I know I’m not the first person to do this list, but I honestly could not pass it up. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” hits theaters this weekend and in honor of that occasion I decided to do a list I’ve sat on for a long time, my picks for the best dinosaur films ever. Growing up I was fascinated with these prehistoric creatures. Heck I even wanted to be a paleontologist at one point. Even as a movie fan I found myself drawn to them due to their relevance in the evolution of cinematic presentation from motion capture figures to CGI creatures and redefining the movie monster. From animated classics to science fiction thrillers I took a look at the best of the best films to prominently feature these giant beasts of the past and took on one of the most popular and cliché movie countdowns around. These are my picks for the Top 10 Dinosaur Movies.
For this list simply featuring a dinosaur is not enough. Dinosaurs must be prominent throughout the film so if a movie just includs a single dinosaur or slight references to prehistoric animals (such as the Dinozords in “Power Rangers”) they won’t be featured here. The dinosaurs don’t have to be the main focus of the film but must be a big part of the narrative. I also limited my list to one film per series however I considered reboots to be a separate series so yes in this case “Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic World” can be included because they are two different series within a single franchise.
Feel free to share your thoughts. What is your favorite dinosaur movie of all time? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to look for my review of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” this weekend.
10. “We’re Back! A Dinosaur Story”
You’re going to see a lot of Steven Spielberg on this list. In the 90s it seemed like the director had an obsession with bringing dinosaurs to the big screen. While Spielberg didn’t direct this fun example of 90s animated nostalgia his production company Amblimation was involved and in a lot of ways this offering was a head of its time. Focusing on a group of dinosaurs, led by a Tyrannosaurus Rex named, what else, Rex, whose intelligence are magnified to make them friendly and docile in order to make children’s wishes come true “We’re Back!” has a certain charm about it. Focusing on likable dinosaur characters and containing some pretty catchy music “We’re Back!” may not be a work of cinematic perfection, but it serves as a kid-friendly introduction to these prehistoric beasts while also capturing the essence of the fascination the world seems to have with dinosaurs in general. It ended up becoming a box office bomb but over the years became a prime example of nostalgia from its era. It’s a harmless and fun, if flawed, dinosaur cartoon that’s a good place to start for this list.
9. “Walking with Dinosaurs”
An intriguing 2013 film, “Walking with Dinosaurs” may have a familiar name you might recognize. That’s because it was produced as a cinematic project connecting to the BBC’s 1999 miniseries of the same name that explored the history of prehistoric creatures. The movie was meant to recapture the magic the miniseries accomplished in its prime and although it failed to churn up much buzz it did earn praise for its combination of real life backdrops with computer generated dinosaurs making it a beautifully rendered movie if nothing else. It also received praise from experts for its scientific accuracy (for the time). Many critics considered it a prime example of simple and rudimentary storytelling but if you can get past that “Walking with Dinosaurs” proves to be a neat film that approaches its concept like few before it or since by combining reality with CGI that surprisingly holds up relatively well even today. The fact that the story is also told as a fantasy tale from human characters also gives it that child friendly touch. Like “We’re Back!”, it’s a nice introductory movie to the idea of dinosaurs and one of the more inventive movies on this list in terms of visual presentation.
8. “King Kong”
Dinosaurs have long been a part of King Kong’s lore but the focus for this list is the 2005 Peter Jackson remake that takes that prehistoric monster action to a whole new level. Featuring new species of dinosaurs like the Vastatosaurus Rex (an updated relative of the T-Rex) the “King Kong” remake spends a lot of time exploring the living ancestors of prehistoric dinosaurs on Skull Island and even features a now iconic brawl between two rexes and Kong. These updated dinosaurs may not be the same prehistoric beasts we have come to know from our history books, but they’re just a vicious, intimidating and dangerous as their predecessors and maybe even more fascinating as they’ve learned to adapt and survive. We’ve seen dinosaurs reimagined or succeeded by bigger beasts in Kong movies in the past, including the 1933 original and 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island”, but the 2005 film does it best and gives us fantastic creatures that support the idea of Kong’s own evolution and personality. If for no other reason than the aforementioned Kong versus the rexes fight this fantastic remake deserves a spot on this list. The only reason it’s not higher is because of its limited use of the dinosaurs in the overall story compared to the films still to come.
7. “Jurassic World”
For years fans sought a new “Jurassic Park” movie especially after the third entry became a low point for the franchise. In 2015 we got our wish in a reboot that sparked an expected trilogy of new dino-centric movies building off of the legacy of the trilogy that started the hype in the 90s. “Jurassic World” takes place 22 years after its predecessors with the park now fully operational and exploring the creation of their own dinosaurs to bring in new clientele. A genetically engineered super dinosaur called the Indominous Rex manages to escape creating whole new problems for those on the island as a completely new predator seeks to supersede humanity and the dominant lizards of the past. This change of approach, including introducing a new species altogether to the world, helps “Jurassic World” stick out and gives it some social significant for fans to appreciate. Add in the introduction of new favorites like the Mosasaur and old favorites like the T-Rex and the raptors, now trained animals, and you get a film that packs plenty of nostalgia and fresh ideas and proved that even 22 years later fans were still fascinated with the potential of dinosaurs on the big screen.
6. “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”
The highest grossing movie in the long-running “Ice Age” series is also one of its most entertaining. “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” was released in 2009 and includes sleeker animation than its predecessors and a faster paced story as Manny, Sid, Diego and the gang find themselves in a lost paradise of dinosaurs. Hunted by an albino Baryonyx and trying to retrieve Sid from a pair of Tyrannosaurs the group is joined by a weasel named Buck who helps them on their adventure. “Dawn of the Dinosaurs” may not be the emotional or memorable journey its predecessors turned out to be, but it has its charm and slickly addresses how dinosaurs and the creatures of Ice Age would have mixed if they had lived at the same time. I also give the film credit for including the underrated predator Baryonyx as the protagonist and flipping the script on the normally intimidating Tyrannosaurus by making them likable creatures. While the “Ice Age” franchise feels tired and worn out today, this entry proved the series still had life and interest and became the easy go to modern animated offering to introduce a new generation of children to the fascination of prehistoric creatures.
5. “The Lost World”
I considered many different stop motion pictures for this list, but I kept coming back to one that was a pioneer in the art and one of the first to put dinosaurs at the forefront of cinematic entertainment. “The Lost World” of 1925 was the first cinematic adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary work of the same name and featured pioneering stop motion effects from the legendary Willis O’Brien who would later perfect his art with “King Kong”. The story follows an expedition seeking to rescue an explorer from a plateau allegedly inhabited by otherwise extinct beings. Several dinosaurs, including the Pteranodon, Brontosaurus and an early rendering of the Tyrannosaurus, make an appearance in the film bringing to life now iconic dinosaur versus dinosaur battles that helped shape what cinema would become back in the day. The film earned preservation in the National Film Registry and is often studied by aspiring filmmakers for its significant contributions to the art. Now in public domain, this legendary picture can be viewed by anyone and is worth the viewing if for no other reason than to experience the origins of humanity’s obsession with prehistoric creatures in movies.
4. “The Good Dinosaur”
While it’s not Pixar’s most notable work “The Good Dinosaur” is still a gem from the studio that was overshadowed by fellow 2015 release “Inside Out”. The premise is an interesting one: what if the comet that killed the dinosaurs missed Earth? This leads to an alternate history in the movie’s timeline where a young Apatosaurus named Arlo tries to fit in with his family but finds life difficult due to his timid nature. A series of events separates Arlo from his loved ones and teams him up with a human named Spot who becomes his pet companion as humans have not evolved into the civilized beings we are in the real world. This charming tale may not be Pixar’s most original or flashy product, but it has beautiful animation and visuals, great characters, and a story that once again sees the T-Rex as a more likable animal than the cliché predator. Instead it’s a band of pterodactyls that become the main villains of the story along with a group of more scientifically correct velociraptors. It may be Pixar’s lowest grossing film at the box office, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the watch.
3. “Disney’s Dinosaur”
Another animated dinosaur film, this was Disney’s first full-fledged attempt to cash in on the fad and it was Disney’s first ever fully CGI non-Pixar movie. Released in 2000, this underrated story with a child friendly feel, but adult friendly tone and flair follows an Iguanodon who befriends lemurs and tries to survive in the wake of a meteor shower. The movie is beautifully animated with realistic visuals that may have been ahead of their time and the effort put into it paid off. The movie became one of the highest grossing films of that year despite having the highest production cost of the year 2000 and helped reignite the fascination with dinosaurs that sparked in the 1990s. It’s often overlooked by other animated movies on this list and other computer-generated productions Disney would release years later, but “Dinosaur” is a rare treat that combines the violence and danger of its setting and the charm and delicacy required for a younger audience perfectly. It also gets credit for sidelining the T-Rex as the main bad guy. In fact, the Rex doesn’t show up at all in the film (although it was considered) and was replaced instead by the frankly more intimidating Carnotaurus which gives “Dinosaur” a touch of originality to help it stand out.
2. “The Land Before Time”
Another Steven Spielberg production, “The Land Before Time” is a staple of the 90s having debuted in 1988. One of Amblin Entertainment and Sullivan Bluth Studios most cherished projects this film is a rare gem from a different time, just like the dinosaurs that make up its world. It’s a perfectly balanced animated feature that juggles the violence of prehistoric times with powerful child friendly messages about life, friendship and mortality. The journey of “longneck” Littlefoot and his friends to the paradise known as The Great Valley spawned a franchise of direct-to-video sequels and a children’s television series and brought the world now-iconic characters that provided a generation with an introduction to the world of dinosaurs. This classic spawned the fascination with dinosaurs long before almost any other movie on this list and even overshadowed Disney in the long run as it was released on the same day as “Oliver and Company” and is infinitely more well known. Filled with charm and personality and unafraid to teach children harsh lessons about life and how the world used to be long before humanity took over, “The Land Before Time” lives up to its name and is still among the greatest animated features of its era.
1. “Jurassic Park”
A legendary work of cinema and the granddaddy of all modern dinosaur films, “Jurassic Park” may not have originated the prehistoric creatures on the big screen but it is singlehandedly responsible for the popularity of those animals in modern pop culture. Based on Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name this film is among director Steven Spielberg’s most legendary cinematic achievements with groundbreaking CGI effects that still hold up today, memorable characters and creature designs and some of the most quotable one-liners the early 90s ever produced. But this list is all about the dinosaurs and “Jurassic Park” remains the film that made these ancient animals truly look and feel real on the big screen for the first time. Even today’s films can’t match the brilliance of these visual effects that wowed viewers as much as the characters who were seeing these dinosaurs in modern day. A lot of movies on this list have made their mark and provided family entertainment using these prehistoric wonders to their advantage, but none have left the same mark as “Jurassic Park”. It may have seemed like the obvious choice to put it at the top of this list from the very start, and yes it panders a bit to the theme of this week with “Fallen Kingdom” being released, but there really is no other experience like this movie. It remains not only one of the best, but by far the most popular and respected dinosaur film of all time.