The top 20 dinosaur movies – rrraaaanked! | Action and adventure films

The top 20 dinosaur movies – rrraaaanked! | Action and adventure films

A film so stunningly stupid that it may as well not exist, the sequel to Jurassic World made the mistake of trying to move the story along. No longer just a romp about a theme park filled with dinosaurs, this is ostensibly a horror movie about a black market dinosaur auction in a spooky castle. Much worse than I have made it sound.

19 Theodore Rex (1995)

If you had to imagine the last film you would want to see, a mid-90s buddy cop movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and a fully dressed, anthropomorphic, animatronic dinosaur might be what you would envisage. Well, it already exists and it is called Theodore Rex. A film so bad that Goldberg had to be sued to appear in it.

Watch the trailer for Land of the Lost.

In 2009, it seemed as if Will Ferrell could do no wrong. But that all changed when he released Land of the Lost, a $100m spectacular that attempted to fuse Ferrell’s loosey-goosey humour to a technologically precise effects behemoth about dinosaurs. The two did not mesh at all and Land of the Lost remains one of Ferrell’s strangest missteps.

Fun fact: Super Mario Bros was released two weeks before Jurassic Park, but those two weeks now feel like 25 years. Everything about this film is dismal, not least the fact that its central conceit – the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs created a parallel dimension of humanoid dinosaurs led by Dennis Hopper – has very little to do with Mario.

16 The Flintstones (1994)

The same dino fad that inspired Theodore Rex also gave us The Flintstones, a 1994 live-action remake of the beloved cartoon series. While not a good film by any stretch – John Goodman looks embarrassed to be playing Fred Flintstone, for instance – it still has its moments. If nothing else, its depiction of Dino is relentlessly cute.

15 Tammy and the T-Rex (1994)

I promise this is a real film. Denise Richards plays Tammy, a college girl whose life is turned upside down when her boyfriend’s brain is implanted into a giant animatronic dinosaur. Legend states that the film was made only because the director found a model dinosaur that nobody was using. It shows.

14 The Land That Time Forgot (1974)

The Land That Time Forgot
The Land That Time Forgot. Photograph: Amicus/Kobal/Shutterstock

There is a 2009 movie of this name produced by the creators of Sharknado. Please avoid that and head for the good stuff: Kevin Connor’s 1974 version. True, the dinosaurs lack the finesse of a Ray Harryhausen production – some are puppets, and some are men dressed up – but the story is mostly faithful to the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. Plus, it features one of the all-time great cinematic jump scares.

13 The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Were it not for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, this would be the worst Jurassic movie. Another attempt to deviate from a perfect story, The Lost World fails on many fronts. Half the original cast is missing (replaced by Vince Vaughn and others), all the characters know exactly what to expect from the island, and the finale (in which a T rex goes nuts in San Diego) sails far too close to pastiche.

12 The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

The Valley of Gwangi
The Valley of Gwangi. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

Three years after One Million Years BC, Harryhausen had another, less successful, stab at dinosaur creation with The Valley of Gwangi. Essentially, some cowboys find a load of dinosaurs and have a big fight with them. The whole thing is ridiculous and isn’t remembered with much fondness. But if HBO can reimagine Westworld as an expensive prestige drama series, then The Valley of Gwangi deserves the same.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel has been adapted countless times, but the most effective version is Harry O Hoyt’s silent offering from 1925. It is is an exceptional production, utilising stop motion, full-body makeup and real animals. Points added for the climax, in which a loose brontosaurus smashes up a beloved Soho drinking establishment. Points lost for other elements ageing very, very badly indeed. You will know them when you see them.

10 Jurassic Park III (2001)

What a weird film. For the bulk of its running time, Jurassic Park III is intent on correcting the wrongs of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The story is more compact, the scares are scarier; everything is going swimmingly. Then it comes to an abrupt end, as if the production ran out of money. A wasted opportunity.

9 A Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955)

Watch the trailer for A Journey to the Beginning of Time.

It is incredible to think that Karel Zeman’s 1955 movie is almost 70 years old. While the story has decayed a little over time – kids row a boat down a river and gawp at the animals on the banks – the experience of watching it remains undimmed. In terms of animation, set design and ambition, this film is a miracle. Wes Anderson is a fan for a reason.

Having backed itself into a corner with the environmental sermon Ice Age: The Meltdown, the franchise decided to fudge history and introduce some dinosaurs into proceedings. For many, this is where the series began to lose its way, but there are plenty of delights to be had in the deliberately unfaithful dinosaur depictions.

7 The Land Before Time (1988)

The Land Before Time
The Land Before Time. Photograph: Universal/Allstar

Although the series eventually meandered into direct-to-video infinity, for a while The Land Before Time was the dinosaur movie. Directed by Don Bluth and executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, it was envisioned as “Bambi with dinosaurs” and it absolutely nails the assignment. In parts syrupy, scary and profound, it is worth a rewatch.

6 Jurassic World (2015)

A huge financial success, Jurassic World isn’t so much a sequel as a remake. You could argue that its mimicry becomes rote and that Chris Pratt is no Jeff Goldblum, but there is something thrilling about a story being told well all over again. And, hey, if you are going to rip off anything, it might as well be Jurassic Park.

OK, you have to ignore most of the film to consider this a dinosaur movie. But that is fine, because you will just be ignoring lots of middle-aged men having bland quasi-existential crises. The moment in question comes when Terrence Malick gets bored by his film and decides to show us the history of the universe instead. There is a dinosaur sequence that cannot be forgotten.

4 The Good Dinosaur (2015)

Watch a clip from The Good Dinosaur.

This was overlooked on release, thanks to the cultural crater left by Inside Out, but Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur is an oasis of quiet charm. The story of a young apatosaurus who finds himself in charge of a small, mute human, The Good Dinosaur isn’t particularly spectacular or inventive, but it has charm by the bucketload and a supremely weepy ending. The best talking-dinosaur film.

3 One Million Years BC (1966)

Even compared with some of the duds on this list, One Million Years BC is wildly inaccurate. Human beings weren’t around 1m years ago and the last dinosaurs died tens of million of years before that. But your mind would have been blown in innumerable ways had you watched Harryhausen’s spectacular dinosaur animation in a cinema in the 60s.

2 King Kong (2005)

King Kong.
King Kong. Photograph: Universal/Allstar

I have opted for Peter Jackson’s 2005 behemoth, but feel free to sub in your preferred Kong. While New York is the setting for the famous climax, the real fun is had back on Skull Island. This is where Kong goes at it with a prehistoric beast, fending off an attack so savagely that his power will never again be underestimated.

1 Jurassic Park (1993)

How could it be anything else? Jurassic Park is more than a film; it is a line in the sand after which the modern blockbuster came into being. It is a marvel of technological progress and (mostly) accurate creature depictions, tied to a propulsive plot that understands exactly which buttons it needs to press at any given moment. An incontestable classic, this film will still be top of the list a century from now.