $3,495.00 on February 25, 2018. The AFA grade was broken down with the card receiving an 80, the blister an 85, and the figure an 85.
8. Playmates Undercover Raphael 1994 AFA 75
Raphael was one of the four turtle brothers that fought against the Foot Clan. While the four turtles originally all wore red headbands in the Mirage comic book, Raphael became the only one to keep the red headband in the cartoon series and toys. Other than the colored headband, his key trait was his snark and tendency for snide remarks.
Each turtle preferred to use a signature weapon. For Raphael, this weapon was a pair of sai. These three-pronged weapons added to his formidable fighting skills. These weapons were useful in both close combat situations and as throwing weapons.
Often, when the turtles desired to head up to the surface, they would don simplistic disguises so the public would not panic. In the cartoons, their disguises were trench coats along with rubber masks. However, the 1990 live-action film simplified these disguises to a large trench coat and fedora. Later, Playmates paid homage to the film with the Undercover Turtles toys.
A mint on card Undercover Raphael sold for $3,500.00 on November 03, 2022, when it went up on eBay. Boosting its sales price, this action figure had a 75 rating from the AFA, where the card received an 85, the blister received a 75, and the figure received an 80.
7. Playmates Undercover Michaelangelo 1994
If you are looking for a good time, Michaelangelo was your turtle. Two things make Mikey stand out from the rest of the turtles. First, he wore an orange bandana and other wrappings. Second, he was the party animal of the group. He hardly ever got angry or had any negative emotions. Instead, he had fun when he was fighting the Foot and other enemies.
Providing one of the most controversial aspects of the team, Michaelangelo used a pair of nunchakus while in combat. Unfortunately, many in the 80s felt that this weapon was too dangerous. The way the two sticks were swung around on chains was a danger that many parents were uncomfortable with. Within a few years, the cartoon phased out Michaelangelo nunchaku and replaced them with a turtle-themed grappling hook.
Playmates knew that if they placed one turtle in a theme, they needed to set all four in the same set. So, Michaelangelo was included in the Undercover subline.
When a mint-on-card version of this toy went up on eBay, it sold for $3,800.00 on November 23, 2022.
6. Playmates Undercover Donatello 1994
When the turtles needed a gadget or vehicle, they turned to Donatello. This turtle wore a purple mask and loved everything about technology. In many ways, he was depicted as the nerdy scientist of the group. In the cartoon, Donatello was responsible for most of the turtle’s vehicles, including the Party Wagon and Turtle Blimp.
Donatello’s weapon of choice was the bo staff, which both gave him a great range and bone-crushing strikes. This two-handed weapon may have been a straight stick of wood. However, this turtle knew how to deliver devastating blows with it.
As with Michaelangelo and Raphael, Donatello was part of the Undercover subline from Playmates. He came with a small range of accessories, including his iconic bo staff. So, fans had their pick of which turtle wore the beige trench coat.
A mint-on-card version of this action figure popped up on eBay, where it sold for $3,995.00 on August 30, 2021.
5. Playmates Technodrome 1990
One of the most iconic vehicles from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was the Technodrome. This massive mobile battle fortress was the home base for almost all of the Foot Clan and where Krang called his home. Shredder often resided in the Technodrome, though there were some seasons when he was on Earth alone without the vehicle.
Originally, this tank-like fortress would move around deep underneath New York City’s rock bed. It was fully equipped with drills that allowed it to remain mobile. After a decisive battle with the turtles, the Technodrome was sent to Dimension X, the realm that Krang came from. It remained there for several seasons. Eventually, it was transported to the center of the Earth, the North Pole, and even the bottom of the ocean.
As one of the most iconic locations from the show, any turtles fan longed to add the Technodrome to their toy collection. Playmates made these fans ecstatic when they released the two-tier playset in 1990. The playset was one of the largest sets from the original toy line. When each side of the shell opened up, there were up to six areas to stage a battle in, including a mutation chamber.
As one of the most desirable toys from the original line, there is no surprise that one sold for $3,999.99 on July 27, 2021, when it appeared on eBay.
4. Playmates Slam Dunkin’ Don 1994 CAS 85
To create a large range of toys as the years passed, Playmates gave the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles multiple themes and outfits. They knew that the line would founder if newcomers could not get their hands on the turtle brothers. So, they needed to come out with multiple iterations of those four characters.
Some of these themes included Mutant Military and Rock’n Rollin’. They even had versions like the Cave Turtles and Wacky Wild West. However, one of the most popular themes was the Sewer Sports All-Stars where the turtles each donned sports-themed clothing.
In the case of Donatello, he was given a basketball motif, including a ball and hoop to slam into. The Slam Dunkin’ Don had two different versions. Most people located the version in a red uniform released in 1991. However, there was a variant of this toy released in 1994. Instead of a red uniform, Donatello wore a white uniform with bright yellow shades.
One of these action figures popped up on eBay with a CAS rating of 85 (85/85/85). It eventually sold for $4,400.00 on September 05, 2022.
3. Playmates Foot Soldier Fan Club Flyer 1988
Every good villain needs an entire enemy of underlings at his beck and call. For every incarnation of Shredder, he has the various members of the Foot Clan to call upon. The Foot were highly skilled ninja warriors who knew how to operate in the shadows. So, they were the perfect henchmen.
This same group served the Shredder in the 1980s cartoon show. However, he had dumped the human ninjas by the time he set up shop in New York City. With the help of Krang and his technology, the Shredder built a cybernetic army of Foot Soldiers who would follow his every command without question.
This change to the Foot Soldier was meant to allow the cartoon to pass by censors, for the Turtles couldn’t use weapons against real humans. However, it also was a practical decision for the Shredder. He had become the leader of the Foot through subterfuge and underhanded tactics. If all his Foot Soldiers were robots, they could not attempt the same maneuver.
Even though the Foot Soldier members were the army builders for the first wave of TMNT toys, they are still an important part of the line. Moreover, there was a rare version of this toy that had the Fan Club Flyer. These factors led to this action figure selling for $5,000.00 on eBay on November 17, 2022.
2. Playmates April O’Neil 1988 No Stripe AFA 90
When the Turtles had to get information or interact with humans, they turned to their best friend, April O’Neil. When she met the turtles after a violent assault, she quickly became their friend and advocate. Understanding that revealing their existence would put them in danger, April kept them secret.
In the original Comics, April O’Neil had a scientific background. She worked as an assistant to one of the major villains, Baxter Stockman. She also owned an antique shop, which later appeared in the 1990 live-action film. Eventually, she was revealed as a living drawing, a unique aspect that none of the other incarnations have revisited.
Understanding that the Turtles needed an easy way to get information about the city, Murakami-Wolf-Swenson gave her a new occupation: news reporter. Working for Channel 6, April was able to learn about trouble well before the Turtles on many occasions. She also used her reporting skills to outsmart villains and get the scope on them.
When Playmates released the April O’Neal action figure in 1988, they initially had a misprint that lacked the blue stripes on her sleeves and legs. This mistake only lasted for a short time before Playmates rectified it for further reprints. So, the “no stripe” version has become highly desirable amongst collectors.
With little surprise, a “no stripe” April O’Neal with an AFA 90 grade sold for $5,500.00 on April 13, 2018, during an eBay auction. The AFA graded this figure with a 90 for the card, 90 for the blister, and 90 for the figure.
1. Playmates Scratch the Cat 1993 AFA 80
One of the most valuable action figures from the original run of Playmates toys was not one of the main characters. It barely was a known side character from the cartoon. Instead, it was one of the most minor of characters: Scratch the Cat. Aside from the toys, he only made an appearance as an enemy from the 1993 Gameboy game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue.
Nearly all of the information on this character comes from the bio on the back of the 1993 toy. Playing off the nine lives stereotype, Scratch was a convict whose sentence covered every single one of those lives. Still, he was well known for breaking out of prison thanks to his trickery. As a convict, he naturally had no issues teaming up with the Shredder in his villainy. The action figure wore a prominent black and white prison outfit, alluding to his fugitive backstory.
As a minor character, Playmates only produced a small number of these toys. So, Scratch has become one of the rarest figures from the toy line. When a Scratch appeared on eBay with an AFA 80 grade, it wound up selling for $10,000.00 on August 17, 2021. The AFA had judged the card at an 80, the blister at an 80, and the figure at an 85.
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About the Author
Author: Chris Ingledue
Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!