Thu
Mar 28 2013 9:00am

8 Essential Dinosaur Movies

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.

 

Godzilla (1954)

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.

27 comments
Alex Bledsoe
1. alexbledsoe
I feel I must give a shout out to The Valley of Gwangi, for audaciousness of concept and Jerome Moross's awesome score. Not to mention dinosaurs by Harryhausen, including the tiny eohippus. I'd swap this for Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend any time.
Daniel Brown
2. I_Slap_Raptors
I've always been a fan of 'Gorgo', ever since I first saw it on ITV's Saturday Matinee strand when I was tiny.

I'm a big fan of Hammer's other dinosaur vs cavepeople - ahem! - epic 'When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth', as well.

Of course, Hammer's rival studio Amicus' masterpiece 'The Land That Time Forgot' - quite possibly Doug McClure's finest hour - deserves a mention. A fun fact about 'The Land That Time Forgot'; it was adapted for the screen by notorious Burroughs fanboy Michael Moorcock. So TAKE THAT! people who say Moorcock isn't so great with dialogue.
HelloThere
3. HelloThere
I was with you until you said you didn't like the dinosaur jokes. Doyouthinkhesaurus was hilarious.
HelloThere
5. joelfinkle
Another vote for Gwangi -- dinos in the old west? Pure gold.
Yes, it's a cheesy plot, but the effects are state of the art of the time, and like all Harryhausen, he brings them to life in a way unmatched until Jurassic Park.
HelloThere
6. mutantalbinocrocodile
How can you include The Land Before Time but not the definitive animated treatment of dinosaurs in The Rite of Spring? (Admittedly coming from someone who was once a Don Bluth-hating kid IN the '80s. He looks better now in retrospect--maybe it's just the severe lack of drawn animation.)
HelloThere
7. BrandiV
I remember (albeit vaguely) another animated dinosaur movie called "We're Back!" and the dinos were causing trouble in New York or something. I don't recall any plot points or hardly anything, but I do remember seeing it.

Also, no one wanted Sound of Thunder on this list? ;)
Colin Bell
8. SchuylerH
It's gloriously out of date but the prehistory segment of Fantasia. It even got mentioned in Steve Gould's This View of Life column (which was never above including the odd moment of pop culture).
Rob Rater
9. Quasarmodo
The movie I loved as a kid was Where Time Began, an adaptation of Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. I remembered it having pretty good effects, especially a scene of 2 dinosaurs fighting in the middle of an underground sea. I hunted for the movie for years and finally got my hands on an old battered VHS copy of it. Unfortunately it didn't quite live up to my memories.
Jack Flynn
10. JackofMidworld
For a couple of minutes there, I was a nine-year-old sitting on the couch on a Saturday afternoon with my dad watching the weekend monster movies. Thank you for that.

(oh, and consider this as another vote for Gwangi! Wonder why there hasn't been a reboot of that yet...)
HelloThere
11. wiredog
What about "Super Mario Brothers"? Dennis Hopper as a dinosaur!
Walker White
12. Walker
As many people have noted, Gwangi is a serious oversight on this list.

I also want send some love to Roger Corman's Carnosaur. A great guilty pleasure.
Margot Virzana
13. LuvURphleb
Dinosaurs!
"Im the baby, gotta love me!" Wouldnt watch now but when i was five i loved it! The family of dinosaurs dealing with everyday life? The mother in law who im sure was the undercover agent from Monsters Inc.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
14. Lisamarie
OMG that's the bikini from Shawshank Redemption! :)

I love Jurassic Park, we just watched it last weekend. It's still a good, scary movie. I'm not even really that into dinosaurs (although I used to be as a kid) but so many things from that movie are still imprinted on me. I still can't go into an industrial/coroprate kitchen (or even see a metal ladle) without remembering the scene with the raptors in the kitchen. Even though it's a bloodless scene, I think it's the scariest, most tense part of the movie. Even mundane things like a cup of water vibrating always evoke that movie for me :)
HelloThere
15. oliveramy
What about the quintessential Dinosaurs tv show? "I'm the baby! Gotta love me!"

And then there's one of my favorite memories as a kid, Stanley and the Dinosaurs, a claymation movie.

I haven't thought about these movies/shows in a long time. Thank you for this :)
HelloThere
16. Kylar Stern
What about Dinotopia??
Chris Hawks
17. SaltManZ
Aw man, I watched the CRAP outta "Baby" when I was a kid.
HelloThere
18. Alright Then
"Dinosaurus!" from 1960. Even as an '80s child, I loved it, renting the VHS over and over from the local video store. Yes, it was dated. Yes, the special effects were stiff Harryhausen ripoffs. But it didn't matter! It had a T-Rex fighting a man in a CAT digger on the edge of a cliff, long before Ellen Ripley was ready to mechanically rumble with the Alien Queen.

What more do you need?
Joe Romano
19. Drunes
I usually hate mixing genres, but Valley of the Gwangi works overtime... another hearty vote here. And I'm especially glad to see the original King Kong on this list, one of the truly great genre movies.
alastair chadwin
20. a-j
At the Earth's Core

Fire breathing dinosaur things that explode if you push them over. Plus Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro and a brilliant Edwardian "mechanical mole" which pre-dates steampunk by some decades!
What more can you want?
HelloThere
21. Godwine
My favorite Dinosaur series has got to be Dino-Riders from the late 80s. Obviously not the most accurate thing ever, but so, so much fun!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lor_uUkJkkw
HelloThere
22. filkferengi
The cartoon series "Valley Of The Dinosaurs" rocked! Best of all, it still holds up very well.
HelloThere
25. Thinker
Please stop putting humans into dinosaur movies! They look ridiculous! At least, make some time-traveling kinda stuff! Kids watch these movies and they might believe it!
HelloThere
26. Niicole
Something that should definitely be on this list is the fairly recent indie-esque British film called "The Dinosaur Project." No, the effects aren't as astounding as Jurassic Park. However, it manages to create rich visual imagery of a fairly plausable scenario in our current world. It places dinosaurs in the deep and unforgiving heart of the African Congo, which in reality is a totally uncharted part of the planet. Who knows what is really going on in there. A research team is sent to find out, and once the backstory is set, an emotional and thrilling survival of the fittest takes hold. A definitite must-watch for dinosaur lovers, as well as anyone who has appreciation for the handy-cam science fiction thrillers such as District 9 and/or Cloverfield. It really envokes the feeling that you are there. How much more could you want? This is the stuff that dreams are made of. Well mine are, at least.
HelloThere
27. Inho
What is the name of the movie from the first picture?
Jack Flynn
28. JackofMidworld
26. Niicole - agreed! I just watched this and a lot better than I expected it to be. Definitely worth watching.
HelloThere
29. Raimar
I remember seeing a film about time travel, an old movie using stop motion...
I think they used a "claw" or "footprint" of a lizard like humanoid that lived among dinosaurs to reach the time they wanted...
When they kill the tryranosaur they try to come back... and the present is ruled by those lizard creatures... I think they end going back and fixing everything, but I'm not sure...
Someone know this one??
Not these: A Sound of Thunder; At the Earth's Core; The People That Time Forgot; Land of the Lost, already checked them...

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