Warning: Spoilers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ahead.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth movie of the roaring reptilian series, has arrived in theaters to sprinkle some familiar wonder and stir up even more nostalgia for the original film, despite the fact that audiences have never been deprived of loud, crashing, bombastic summer blockbusters. Yet this franchise has continued to harvest DNA from amber with a familiar theme, and the films have consistently (at least, mostly) done so in fresh and thrilling ways while also making fun of themselves (very important).
That is to say, the films highlight humanity’s insatiable desire for making stupid judgment calls (like bringing back extinct species) that could doom us all. This tendency to avoid heeding history is currently reflected in today’s especially harsh and adversarial political climate, and perhaps watching genetically engineered, killer reptiles deal lessons to humans (who still refuse to learn) is somewhat therapeutic, as strange as it sounds. With that said, let’s get real — these movies were never intended as high art, but still, they’re rankable as far as their popcorn-crunching appeal goes. From worst to best, let’s do this.
5. Jurassic Park III (2001)
Within an entire franchise full of people making terribly idiotic decisions, the characters of the threequel somehow manage to make the worst moves of all. Paleontologist Dr. Grant (Sam Neill), who knows damn well that no one should enter an island full of dinosaurs, is still lured to Isla Sorna (now a restricted island) under false pretenses after a young boy lands there through a parasailing mishap. William H. Macy and Tea Leoni play bickering exes Paul and Amanda Kirby, respectively, who decide it’s worth risking other people’s lives and limbs to search for their son. From the very beginning, Leoni’s character attracts the killer reptiles by shouting through a megaphone, and the sound of Leoni helplessly screaming through the movie rarely ceases.
To make matters worse, the film doesn’t realize its own arrogance as the other installments do. And beyond Grant calling the beasts “genetically engineered theme-park monsters, nothing more and nothing less,” there’s no valuable commentary to smarten matters up either. If you were hoping for fine visuals to ease this viewing experience, you’re out of luck there as well. The dino attack scenes are comparatively unimaginative, and although the third film arrives one decade after the first one, III manages to look (from a technological standpoint) far less impressive. Not only are these characters grating, but the actors’ talents are wasted, and this is essentially a B-movie on a $93 million budget.
4. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
The second film isn’t a masterpiece, but this is a palatable sequel, especially for those who wanted more action, and there’s plenty of it to be found with the dinos flourishing in their own island ecosystem (after conveniently overcoming the reproductive hurdle of their all-female status), referred to as Site B or Isla Soma (which, not incidentally, translates to “Sarcasm Island” in Spanish).
Speaking of sarcasm, the film will charm anyone’s pants off, thanks to the return of Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm, chaos theorist extraordinaire. The other characters, including lead Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) and photographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughan), fade into the background while the highlight remains Malcolm, who’s not only struggling with losing his university tenure — for “selling wild stories” about Jurassic Park — but also living up to his ladies-man reputation by not even realizing his girlfriend (Sarah) had traveled to Site B without telling him. He love-hates himself, and you’ll love him for it.
The battle sequences of Lost World also shine with tons of dino closeups and realistic behavior from those characters who become trapped in peril. In particular, a climactic scene during a downpour generates palpable suspense while a dinosaur sends the crew’s bus dangling over a cliff. There’s a ton of carnage, and folks are visibly ripped to pieces, which is either a plus or a minus, depending on one’s tastes, and of course, the “escape” from Site B isn’t the end of the movie because InGen executives can’t help but keep the party going by stowing away a few dinos on the evacuation ship. So, if you’ve ever wanted to see a T-Rex busting through customs in San Diego, and you view humans, rather than dinos, as the bigger danger, then Lost World is worth a rewatch.
3. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom takes place three years after its superior predecessor, and matters are entirely bleak for the dinosaurs, who face a second extinction, as explained by Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm while he testifies to Congress in two brief, entirely expository, appearances. In short, sh*t has gotten real, and a volcano is about to obliterate Isla Nublar, while Malcolm aims to convince that nature should be allowed to take its course.
Naturally, that’s not about to happen, for humans can’t help but interfere, both with benevolent and malevolent intent. Although Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) hope to save these animals, they’re tricked into returning to the island by an animal trafficking enterprise. What unfolds is a heartbreaking series of scenes wherein these CGI animals — to whom viewers have grown attached over the past 25 years — appear to be in entirely realistic agony, and film’s quest to illustrate the barbaric tendencies of man arguably goes too far at times for a popcorn-crunching endeavor.
In particular, one shot of a desperate brachiosaurus is enough to haunt one’s daymares for weeks, and everyone’s favorite raptor, the hyper-intelligent and empathetic Blue, sheds tears of pain during her captivity. Deeply cynical and cruel, this sequel’s action still qualifies as unparalleled compared to the rest, especially during an incredible dino-human combination stampede. Be warned, though — the instances of comic relief that are present are jarring, likely unintentional moments, such as Chris Pratt absurdly grunting while attempting to escape lava. Overall, Fallen Kingdom is a difficult film to watch, although the passage of time will probably render this a necessary entry to the series.
2. Jurassic World (2015)
Two decades after the megalomania began, the fourth installment shows Jurassic World fully taking root as the global family tourist destination on Isla Nubar. At this point, InGen is gamely meeting increasing consumer demands — it’s no longer good enough to scare kids, for the parents need nightmares, too — by creating more impressive dinosaurs through genetic hybrids, like the lagoon-dwelling Mosasaurus and the relevancy-boosting Indominus Rex, whose test-tube births are often sponsored by Verizon and the like.
Such an approach isn’t new. Consumer culture has been critiqued even through zombie movies (Dawn of the Dead), but the tactic couldn’t be more fitting for this franchise. The once-reliably scary T-Rex has been surpassed by bigger, more vicious breeds, and it’s only a matter of time before ungodly mayhem breaks out. And oh boy, does it ever with violence even spilling into gift shops by film’s end, as animals who have never lived outside captivity are all loose and both unable and unwilling to control themselves.
Well, all except the raptors, who have been raised as siblings and possess social skills as bestowed by their alpha, Chris Pratt’s Owen. Both he and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire — who goes from referring to the animals as “assets” to saving everyone’s ass (yes, while wearing “those ridiculous” heels) by luring the T-Rex into battle with Indominus — are fine followups to the franchise’s earlier leads while they seek to stop InGen from carrying out even more nefarious plans. Amazingly, Jurassic World succeeds by going bigger, even though the violence is rather appalling to digest if you really think about it.
That’s the key. Don’t think too much about Jurassic World, and it’s easy to love watching Blue the raptor deliver a baddie’s final push into oblivion, but yes, the mayhem factor is insane. Pteranodon take down helicopters and mow down tourists running through the streets. They scoop up one lady and toss her back and forth before throwing her into the ocean, only to “rescue” her while continuing to torture her in front of terrified children. It’s actually pretty awful to behold but fitting to illustrate the horrors foretold by the first film’s legacy.
1. Jurassic Park (1993)
Naturally, nothing the Jurassic franchise can produce will top the original, which — despite the obvious bad idea at work from the beginning — featured a wondrous opening act filled with (some) idealism before everything went to hell on Isla Nublar. Sam Neill (as Dr. Grant) and Laura Dern (as Dr. Ellie Sattler) had been called in, along with Goldblum’s womanizing Malcolm, to bestow approval and win over investors on behalf of park owner John Hammond (played with both a twinkle in his eye and greed in his soul by Richard Attenborough).
Sweeping visuals (which still hold up well, even stacked against today’s CGI fests) reeled in audiences while a wise-cracking Goldblum kept things real. Of course, InGen and the quest for the almighty dollar perfectly illustrated how amber-preserved, mosquito-harvested dinosaur blood was reason enough to dive headfirst into bringing back animals that had become extinct for damn good reason. Ultimately, then, Malcolm’s “life finds a way” catchphrase anchors the film (and the series), along with this exchange:
Malcolm: “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.”
Ellie: “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”
If that doesn’t win you over, then one of these things will: The sight of a T-Rex killing someone on the toilet; the absurdity of using electrical fences (with no redundancy plan) to contain massive reptiles; dinosaurs ricocheting through a kitchen; or a shirtless, heaving Goldblum. Something for everyone!