Ranking The Jurassic Park Movies

There were more dinosaurs on the loose and more genetic engineering as the Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom premiered this year around the world. Hollywood has somehow managed to rehash what is essentially a story that doesn’t have much more to tell into five multi-million dollar grossing movies. And with the latest outing putting 1.2 Billion Dollars in Universal’s bank account, it is safe to say that, in 2018, dinosaurs still rule the box office 25 years after their first appearance.

I have to admit that I am a sucker for the big guys myself and can sit through any of these movies. But alas, there is a measure of quality that we can’t ignore that fluctuates up and down through this franchise, and I am here to tell you how I rank them from worst to best.

1 out of 5 bites – unwatchable
2 out of 5 bites – watchable, but nothing we haven’t seen before
3 out of 5 bites – solid entertainment but nothing magical
4 out of 5 bites – entertaining but not a classic
5 out of 5 bites – classic movie

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

2 out of 5 bites

Yes, the latest movie in the franchise is the worst.

First, it is only the second movie in the rebooted franchise and it already feels like it’s stretching for a storyline by both dipping back into the “return to island” motifs of earlier movies and the genetic splicing angle from Jurassic World.

Second, there are no characters worth rooting for. Really, they were either too smart or too dumb to connect with on any level. I never the smart characters were in real peril at any time, and the dumb ones died as expected.

Third, every dinosaur gimmick had already been played (and replayed) in the first movie of this reboot of the franchise and all the films that came before. There was very little room left for trickery and astonishment this time around. When this movie gives a nod to the original Jurassic Park’s famous kitchen scene (when one of our characters shuts a hatch door seconds before a charging predator snatches her), it didn’t make me go “Cool throwback!” Instead, it made me go, “Saw it before with much better build up and suspense.”

Was I entertained, tough? Hell yeah!

The movie was fast-paced, decently acted and had marvelous special effects – so it’s pretty easy to slip into and get through. However, I was left with very little to marvel at nor did I feel like I needed to watch this movie again any time soon – and I haven’t. This is because while the movie did indeed fill the screen with fireworks, there were zero gripping or show-stopping action scenes, no character development, and, strangely, very little of the dinosaurs, who spent the bulk of the movie in cages while the movie went about taking itself much too seriously. (YAWN!!! I need destruction of vehicles and humans being eaten or mistakenly stepped on.)

This chapter in the saga is also probably the one with least heart. It doesn’t treat the dinosaur experiment with child-like wonder but more like an experiment gone bad from the start. This relegates the dinosaurs to movable pieces in a chess game for product rights. It was like watching the suit and tie “creative meeting” on how to put together a Jurassic Park movie vs the actual creative meeting by the writers and producers.

One element I did appreciate in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, is how it played on a little bit of a horror element. Michael Crichton’s original two novels from which all these movies have sprung were not for kids, and they have some pretty terrifying moments in them. Unfortunately, this franchise does not want to let go of its kid-audience, so just as it seemed to be going dark, it would revert back to “family friendly”. This resulted in a film with a very stark tonal shift, especially its first half vs its second half but even from one scene to the next.

Still, this movie managed to get 2 bites out of 5, which means that it wasn’t unwatchably bad. The studios did make a lot of money with it, which means there will be a part three that can perhaps course correct and take our adventure somewhere new next time around, especially considering the “Jurassic” Pandora’s Box that they opened at the film’s close. If history is the judge with this franchise, though, I wouldn’t bet too much on it.

A final note to Universal: Don’t give the movie away in the trailer: it made the first half of the film extremely anti-climatic.

Jurassic Park III (2001)

2.5 out of 5 bites

Let’s be straight. This movie teeters on embarrassingly bad in quite a few spots. There are the very low-budget special effects (for Jurassic Park standards of the time) with CGI that looks worse than stuff you could have seen in some 90s big-budget music videos, the lead dinosaur (a Spinosaurus) is not nearly as scary as the T. Rex (who gets killed in depressing fashion), and the level of stupidity of the human characters borders on insane. 

Yet, what edges Jurassic Park III up over the Fallen Kingdom is that it manages to have heart and characters I end up really caring about despite their best efforts to make me hate them for their brainlessness. In short, this is a movie I can stop to watch if it’s playing on some afternoon rotation on cable TV, I am not sure I could say the same for the latter.

Sam Neill, the only intelligent person in the movie (as in he doesn’t want to explore dinosaur island, or make a lot of noise, but wants to get off of it as soon as possible), returns as Doctor Grant and it feels like he is back on home turf. His acting is believable, though in parts he seems like he may be working more for the paycheck than the movie. Coincidently, his character gets back on the island for monetary reasons too.

William H. Macy also manages to bring some level of comedy and depth to what would have otherwise been a boring character: a rich dad looking for his lost son after said son has an accident while stupidly parasailing over an island inhabited by dangerous prehistoric creatures. The parasailing incident occurred while the boy was under the care of his mother’s very responsible boyfriend. Remember that I had mentioned that a lot of the characters in this movie are really stupid, well the idiot-train departs from the opening sequence and rarely does it stop.

Aside from these two actors, the rest of the cast is, believe it or not, passable. This passability makes up for their stupidity in that I actually root for their survival despite having every reason not to – I am an avid supporter of the Darwin Awards.

Something else that manages to impress me in this movie (and pretty much every movie since the original) is how the writers somehow manage to get everyone back on dinosaur island. Once the characters are back on the island, it is also impressive how the story moves along quite briskly and semi-entertainingly despite its almost made-for-TV cheesiness.

My favourite part of Jurassic Park III, though, was that I finally got to see a whole lot of Pteranodons. The scene in their aviary was one of the scariest (and one of my favourites) in Michael Crichton’s books that had never managed to make it on to the big screen. This movie did a great job with it and the flying dinosaurs end up stealing the show.

Jurassic Park III is barely tolerable Jurassic Park. It’s a guilty pleasure nonetheless, which I think fans of the franchise have sat through more times than they would like to admit. That said, its obvious drop in quality makes it quite clear as to why it took so long for there to be another Jurassic Park movie, the story was more than worn out.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

3.5 out of 5 bites

This is a direct sequel to 1993’s Jurassic Park and it had to work very hard to top the original. Although its a pretty great film on its own account, it lives under the shadow of its masterful predecessor. This anchors it down a bit as every time it takes a different route than Jurassic Park, it kind of feels like a really obvious attempt to be different from Jurassic Park.

One of the main ways that The Lost World is different than the original is that it is a much darker film, both in tone and actual setting – most of the action happens at night or in the rain. It does have some pretty gripping action sequences, from hanging on to a rope from inside an RV hanging from the side of a cliff to being chased by a T-Rex on the mainland. These scenes are filmed with the usual Spielberg finesse and attention to detail we have come to expect and manage to thrill me after multiple screenings.

What the movie misses out on is the sense of wonder from the original.  Jeff Goldblum’s Malcolm is such a great character, but his pessimism isn’t really conducive to looking at the dinosaur world with a child’s eyes. Already in its second outing, the franchise showed its hand as the innocence of the first movie is gone forever and would be nearly impossible to recapture. Although Julianne Moore plays her role with a bit more of a sense of amazement, that is quickly lost after their first attack by a T. Rex. The main issue I have with this is that, much like in Fallen Kingdom, this movie does not go full dark when the story was begging for it. We do get considerably more splashes of blood compared to the original, though.

Again, kudos to the writers for finding a convoluted way to bring these people back to dinosaur island, although the exposition to get there is quite long (over 20 minutes!!!). That to me has always been the most incredible part of all of this dino-mess.

Although I have generally favourable feelings for The Lost World, I can’t not mention the one thing that I detest dearly about this movie and that takes me out of it every single time!!!: the little girl who plays Malcolm’s daughter. She felt shoehorned in and her aerobics routine (glad the writers thought to bring up her skills at the start of the film – talk about foreshadowing) to ward off some raptors stands as one of the most embarrassing things I have ever seen on film.

To put this into perspective, I watched this movie as a teen in the theatre when it came out, and I can still recall the facepalm feeling that scene gave me way back then along with the violent irritability she produced with nearly every other scene she was – poor kid, bad script.

Jurassic World (2015)

 3.8 out of 5

Yes, I have to let this movie edge out The Lost World by the tiniest of bits because it managed to infuse a good dose of a word I have been using to describe something that had been missing in the movies on my list up to this point, “wonder”. This little word is the crux of what a movie about seeing dinosaurs walk the earth again should ride on. This film is set enough apart from the three movies we have looked at so far because while it felt like “Deja Vu all over again,” it was Deja Vu in the best way possible.

Sure, there are a few ridiculously stupid things that happen in this movie (mostly done by some ridiculously stupid kids and a woman running through the jungle in high heels) but the pace works, the action works, and the beautiful CGI dinosaurs don’t look a grade above video game level.

Chris Pratt is likable as the “Raptor Whisperer” to a group of raptors which are both multi-faceted and unique and not the same sneaky, jump scare foils we had been treated to since the original film.

Bringing in gene splicing to the Jurassic Park mythos is also a great way to update the story and make it feel like this movie wasn’t just a remake – even if it pretty much was. I can’t exactly wrap my mind around what would drive someone to go to a dinosaur theme park after the events of the first three movies, but hey, remember, that is what I consider the most creative aspect of this franchise … how the writers manage to get us to go around in circles without asking too many questions and then somehow making it work.

And work, it did. I was very entertained, it was the sort of flashback to my teen years that I wanted while being a new exciting experience for those too young to remember the original park ride. I truly didn’t feel like this movie was the same story I had already seen three times as it managed to balance suspense with “run for your life” bombast the way the best summer blockbusters can do.

While on second viewing, Jurassic World lost a bit of its lustre for me, it still operated well as a “not-brain-dead” action-adventure with relatively few cringe-worthy moments compared to the movies that have already appeared on this list.

Jurassic Park (1993)

5 out of 5 bites

This is not only the best movie in the Jurassic Park series, it is one of the best movies of the 90s and possibly of all time (within the action/sci-fi genre). Steven Spielberg was in full creative genius mode on this adaptation of Michael Crichton’s bestseller about a theme park not named Westworld gone awry.

When I see this movie today, I still get emotionally involved and engaged in much the same way I did when I saw it in the theatre as a young teen. It has lost very little over time – even in its special effects department. Spielberg used a lot more puppets design than CGI on this movie, and you know what? – these dinosaurs seem like they have aged better than the ones from The Lost World but most especially Jurassic Park III.

Along with the visual spectacle, we get a cast of characters (including the children) who don’t make one stupid decision after the other and who actually grow from beginning to end as people. Add to that the perfect John William’s score and we can all collectively ignore the fact that Newman is in charge of the entire “spare no expense” park security.

I don’t want to gush too much about this movie, as anyone who is reading this list probably agrees that Jurassic Park is the best in the franchise. If you don’t, please share in the comments below.

That said, if you have never seen this cinema classic, check it out. I bet you will love it and I am pretty sure it can kick the ass of a lot of the current crop of summer blockbusters that have come out in the decades since.

Well, there you have it, my ranking of the greatest dinosaur franchise to ever hit the screen. My feelings on the bottom two and the middle two might change from time to time, but Jurassic Park (1993) will always be the standard-bearer.  

If you thought I was being to light on these movies it is because I have a soft spot for dinosaurs and watching them running around wreaking havoc is a near win every time for me. While the quality level of subsequent films has certainly never equaled the original, these movies still manage to retain a bit of pulp fun.

The question now (as is usually the doubt after every dino-outing) is where can this franchise take us that we haven’t been before. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom hinted at this place being a dark one, but I am not sure the studio (who does still want to market this film to its kiddie audience) would be brave enough to go there. But it should be noted that despite Fallen Kingdom raking in huge money at the box office, it has already shown a slight drop in box-office (much like The Lost World vs Jurassic Park), which may mean that even new audiences may have already woken up to the fact that that retreading is a bit of par for the course for this Hollywood franchise. 

Thanks for reading!!

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2 Responses to Ranking The Jurassic Park Movies

  1. Pingback: What Jeremy´s Watching: The Nun (2018) | Brazusa's Blog

  2. Pingback: Ranking the Predator Movies: Jeremy and Phil Go Down the List of one of Action/Sci-Fi´s Most Enduring Franchises | Brazusa's Blog

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