I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s utterly bizarre that Hollywood seems to think that the only place movie-goers are interested in seeing dinosaurs is the Jurassic Park movies. They’re the iconic, public-domain monsters that are permanently seared into humanity’s collective psyche and are perhaps the first obsession of every kid on the planet. What’s more is that convincing special effects technology is getting so convincing and inexpensive that with only a little narrative finesse, they can be shoehorned into virtually any setting.
But because Hollywood is set in its ways, and because Jurassic Park and its successors are the only pace where we can evidently go to get out dino fix, I have to work with what I’ve got. Fortunately, though, what I’ve got is Jurassic Park: one of the better blockbuster franchise to come out in the last twenty-five years and one with an extremely bright future in the years ahead. So if there’s only one place to go in town when you’re jonesing for some dinosaurs, at least Universal’s got you covered.
5 . Jurassic Park III (2001)
While not, strictly speaking, all that terrible of a movie, Jurassic Park III is unquestionably the low point of the franchise. It retreads the greatest hits of the series thus far to rapidly diminishing returns. We get a thin premise to return to the island (again) that simply gives us exactly what we were expecting the first time around, only with much diminished artistry.
Sure, there are some fun bits about different kinds of deadly dinos, but it’s an obvious attempt to try to one-up the conceptually perfect predation of the T-Rex. Anything that you can get out of this unbearably dull highlight reel the first two movies invariably did better.
4 . The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
The Lost World had a tough act to follow with the first Jurassic Park. It somehow had to up the stakes of a movie that started off by introducing the deadliest predators to ever exist on this planet. It was only loosely based on a novel that only existed in the first place because Crichton was increasingly pressured by his publisher, Hollywood and the growing legion of Jurassic Park fans for a follow-up to the original story. It had to make due without most of the original cast and by giving over narrative command of the story to a side character that was killed off in Crichton’s first book (one that was not just ill-equipped as a leading man, but whose entire being actively fought against it).
To it’s credit, it did the next logical thing that you could do with the premise: bring the dinosaurs to the mainland and let them terrorize ordinary people. I mean, that’s basically what Fallen Kingdom was about (because why mess with a good thing?), and that worked out pretty well the second time around. And Spielberg did manage to wring out a few more great moments from that premise (most notably, a little kid menaced in bed by the slinking form of a dinosaur, a sequence that was also recreated in Fallen Kingdom).
3 . Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Cynics will say that Fallen Kingdom is ultimately just a retread of The Lost World. And, to be fair, they’re right. For better or for worse, the movie appropriates every last shred of that movie that it reasonably can and repackages it into its new mad scientist-branded product leftover from the first Jurassic World. But, for all of the cynical browbeating over it, the approach ultimately works and the movie is, if nothing else, a fun extension of that first movie.
It’s really a shame that director J. A. Bayona didn’t give this movie more room to breathe, because there is a full two movies worth of plot crammed into this one package. They dinosaur rescue op that the trailers kept pitching to fans is only the first third of the movie, with the rest of the feature turned over to mainland action-horror set pieces like a black market dinosaur auction, industrial conspiracies and the Indo-Raptor (this movie’s Indominus Rex). But, despite the rush job that the movie does on its initial premise, the production satisfactorily comes together by the end and even leaves off on a great note for future sequels to revisit.
2 . Jurassic World (2015)
Whereas the first Jurassic Park sequel went with the next logical step in the franchise’s overarching narrative — what if they made it to shore (kind of where 28 Week Later (2007) ultimately left off), Jurassic World goes in the same direction that Aliens did decades before. Specifically: what if the first movie, but now there’s more of them. And in this case, “more of them” meant a full-on functioning theme park and nature preserve jam-packed with dozens of immersive, fully-stocked dinosaur exhibits.
And even if that’s basically all Jurassic World is, it works so perfectly well that it jumped straight past the other sequels in terms of quality and premise. The newly-rendered dinosaurs looked spectacular and the carnage was pleasingly scaled up from the first movie’s small cast when the destruction started spilling over into the more populated, tourist-filled segments of the park.
1 . Jurassic Park (1993)
There really is no beating the original. Even if it is just a second-tier Spielberg movie when all is said and done (and not even the best one to come out in 1993), everything about it just works together so perfectly that you’d almost be excused for thinking that it was something nearer to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) than it was The Adventures of Tintin (2011).
The one real downside to it is the lack of scale that comes inherent when the dinosaurs break out in a non-functional theme park still in beta testing. But the actors are all great, the special effects (which mix physical models with computer generated images) are all spectacularly convincing and the man behind the camera is hands-down the best living director in the business. There’s a reason why this franchise lasted as long as it did, and it all comes down to how infectiously entertaining this first movie was (and in fact still is today).