A history of dinosaurs at the movies
When dinosaurs walked the movies
With last weeks reveal of the Jurassic World trailer (opens in new tab), the film world has been getting in the mood for some extinct monster action. With the great reptiles capturing the imagination for so many years, its only natural that they have worked their own little corner of the history of the talking pictures.
As we gear up to see what Colin Trevorrow and Chris Pratt can do with our fond memories of the 1993 behemoth, lets head back in time to see how Dinosaurs have fared in the movies down the years. Obviously, a list of every film to ever feature a dinosaur would take up hundreds of slides, so weve whittled it down to the most important from down the years.
Gertie the dinosaur (1912)
One of the most influential works in early animation, Gertie the Dinosaur started life as a novelty act in vaudeville shows run by creator Winsor McCay. Seemingly made to respond to commands from the live-action director, its a real time capsule piece in the history of film, let alone in the timeline of dinosaur movies in particular. A pioneering moment in the fledgling animation industry, the silent short was partly responsible for inspiring a generation of creators to take up their pens.
The Lost world (1925)
Moving into the arena of live action now, this silent adventure movie is probably the most notable early example of a dino flick. Based on the story by former Portsmouth goalie (who incidentally also wrote Sherlock Holmes) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this was a fantasy film like no other, with stop-motion beasts terrorizing the cast as they search a mysterious lost valley. The story has gone on to be adapted somewhere around 68,000 more times since, but this was probably the launching pad for much of the more modern canon of dinosaur films.
King Kong (1933)
One of the most iconic films on the list, the original King Kong featured a lot of action on Skull Island, including a titanic scrap between the titular great ape and a hungry Tyrannosaurus looking to chow down on starlet Ann Darrow. While the star of the show may be a giant gorilla, the prehistoric monsters creating most of the films peril definitely put the RKO classic into the dinosaur film category.
Another example that may not have dinosaurs at its core, but creates perhaps its most memorable scenes from them, Disneys musical experiment paired Stravinskys Rite of Spring with a dramatic telling of their extinction. Its a sweeping, powerful sequence that entwines sometimes haunting, sometimes majestic, sometimes frightening visuals with the emotive and rich soundtrack. An absolute classic.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
A bit of a jump in time here, but the next stop on our tour has to be this early example of the great work of the legendary Ray Harryhausen. A long-sleeping dinosaur is awakened and goes on the rampage in San Francisco, causing havoc in a cataclysmic final scene. Harryhausen's stop-motion animation just might be the most important element in the DNA of the sub-genre, influencing some of the biggest films of them all down the line.
One Million Years BC (1966)
Its probably most iconic for perennial dad-crush Raquel Welchs slight fur ensemble, but the slightly hammy story of attractive cave-people being menaced by dinos is another example of Harryhausens pioneering work. Filmed in the picturesque Canaries and featuring numerous scenes of giant beasties duking it out, its a fun adventure that doesnt take itself too seriously. Some ambitious visuals for the time mark this out as another hugely important moment in the evolution of the dinosaur film.
The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
Another Harryhausen special, this film managed to somehow combine the two coolest things in the universe by bringing cowboys and dinosaurs together. A bit of a B-movie, The Valley of Gwangi told a slightly bonkers story with some hugely complex practical effects, making the film more important than its corny premise would suggest. It was the last time Harryhausen worked on prehistoric monsters, and while it may not be as fondly remembered as some others on this list, the influence of the film on giants like Jurassic Park should not be underestimated.
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)
Once more powered by stop-motion, Hammers entry into this list comes in the form of When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth, which was much like One Million Years BC save for one key difference the film played out in a language created entirely for the film. A racier film than earlier efforts, this is something of a curio these days, with its more mature edge marking it out from other early efforts on this list. Picking up an Oscar nod for the visual effects, its another example of a technologically accomplished attempt at recreating the great besasts.
The Land That Time Forgot (1975)
Another British example, this classic Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure was adapted for the screen in the mid 70s, and is unusual for eschewing stop motion in favour of old-fashioned puppetry. Set in the midst of World War 1, a German U-boat along with a few British survivors takes a serious wrong turn into an undiscovered area packed with primitive humans and towering dinosaurs. Its not necessarily a classic in its own right, but continued many of the traditions that came to typify the genre.
The Land Before Time (1988)
Moving into slightly different territory here, this beloved animation aimed for a younger audience and found a generation of fans. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, who would later have quite the impact on the history of dino flicks, the story of Littlefoot and friends making their dangerous journey to the Great Valley is an enduring and fondly remembered family film that still holds up today despite, or perhaps because of, the darker, scarier moments.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Where do you start with this one? Probably the greatest dinosaur movie of all time, and the prototypical blockbuster, Jurassic Park is packed with glorious moments that still resonate with movie-goers two decades later. Groundbreaking visuals, a thrilling adventure story and a deep world inspired by Michael Crichtons very different novel, this is one of the most significant films of all time on so many levels. Awe-inspiring one moment, terrifying the next, and with a dash of humour that does not go amiss, this is the pinnacle of the genre.
The Flintstones (1994)
With dinosaurs back in popular culture thanks to Jurassic Parks titanic success, the following year saw a big screen adaptation of the Hanna Barbera cartoon hit cinemas. A pretty big name cast including John Goodman, Rick Moranis and Halle Berry saw this more humourous attempt at recreating the scaly beasts. It might not be universally popular, but this adaptation goes to show just how back in dinos were in the 90s. Not a winner then, but it could boast some neat effects work courtesy of Jim Hensons Creature Shop.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Its fair to say that demand was high for a sequel to Spielbergs 1994 masterpiece, and while The Lost World met with a rather quieter critical reception, its fair to pick out a few moments here. The T-rex rampage through San Francisco is a memorably action-packed sequence, and more Ian Malcolm was always going to be a good thing, but despite the effects team bringing their A game, this turned out an all-too predictable attempt to re-bottle the lightning of the first film. The Gymnastics scene unfortunately summed it up pretty well...
Jurassic Park 3 (2001)
If attempting to recreate the success of Jurassic Park once was a tricky proposition, then doing it for a third film was always going to be a struggle. The second sequel once more saw spectacular-looking creatures terrorizing a decent cast as they race to escape the island, but its fair to say the critical legacy of this one is nothing to write home about. Having said that, the film still took a ginormous pile of cash, so it seems to have ticked a few boxes right. It's not been a good note to leave things on, and the hope is that Jurassic World can get the series creatively back on track.