A ranking you can trust
“This month marks a special date for me and millions of other dinosaur enthusiasts around the world: the 25th anniversary of the release of Jurassic Park. I was 9 years old when my dad took my brothers and me to see it in the cinema for the first time. It was magisterial. Dinosaurs danced across the big screen in a way I had never seen them before. It was like we were watching them, alive, right in front of us.
“This summer, moviegoers around the world will celebrate the silver anniversary of Jurassic Park in the best way possible: by gawking at Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which hits theatres June 22. It’s the fifth instalment in the franchise, and follows 2015’s mega-hit Jurassic World. As I anxiously await whatever adventures Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard have in store, here is a list of my palaeontologist-approved, top dinosaur movies of all time.” —Steve Brusatte
“The original Jurassic Park is — and probably will always be — my absolute favorite. The dinosaurs seem like real living, moving, breathing animals instead of mere movie monsters — although the T. rex and the velociraptors are some of the greatest villains in cinematic history. This was one of the first films to use new CGI technology, and it presented an image of dinosaurs people hadn’t seen before: dynamic, intelligent, successful animals, not the dim-witted, slow-moving mistakes of a bygone era as portrayed in so many of the books I read as a child.” —SB
“Okay, so the fourth Jurassic Park film is a tad nostalgic, and there is little attempt to make the dinosaurs even remotely realistic. Instead, we get hybrid species and genetically modified monstrosities far larger than anything nature ever produced. But, it is addictively entertaining. Although the paleontologist in me cringes when I see inaccurate dinosaurs on screen, I appreciate this film for what it is: a roaring spectacle!” —SB
Walking With Dinosaurs
“I can vouch for the accuracy of the dinosaurs in this film: I was one of the scientists who worked with the producers, tasked with making sure the dinosaurs were the right size and shape, and moved and behaved in ways true to the evidence we have from fossils. For me, this is the most realistic view of dinosaurs that has ever graced any screen. It shows dinosaurs going about their everyday business, like you’re watching a nature documentary.” —SB
The Land Before Time
“This cartoon adventure is probably the most emotional film on dinosaurs that I’ve seen. The tears flow as the orphan Littlefoot goes on a journey, meeting several other young dinosaurs as they search for the idyllic Great Valley. Sure, the dinosaurs are humanized to the point where they are barely dinosaurs anymore, and they talk. But this is great storytelling, and it is a treasured childhood classic for many palaeontologists of my 1980s-1990s generation (and many of my non-palaeontologist friends).” —SB
“King Kong was also one of the first films to depict dinosaurs. Although the special effects seem primitive now, if you were a moviegoer in 1933 you probably would have found this film intoxicating. The dinosaurs — including tyrannosaurus, stegosaurus, and brontosaurus, all animated in stop-motion style — give Kong’s home of Skull Island a creepy, primeval feel.” —SB
“One of the scenes of this animated classic, set to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, tells the story of Earth history. Of course it’s dinosaurs that steal the scene. When I first saw Fantasia I considered it dull, but now I appreciate it as a glorious cinematic telling of the story I’ve spent my career studying: the rise and fall of the dinosaurs.” —SB
“Long after Fantasia, Disney returned to the dinosaur genre with this turn-of-the-millennium, big-budget CGI blockbuster. A meteor destroys an island paradise and the surviving dinosaurs (and, for some odd reason, lemurs) set out to find the Nesting Grounds, where they will be safe. The dinosaurs come across as human versions of big reptiles, and their talking prevents any illusion of realism. The animation quality, however, is superb, and the grand, sweeping landscapes are a visual treat.” —SB
The Good Dinosaur
“Pixar entered the dinosaur game with The Good Dinosaur, a sci-fi tale of what might have happened if that huge asteroid never hit and dinosaurs didn’t die out. The plot centres on a long-necked apatosaurus and his human friend, who go on a mystical journey together. The stunning imagery and imaginative storytelling are classic Pixar.” —SB
One Million Years B.C.
“And now for some absurdity. There is nothing remotely scientifically accurate about this film, but you can’t turn away. Dinosaurs and cavemen living together. Brontosauruses and giant spiders in fight scenes. Raquel Welch as an aboriginal fisher-woman, who is captured by a giant pterodactyl and survives a drop into the ocean. This is rambunctious entertainment, and the stop-motion dinosaurs (designed by the famed animator Ray Harryhausen) are actually really good.” —SB
Jurassic Park III
“And one final film, which I didn’t enjoy so much: Jurassic Park III. It almost killed the franchise. I would like to find some good in this film, but the storyline is derivative, the key fight scene between T. rex and spinosaurus is a dud, and the creativity that defined Jurassic Park is nowhere to be found. Thankfully, Jurassic World has given new life to these most amazing of movie dinosaurs.” —SB
The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs
Brusatte’s new book, The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs, fascinatingly tells the complete history of the dinosaurs on Earth. Buy a copy here.