13 Dynamic Dinosaur Movies
Article By: Tony Timpone
Little boys (and girls too!) all over the world grow up with a love of dinosaurs, those gargantuan thunder lizards who ruled the earth millions of years ago. They vanished before humans ever came along, but their dusty fossils have allowed paleontologists to extrapolate what these awesome animals looked like. And the movies have also fed our dinomania ever since Willis H. O’Brien’s revolutionary stop-motion FX in the silent picture The Lost World enthralled audiences in 1925. This year’s Kong: Skull Island further stokes our obsession with these long-extinct beasts. Today, Chiller takes the Way Way Back Machine to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods to dig up 13 Dynamic Dinosaur Movies. (List arranged according to year of film’s release.)
1. King Kong (1933)
Still the King after all these years… Inspired by a dream by co-director Merian C. Cooper, King Kong remains one of the most famous—and best—movies of all time. When a film crew sets foot on an uncharted island, they discover hungry dinosaurs (a meat-eating Brontosaurus, a terrifying Tyrannosaurus, a charging Stegosaurus, Fay Wray-plucking Pteranodons, etc.) and a 24-foot-tall gorilla that rules the roost. Thanks to Willis O’Brien’s sterling FX work, King Kong’s sense of wonder and excitement never dissipates. And we’ll take the big ape’s astounding brawl with the T-rex over all the Rocky movies combined. The screen sensation spawned a slapdash sequel, The Son of Kong, just eight months later, as well as two remakes: Dino De Laurentiis’ dinosaur-less version in 1976 and Peter Jackson’s FX extravaganza in 2005. The original King Kong can’t be beat.
2. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
While Kong trashed Manhattan during his aborted Big Apple jaunt, the gargantuan rhedosaurus of this much loved ’50s sci-fi flick preferred the sites of Brooklyn’s Coney Island (maybe the smell of Nathan’s hotdogs lured him?). In the film’s fiery finale, the four-legged dinosaur even smashes the amusement park’s iconic roller coaster. Acclaimed stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen created the believable Beast for the movie. One scene, the monster’s destruction of a lighthouse, was based on his buddy Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn.”
3. Godzilla (1954)
Released in Japan just nine years after America dropped the atomic bombs, director Ishiro Honda’s global smash served as an all-too-painful metaphor for nuclear devastation. Shot in nightmarish black-and-white, Godzilla reminds us of the dangers of unchecked science and wanton war lust. The A-bomb-birthed dinosaur (convincingly brought to life by a man in a suit) makes short work of Tokyo and the military’s defenses, before succumbing to the ingenious “Oxygen Destroyer.” Despite an endless string of increasingly juvenile sequels (plus two US remakes), the first Godzilla stands as a mature and important piece of fantastic cinema. Seek out the unexpurgated Japanese language version and not the one with added Raymond Burr scenes.
4. Rodan (1956)
The international success of Toho Studios’ Godzilla let loose a deluge of giant monster or kaiju movies in Japan that continues till this day. Godzilla director Honda kept busiest churning out these “suitmation” movies, with the Pteranodon terror of Rodan soaring above the majority of these colorful mash-ups. Miners in a small Japanese village accidentally awaken some van-sized, lumbering insects. The bugs serve as the perfect snacks for the recently hatched Rodans (known as Radon in Japan), huge prehistoric birds who take to the skies to commit further mischief. Prior to the winged monsters’ arrival, Honda mines sufficient scares in Rodan’s early tunnel scenes. Star Trek’s George Takei helped dub the film for its US opening, and the big bird went on to co-star with Godzilla, Mothra and company for decades to come.
5. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
Dinosaurs may only be last reel supporting players in this slick Hollywood production based on the Jules Verne novel, but director Henry Levin saves the best for last. As James Mason, Pat Boone and friends conclude their underground exploration, they stumble upon a pack of fearsome Dimetrodons. The dinosaurs were played by actual rhinoceros iguanas with rubber fins glued to their backs and photographed on miniature sets, a common cost-cutting practice of the day’s FX artists (also see 1960’s The Lost World). The eerie music of Bernard (Psycho) Herrmann adds significantly to the realistic terror of the scene.
6. Gorgo (1961)
Of the four feature films Eugène Lourié directed, three of ’em were dinosaur movies (the other two being #2 above and 1959’s grim The Giant Behemoth). Gorgo stacks up as the most fun of Lourié’s dino trilogy. While the previous pictures incorporated stop-motion, Gorgo used a man in a suit to bring its towering monsters to life. An undersea volcano erupts and unleashes a gorgosaurus, which Cockney Carl Denham types ship to London to put on public display. But the greedy humans don’t realize that their oversized zoo specimen is only a baby, and before long, an angry Mama gorgosaurus smashes city block after city block in search of her young. Decades later, the climactic San Diego Tyrannosaur rampage in Jurassic Park: The Lost World “borrowed” Gorgo’s take on motherly love.
7. One Million Years B.C. (1966)
Many remember this Hammer Films production as Raquel Welsh’s breakout (bust-out?) role, but we can’t minimize FX maestro Ray Harryhausen’s dynamic stop-motion contributions either. Though the scenario’s historically inaccurate (human and dinos lived tens of millions of years apart), the movie makes for stirring fantasy. The movie was a remake of 1940’s campy One Million B.C., which used dressed-up alligators and a costumed stuntman to simulate the dinosaurs. Through the genius of Harryhausen, the ’60s update parades a sneering allosaur, an elephant-sized turtle, a Ceratosaurus vs. Triceratops, a Raquel-snatching Pteranodon, etc. that provide eye-popping thrills till this day.
8. The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
This sci-fi Western, the last of Harryhausen’s dinosaur flicks, recycled an unmade story treatment by Kong’s Willis O’Brien. Gwangi takes place in Mexico, where cowboys discover an ancient gorge, home to Pteranodon, Ornithomimus, Styracosaurus and a fierce Tyrannosaurus. Seeking the next circus attraction, the men lasso the T.rex, but Gwangi enjoys captivity about as much as King Kong did. Harryhausen spent nearly a year animating his amazing bestiary, only for the film to fail at the box office.
9. Jurassic Park (1993)
Jaws’ Steven Spielberg proved to be the perfect director for this rollercoaster ride of a motion picture, based on Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel. An island theme park hosts herds of cloned dinosaurs that run rampant when the power goes out. For the first time on such an epic scale, Jurassic Park seamlessly melded giant-size animatronic props with then-revolutionary CGI FX, netting an Oscar in the process. Grazing Brachiosaurus and stampeding Gallimimus evoke awe, while the children-stalking Velociraptors and a titanic, lawyer-gobbling Tyrannosaurus make you scream in terror. Though not quite as good, both Spielberg’s Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997) and Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III (2001) recaptured some of the magic.
10. Dinosaur (2000)
Hollywood has been making prehistoric creature cartoons since 1914’s short Gertie the Dinosaur, appealing directly to a juvenile audience that continues to this day (2016 saw the debut of the 14th entry in the Land Before Time series!). If we have to pick one 5-year-old-friendly CGI-animated movie, we’d select this not-overly-cute Disney film. The movie concerns a pack of Iguanodons on the run from velociraptors and Carnotaurs and searching for new nesting grounds following a meteor strike. Besides its convincingly rendered CGI characters, Dinosaur utilized striking real-world backdrops to create a photo-realistic look. Co-scripter John Harrison, a George Romero associate who directed Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, keeps the movie from spilling into the dark side of insufferable kiddie fare. Though the movie has enough of an edge to engage adults, we’d love to have seen the version of Dinosaur that RoboCop director Paul Verhoeven originally developed, which did not feature talking dinosaurs like this one.
11. King Kong (2005)
Unlike the previous versions of the immortal tale, Peter (Lord of the Rings) Jackson’s fulsome remake presents Kong in mostly heroic fashion, as he repeatedly comes to Ann Darrow’s aid on the dinosaur-infested Skull Island. Jackson’s film suffers from a bloated running time (north of three hours), and it takes 50 minutes before the Venture arrives at its shrouded destination. Then the action never lets up. Weta Digital created a stupendous, unparalleled lost world of dinosaurs (including species we’ve never seen before, like Venatosaurus saevidicus) and incredible action sequences. The movie’s furious highlight pits Kong against three (!) Vastatosaurus rexes. That’s more than enough payback for the movie’s early dry stretch.
12. Godzilla (2014)
This exciting American reboot, coming just 15 years after Roland Emmerich’s embarrassing effort, respectfully honored Japan’s King of the Monsters (especially in the mega-dinosaur’s beloved design). With a $160 million budget and an army of CGI wizards at his disposal, director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) created the biggest (size-wise) Godzilla yet, until Japan’s Toho relaunched the Big G once more in his native country in 2016. Edwards presented a realistic approach to a global catastrophe (unlike the jokey Matthew Broderick film), with Godzilla serving as an Earth defender against some nasty insect-like critters called MUTOs. A sequel drops in 2019.
13. Jurassic World (2015)
Some 22 years after the mishap at Jurassic Park (and ignoring the events of the first two follow-ups), outside investors have taken the scream park to a whole new level, blowing up the dinosaur attraction to a massive, super-Disney Orlando scale. Of course, no one has learned from past tragic mistakes, and the DNA wizards cook up a whole new assortment of carnivorous brutes, a fiercer and larger stable of monsters including a Mosasaurus, Pterasaurs and the intelligent, genetically-modified hybrid Indominus rex, the greatest predator ever. When all hell breaks loose in grand fashion, Velociraptor trainer Chris Pratt tries to save the day. Jurassic World moves faster than a racing raptor and cleverly pays homage to the original film. Director Colin Trevorrow delivers dinosaur suspense and action on a level never achieved before. The next edition hatches in 2018, the middle chapter in a new Jurassic trilogy.
Hope you found this installment of The Friday 13 dino-mite! Rate these and chose your own picks on our Facebook page or Twitter using #Friday13.
Seeing what they’re worth today, Tony Timpone wishes his dad didn’t throw out his 1970s Aurora dinosaur model kits.