The 5 Best (and 5 Worst) Dinosaur Movies Ever Made

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Be Sure to See (or Avoid) These 10 Dinosaur Movies

theodore rex
"Theodore Rex", one of the worst dinosaur movies of all time. New Line Cinema

If there's one inescapable fact about dinosaur movies, it's this: for every CGI-packed blockbuster like Jurassic World, there are two or three low-budget clunkers like Reptilicus, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, and Prehysteria! You'll be glad to know, then, that we've plunged into the complete dinosaur-flick oeuvre to spotlight (or resurrect from well-deserved oblivion) these 10 notable examples of the genre. Prepare to be dazzled (or revolted) in equal measure!

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Best Dinosaur Movie #1: Gorgo (1961)


Granted, Gorgo is an uneven movie with its somewhat clunky special effects (too bad the producers couldn't get hold of Ray Harryhausen, the genius behind the slightly later Valley of Gwangi described further down) and its King Kong-derived plotline in which the eponymous giant dinosaur is captured and put on display in the circus. But all of that is redeemed by this movie's memorable ending, in which—spoiler alert!—Gorgo turns out to be a mere baby whose captors have to deal with its enraged, 200-foot-tall mom. It's also a nice bonus that Gorgo has a happy ending, as mother and son head back into the sea, side by side... the usual barrage of rocket fire and electrocution notwithstanding.

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Worst Dinosaur Movie #1: Theodore Rex (1996)

theodore rex
New Line Cinema

Never heard of Theodore Rex? That's because this Whoopi Goldberg buddy flick—which pairs her up with a living, breathing T. Rex detective—never actually made it into theaters in 1996, despite its then-hefty over-$30 million budget. Before production, Goldberg tried to back out of the movie, then promptly reconsidered when she was sued for $20 million; she later went on record as saying "Don't ask me why I did it. I didn't want to." The advance screenings of Theodore Rex were so disastrous that New Line Cinema banished the flick direct to video; at the time, it was the most expensive theatrical production ever to be consigned to a VHS-only release.

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Best Dinosaur Movie #2: King Kong (2005)

king kong
Wingnut Films

Forget about its slow opening segment in which Jack Black charters a boat to mysterious Skull Island and its predictable final segment in which the captive Kong goes ape-you-know-what on New York's Chrysler Building. Smack in the middle of Peter Jackson's 2005 King Kong remake is the most audacious dinosaur action sequence ever filmed, starting with a rumbling Apatosaurus stampede and ending with a free-for-all between Kong and three, count 'em, three terrifying T. Rex (technically Venatosaurus, a nonexistent theropod genus invented for the movie). Bonus points for the giant, icky insects that nearly eat Adrien Brody and his fellow adventurers after they're toppled into the ravine!

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Worst Dinosaur Movie #2: Walking With Dinosaurs 3D (2013)

walking with dinosaurs

When word first got out about the Walking With Dinosaurs movie, fans were thrilled: at last, a realistically simulated, documentary-type depiction of what life during the Mesozoic Era was really like. Sadly, the producers chickened out at the last minute, and relentlessly anthropomorphized WWD with cute girl and boy voiceovers, scientifically dubious brushstrokes (were female Pachyrhinosaurus really tinted pink?), and not least, a hackneyed storyline that cast a pack of hungry Gorgosaurus as the evil heavies and Patchy and his ceratopsian pals as innocent but plucky victims. It's nature, guys, not a second-rate Disney flick!

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Best Dinosaur Movie #3: Jurassic Park (1993)

jurassic park

You can argue about whether Jurassic World boasts more impressive special effects or whether the two other sequels in the series—The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III—have more cohesive plot lines. But the fact remains that the original Jurassic Park is the hundred-ton Brachiosaurus of dinosaur movies, updating what had become a tired, repetitive "monster movie" genre for the jaded cinema audiences of the 1990's and providing an endless assortment of clever tropes for later filmmakers to riff on—for example, that vibrating cup of water signaling the advance of a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex, and that ultra-crafty Velociraptor (really a Deinonychus) turning a doorknob.

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Worst Dinosaur Movie #3: We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story (1993)

we're back a dinosaur's story
Universal Pictures

Released the same year as Jurassic Park, We're Back is an unholy Mesozoic mess: a cel-animated kids' movie in which a quartet of dinosaurs feed on the "brain grain" provided by a time-traveling inventor and are then transported to contemporary New York City. Not only are We're Back's elementary-school heroes repellently drawn and voiced (Louie is a hackneyed "tough guy," his pal Cecilia a simpering rich kid), but the plot twists they're forced to endure are almost Brechtian in their distancing effect: at one point, Louie and Cecilia are turned into monkeys by an evil circus barker who wants to exploit the dinosaurs for his own benefit. And then there's the song-and-dance number... no, on second thought, let's not even discuss the song-and-dance number.

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Best Dinosaur Movie #4: The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

the valley of gwangi
Warner Bros.

No list of dinosaur movies would be complete without an entry showcasing the talents of special-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. While The Valley of Gwangi isn't as well-known as other Harryhausen efforts, its unique setting (the American west at the turn of the 19th century) and Hispanic characters set it apart from other action flicks of its time—and Gwangi itself, a rampaging Allosaurus, is suitably terrifying (in one scene, he battles a full-grown Styracosaurus and a full-blown set-piece at the end has him going horn-to-tusk with a circus elephant). Add cameo appearances by other prehistoric creatures (a galloping Ornithomimus and a pterodactyl that almost carries away the boy hero), and The Valley of Gwangi is well worth a Netflix rental.

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Worst Dinosaur Movie #4: Tammy and the T-Rex (1994)

tammy and the t-rex
Imperial Entertainment

What is it about human females and dinosaur sidekicks? A couple of years before the non-release of Theodore Rex (see slide #3), the world witnessed Tammy and the T-Rex, which pairs a teenage, before-she-was-famous Denise Richards with an animatronic dinosaur powered by the brain of her boyfriend, transplanted by a mad scientist played by Terry Kiser (who attained fame a few years earlier for his depiction of a corpse in Weekend at Bernie's). Not quite a teen sex comedy (don't expect to catch any nude glimpses of the toothsome Richards), not quite an action movie, and not quite a musical (despite its one atrocious song), Tammy and the T-Rex has become a staple of "bad movie nights" nationwide.

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Best Dinosaur Movie #5: Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)


We can argue 'til the duckbills come home about whether Godzilla is a genuine movie dinosaur, or a more traditional monster with a vaguely dinosaur-like appearance; if it's any clue, the Japanese version of the name, Gojira, is a combination of "gorira" (gorilla) and "kujira" (whale). But there's no denying the impact of this 1956 movie, which articulated the fears of a nation that, a decade before, had experienced the nuclear devastation of two cities. Much of the charm of this original Godzilla lies in its low-budget special effects (Godzilla is clearly played by a guy in a rubber suit) and the awful English dubbing, not to mention the clumsy insertion of Canadian actor Raymond Burr to make the film more palatable to western audiences.

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Worst Dinosaur Movie #5: Godzilla (1998)

TriStar Pictures

You can just imagine the pitch meeting for this 1998 Godzilla remake: "Hey, let's spend a hundred million dollars on special effects and get Matthew Broderick to play the hero!" Well, I'll let you down gently: Matthew Broderick is no Russell Crowe (heck, he's not even Shia LaBouef), and the updated Godzilla, for all the lavish CGI attention paid to its glistening reptilian skin, is nothing special to look at either. A leading contender for the 1998 Golden Raspberry Awards (where it was nominated for Worst Picture, Worst Director and Worst Screenplay), Godzilla 1998 is only marginally worse than the overrated Godzilla 2014, a joyless exercise in Brobdingnagian creature and set design.

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Your Citation
Strauss, Bob. "The 5 Best (and 5 Worst) Dinosaur Movies Ever Made." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 25). The 5 Best (and 5 Worst) Dinosaur Movies Ever Made. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "The 5 Best (and 5 Worst) Dinosaur Movies Ever Made." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).