It is interesting that something known for going extinct can become so timeless. The appeal of dinosaurs is a childhood pastime. For a child it is nothing if not wonderful to imagine having the power — and the digestive tract — to swallow a goat whole. This childhood nostalgia is part of what helped place the original Jurassic Park film firmly in cinematic history. It has since gone on to spawn multiple sequels, all of which have resulted in massive financial success. The franchise’s pop culture dino-print is undeniable.
The Jurassic Park film series lay dormant for years after 2001’s Jurassic Park III before exploding back onto the screen in 2015 with Jurassic World — which proved to be an even bigger box office success than its predecessors. With a sixth addition to the franchise (Jurassic World: Dominion) looming on the 2021 horizon, it looks as though the franchise has no plans of slowing down.
Jurassic World: Dominion even boasts the return of several original cast members, including Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum. The relationship dynamics of the past being woven into the current cast should make for a captivating watch. Each original cast member brings an important element to the table. Laura Dern returns to the franchise after acclaimed turns in Marriage Story and Big Little Lies. Bringing her energy back into the fray will be exciting. After all, we need someone to properly express how it feels to be surrounded by stupidity. The aspect of grandeur that comes with a world filled with dinosaurs has faded slightly, but Sam Neill should be able to reignite the kid in all of us with his signature grin. And of course there’s Jeff Goldblum, who needs to do nothing more than stand in front of the camera and be Jeff Goldblum.
In celebration of the sometimes dubious franchise that somehow turned a scene in which a lawyer gets eaten alive on the toilet into a family-friendly moment, we sat down and made some hard decisions about which films are best. (Was that a hint back there?) A deep dive into the interwebs has shown that no one is in agreement as far as ranking the Jurassic films goes. Whether it’s which decade you were born in or the level of love you have for Chris Pratt, many factors come into play in this discussion. You’ve got to start somewhere, though, so what follows is our ranking of all the Jurassic franchise films from worst to best. How does it line up with your personal favorites? Read on to find out.
Jurassic Park III
The burden of genius involved with being Michael Crichton must have been excruciating; marching around the world among all us simpletons while scientific theories about reviving extinct titans swirled around your active brain? Lucky for us, Crichton teamed up with Steven Spielberg and gave us a glimpse into his mind. The end result is an exhilarating two hours of the prehistoric clashing with mankind’s massive ego. An integral part of our first trip into the park was Sam Neill. The man who plays Dr. Alan Grant brought a crucial element to the screen — his childlike wonder surrounding the majesty of dinosaurs helped balance out the suspense. But when the time came for a Jurassic sequel, Sam Neill was nowhere to be found. Audiences were glad dinosaurs were back but still asked: What gives?
Sam Neill’s absence from The Lost World is because of one simple reason: Michael Crichton hadn’t included his character in the book. Have no fear though, because the gods blessed us with this third addition in the Jurassic franchise! Or so we thought. Excitement about Neill’s return to the role of Dr. Grant was thrashed once we were forced to endure Jurassic Park III in full. While it was a success in terms of the studio’s financial gain, for the most part, it is seen as the worst film in the franchise.
Jurassic Park III reeks of greedy corporate exploitation, or as The Wall Street Journal somewhat diplomatically noted: "[JP-III] exemplifies Hollywood’s standard practice of stomping a brilliant concept beyond recognition — for the best of reasons: tie-ins with toy makers, theme-park owners and fast-food merchandisers…" The third film features A-list actors William H. Macy and Téa Leoni sharing the screen with Sam Neill. Unfortunately, the script didn’t leave these screen veterans much to work with. Film critic Michael Sagrow of The Baltimore Sun noted the "silliness" of what he described as the "deliberately stupid characters" who end up stuck in "[a] picture [that] descends into the smash, gnash and groan school of filmmaking." By the halfway point in the film’s journey, we’re somehow annoyed with these beloved stars. Who’d have thought that the director who gave us Jumanji would present us with such a dud? Joe Johnston went on to direct Captain America: The First Avenger though, so it’s hard to harbor too much resentment.
Were there some fans of this third installment? Of course. But the fact of the matter is it killed the franchise for over a decade. It would take fourteen years for Universal Studios to take a chance on anything Jurassic, which is likely due to the fact that JP-III‘s worldwide box office gross was relatively dismal compared to both he original film and its follow-up, The Lost World. Even then, much of the franchise was placed on the shoulders of a lean, mean Chris Pratt and a genetic amalgamation of terror.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Coming in at number 4 on our list is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. This is where the ranking argument gets a bit heated. The films’ decades-spanning timeline brings multiple viewing generations into the ranking battle — older audiences’ nostalgia goes toe-to-toe with youth’s blind enjoyment of the ironic. Fallen Kingdom displays a stripping of suspenseful elements and a return to camp. The movie is a fun ride but in an unintentionally naive way. Aside from that beautiful, haunting image of a brontosaurus being consumed by plumes of volcanic ash, most of this movie is a bubbling fountain of molten cheese.
That being said, it’s still a smorgasbord of bot our favorite dinosaurs, and some new ones. The satisfaction we feel watching that Stygimoloch (the adorable, knob-skulled dinosaur that helps the heroes escape) tossing all those rich folks — who capitalized on a cataclysmic disaster — around the auction room is glorious. It’s another fantastic visual representation of the core concept which flows through all Jurassic films: the hubris of mankind. Not only do we get that delicious framework, but the introduction of an entirely new intelligent predator who really shakes things up!
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom introduces the Indoraptor: a genetically engineered super-dinosaur programmed with a targeting system in the form of a laser pointer. If only we could train our cats to maul our enemies like that then we’d be in business. But the formidable monster meets its demise in a somewhat unsatisfying way. There is a point in the Fallen Kingdom where certain shots and story elements feel forced. The intelligence and might of the Indoraptor would likely shake off that final blow from Blue with ease, given the size difference and the monster’s supposed awareness — but we have to have Blue, our new anti-hero, presented in that grand, iconic pose don’t we?
Despite the cheesy elements in this film, it’s an undeniably enjoyable experience for some — and it sets up a massive landscape for writers to explore in the next film, thanks to Jeff Goldblum’s ominous speech at the end. The bottom line is that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was less of a nail-biting thriller, like the original film, and more of celebratory romp of what we’ve come to know as the filmic representation of the Mesozoic Era. For some critics, like Allen Almachar of The Macguffin, however, that makes it hard to even justify the existence of the film beyond box office interests. "It is a cash grab in the worst possible way, stuffed with callbacks, cameos, and thinly veiled fan service," Almachar wrote in his review, adding, "It is a spectacular disappointment. This is the kind of movie that challenges our love of movies, and I don’t mean that in a good way." Ouch.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Following up one of the most legendary films to ever grace the screen is a tall order. Four years passed before audiences were able to take in more Jurassic Park. Steven Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp adapted Michael Crichton’s book to develop a follow-up to the massively successful film (however, they did take a lot of liberties). It was a box office success, albeit one that did not surpass the previous film’s numbers. That being said, it is a part of the series that faced some critical flogging. Looking back, it may have been that we weren’t ready for it. While the series lost some momentum after The Lost World, it has actually become more enjoyable as time has passed. The world-expanding has developed as the series progressed, which helps this addition feel more endearing. We still roll our eyes when we watch a raptor get defeated by high school gymnastics, though.
The Lost World only had two of the original cast members return, with Richard Attenborough only appearing in the first few scenes as John Hammond. The role of Ian Malcolm is reprised by Jeff Goldblum, and his snarky demeanor is arguably the best part of the whole film. With our old favorite came new additions in Julianne Moore and a baby-faced Vince Vaughn (fresh off his Swingers success). The cast is enjoyable but this sequel sees the franchise steer away from the suspense of the first film and venture into campy territory.
Case in point, and we know we already brought it up, but. . .ugh, the gymnastics! The scene in which Goldblum’s daughter spins through the air and dropkicks a raptor out of a barn causes us to bury our faces in the couch cushions. As fantastic a filmmaker as Spielberg is, he has a knack for slipping whimsical aspects into his films that can take things just a step too far (for reference: see Shia LaBeouf’s vine-swinging in the fourth Indiana Jones film). There is an argument to be made, however, that the legendary director’s penchant for whimsy is what allows for future elements in the world of the Jurassic to develop. And if you really think about it, that’s kind of essential, because you can only tell so many stories about people inexplicably going to a dinosaur-filled island.
The Lost World is an endearing followup to the first film that has gotten better as it has aged, and as Emmet Asher-Perrin of Tor suggested, it may not have gotten a fair shake in the first place. "If The Lost World was not automatically pitted against Jurassic Park by virtue of being its sequel, people probably would have gotten a kick out of it," the critic asserted in a 2018 retrospective look. At the time we all may not have been ready for Rexxy stampeding through the streets of San Diego, but now that we’ve been to Asgard and back it’s not quite so unbearably kitsch. Now it’s just fun! Without this controversial direction, the Jurassic World films we know today would undoubtedly be a much different experience.
After the charade that was Jurassic Park III, everyone believed this franchise to be extinct. The Jurassic films faded into the realms of nostalgia; treated with respect, but seen as a cinematic pastime. Fourteen years passed. And then along came the trailer for Jurassic World. "The park is open" it boasted. Even going back and rewatching the trailer several years later will stir a childlike excitement inside you. It comes complete with a gigantic shark eating dino-fish and Chris Pratt zipping through the jungle on a motorcycle alongside a herd of raptors! The dinosaurs are back, baby! This time they even come equipped with a savage new addition in the form of a camouflaging, hyper-intelligent predator!
Even though Jurassic World was more than occasionally silly, it breathed life back into the franchise. The situations that filmmakers put the characters into has a suspenseful feel that makes you scared for what might happen. It creates an inkling of the anxiety we felt on our first journey through the park. The original story of Jurassic Park can be seen in the framework but this one feels new and fresh. Jurassic World honors the original while pulling in elements from the rest of the series to help you not take it too seriously and just have fun!
The entirely new cast is led by Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt (fresh off the success of Guardians of The Galaxy). Adding to the stellar cast is over a decade of CGI technology advancements. All the dinosaurs look incredibly crisp and real. The new dino-villain, Indominus Rex, only exists in the world of imagination, but we’re pretty sure that’s exactly what it looks like. The world presented feels plausible and has us invested in where we are going. Not to mention an old familiar lesson is apparent in the story: monetizing dinosaurs is a bad idea.
Such high praises make it seem as though Jurassic World should be placed in the #1 slot on our list. Yes, we love it. The film extracts the goods from its amber casing and gives it life. It’s a great cinematic achievement but there is still something commercial about it — as though it is too polished. If that sounds like a ridiculous complaint, hear us out. The world of dinosaurs is primal and ruthless. The dread that comes along with the unbiased savagery of the food chain is displayed more in full by Jurassic World‘s predecessor.
There are only a handful of cinematic moments in history as iconic as the first moments we see dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. The instant classic John Williams score paired with Grant and Sadler’s stunned awe and bewilderment is a nearly unmated onscreen moment. Even all these years later, the animation — in all its standard definition glory — is impressively endearing. If you were born on this side of the millennium you are likely unaware of the effect Jurassic Park has had on pop-culture. The film perfectly executes an endless amount of tropes and tricks that have been used by countless films since. Most memorably being the close-up on the water trembling in its cup as the monstrous T-rex approaches, which is now the stuff of legends. Not to mention the uber-cool reaction from Bob Peck’s game warden, Robert Muldoon, when he realizes he has been outsmarted by raptors. His respect for the creatures outweighs the awareness of his demise as he mutters, "Clever girl," just before being presumably mauled to death. Or how about a raptor displaying menacing intent by rhythmically tapping his talon against tile while hunting down children in the kitchen!
Look, the point is there is a lot to feast on. Revisiting the classic and reliving how amazing it is makes you more judgmental about what other installments bring to the table. There is a balance that Steven Spielberg achieved in Jurassic Park: amazement placed right alongside terrifying suspense. You are scared for the characters but you just can’t look away.
Jurassic Park even has Samuel L. Jackson — and what hasn’t been made better with the addition of Samuel L. Jackson? He’s pretty reserved here as one of the computer programmers responsible for the park’s inner workings, however his "Hold onto your butts" is a meme-worthy line before memes existed. Not to mention Jeff Goldblum — and all his unbuttoned glory — in his first outing as Ian Malcolm. His philosophical ramblings foreshadowing the demise of the park are cause for alarm. However, the goofy charm that he delivers the lines cause you to not take the warnings too seriously. Which is a beautiful effect given how the story plays out.
The original Jurassic Park hits all the marks for both adults and children. Adults get the suspense they need from watching Dr. Grant scramble across the park with two kids while evading vicious predators. Kids get all the majesty of dinosaurs mixed with a borderline nightmarish warning about bio-ethics they’re in no way intelligent or emotional enough to understand. Okay, maybe that last part isn’t so great. Regardless, the Jurassic Park & World films are all extremely fun experiences. The ranking among most of the movies is rarely one that people agree on but one thing is for certain: everyone agrees on this one. The first Jurassic Park movie holds up. It’s still the best. End of discussion.