For more than 135 million years, dinosaurs ruled the planet. More recently, they've dominated the world of cinema, returning from extinction to reappear on the silver screen thanks to special effects wizards and directors eager to push the boundaries of filmmaking. For more than a century we've been treated to films featuring animated, live-action, stop-motion and computer-generated dinosaurs — all the while sitting in our seats and wondering aloud, "How did they do that?"
With the latest film in the "Jurassic Park" franchise set to roar into theaters, now is the perfect moment to revisit some classic dino-themed films. While not every film on this list will capture your attention, they're all perfect examples — for better or worse — of Hollywood's love affair with our favorite "terrible lizards."
'King Kong' (2005)
Director Peter Jackson's remake of the 1933 original of the same name features an impressive cast, an engrossing story, and absolutely incredible computer-generated creatures. While the entire movie is worth your time, the beginning on Skull Island is a treat for anyone who loves dinosaurs. Not only are we introduced to the giant King Kong, but also those prehistoric creatures he shares the jungle with, including velociraptors, sauropods and hungry tyrannosaurs. Fans of the genre will especially appreciate a classic scene involving Kong and his attempts to save Naomi Watt's character from three dinos intent on killing them at all costs. "Kong" won three Academy Awards and remains the fourth-highest grossing film in Universal Pictures' history.
'The Land Before Time' (1988)
One of the greatest animated dinosaur films of all time, "The Land Before Time" tells the story of Littlefoot, an orphaned sauropod who journeys with four other young dinosaurs to find the mythical Great Valley. Directed by Tom Bluth, (who two years earlier had scored a hit with "An American Tail,") the film was also executive produced by film giants Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. It was such a huge success that it went on to spawn 13 direct-to-video sequels and a television series. Being 10 at the time of its release, I absolutely adored this film (and the soundtrack by James Horner) — a sentiment I can confirm holds up over 25 years later upon repeat viewings with my own kids. (And yes, the T-Rex is just as terrifying.)
'Gertie the Dinosaur' (1913)
The earliest animated film to feature a dinosaur, "Gertie" was also the first film to pioneer a number of animation techniques, including keyframes and animation loops. Long before Spielberg and the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic breathed computer-animated life into the dinosaurs of "Jurassic Park," cartoonist Winsor McCay painstakingly studied sauropod bones at New York's Natural History Museum and timed his own breathing to make Gertie's seem more realistic. When released, it was a huge commercial success, with generations of animators crediting it for inspiring them in the industry. Bonus: At around the 3:50 minute mark, Gertie shows why she's not a dino you want to mess with.
'One Million Years B.C.' (1966)
Remember that poster in the "Shawshank Redemption," the one Andy Dufresne used to hide his escape tunnel behind? If you're like me, that image of actress Raquel Welch is likely all you may know about the film "One Million Years B.C." It's actually a pretty cool piece of cinematic history, if not for its plot — which involved cavemen and dinosaurs living together — than certainly for its creative special effects. Stop-motion dinosaurs making appearances include the allosaurus, brontosaurus, triceratops and a pteranodon. In what's a staple of classic B-movie fare, a live iguana and a tarantula were also filmed (and then expanded in post-production) to the give the illusion of giant creatures.
'Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend' (1985)
I remember watching this film when it first came out and thinking it was incredible. A quick glance online, however, has me wondering if it might not hold up so well today, especially with critiques like "no soul," "no heart" and "very boring." And even though one critic slammed the loveable baby dinosaur in the film as having "dead reptilian eyes," it's certainly worth a viewing. The story revolves around a couple who find one of the last remaining brontosaurs while hiking in Africa, and decide to protect it from an evil scientist and the military. All of the dinosaurs were animatronic, a special effect itself rendered extinct when "Jurassic Park" debuted only eight years later.
Walt Disney Animation's "Dinosaur" still ranks as one of the most beautiful and technically impressive dino-themed films to grace the big screen. Combining both live-action and computer-generated dinosaurs, it tells the story of an orphaned iguanodon who grows up with the help of other species while also battling velociraptors and an evil carnotaurus. In other words, it's kind of like an upgraded "Land Before Time." Voice actors included Max Casella, Julianna Margulies and a young Hayden Panettiere.
Bonus fact: In the original pitch to Disney in 1988, the writers had a darker ending that included a meteor striking the Earth and killing all of the main characters. The studio ultimately rejected that idea in later years, likely in part due to reaction to a similar conclusion of the 1994 TV series "Dinosaurs;" described as "the most traumatizing series finale ever."
Director Gareth Edwards reboot of the classic "Godzilla" did a masterful job of once again imagining one of cinema's greatest prehistoric monsters. For Godzilla's new 350-foot-tall appearance, special effects wizards took inspiration from animals like lions, wolves, bears and (naturally) Komodo dragons. The cast is also impressive, with Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe helping to keep the human drama from being overshadowed by the awesome creatures on the screen.
By now you may be asking: Is Godzilla really a dinosaur? The answer is yes — a radioactive dinosaur, but certainly one that qualifies for this list. According to one source: "Godzilla has the head and lower body of a tyrannosaurus, a triple row of dorsal plates reminiscent of a stegosaurus, the neck and forearms of iguanodon and the tail and skin texture of a crocodile. So basically — a 350-foot-tall Dino-Frankenstein."
'Theodore Rex' (1995)
The absolute greatest thing about this movie is that it actually exists. In 1995, the cinematic world conceived a film about a futuristic cop (Whoopi Goldberg) who happens to have a wise-cracking T-Rex for a partner. As you'll see in the trailer, the whole thing is so horribly bad, you'll both cringe and wax nostalgic for the lunacy that was the '90s. Even better, Goldberg never wanted to do the film. She was forced by a court of law to co-star after settling with producers who claimed they had audio of her agreeing to the project. Her fee? $7 million.
The film was widely panned by critics and, not surprisingly, failed miserably at test screenings. New Line wisely decided not to send it to theaters. With a budget of more than $33.5 million, it became the most expensive direct-to-video release ever made.
'The Lost World' (1925)
The original dinosaur blockbuster "The Lost World" arrived on the scene long before Spielberg's 1997 film of the same name. Released in 1925 as a silent adventure film, initial reaction to the pioneering stop-motion special effects was so jaw-dropping that even the New York Times wondered aloud whether or not the footage captured of the dinosaurs was real. "If fakes, they were masterpieces," the newspaper declared.
"The Lost World" has the distinction of being the first film ever shown to airline passengers, ushering in an age of in-flight entertainment during a London to Paris flight in April 1925.
The 'Jurassic Park' franchise
I will never forget sitting in the front row of a theater during the opening weekend for "Jurassic Park" and experiencing Spielberg's dinosaurs for the first time. Just like audiences viewing "The Lost World" in 1925 for the first time, it was hard to believe that these were not living, breathing creatures filmed on some remote island.
Spielberg had originally intended to use a combination of animatronic dinosaurs and stop-motion techniques by special effects legend Phil Tippett. However, after Industrial Light & Magic showed the director an early build of a T-Rex running through a field, he decided to go full CGI for some shots, a decision that made Tippett famously quip: "I think I'm extinct."
"Jurassic Park" went on to become the top-grossing film of all time, a crown it would not lose until a little art film called "Titanic" came along in 1997. While the other two films in the franchise, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" and "Jurassic Park III," would not bring in as much cash as the original, the three combined collected an impressive $1.9 billion at the worldwide box office.
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