A list 65 million years in the making
With five movies over the past 25 years, the Jurassic Park franchise has, for better or worse, redefined the modern summer blockbuster. We’d argue better. But how do they stack up against one another? Our (possibly controversial) ranking of the Jurassic saga from, worst to best…
5. Jurassic World (2015)
It’s been more than two decades since John Hammond first tried to outfox Mother Nature, and now his dream park is fully operational. His dream has become a reality. The only problem is the fanny-pack-wearing public has grown bored. (A stand-in for the audience, perhaps?) In order to goose attendance, the theme park’s brainiacs have designed a new, scarier attraction. Meet the Indominus rex. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard take the reins as the film’s his-and-hers heroes (he’s armed with sarcasm, she’s hindered by towering heels). Director Colin Trevorrow skimps on character-building and doubles down on CG dinos, throwing all sorts of new species at us like there’s a quiz to follow the end credits. Let’s be clear, this is still a fun movie (especially when sea dinos breach their water pens to feed on a Great White), but this is a ranking, folks. Someone’s gotta fill the last slot. And after the long hiatus leading up to Jurassic World, we expected more.
4. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Better known to some as “the Vince Vaugn one,” The Lost World tries to up the ante four years after the rock-’em, sock-’em original by giving us not one, but two Tyrannosaurus rexes. It’s a classic case of subtraction by addition. Since Steven Spielberg is at the helm, this sequel is still spit-polished and Swiss-watch-precise. But some of the primitive wonder is gone. Julianne Moore as Dr. Ian Malcolm’s photographer girlfriend helps a bit. But aside from a literal cliffhanger set piece that has a very angry mama T. rex batting around a trailer on the precipe of a ravine like a cat toying with a mouse, the whole film has a sense of been-there-done-that-bought-the-pterodactyl-snowglobe. The stock corporate baddies feel cribbed from another, lesser film. As does the campy rampage-on-San Diego climax.
3. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard (minus the heels this time… phew!) return to Isla Nublar to save the dinos from a ready-to-blow volcano. Normally, I’d go into a plot summary here, but let’s be honest, Fallen Kingdom’s plot is ridiculous. And Jeff Goldblum’s cameo is even worse. So why is this ranked so high? Because this fifth Jurassic film is total escapism that manages to correct a lot of the errors from previous films in the series. Pratt and Howard are more fleshed out this time around, the mercenary baddies are led by the ever-awesome Ted Levine, and the off-island mayhem in an old California mansion is a million times better than the whole San Diego sequence from The Lost World. Is Fallen Kingdom absurd and riddled with Swiss-cheese logic holes? Absolutely. But director J.A. Bayona knows how to craft jack-in-the-box entertainment. It’s nonsense that delivers exactly what you want from a fifth Jurassic movie.
2. Jurassic Park III (2001)
A controversial choice? Perhaps. But I’d argue that JPIII is the the most underrated third-in-a-trilogy installment I can think of. Future Captain America helmer Joe Johnston stepped in for the Maestro and got his butt handed to him by critics upon release. Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant is duped by a couple (Tea Leoni and William H. Macy) to return to Isla Sorna to find their missing son. I know, it probably took someone seven seconds to come up with that premise. Fortunately, JPIII makes up for it with a ferocious menagerie of new dinos (the croc-like spinosaurus is a honey) and one of the series’ greatest set pieces: Neill leads his group over a rickety, fog-enshrouded bridge only to discover they’re actually in a giant aviary full of nasty, shrieking, blood-thirsty pteranodons, and they’re about to be lunch. I’ve watced that white-knuckle sequence a dozen times, and I walk away lifting my jaw off the floor every time. For that alone, JPIII jumps a place or two toward the front of the line.
1. Jurassic Park (1993)
The original and still the Jurassic flick to beat, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s science-run-amok bestseller is pure popcorn escapism — a giddy thrill ride filled with spectacle and gee-whiz wonder. When Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum (plus the two Hammond grandchildren) first lay eyes on these reanimated creatures from the prehistoric past, we share their sense of awe. It’s like the first time we witnessed Spielberg’s Great White in Jaws. Brilliantly setting the table through Richard Attenborough’s Mr. DNA slideshow (“spared no expense”), Jurassic Park is a blockbuster without cynicism that zaps right into your childhood pleasure centers, regardless of your age. The T. rex chase, the velociraptor chase in the stainless-steel kitchen — Spielberg orchestrates it all like a celluloid Toscanini. When you consider that he edited the film at the same time he was shooting Schindler’s List, the feat seems all the more miraculous.