This article contains mild Jurassic World Dominion spoilers.
We all agree that Jurassic Park is a masterpiece, right? Perfectly directed and acted, and augmented by one of John Williams’ best scores. And we should also agree that the rest of them are trash. To be clear, I don’t mean that derisively—killer dinosaur movies should be kind of trashy. While Steven Spielberg brought a sense of wonder and genuine emotion to the first film, not even he could make the sequel anything more than a nasty movie about dinosaurs eating people.
That fact has been the blessing and curse of the Jurassic franchise. Only one movie has been able to transcend the trashy joy of dino mayhem, but even the worst of the series (the recently released Jurassic World Dominion, according to our own David Crow) still has dinosaurs, and dinosaurs are awesome.
For that reason, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to rank the Jurassic films. Instead we should rank the dinos that appear in those films! Like the forward-thinking folks at InGen, I’ll be using a scientific model that’s sure to work out perfectly. Namely, I’ll be using the following three criteria:
- Awe – Does the dino do something awesome in the movie?
- Effects – Does the dino actually look cool and make sense in the scene?
- Legend – Does the dino achieve legendary status in the six movies?
In the case of a tie, I will consult my five-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. Because it doesn’t matter how many Ph.D.s you might have, kids remain the ultimate experts on dinosaurs. Like John Hammond’s scientists, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.
One last note. I initially wanted to rank every single dino in the Jurassic franchise. But while I was too busy wondering if I could do it, my editors stopped to ask if I should. And they decided that I should limit the list to just the best dinos. This means that I will only complain a little bit about Indominus Rex instead of complaining a lot about Indominus Rex.
If you couldn’t tell from the name, giganotosaurus is a gigantic dinosaur. If it’s still not clear, don’t worry. The characters in Dominion will repeatedly remind you that she is the largest carnivore to ever walk on land. They bring it up so often that not even the most mansplaining dude in my screening, the same guy who pointed up and said, “We’ve got Dodgson here,” understood that his girlfriend got it. And while it is pretty cool to see a really, really big dinosaur, Dominion doesn’t give giganotosaurus a memorable set piece, which is why she comes in at the bottom here.
It’s hard not to roll your eyes at the dino hybrids introduced in Jurassic World, especially the prehistoric hat on a hat that is Indominus Rex. Indoraptor, the raptor and T-Rex mix from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom makes this list because it’s used well in the movie’s genre-breaking second half. When director J.A. Bayona shifts gears to make a haunted house movie, indoraptor becomes a genuinely creepy baddie, a Nosferatu-like creature hunting down young Maisie (Isabella Sermon). Does it do what a dinosaur should do? No, but it does add to some memorable scenes, so it deserves a spot here.
Stegosaurus plays an important role in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park novel as the sick dino that attracts the attention of Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern in the film). Obviously, she gets replaced with a triceratops in the film, but she gets time to shine in The Lost World and the Jurassic World entries. Honestly, the stegos don’t do anything overtly cool, and we don’t really get to see their tails in action. Still, I can’t deny that the stegosaurus was my favorite dinosaur when I was a kid, so I always feel a bit of a thrill when they show up on the screen.
The horned dino makes its debut in Jurassic World and appears in each of the sequels, including a notable scene in Dominion. Its name translates to “man-eating bull,” which is undeniably rad. Even better, the horns on either side of carnotaurus’s eyes give her a scowling, almost demonic appearance, adding to the threat. Despite its awesome appearance, carnotaurus doesn’t get too much screen time in the Jurassic World movies, thus its relatively low ranking here.
Another new addition with Dominion, the therizinosaurus kind of looks like a giant chicken, a perception only enhanced by the fact that it’s an herbivore. However, therizinosaurus’s nasty claws and disposition make for not only one of the funnier jokes in the movie but also gives her a key role in a climactic scene. It’s not enough for the dino to reach legendary status, but enough to make up a few spots on this list.
Okay, look. Objectively, spinosaurus is cool. She has a giant fin on her back, which acts like a shark’s dorsal fin when she’s sneaking up on someone in the water. But I just cannot give spino more love than this because of the way she’s used in Jurassic Park III. Director Joe Johnston wanted to up the stakes of the movie by having Spinosaurus kill a T-Rex early in the film, in an attempt to make Dr. Grant’s trip to Isla Sorna more dangerous than his visit to Isla Nublar. As much as I like Jurassic Park III, spino killing a tyrannosaur only makes me resent her, which is why I’m ranking her so low.
Apatosaur might seem like an odd choice to arrive this high, as they appear most notably as dead meat left by the lame Indominus Rex in Jurassic World. When the equally lame Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) find the remains of apatosauruses littering the field, we’re supposed to be even more scared of a dinosaur with giant teeth, stealth powers, and the name Indominus Rex. However, apatosaur does get redeemed in one of the best scenes in Dominion, where she lumbers through a construction site. For a couple of seconds, the movie manages to restore a little bit of wonder to the series, something that’s rarely happened since the first film.
Like the apatosaurus, the triceratops exists in these movies as mostly a creature of sympathy. The sick dinosaur catches the attention of Dr. Sattler in the first movie, leading her to go sifting through its excrement. While that scene doesn’t have much significance on a plot level, other than separating Sattler from the others, it does make for a memorable moment, such as the amazing sight of Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) resting on the triceratops’s belly, a gleeful grin across his face. And because the internet is sometimes good, it also gave us this gif.
“Known by paleontologists as a living tank.” That’s how the ankylosaur is introduced during the auction sequence in Fallen Kingdom, and it’s a pretty rad descriptor. Do any of the ankylosauruses we see on screen live up to that designation? Not really. But I’m imagining a living tank wandering around and wrecking things, and that’s good enough.
The last Dominion addition to make this list, the pyroraptor shares the feathered appearance of the therizinosaur, made all the more fearsome by its red coloring. Pyroraptor’s main set piece involves the irredeemably annoying Owen Grady, which would usually be a mark against it in the “legend” category. But she does make up for it by coming very close to actually killing Owen and improving the movie. Even better, pyroraptor’s set-piece involves Kayla Watts (Wanda DeWise), the only legitimately cool new character in the World trilogy.
As you’ve probably noticed, carnivores tend to rank higher on my “awe/effects/legend” scale. Gallimimus is one of the few outliers here, thanks to their set piece in the original Jurassic Park. The ostrich-like animals lose a couple of points in the effects department, thanks to the unconvincing compositing when they catapult on a log and over Alan Grant and the kids. But you cannot deny the sheer sense of adventure evoked by the trio running through a herd of gallimimuses, especially when the T-Rex shows up for her morning snack.
As a very stupid kid leaving the theater back in 1993, I swore up and down that we saw Pteranodons flying alongside the chopper at the end of Jurassic Park. (No need to post a correction in the comments; 1993 me didn’t have the internet.) We get a glimpse of them in The Lost World, but pteranodons wouldn’t really get their due until the great aviary sequence in Jurassic Park III.
Pteronodons then became the main character on Twitter with Jurassic World, in which they played a key role in a particularly nasty scene involving Claire’s assistant Zara Young (Katie McGrath). Maybe it was unnecessarily excessive, but I for one want more excessive violence in my dinosaur movies.
Stygimoloch may not be a hybrid dino like indominus rex or indoraptor, but it is a bit of a stretch to include her in this list. After all, paleontologists largely doubt that such an animal ever existed. And yet, its one scene in Fallen Kingdom meets my criteria and gives stygimoloch a privileged place on this list. The cute little headbutter smashes through walls in the basement of Lockwood Manor, making her way to the auction floor, where she commences in tossing rich people up in the air, something that brings joy to anyone with a moral core.
Sometimes, people will describe alligators as modern dinosaurs, which is a dumb thing to say because dinosaurs rule and alligators live in Florida. More importantly, baryonyx’s long snout and sharp teeth make her the real version of an alligator as dinosaur, and she’s far cooler than a lame alligator.
Baryonyx was originally planned to be the main dino in Jurassic Park III before being swapped out for spinosaurus. Spared the indignity of becoming that movie’s unconvincing heel, baryonyx got to star in a few rad set pieces in Fallen Kingdom and Dominion. Of special note is her appearance in the former, where she’s so determined to kill Claire and Franklin that she walks through lava. We have no choice but to applaud the effort.
Compies attack a little girl at the start of The Lost World, which is cool in a creepy way, but not that impressive. Most of us could beat up the daughter of fancy English people. But in that same movie, compies take down Peter Stormare—the guy who stuffed Steve Buscemi into a woodchipper in Fargo, the devil himself in Constantine. If those tiny little critters can kill him, then they deserve the respect of a high ranking.
True, dilophosaurus only has two notable scenes across six movies. But that first scene is so good that not even the lame call back in Dominion diminishes its quality. Spielberg brings all his horror movie powers to the way dilophosaurus toys with Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) before finally spitting her poisonous goo into her face. Stan Winston’s amazing design makes the character look cute and playful at first, and then switching to pure evil before his attack. More than any other dino, the dilophosauruses have lived in the nightmares of children since 1993.
The highest-ranking herbivore on this list, the brachiosaurus is the epitome of awe. The first dinosaur that we see in Jurassic Park, the brachiosaurus scene is what sets that movie apart from the sequels. The camera follows Alan Grant’s amazed face as he looks up at the towering beast, while the most openly romantic part of Williams’ score soars into the mix. By the time John Hammond speaks the immortal lines, “Welcome… to Jurassic Park,” the movie could end right there and still be five stars. Everything that happens from that point is all gravy.
Yes, I’m putting a Jurassic World dino in the top three. Before you get angry, recall not only the pure spectacle of the mosasaurus’ big scenes in that first movie, including the team-ups with the T-Rex and the Pteranodons, but the opening of Fallen Kingdom. The shot of mosasaurus swallowing the tiny sub pod makes the opening the best in the series, even better than the “SHOOT HER” moment in the first Jurassic Park. The sequels all make the dinosaurs awesome, but only mosasaurus is genuinely terrifying.
Everyone going into Jurassic Park in 1993 knew what a T-Rex was, but very few of us were aware of raptors. So when Grant starts talking them up to scare a snotty little boy, you can’t help but wonder if he’s over-hyping them. He was not. From the moment they show that they are, indeed, clever girls, the raptors remain one of the most terrifying dinos in the franchise.
Five movies later, and they remain cool, undiminished by the indignity of being defeated by gymkata in The Lost World or respecting Chris Pratt in Jurassic World. Full disclosure: I did consider knocking them down a ranking because of Owen’s buddy Blue, but the experts (read: my children) were adamant that Blue was good, and thus the raptors stay at number two.
1. Tyrannosaurus Rex
Yes, we have a T-Rex. There could be no other champion, even as challengers like the Spinosaurus and Indominus Rex try to outdo her. No other dino has as many awesome, impressive looking, or legendary moments. The ripples in the water as she approaches, the roar she gives after defeating the raptors, the way two Rexes tear apart RICHARD SCHIFF, the return of the Rex in World. More than Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, or Ian Malcolm, the T-Rex is the hero of the franchise. As long as they show respect to the Rex, I will continue to buy tickets for Jurassic movies, no matter how bad they are otherwise.