Steven Spielberg once said that making the original Jurassic Park made him “angry.” That might seem strange, but remember: While he was wrapping up production and supervising the complicated (and groundbreaking) special-effects shots on that film, he was also shooting Schindler’s List. “When I finally started shooting … in Poland, I had to go home about two or three times a week and get on a very crude satellite feed to Northern California … to be able to approve T-Rex shots,” he said to Entertainment Weekly in 2018. “And it built a tremendous amount of resentment and anger that I had to do this, that I had to actually go from [the emotional weight of Schindler’s List] to dinosaurs chasing jeeps, and all I could express was how angry that made me at the time. I was grateful later in June, though, but until then it was a burden.”
That burden would end up being the highest-grossing film ever made by the director who is thought by many to have invented the very idea of a blockbuster. And it would launch a franchise that has now made more than $5 billion worldwide, with this weekend’s Jurassic World Dominion expected to help increase that haul significantly.
For such a massive franchise, the films themselves often seem oddly dashed off. That first film was edited while Spielberg was making his Best Picture masterpiece; the second film, the final one directed by Spielberg, is one he admits he “didn’t bring my level of craft” to; the third didn’t have a finished script before it started shooting. And the new films of the past decade are often known more for Bryce Dallas Howard’s footwear than for wonder and awe.
This has not stopped the film series from being one of the biggest in the world. Turns out people just really, really like dinosaurs. How do these films stack up against one another? Here’s our ranking of the six Jurassic Park films. One big takeaway: You really shouldn’t take a job at InGen.
6. Jurassic Park III (2001)
No one was happy with the script for the third Jurassic Park movie, but perhaps because of the tepid reviews for Spielberg’s second segment, they kept trying to crack it and get it right. They even turned to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who had just written Election, to work on the script. (They’d later say all their jokes were taken out.) Eventually, director Joe Johnston, who took over from Spielberg because Spielberg wanted nothing more to do with the franchise, just went with what they had, which was a stripped-bare, nonsensical story in which Dr. Alan Grant (with Sam Neill returning in dispiriting fashion) agrees to return to Isla Nublar for … well, we’re still not sure why. The effects here seem to have aged worse than they did in the first two films, and Johnston doesn’t have anything close to Spielberg’s touch or wit. Everyone looks a little lost in Jurassic Park III, and the ending is so rushed and absurd it’s no wonder they didn’t make another one of these for 14 years.
5. Jurassic World (2015)
Do you remember who helped start the whole obsession with Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire’s footwear? Would you believe it was Joss Whedon? (He, of all people, tweeted that it was “70’s era sexist.”) The movie’s problems hardly end with Howard’s high heels, though. Director Colin Trevorrow was so obsessed with attempting to recapture the original film’s wonder that he ended up just knowing the words but not the music. Jurassic World is, in many ways, the reboot phenomenon at its worst: cynical, cheap, sort of ugly, and dumbed down in a way that had to have made Spielberg secretly groan. And we’ll always blame this movie for what has happened to Chris Pratt, transforming him from one of the internet’s favorite Chrises into a bland, replacement-level action hero without the charisma or easygoing swagger. People lined up around the block to see Jurassic World, but imagining what this could have been is an exercise in frustration.
4. Jurassic World Dominion (2022)
The final film in the new trilogy has gotten the worst reviews of any of the six installments, so it probably says a lot about the general mediocrity of the franchise that we actually think there are inferior Jurassic movies. Pratt and Howard are still drab, but the (totally forced) reunion of the three stars from the original film at least gives the proceedings some spark. Campbell Scott is delightful as an evil tech genius who is most certainly going to get eaten by dinosaurs in a very satisfying way. DeWanda Wise and Mamoudou Athie are very welcome additions to the ensemble, playing (respectively) a smart-ass pilot who grows a conscience and a PR man at Scott’s biotech company who ends up helping the good guys. As for the reasons why others hate Jurassic World Dominion — namely, that it doesn’t feel much like a Jurassic Park movie —well, they don’t bother us so much. (The Fast and Furious–style motorcycle cycle chase through Malta is kind of a hoot, albeit totally derivative.) That said, like the later Terminator sequels, this movie is what happens when a franchise runs out of ideas, spinning its wheels and hoping audiences won’t mind. (Spoiler alert: They won’t. This is gonna make so much damn money.)
3. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
When Fallen Kingdom came out, it felt like a slight improvement on Jurassic World — even if the whole “auction” sequence at the end is idiotic. (Seriously, this has to be the worst performance Toby Jones has ever given and will ever give.) In this sequel, the Pratt-Howard dynamic isn’t all that better (and her character’s sudden turn to dinosaur advocate is ridiculous), but there are some fun action sequences, including an impressively apocalyptic volcanic eruption of Isla Nublar. Once the story shifts to the Lockwood estate and his cloned granddaughter (don’t ask), it falls apart, but director J.A. Bayona still gives the movie a spooky haunted-house vibe that is more fundamentally honest than the repackaged thrills of Trevorrow’s film. Still, by the end, you’re ready for the raptors to eat as many of these people as possible.
2. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
All right, so Spielberg’s a little embarrassed by this one, and there’s some reason to be: The movie lacks the invention of the original and feels particularly perfunctory, with even Spielberg’s usual themes (the wonder of childhood, the cowardice of authority figures) coming across as half-baked. Most of the scenes on Isla Nublar are dull and repetitive and serve no purpose other than to give Spielberg a set piece to film. Not even Julianne Moore and an impossibly young Vince Vaughn can liven this up much. But then the action shifts to a T. rex rampaging through the streets of San Diego, and Spielberg finally begins to enjoy himself: He even lets a dog get eaten! The last half-hour of The Lost World is Spielberg just making a good old-fashioned monster movie, and that, on its own, is enough to put this at No. 2 on this list. Spielberg is still Spielberg, after all.
1. Jurassic Park (1993)
The original is still head and shoulders above any film on this list in large part because Spielberg — perhaps looking forward to making Schindler’s List — isn’t taking himself, or his film, too seriously. Really, he’s just flexing his muscles, effortlessly providing some of the most terrific action sequences in his entire canon. We’ll never see a ripple in a water glass the same way again, but our favorite bit in the whole T. rex chase sequence is when Spielberg, amid a terrifyingly intense scene, is so confident that he tosses in an “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear” joke just to show off. This isn’t the deepest or the smartest or the most keenly felt of Spielberg’s movies; it’s probably not even in his top ten. But Spielberg, particularly later in his career, often benefitted by just working fast and instinctively, trusting his otherworldly skills at building tension and wowing an audience. Jurassic Park is mass-market popcorn entertainment. But what incredible mass-market popcorn entertainment it is.
Grierson & Leitch write regularly about the movies and host a podcast about film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.