The existence and ultimate extinction of dinosaurs has long fascinated movie-goers. Some films have explored what these dinosaurs must have looked and acted like—from menacing monsters to friendly beings—while others have posed the idea of what it would be like if humans and dinosaurs had been alive at the same time.
As Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom—the second installment of the Jurassic World reboot—inches closer and closer to its June 22nd release date, we’ve put together a list of dinosaur movies that will appeal to everyone. From those who want to remember dinosaurs as lighthearted, friendly creatures, to those who want to see the dangerous side of the reptiles we’ve only been able to imagine, we’ve got it all covered.
On the fictional Costa Rican island of Isla Nublar, industrialist John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), builds a theme park with unusual attractions: cloned dinosaurs. When one of the dinosaurs becomes violent and kills her handler, Hammond recruits experts to determine if the park will be safe enough for visitors. A tropical storm wreaks havoc on the island, forcing almost everyone off. Everyone, that is, except for some of those experts: paleobotanist, Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), and Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex and Tim. When power is lost on the island as a side effect from a plot to steal dinosaur embryos and disseminate them, the dinosaurs are free to roam and interact with the humans on Isla Nublar, leading to chaos.
The film explores the ethics of cloning an extinct species for the enjoyment of consumers, and how greed can cloud better judgment. Jurassic Park is certainly not for the faint of heart, but older children and adults alike will enjoy the adventure film, particularly as it focuses on the interactions between the adult characters and the young children who are doing anything that they can to survive.
Night at the Museum
One of the most famous features of the American Museum of Natural History in New York is the Tyrannosaurus skeleton that hangs from the ceiling. Now, imagine if that skeleton came to life. And if the rest of the artifacts in the museum came alive at night. And if only the security guard knew about it.
That’s the plot of Night at the Museum, which stars Ben Stiller as the security guard who must control the chaos inflicted when the exhibits come to life. As he gains confidence in his position, Stiller earns the respect of his young son and even finds a way to outsmart thieves trying to steal the artifact that gives the exhibits life.
The movie is the first in a trilogy, but the subsequent films were unable to match the magic of the first. Night at the Museum is kid-friendly, but will also appeal to adults through its clever humor and the character work of Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, and Ricky Gervais. Kids will dream about the possibility of their favorite museum exhibits and figures from history coming back to life.
The Land Before Time
The Land Before Time was a classic sleepover or playdate movie for any ‘80s or ‘90s kid. Even though it is a kids' movie, parents and adults will enjoy the nostalgia that comes along with a 2018 viewing.
The plot centers around a young dinosaur named Littlefoot who is born to a single mother during a prehistoric famine. Littlefoot soon learns that dinosaurs are treated differently depending on their species, an all too realistic parallel to humans. When he and his friend, Cera, are separated from the other dinosaurs during an earthquake just after the death of his mother, they must learn to rely on each other to get back to where they belong. As they meet other dinosaurs on their journey who are all different, Littlefoot and Cera forge friendships despite physical differences.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
The second installment in the Jurassic Park series follows up on the events of the first film with a four-year time jump. Jeff Goldblum, who plays Dr. Malcolm, is one of the only actors from the original film to reprise a role. After a young girl is attacked by Compsognathus dinosaurs—turkey-sized carnivorous reptiles —on the island of Isla Sorna, her parents sue InGen, the company that created the dinosaurs.
Dr. Hammond’s nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) is now in control of InGen. He wants to remake the money InGen lost after the failure of Jurassic Park, regardless of how dangerous it is. His plan is to create a theme park in San Diego featuring the dinosaurs. Without human interference, Dr. Hammond worries that more people will die, so he recruits a team to go to the island and expose what is going on there to the public. Dr. Malcolm is reluctant to go because of what he experienced when he visited in Jurassic Park four years earlier, but he goes to pursue his girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore).
Sarah, Dr. Malcolm, and a team free all the dinosaurs that they can find on the island. In addition to protecting themselves from the dangers of dinosaurs, they are also up against the InGen team, who is doing everything to capture the dinosaurs to bring them to America. The film is adult-oriented and is considered to be darker than the original Jurassic Park, both literally and in terms of plot. Director Steven Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński collaborated to change the physical look to one with greater contrast and shadowing, while the increase in human-dinosaur violence and death makes the stakes even higher.
Technically, Godzilla is a mutated iguana/dinosaur, but the monster movie has become a classic dinosaur flick—even though it’s only four years old. In the 2004 Gareth Edwards-directed addition to the famous franchise, Godzilla is an ancient alpha predator who was lured to an island in 1954 to be killed with nuclear radiation, which only made it bigger and stronger.
Fast-forward to Japan in 1999, where seismic activity destroys a nuclear plant, trapping and killing everyone inside. In 2014, the son of one of the victims of the 1999 plant disaster, Naval Officer Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is called to Japan after finishing one of his tours. Ford's father Joe (Bryan Cranston), is detained for trespassing on quarantined property during his search for answers. The two go back to their old home to get data that Ford’s mom may have left behind, and discover along the way that they’ve been lied to. When Godzilla enters the film, it’s suddenly clear what caused the plant to collapse.
What this version of the film focuses on is that there really is no safe way to put down a creature of Godzilla’s magnitude that doesn’t also harm civilians. This allegory, perhaps, is meant to show the dangers of nuclear weapons and the threat of using them. This version of the actual creature of Godzilla in this film is also arguably the most impressive. The beast is CGI-created and measures 350 feet in height. Godzilla is probably not the best movie to watch at family night because you might not want to explain to kids that the scariest aspect of the story—the nuclear weapons—is actually real.
One of Disney’s more ambitious CGI projects, Dinosaur relies on special effects to showcase various types of dinosaurs (like Parasaurolophus, Pachyrhinosaurus, and Iguanodon) in a way that is visually breathtaking. A dinosaur egg gets isolated on an island inhabited by lemurs after a series of violent mishaps that lead it to be separated from its mother. The hatched dinosaur egg, named Aladar (D.B. Sweeney), is raised by a lemur mother, Pilo, played by Alfre Woodard. After a meteor shower, Aladar, Pilo, and a few others flee to the mainland where they encounter less-than-friendly dinosaurs who want to attack and kill any outsiders.
One of the opposing herds of dinosaurs is led by Kron (Samuel E. Wright), who seeks an area untouched by the meteor. Aladar falls in love with Kron’s sister, complicating the conflict. The animated dinosaurs are juxtaposed with photographic backgrounds from nature, which was done to make the scenes look more realistic. The movie is targeted toward kids, but the impressive feat in animation alone is enough to intrigue any adult.
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) wants to know how his brother, Max, died 10 years earlier. When Max’s 13-year-old son Sean (Josh Hutcherson) visits Trevor with a box of Max’s things, Trevor thinks that he might finally get some answers. The two set off to Iceland to investigate a dormant volcano that Trevor believes Max died on, following the margin notes in Max’s copy of Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Trevor, Sean, and Hannah—the daughter of a late volcanologist who helped Max—get trapped in a cave that leads them to the center of the world. While there, they encounter species they previously believed to be extinct, including dinosaurs, who make the characters’ attempts to return to their normal world quite difficult.
The film is attention-grabbing for both kids and adults, as kids will be mesmerized by the special effects and humor, while adults will wonder if anything like this could ever be possible. The usage of special effects that were meant to jump out during the film’s 3D release will make you feel like you’re on the journey as well.
If you’re interested in seeing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it helps to see the first movie in the soft-reboot Jurassic Park trilogy, which is set in the same universe as the original Jurassic Park. In the film, genetically-cloned dinosaurs are replaced by hybrid dinosaurs that the US military wants to use for operations. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is a Navy veteran recruited to evaluate the dinosaurs in the park. He witnesses the latest creation become violent during a training session, and watches as it kills its trainers.
Owen butts heads with park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who badly wants to save the park’s expensive new asset. But Owen wants to kill it, before it can claim more lives. The pair, along with Dearing’s two young nephews, must outwit the dinosaurs on the island in order to survive. The film seamlessly combines realism (humans manipulating nature for their own benefit) and fantasy (dinosaurs and humans living at the same time). Jurassic World has a PG-13 rating, so use discretion before showing it to young children.
The Good Dinosaur
The Good Dinosaur explores the question: What might modern Earth be like if an asteroid never killed the dinosaurs? The 2015 animated fantasy flick is about a family of dinosaurs living in the present. They run a farm, but one of the sons, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), is unlike his successful siblings, and he knows it. When Arlo's father tries to help him feel a sense of belonging by trapping a pesky caveman, the unexpected happens, launching Arlo into a journey on his own. Accompanied by the caveman he failed to trap, Arlo forges on and makes his own mark while also learning about friendship. A rare movie that shows humans and dinosaurs getting along, The Good Dinosaur is a typical Disney feel-good film.
Featured still from "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" via Universal Entertainment