“I was really just trying to make a good sequel to Jaws, on land.” That’s how Steven Spielberg explained his motivation to direct Jurassic Park, the landmark 1993 sci-fi adventure film. Spielberg had been searching for his next blockbuster movie idea, and he knew he’d found it when author Michael Crichton mentioned that his next novel would involve cloned dinosaurs wreaking havoc at an island theme park. Spielberg’s Jurassic Park became one of the most successful films ever made, showcased the amazing visual effects made possible by new computer-generated imagery (CGI), and launched a film franchise that has lasted almost three decades. The first three Jurassic Park films returned to Netflix on August 1st, so it’s as good a time as any to revisit and rank each film in the series, worst to best. Let’s get started:
5. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
The latest entry in the Jurassic franchise is also, unfortunately, the worst of the bunch. Fallen Kingdom’s plot is made up of dozens of potentially interesting ideas, but they’re all half-baked or poorly executed. The constant callbacks to the original Jurassic Park, intended to play on our nostalgia, mostly fall flat. The special effects have become less special. The actors try their best, I suppose, but when everything around them feels fake or digital, it’s hard for me to care. It’s just a mess of a movie. If you’re simply looking for a mindless action movie to distract you for two hours, you might enjoy it. Otherwise, I recommend any other film in the franchise.
4. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Released in 1997, this film saw the return of Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp. Neither Sam Neill nor Laura Dern reprised their roles, but Jeff Goldblum was back as quirky heartthrob Dr. Ian Malcolm, joined this time by Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, and a host of interesting character actors. It had a bigger budget, featured a variety of new dinosaur species, and included a few genuinely exciting set pieces that rival the original’s most thrilling sequences. In other words, it should have worked. But it just…doesn’t. Jurassic Park obviously emphasized spectacle over character development, but at least the characters were likeable. The same can’t be said for the characters in this sequel. And the sense of awe and wonder that pervaded every scene of Jurassic Park is almost completely absent from The Lost World. It’s an interesting film, and I believe it’s worth watching, but it’s undeniably a disappointment when compared to the original.
3. Jurassic World
Released 14 years after the critical disappointment of Jurassic Park III, this franchise reboot introduced a slew of new characters and dinosaur species and welcomed audiences back to the park. It also took the scientific mumbo jumbo of the series one step further: in addition to cloning all the familiar dinosaur species like Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor, the scientists at the Jurassic World theme park are now splicing together DNA from different dinosaurs to engineer an entirely new species called Indominus rex. I’m not convinced that this was completely necessary—there are so many dinosaur species that have yet to be featured in this series; why not introduce one of them instead?—but I have to admit that this is a pretty good action-adventure movie. It’s not amazing, but it has some interesting new ideas, solid action sequences, and characters worth rooting for. If you like Chris Pratt, you’ll probably enjoy Jurassic World.
2. Jurassic Park III
It’s hardly a masterpiece, but Jurassic Park III is much better than its mediocre reputation would suggest. At a brisk 92 minutes, it’s the leanest and meanest film in the franchise, and the closest the series would ever get to a true horror film. The plot is minimalist and many of the characters *spoiler alert* only exist to be eaten by the dinosaurs, but the thrills are genuine. This movie, more than any other in the series, wants to scare you. Just watch the abandoned laboratory scene and tell me you aren’t a little spooked. Yes, some of the dialogue is clunky, and there’s the often-ridiculed moment when a velociraptor speaks to Dr. Grant in a dream, but this stuff never detracts from the effectiveness of the action, and that’s really what these movies are all about. They’re B-movies with bigger budgets. Jurassic Park III features bigger, badder dinosaurs and great visual effects. What more could you want? In my opinion, it’s by far the best of the Jurassic sequels, and it deserves a critical reappraisal.
1. Jurassic Park
Of course, nothing was ever going to top the original. Jurassic Park remains one of the defining films of the 1990s, a cultural touchstone for an entire generation, and a major milestone in the history of movie special effects. Even after all this time has passed, those effects are still incredibly convincing. But beyond the special effects, the reason that this film still works is because it makes you feel like you’re really there, seeing living, breathing dinosaurs in the flesh. When the characters stare in awe at the sight of a Brachiosaurus, you share their disbelief. When they come face-to-face with a Velociraptor, you feel their fear. Spielberg’s greatest skill as a director is his ability to manipulate audiences, and Jurassic Park is perhaps the best example of this skill. Every scene, every moment, every detail is designed to make the audience feel something—awe, panic, joy, fear. No matter how many times I watch the film, it always works. It definitely worked in 1993, when it earned $914 million and became the highest-grossing film ever made up to that point. 27 years later, it’s still one of the best popcorn movies of all time.
Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Jurassic Park III are now streaming on Netflix. Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom are available on Amazon Prime.