There is no escaping the bizzaro paradox surrounding dinosaurs in film. They’re almost never portrayed accurately, and they’re frequently brought out of their own time and pushed into a more contemporary setting. Sadly, the stars of most dinosaurs movies are not dinosaurs, but rather the people who somehow end up interacting with them! But as much as I’d like a dinosaur movie made for other dinosaurs, the range of cinema featuring our favorite long-gone animals cannot be ignored. Here are what I consider to be the eight films you must watch if you claim you like dinosaurs and want to understand what their image did to the zeitgeist.
Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985)
Sean Young is protecting a tiny little apatosaurus from evil poachers, and also the military! I was a little shocked to discover that his movie was generally derided, as I absolutely loved it as a child. Yes, the animatronic titular “Baby” looks fake as hell, and the whole concept is totally hokey, but to dismiss a story about family of dinosaurs living in 1980’s Africa is just cruel. Also, did I mention Sean Young? Also, nobody puts Baby in the jungle.
Yes, Godzilla is technically an undiscovered (and fictional) species of dinosaur, unfairly awakened by nuclear testing. The genius of the original Godzilla (Gojira in Japan) is boundless. From its social commentary, to its effects, to the pacing and cinematography, this movie was never bested by any of its sequels. Best of all, there’s a paleontologist with a conscience, who truly does not want to kill this wonderful prehistoric beast. Gorija may be a mutated made-up dinosaur from beneath the Earth, but his staying power is indisputable.
One Million Years B.C.
Though possibly mostly famous for Raquel Welch’s fur bikini, One Million Years B.C. does feature Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion dinosaurs at their best. From a ceratosaurus, to a triceratops, to an allosaurus, and an apatosaurus, this movie has got them all. Like so many films featuring dinos, nothing about their placement with each other or with humans makes any sense. But, folks like Harryhausen are, at the end of the day, just big kids taking out all the toys from the toy box and throwing them together to play.
The Land Before Time (1988)
There was a time in the 1980’s when Don Bluth was working overtime to wrench the affections of children away from Disney and into his brand of animated heartwarmers. This one occupies a special place in the hearts of children of the 80’s simply because we all remember loving it unconditionally, and then later becoming baffled with the inexplicable number of direct-to-video sequels. The original is still a great, tight little movie, and despite the fact that these dinos talk, this is not the most scientifically inaccurate movie on this list!
The Lost World (1925)
This movie holds a special distinction of awesomeness simply for the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is in it! Adapted from the book of the same name, The Lost World concerns Doyle’s other famous fictional hero—Professor Challenger—and an expedition to a land beset with dinosaurs. A silent film, the stop motion dinosaurs were brought to life by legendary effects master Willis O’Brien, who later would employ similar techniques on the “talkie” King Kong. Doubtlessly, pop culture’s early notions of how dinosaurs moved and behaved were influenced heavily by this film.
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
Though there’s no such thing as rhedosaurus, and this “Beast” walks more like a giant iguana than a dinosaur, this movie still rocks. The apprentice of Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen really made his mark with this adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn.” Wonderfully, both Rays were childhood friends who decided to bother the world with their love of dinosaurs and monsters forever. I’m so happy they were successful. The premise of “The Fog Horn” is also fairly sweet. The prehistoric creature has confused a fog horn with the sound of another of its kind and is just trying to find some dino-friends!
King Kong (1933)
Not only is this one of the best movies ever made, featuring a super self-aware meta-fictional plot device, and an awesome monster for a main character, there’s also a bunch of dinosaurs in this movie. Though famous for his New York City antics, King Kong spends most of his time on Skull Island doing battle with all sorts of creatures, including, at one point, a T-Rex who he brutally kills. Though this scene was recreated in the 2005 Peter Jackson version of the movie, this original battle is still the best. Willis O’Brien is just showing off at this point.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Easily the most accurate dinosaur movie on my list, Jurassic Park is also a near perfect film, with only a smattering of cringe-worthy moments. (The dinosaur jokes from the little kid are pretty terrible.) What makes Jurassic Park so great is that it’s a movie actually about dinosaurs that takes the subject of them seriously. And instead of being seen only as monsters running amok (I mean there is a lot of that) the dinosaurs are mostly depicted as animals, which allows for the moral impetrative of the movie to not include mercilessly killing any of them. The movie isn’t really about good guys and bad guys, just dinosaurs doing their thing in a world they don’t truly belong in. The T-Rex busting in at the climax may be one of the most exciting moments in all movies, ever.
Okay, now fellow dinos, list your favorite films that I may have excluded below!
Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com.