Dinosaurs: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. Well, maybe not in the real world, seeing as these gigantic beasts have been extinct for millions of years. But in the realm of the Jurassic Park movies, humans and dinosaurs have been thrown into the mix together since 1993, and we’ve learned just what to expect from such a world. And it’s chaos, destruction, and human buffets all the way down. But which entries in both the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World series are prime bouts of dino madness, and which ones are just pure madness?
Well, it’s about time we answer that question, isn’t it? Five Jurassic Park movies will hatch, but only one can rise to the top of the Jurassic pile. Every entry has its strengths, its weaknesses, and at least one soundtrack cue that makes you clap in delight once it’s dropped, and we’re going to pit this franchise’s children against each other to see who emerges the absolute winner. One final note: we’re only talking movies here, so Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous and Battle at Big Rock are safe from the devastation. With that caveat out of the way, let’s turn off the fences, open Paddock 9, and start where all countdowns begin: at the absolute bottom.
5. Jurassic Park III (2001)
It’s not easy to label Jurassic Park III as the worst Jurassic Park sequel… wait, it actually is, and I just did it. Yes, there’s some aspects that point towards what could have been a promising threequel, especially when you get former effects wizard turned director Joe Johnston to direct the damned thing. Plus, there’s something about the abandoned Isla Sorna that lent itself to what could have been an absolute horror show. This was the movie that got Sam Neill back into the series, so a horror friendly approach could have been a slam dunk.
Instead, Jurassic Park III became the sequel that is mostly dunked on, as the end result performed as well as a T-Rex against a scientifically inaccurate Spinosaurus. Tea Leoni and William H. Macy’s characters act as too much of a comedic foil to really let the drama hit the way it should, and almost 20 years later, the way that Laura Dern’s Dr. Ellie Sattler was sidelined is still an unforgivable franchise offense. The upside is that the Aviary sequence is still tense as Hell, but the huge downside is that it can’t take itself seriously enough to work. And the less said about the talking raptor nightmares... the better.
4. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Placing Jurassic Park III at the bottom of the pile might sound like we’re giving The Lost World: Jurassic Park a cushy pass when it comes to rankings. The actual second film in the Jurassic Park series, released in 1997, does seem to have a decent following, and why not? What could possibly go wrong with Jeff Goldblum and a cast of well-known talent, like Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore, heading off on a jungle adventure? How could the only Steven Spielberg directed sequel miss the mark? Well, it’s not a total miss, but the film does come up a bit short in the long run of the series.
Banking on that old Goldblum charm is a smooth move, as The Lost World: Jurassic Park only brought him and Richard Attenborough back in an extended capacity to keep that Jurassic legacy rolling. (Though that’s not discounting Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazello’s quick cameo.) The first sequel in the Jurassic Park series is definitely a darker affair, and the King Kong style story that sees a Tyrannosaurus trying to find its baby in the streets of San Diego is pretty exciting. It’s just a shame that Dr. Ian Malcolm’s preaching about man versus science becomes less poignant when it takes up a good portion of The Lost World: Jurassic Park’s story.
3. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
At this point, the Jurassic franchise sweet spot starts to take over. Author Michael Crichton’s special blend of cutting edge science and its worrisome consequences was what made Jurassic Park so special in the first place. But even in the original franchise starter, that unique weirdness was held back in favor of a more conventional blockbuster. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom pitted Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Owen Grady and Claire Dearing against the most Crichton-esque shenanigans ever, it gave the fifth sequel in the overall arc one hell of a pulse!
The ethics of dinosaur proliferation were, once again, brought into the forefront of director J.A. Bayona’s contribution to the Jurassic World leg of the journey. But instead of being a pure lecture with moments of exciting action punctuating the message, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom mixed in Hitchcockian mystery, a dinosaur with a Frankenstein’s monster complex, and one hell of an ending. This movie took The Lost World: Jurassic Park and turned its basic structure into a better rollercoaster ride that blew the doors wide open for future films to run absolutely wild. No longer is humanity's hubris contained to a small island with limited consequences, as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is ready to see global panic set in with bigger stakes, and sharper teeth.
2. Jurassic World (2015)
“Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?” Claire Dearing asks that question in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, but it would have been way more applicable if it happened to be a point of dialogue included in co-writer/director Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World. After almost two decades of dormancy, the first legacyquel to bring Jurassic Park back online is still the best of the sequel batch, as it recaptures that awe and wonder that brought everyone to the park in the first place, with a couple new tricks.
Introducing the world to hybrid dinosaurs, as well as Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard’s franchise torch bearers, Jurassic World dropped in 2015, and for a brief time it was the biggest smash of the year; a dream that would be dashed once some Star Wars sequel opened that December. We finally saw humanity succeed in sustaining John Hammond’s dream, and an even more devastating fallout when it finally failed; and it felt like a long promised disaster epic had cashed in that promise and delivered an absolutely thrilling return to form. Jurassic World, as far as the sequels go, was the closest we ever came to seeing a dinosaur for the first time again.
1. Jurassic Park (1993)
You can’t beat that first time you ever saw a dinosaur. The moment where Sam Neill and Laura Dern gazed upon a Brachiosaur grazing on some trees, and though we couldn’t see it in view just yet, we got exactly what they were selling. All Sir Richard Attenborough had to do is utter those magic words, and the magic spell of this moment was sealed in time forever: “Welcome to Jurassic Park.”
Steven Spielberg, Michael Crichton, and David Koepp laid down a foundation for blockbusters so astounding that it actually did capture the imagination of the entire planet. Jurassic Park had the Spielbergian magic that showed humans clearly out of their element, mixed with the fire and brimstone that Crichton’s science oriented mind laid out in his 1990. There’s a reason people are hyped for the reunion of Neil and Dern alongside their co-star Jeff Goldblum, as the trio that helped convince the world that dinosaurs could roam the Earth once again will forever be an integral part of this gold standard franchise.
Good, or bad, the Jurassic Park saga has always been entertaining. Whether it’s involving new characters in the storylines, or bringing familiar faces back to face their demons, it’s never been a dull moment when you’re walking in the park. As Jurassic World: Dominion is set to examine just what happens when the dinosaurs cross into our everyday lives, co-writer/director Colin Trevorrow feels ready to shake the foundations of this series yet again, with its most ambitious entry.
Will Jurassic World: Dominion even out the number of lukewarm sequels when compared to the examples of what continuing this franchise should look like? Or could we see this new era of the plot that’s almost 30 years in the making hitting a stride that will carry us all into an untold future of cinematic riches? June 10, 2022 will be the fateful date in history that reveals all; so until then, maybe we’ll return to the less beloved entries and give them another shot. It certainly couldn’t hurt, as it’s an undisputed fact we’ll go back to the better entries any day of the week. By time the sixth Jurassic Park movie hits, we’ll be ready to bask in the awe, and run when we absolutely have to.