Retro Reptiles: Revisit the Coolest Turtles From Old-School Pop-Culture

an image from the 1987-96 animated series
© Group W Productions/Courtesy Everett Collection
(L-R): Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo and Michaelangelo as seen in the 1987-96 TV series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Turtles are cool and interesting creatures in real life, so it makes sense that they have often become even more kick-ass when dramatized in movies, animation, TV series and other pop culture over the decades.

In honor of World Turtle Day, a number of our favorite old-school fictional turtles are coming out of their shells to celebrate! Meet them below.

a scene from the 1966 prehistoric-set fantasy movie "One Million Years B.C." A group of the film's cavepeople characters are at the bottom of a sand dune on a beach, looking up at the top of the dune, over which, against a blue sky in the background, is an approaching gigantic Archelon sea turtle that has just come out of the ocean, in a special effect created by Ray Harryhausen.

A gigantic Archelon sea turtle created by visual effects master Ray Harryhausen comes out of the ocean to threaten cavepeople in the 1966 film One Million Years B.C. (© 20th Century Fox Film Corporation/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Cecil Turtle (Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons)

Cecil Turtle, created by Tex Avery and originally voiced by Mel Blanc in his three 1940s feature film appearances — the Merrie Melodies shorts Tortoise Beats Hare (1941) and Tortoise Wins by a Hare (1943), and the Looney Tunes short Rabbit Transit (1947) — may have been slow-moving and -talking, but was very quick-witted. In his three matchups with Bugs Bunny, the turtle regularly handed the wascally wabbit some of the only L’s he ever took.

Touché Turtle (Hanna-Barbera cartoons)

One of the featured characters in William Hanna and Joseph Barbera‘s 1962 animated anthology show The New Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Series (along with Wally Gator, and Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har), Touché (voiced by Bill Thompson of Droopy fame) and his sheepdog sidekick Dum Dum (voiced by Fred Flintstone himself, Alan Reed) may not have been the brightest heroes, but they used their fencing skills and swashbuckling flair (they wore Three Musketeers-style attire) to fight villains and save those in need in various historical eras.

Gamera (Japanese kaiju film series)


an image from the 1966 Japanese kaiju movie "Gamera the Invincible." It is a black and white image depicting Gamera, a giant prehistoric, bipedal turtle, stomping over a building as he roars and exposes his two large fangs growing upward from the bottom of his jaw.

Gamera the Invincible (1966) (Courtesy Everett Collection)

Probably just a notch below Godzilla in terms of general recognition from among giant monsters in Japanese movies, Gamera — an enormous prehistoric turtle who also breathed fire and could fly by shooting flames out from the leg holes in his shell when he retreated into it — is still one of the most charming. Often regarded as a friend to children, given how he regularly saved kids from aliens and other giant creatures, especially in his earlier films, Gamera has appeared in a number of films since 1965. The first animated entry in the franchise, a series announced as Gamera Rebirth, was slated to premiere on Netflix sometime this year.

By the way, Gamera also happens to be a very talented gymnast!

Round And Round Spinning GIF by Arrow Video - Find & Share on GIPHY

Archelon in One Million Years B.C. (1966 feature film)

Next to star Raquel Welch’s iconic fur bikini, the other enduring images from this fantasy coproduced by Hammer Films and set in prehistoric times come courtesy of the stop-motion special effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. Among those highlights is the appearance of Archelon, a massive sea turtle that Welch’s cavewoman character and others must drive back into the ocean.

Giant matamata turtle in Space Amoeba (1970 Japanese kaiju film)

One of the most delightfully weird kaiju films produced by Japan’s Toho Studios, Space Amoeba (titled in its American release as Yog, Monster From Space) finds the titular extraterrestrial amoeba crash-landing on a remote Pacific atoll, where it possesses a variety of local creatures and turns them into gigantic beasts in an attempt to take over the Earth. After first inhabiting a giant cuttlefish, then a stone crab, the amoeba finally enters a matamata turtle that transforms into the kaiju known as Kamoebas.

Giant sea turtle in The Bermuda Depths (1978 TV movie)

Speaking of delightfully weird, this movie was one of the few live-action films produced by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, more famous for their classic Rankin/Bass animated productions. It’s actually a fairly haunting and dreamlike movie at times (at least to some of us who saw it when it as kids when it originally aired on ABC 45 years ago.

The mythlike story plays on interest in the Bermuda Triangle that became popular during the ’70s and involves a mysterious woman (played by Connie Sellecca, in her first acting role after previously working as a model) who is condemned to live in the sea (with occasional trips on land), and a gigantic sea creature with which she is connected — the giant turtle that I can still vividly remember being fascinated by. Carl Weathers and Burl Ives costar in this intriguing movie.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (various live-action and animated forms)

These awesome, sewer-dwelling, pizza-loving dudes have been beloved since 1984, when they first appeared in comic books. Since then, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo and Michaelangelo — those Renaissance artist-named heroes in a half shell — have been popular in animated series (especially the original one that ran from 1987-96) and in various live-action films, and just may be the most well-known fictional turtles around.