Top Ten Best Dinosaur Films!
Welcome to Jurassic Park! This week we celebrate films filled with terrible lizards, like the kind Jurassic World just rode to a 500 million dollar debut! We’ve covered our favorite cavemen flicks recently, but now we’re going to have to turn the dial on the time machine way back (of if you’re a creationist, just slightly back) to when dinosaurs ruled the box office…er…world. Without further ado, here’s Our Tens List: Dinosaur Creature-Feature.
#10. 1,000,00 Years BC (1966)
This film, starring Raquel Welch and a very complimentary fur bikini, is actually a remake of a 1940 film starring Bela Legosi, and features roughly the same plot: a human tribe of unsavory hunters exiles the chief’s son when he tries to usurp the head honcho role. The young upstart wanders around the Pleistocene, attempting to avoid becoming dinosaur food, until he comes upon a much more egalitarian society of gatherers. When his hunting prowess saves the village from an Allosaurus attack, they take him in, and eventually teach him the blend of brains and brawns that allow him to unite the two tribes and replace his domineering father as chief.
What the 1960’s version of this film has over the original is Ray Harryhausen, the wizard of stop motion film effects. His films, such as Jason and the Argonauts, The Voyages of Sinbad, and Clash of the Titans are all classics, and he proves himself here to be just as adept at creating rampaging dinos as he did at recreating monsters from classical antiquity. The first film had to use a real lizard, as a comparison. It’s no contest which version wins the dinosaur slug fest here.
#9. Land of the Lost (2009)
Will Ferrell takes a light-hearted strole through pre-history in this film adaptation of the television series, Land of the Lost. While the original played its cooky special effects straight, Ferrel and company make a total mockery of it…and frankly it works much better. A stuck up paleontologist and his much brainier research student manage to discover a cave that acts as a portal through time (and as the incompetent travelers soon learn, through space as well.) The two scientists, plus a souvenir salesman, land themselves is a land where artifacts from different times and worlds seem to congregate. One artifact, a vindictive T-Rex named Grumpy chases them away from their landing site, leaving them no way home. Odd aliens intervene and urge the trio to retrieve the time-travel device, but seem to have ulterior motives…
This film is certainly no prize winner, following on the heels of Starsky and Hutch and other campy adaptations of semi-famous television series. The visuals are pretty solid, though the actors seem to deliberately ignore the creatures in front of them for comedic effect. Will Ferrell is pretty funny doing his Will Ferrell impersonation, and if you liked his pompous cretin routine from…well…any of his best comedies, you’re going to love him here.
#8. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)
The Ice Age just keeps on trucking and finally gives up and goes dinosaurs. Now since it would be anachronistic and ludicrous to just start wedging T-Rexes into the series…the film posits a super secret hidden valley that our roving troupe of comedic mammals discovers so that the film can start wedging T-Rexes into the series. See, they totally disarmed any sense of disbelief by using the time-tested trope of an ancient world hidden underground…hey, is that Scrat chasing an acorn again? Those lovable scamps!
This is a fun excursion for the series that manages to keep to the tried-and-true formula of the original while giving us some goddamn dinosaurs in the process. The sheer number of top-notch comedians lending voice work here keeps the film consistently entertaining, and the animation has never looked better. Heck, this film even helped to pave the way for 4D film experiences, where a movie theater agrees to shake your chair, blast fog and mist at you, and even assault you with levels of light and sound that constitute torture according to that oft-forgotten document, the Geneva Convention. If you pay for the premium seats, they even add that extra olfactory je ne sais quoi to help sell the fart jokes! Keep innovating, boys!
#7. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) and The Lost World (1960)
This double-feature gets a nod for the absolutely most dreadful use of “practical effects” I have ever had the pleasure to witness. Journey to the Center of the Earth is a family friendly adaptation of Jules Vernes’ seminal science fiction classic of the same name, and The Lost World is a spiritual successor created by the same team just one year later to capitalize on people’s “holy crap what did I just see!?” enthusiasm from the first film. In the first, explorers journey inside an Icelandic volcano towards the nominal center of the planet, only to discover a world of mega-flora and murder-fauna that has survived intact from the ancient history of the Earth. In The Lost World, a team of scientists (I use the term lightly here) goes into the Amazon in order to find proof that prehistoric creatures still exist, tucked away in the lush jungles. Between the two of them, they manage to cover 99.99% of the plots used in any movie made involving dinosaurs.
What makes these films so special? Lizard cos-play, that’s what! I know I just knocked 1,000,000 BC for using actual living lizards not even three entries ago, but that film had nothing, absolutely NOTHING on the sheer brass balls and special effects chicanery these two movies display. This film has every conceivable non-extinct reptile gussied up with glued-on horns, slap-dashed fins, or even a (surely unethical) coat of paint. They paint lizards and pretend they’re dinosaurs here, folks. You have to celebrate the circus side-show level of cynicism on display. If they made a third film, you could have used Jules Vernes’ corpse as a drill bit to reach the Earth’s core, simply because his body would have been spinning in its grave that fast!
#6. The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
Just like 1,000,000 Years BC, when Ray Harryhausen got wind of the shaddy effects the previous two movies were using, he was having none of that shit. The Valley of Gwangi was a project with special pedigree, as Willis O’Brien, the genius behind the landmark stop-motion effects for King Kong (and Harryhausen’s mentor) died before being able to create the film. Harryhausen stepped in and saw his sensei’s vision to completion, making his final dinosaur themed project one of his best.
A Mexican rodeo outfit has managed to wow audiences with a miniature horse called El Diablo, which is in fact an extinct ancestor to the modern horse. The brave members of the rodeo assist a scientist in returning the horse to the forbidden valley where it was captured (spurred on by a gypsy woman’s dire warnings of doom, naturally.) Less a philanthropic trip and more a big game hunt for even scarier monsters, the expedition quickly realizes they’ve bit off more than they can chew. It’s T-Rexes and cowboys from thereon in, which is reason enough to see this in the first place.
Harryhausen filmed some of his best effects here for this silly sci-fi flick, honoring his deceased mentor and showing the lizard-using crowd how you make a bad-ass dinosaur movie. This is a B-movie classic for the ages!
#5. Fantasia (1940)
The only thing scarier to come out of the 1940’s than Nazi Germany was Walt Disney’s magnum opus, Fantasia. This movie is legendary: beginning as a pricey come-back vehicle for Mickey Mouse in an animated short, it quickly ballooned into a 2 hour plus orchestral piece accompanied by animation that included a 15 minute intermission, and required an entirely novel sound system, Fantasound, to be installed in the 13 theaters of the film’s original run. The film is lush, decadent, and completely insane.
Many remember, vividly, the final set piece, Night on Bald Mountain, in which the devil conducts a symphony of tortured spirits on Bald Mountain until the light of dawn and the chants of local monks drive him back underground…to await his next engagement! But what many may forget is the equally terrifying segment, Rite of Spring, where the formation of the Earth is shown in all of its splendor and violence, culminating in the furious rise and fall of the dinosaurs. The climax of this sequence is a duel to the death between a Triceratops and a Tyrannosaurus. The Rex emerges, bloodied by victorious, only to be nuked from orbit by an asteroid. The movie then cuts to the intermission, one assumes in order to allow parents to deal with hysterical children (and to change their own soiled undergarments.)
#4. Caveman (1981)
We’ve covered this movie at length, but here’s the nitty-gritty: Ringo Starr is a dopey caveman in a lampoon of 1,000,000 BC who manages to smoke up a dinosaur and to throw his future real-life wife into a giant steaming pile of dino droppings. Nuff said.
#3. Baby: The Secret of the Lost Legend (1985)
Here we have the familiar story of a lost valley of pre-history being played for drama instead of thrills or laughs. Baby tells the story of two adventuresome Americans who discover a family of dinosaurs, and attempt to prevent both scientists and the military from tearing the group apart. The film feels like one part Bambi, one part Dumbo, and two parts Jurassic Park. This film used some pretty sophisticated animatronics for the family of Apatosaurs, and Baby, the juvenile, is particularly crafted with care and attention to detail. While the title is a mouth-full, the movie itself is a real tear-jerker and shows how mechanical creatures came to replace stop-motion as the visually innovative technique of a generation.
#2. King Kong (1933)
Willis O’Brien took a childhood passion for fantasy and realistic models and turned them into some of the greatest films ever seen. His work set the course of practical effects for a generation and inspired many of Hollywood’s most visionary directors. His direct successor, as we’ve seen, went on to make incredible classics of his own. While known for his two biggest hits, King Kong and Mighty Joe Young (which won him and his team an Oscar) his technical expertise was used on numerous films, including Citizen Kane. His fame may have grown even larger had World War II not forced him to shelve his next project…a movie about ancient Vikings who rode flying eagles into battle against dinosaurs. What. The. Fuck! Thanks, Hitler, you ruin everything!
King Kong may seem a little dated, but Hollywood is perpetually remaking the film, a testament to its visionary status. The awesome nature of the giant monkey versus dinosaur scenes went on to inspire Japanese film makers to create their own giant monster. You may have heard of him: Godzilla.
#1. Jurassic Park (1993)
The king of kings in dinosaur films, there is no unseating the original Jurassic Park. Jurassic World may have finally provided this series with a spiritual successor, as the other two sequels were absolutely abysmal, but the tremendous blend of animatronics, stop-motion, puppetry and nascent computer generated imagery put this film in a league of its own.
Based upon the best-seller by Michael Chrichton, Jurassic Park tells the story of science and human arrogance gone wrong, when a theme park using genetically cloned dinosaurs is created by a billionaire. A team of scientist are brought in to inspect the park for safety (and to fact check the script,) but a bout of corporate espionage causes all of the park’s safety features to fail, stranding the humans in a veritable sea of hungry apex predators.
Spielberg took on this project as a requisite chore in order to finance Schindler’s List (once again, Hitler nearly scuttled an amazing dinosaur movie from beyond the grave…what a douche!) Relying on the techniques that made his early thrillers, like Jaws, a success, Spielberg blended amazing imagery, solid pacing, fantastic special effects, and a taught script pulled off by talented actors into a true blockbuster. The film made 900 billion, blew away dozens of records, and re-kindled America’s fascination with dinosaurs. Without this film, we wouldn’t even be talking about the other gems on this list, and for that, Jurassic Park reigns supreme.