Now that Jurassic World Dominion has stomped into theaters, it’s obviously time to update our Jurassic movie rankings. It’s crazy to think this franchise has lasted as long as it has, and continues to put up impressive box office numbers despite following a rather rudimentary formula. Obviously, opinions may differ, but this is how I currently rank the dinosaur blockbusters following my first viewing of Dominion over the weekend.
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6.) Jurassic Park III (2001)
As bad as the Jurassic World films are, I can at least appreciate their ambition. There are attempts to steer the franchise in unique new directions, but those efforts fall short mostly due to inadequate talent.
Jurassic Park III, on the other hand, is a whole new bag of bologna I still don’t quite understand. The third installment arrived in 2001, four years after The Lost World, meaning the powers that be had plenty of time to conjure a unique story that would give our reptilian baddies more to do than run around and eat people. The production even landed Joe Johnston, the man behind The Rocketeer and Jumanji and, arguably, the second-best director to enter the franchise. Jurassic Park III even convinced the likes of Sam Neil, William H. Macy, and Téa Leoni to enter (or re-enter) the fold.
In other words, the talent is there. So, why does the movie suck? Aside from a few snazzy action beats and the all-new Spinosaurus, Jurassic Park III follows a very basic storyline that feels like it was ripped straight from the pages of 90s live-action Disney, and proceeds to spend a majority of its brief 90-minute runtime on all-too-familiar action beats that lack punch, and silly characters with a knack for making dumb decisions.
Worse, this feels like an incomplete production made by people who clearly have very little interest in the material. Too bad. Jurassic Park III could have provided a spark for the franchise to follow. Instead, Johnston sticks to the formula and produces a half-baked product that very nearly derailed the series for good.
5.) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
From a critical perspective, the entire Jurassic World trilogy can be lumped into one giant blob with only a few inspired action beats or character quirks standing out from the empty spectacle. That said, Fallen Kingdom is really weird. What starts as a fairly routine Jurassic adventure devolves into a silly haunted house thriller designed around the ludicrous idea that dinosaurs could be sold on the black market. I don’t mind director J.A. Bayona taking a wild swing — the franchise needed to do something new — but Fallen Kingdom features a human clone, a laser-guided dinosaur, and one of the dumbest finales ever put to film — said clone releases the dinosaurs into the real world for reasons — all of which draw more laughs than thrills.
Really, this was the movie that needed to be made in order to get to Part III — though, Dominion doesn’t exactly explore the concept of dinosaurs ruling the Earth — resulting in a rather inconsequential bit of cinema. Dinosaurs still rule — just not enough to carry this dark and dreary exercise to the finish line.
4.) Jurassic World Dominion (2022)
Those yearning for a Fast and Furious/Jurassic World need look no further than Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World Dominion. It’s a ridiculous, though occasionally fun, ride that goes for the empty-headed thrills of Vin Diesel’s long-running franchise with mixed results. Characters pop in and out with exactly one of five traits — they either ride a motorcycle, fly a plane, are a clone, starred in the original, or are a whistle blower — while an assortment of beautifully rendered CGI monsters stomp about each scene without leaving much impact.
Remember the T. rex from the original Jurassic Park? The Velociraptors, the Spitter, the Brachiosaurus, or the Triceratops? Of course you do. Each animal was given plenty of room to dazzle audiences in exciting, and sometimes scary, sequences designed by a master director.
By contrast, Trevorrow’s new film features about 8,000 dinosaurs, and I doubt audiences will be able to recall a single sequence that doesn’t mimic Spielberg’s original. Oh, there’s that one with the feathers that did that one thing, there’s the small one that ate a mouse, there’s those weird ones in the cave, and that big one at the end … oh, and the T. rex makes a cameo!
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Like the recent batch of Star Wars films, Jurassic World Dominion moves from scene to scene without much purpose, and struggles to find an interesting storyline to follow. The aforementioned city chase happens so randomly and ends so abruptly that you have very little time to process the reason for its existence. Characters seemingly conjure new talents out of thin air, and don’t go through emotional arcs so much as manufactured story beats.
Trevorrow tries to pump new life into Dominion by bringing back old players Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum, but gives them very little to do. The characters provided a spark in the original Jurassic Park, but spent much of the film simply running from dinosaurs. They weren’t iconic heroes so much as people just trying to survive a precarious situation. In Dominion, they’re the equivalent of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, right down to their familiar pink, blue and black attire.
If that weren’t enough, Trevorrow introduced a handful of new characters, namely DeWanda Wise’s Kayla Watts, Mamoudou Athie’s Ramsay Cole, and Dichen Lachman’s Soyona Santos, who do their best to leave a mark alongside returning players Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Isabella Sermon, Omar Sy, BD Wong, and Campbell Scott taking over for Cameron Thor as the bizarre Dr. Lewis Dogdson. Not that it matters. When old and new do meet, they engage in clunky dialogue or deliver bits of exposition to further the plot along.
In short, Trevorrow attempts to take the franchise to epic heights, but can’t quite escape its trappings. Dinosaurs have somehow escaped and populated the planet, but the story focuses on a batch of dangerous locusts — a plot that eventually lures our assortment of characters to a remote location where they run from movie monsters that exist only to eat people, but are somehow worthy of our sympathy? Owen’s entire mission is to find and return a Raptor’s offspring so that they can, what, reproduce and eventually kills humans? It doesn’t make much sense.
Here we have one of those blockbusters that require audiences to check their brains at the door. As big, dumb entertainment, Dominion offers enough special FX driven spectacle to keep viewers entertained for 2+ hours. As the “final” Jurassic Park, it looks like that tired old T-Rex — a lumbering beast without much purpose that evokes beautiful memories of a time long, long ago when dinosaurs ruled the world.
It’s interesting how the Jurassic franchise mirrors the new Star Wars trilogy. The first film more or less remade the original with a few minor twists, the second film took a crazy left turn and divided audiences with some of its more outlandish decisions, and the third entry is little more than a soulless, by-the-numbers exercise. In each instance, the original director left the project after the first film and returned for the last. Maybe someone other than Trevorrow should have directed Dominion. My biggest takeaway from the final film was that he had run out of ways to present dinosaurs, and ended up leaning a little too hard on nostalgia and things that worked in the original Jurassic World to offset the lack of new ideas.
3.) Jurassic World (2015)
The Jurassic franchise became extinct following the mediocre box office results of Jurassic Park III, but life found a way in the form of Colin Trevorrow’s entertaining (but emotionally defunct) Jurassic World in 2015. Audiences flocked to theaters prepared to experience the same thrills and chills as Spielberg’s original and were ultimately gifted a reboot/sequel that upped the dinosaur action but failed to supply an emotional backbone.
To be fair, neither Jurassic Park or The Lost World are known for their characters, but Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum still managed to provide a spark amidst dinosaur action, all while behaving like real people.
By comparison, the heroes of Jurassic World are so inconsistent with their actions and so thinly drawn that they evoke more laughs than cheers. As played by Chris Pratt (who seems hell-bent on proving he’s more than just Star-Lord) and Bryce Dallas Howard, Owen and Claire are the reason for the events of Jurassic World — they release the Indominus Rex — but don’t seem to care all that much about the lives lost because of their foolish errors.
There are also a couple of puzzling stylistic decisions made throughout the production — honestly, what park would allow free-roaming vehicles (many of which are driven by children) to move freely amongst giant reptiles — that distract with their stupidity.
In short, where the original Jurassic Park was a smart, thrilling blockbuster with innovative FX, creative action beats, and characters worth caring about, Jurassic World feels like a hollow replica designed by marketers without an ounce of creativity. Sure, the action (particularly in the second half) occasionally pops, and there are certainly enough dinosaurs to keep the kids enthralled, but it all feels so empty; the emotional beats manufactured. Trevorrow has created a clone of the original that comes packed with modern day FX, beautiful actors, and plenty of spectacle, but lacks its wonder and soul.
2.) The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Spielberg made us wait four long years for a follow-up to his masterpiece, and the results were decidedly mixed. I went into The Lost World with sky-high expectations. After all, we had lived through the Jaws sequels, none of which were directed by the Beard; and surely Universal and Spielberg had learned their lesson.
While there are certainly plenty of exciting sequences in The Lost World, none of them leave more than a Compy-sized footprint in our movie-going brains. The picture is darker and more violent than its predecessor, and Janusz Kamiński’s cinematography coats each frame in heavy shadows that make it sometimes looks like a black and white film.
Yet, nothing feels new or special. Where Spielberg’s enthusiasm radiated from each spectacular action sequence in Jurassic Park, here, the man goes through the motions to deliver a quality product that entertains in spades, but can’t quite overcome its cynical design.
The Lost World stands triumphant over the other sequels merely because it’s, at the very least, competently made. The characters stand out against the endless mayhem, and the action — notably, anything with the T. rex(es) and Raptors — carries enough heft to occasionally thrill. It ain’t perfect, but The Lost World at least looks and feels like a real film, even if it falls well short of the bar established by the original, and renders its sharp-toothed antagonists as mere movie monsters rather than living, breathing animals.
1.) Jurassic Park (1993)
There are times where nostalgia can hinder a list like this. Our love of childhood experiences often clouds our judgment or causes us to heap praise upon a mediocre product.
Not so in this case.
Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park isn’t a run-of-the-mill adventure, but an extraordinary blockbuster crafted by one of our finest directors during the apex of his career (he simultaneously directed the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List). I remember my first viewing fondly — waiting in line for over an hour just to get a peak of Spielberg’s dinosaurs. The film dazzled the Ames clan so much that my dad forked out even more money to see it on a bigger screen the following weekend. All told, I saw Jurassic Park eight times in cinemas and counted down the days to its home video release. When that shiny new VHS hit my theaters, I shook with joy and all but wore out our copy before transitioning to DVD and, eventually, Blu-ray.
In 2013, I took my daughter to see the 3D re-release and was shocked at how well the 20-year old flick held up. There aren’t many modern special effects that come close to achieving the awe and wonder of that T. rex sequence, and even fewer that manage to walk the fine line between light-hearted adventure, big, dumb spectacle, and smart, thrilling popcorn entertainment.
Jurassic Park is one for the ages. Lightning in a bottle, and one of the finest summer blockbusters ever produced. It’s a film I watch at least two or three times a year, and one that continues to entertain all these decades later. A true classic that may never be topped.