Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of author Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park left a longstanding legacy in Hollywood, with a sixth mainline entry hitting theaters this week in the form of Jurassic World Dominion. Dinosaurs have also long been one of the most popular aspects of the planet’s history, inspiring plenty of imagination about what these ancient animals were like and how they perished.
And while there aren’t as many dinosaur movies as one might think given their natural awe-inspiring appeal, there have been a few noteworthy ones over the last few decades. Whether it’s the landmark original movie in the Jurassic Park franchise, a beloved animated family classic, or a fascinating BBC documentary, there’s enough range in the subgenre for audiences to indulge their excitement for the upcoming movie.
Unsurprisingly, Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is arguably the definitive blockbuster dinosaur movie worth watching. There’s little to be said of the sci-fi thriller that hasn’t already been discussed ad nauseum, as it was something of a phenomenon when it hit theaters in the early ’90s. Adapting Crichton’s novel of the same name, Jurassic Park follows a team of scientists invited by the ambitious park-creator John Hammond to see the first-ever dinosaur theme park.
Things expectedly go wrong, with the movie expertly blending a sense of beauty and natural wonder with these interpretations of these animals — along with a pulse-pounding flavor of horror. Nothing ever since has captured that same sense of wondrous imagination, and the masterful use of practical animatronics in harmony with CGI has made the dinosaurs and the movie itself timeless — and still better than a lot of modern CGI.
Jurassic Park is available to stream on HBO Max and to rent or buy on Amazon.
Following the disappointment of the critically-panned Jurassic Park III in 2001, the fourth mainline entry had been put through development hell until it was finally released in the summer of 2015. Functioning as a soft reboot of the franchise, Jurassic World took place in the modern-day with a new main cast of characters.
This time, the story revolves around a new iteration of the park made in Hammond’s honor that succeeded — up to a point — until disaster inevitably struck again. Leaning harder into the “man playing God” theme, World peaks mankind’s hubris through an artificially-made dinosaur that was too perfect of a hunter to be contained for corporate or military greed. The movie was a box office monster, with Jurassic World itself proving to be a solid sci-fi-thriller romp and nostalgic follow-up if unspectacular. Its biggest flaw (aside from letting its leading lady run from dinosaurs in heels) is relying too hard on nostalgia for its appeal, as Chris Pratt’s hero is still nowhere near as beloved as the original’s lead trio (Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum).
Jurassic World is available to rent or buy on Amazon.
Though only tangentially a “dinosaur movie,” Peter Jackson’s King Kong will still have enough dinosaur-related action to satisfy fans of the sub-genre. The 2005 movie was a remake of the original 1933 monster-movie classic, running at a staggering 3 hours and 21 minutes. It follows the story of an ambitious film director who pushes his cast to travel with him to the ominous Skull Island, where flora and fauna thought to have been lost to prehistory not only survived but evolved.
King Kong‘s runtime might be unwieldy to some, but it’s a grandiose adventure, epic, and tragedy all rolled into one. Along with the titular gorilla, different species of dinosaurs evolved alongside Kong into new — and deadlier — subspecies like the V-Rex and raptor-like Venatosaurus.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong is available to stream on HBO Max and to rent or buy on Amazon.
Wildly changing gears in regards to popular dinosaur movies is the animated family tale The Land Before Time. The original 1988 movie is a beloved classic that, while aimed at younger children, has enough storytelling heft and memorable characters to be enjoyed by cynical adults as well.
The movie was predictably milked beyond recognition through direct-to-video sequels, but the orphaned Littlefoot and co.’s first journey is a heartfelt — and even heartbreaking — story of surviving the perils of the prehistoric wilds while overcoming the prejudices. The Land Before Time uses a simple premise along with its equally-simple themes, but it remains a touching movie to watch with the young ones.
The Land Before Time is available to stream on Peacock and to rent or buy on Amazon.
The Ballad of Big Al might be another technicality, but for those that are more scientifically inclined, it’s a short film/TV special worth checking out. Produced by the BBC and known in the U.S. as Allosaurus: A Walking with Dinosaurs Special, this dinosaur documentary follows the hypothesized reconstructed life story of the Allosaurus specimen dubbed “Big Al.”
Paleontology is a constantly evolving field of science, but this 22-year-old documentary is still a fascinating and concise experience for those curious to see how far our understanding of these jaw-dropping animals has evolved. If audiences come away hungry for something modern, Apple TV+’s recent and acclaimed Prehistoric Planet (narrated by David Attenborough) TV miniseries should more than satisfy.
The Ballad of Big Al / Allosaurus: A Walking With Dinosaurs Special is available to rent on Amazon.
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