Dinosaurs are like monsters, except they were real; at least that’s how cinema has treated them since the very first dinosaur movie, 1905’s Prehistoric Peeps, which is unfortunately lost to history. Dinosaurs and movies have a symbiotic relationship. The extinct creatures have been a subject of fascination from the moment their fossils were discovered, and the magic of moving pictures certainly helps maintain the public’s interest, but one franchise about these creatures stands above the rest.
Jurassic Park is the most popular and well-reviewed dinosaur movie. While it’s well-made and exciting, it’s the culprit behind a great deal of paleontological misinformation, like using the wrong period for the title of the park as well as falsely depicting the sizes of certain dinosaurs. Subsequent sequels have gone even further afoul with the truth, which feeds into the trend of dinosaur movies targeting kids being more educational while those with horror elements have more creative freedom. Whether looking for accuracy or imagination, these movies outside the Jurassic Park franchise show dinosaurs at their best.
This 2013 movie, based on the BBC series of the same name, has two big legs up on the competition. Walking with Dinosaurs comes alive with cutting edge technology that puts CGI creatures against real backgrounds, having the best and most accurate portrayal of dinosaurs and their habitats so far. Unlike the Jurassic Park franchise, Walking with Dinosaurs gets most of the science right. Its species live alongside each other in the Late Cretaceous Period, and all of them look, more or less, the way they’re would in reality.
King Kong, in black and white with its choppy stop motion, might seem too analog to scare audiences today, but it’s a benchmark of American horror cinema because it elevated the monster movie from a vehicle of experimentation with film to a vessel for introspection and higher-level storytelling. The big ape is obviously the focus, but King Kong features plenty of dinosaurs too. They’re not entirely believable or scientifically correct, but this was the early 20th century.
The thing about dinosaurs is people can only see their skeleton form in reality. That’s why Rexy, the reanimated Tyrannosaurus from Night at the Museum, is so familiar. He’s also the only dinosaur people can visit in person as a permanent resident at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Because it has the real thing to work with, the film gets the details right, like the king of the dinosaur’s horizontal posture; however, the film still has fun with this dinosaur, as seen in his love for fetch.
Disney has a mixed track record when it comes to dinosaurs, and the studio’s 2000 computer animated film, simply titled Dinosaur, is their best attempt. In typical Disney fashion, the plot involves an orphan who has to overcome obstacles with the help of found friends, but the animation of the dinosaurs is mostly impressive; however, the “good guys” (i.e., the herbivores) are perhaps a bit too human, especially in the face. Where Dinosaur really shines is in its choice of a villain since Carnotaurus is one of the most intimidating theropods who ever lived with his large but light build, quick speed and two horns protruding from above his eyes. Dinosaur makes him as frightening as he deserves to be.
This horror film produced by legendary cult movie-maker Roger Corman is decidedly not for children. Carnosaur is about an evil scientist’s plan to wipe out humanity with a virus and repopulate the Earth with genetically modified dinosaurs. It’ll forever be known as 1993’s other dinosaur movie, but it was made for pennies compared to Jurassic Park‘s dollar. Despite it’s B-movie status, it got some of its facts right, including a reference to the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and chickens. The film’s hand-built models and puppets give it a sort of homespun, campy charm.
Don Bluth’s 1988 animated classic, The Land Before Time, gets a lot wrong with almost all of its characters existing out of their correct geologic time and place. Even if one considers that they are drawn to be cute, their appearances and behaviors are pretty far off the mark; however, the movie, which was also produced by Steven Spielberg, is beautifully rendered for its time, with a memorable score and an emotional center. Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, Petrie and Spike might be the stuff of fantasy rather than paleontology, but they inspired a generation of new dinosaur lovers all the same.
KEEP READING: Video: The Complete Jurassic Park Timeline, Explained
Dinosaurs and Hollywood have had a long, symbiotic relationship beyond Jurassic Park, including these several films.