The Top 10 Famous Dinosaurs That Roamed the Earth

Learn What Makes These Dinosaurs so Appealing

Paleontologists have named nearly 1,000 dinosaur genera, and there is something interesting about each one. However, only a handful of them are instantly recognizable by little kids and seasoned adults alike. Why is that? Here are some at-a-glance reasons on what makes these dinosaurs so appealing, along with some inspiration to seek out the lesser known ones.

of 10

Tyrannosaurus Rex

Digital illustration of T-Rex.
SCIEPRO / Getty Images

The undisputed king of the dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex is immensely popular thanks to a fawning press, countless starring roles in movies such as "Jurassic Park" and TV shows, and a really cool name (Greek for "tyrant lizard king"). Impressive fossils and models of T. rex standing on two hind legs with short arms outstretched toward visitors is what excites kids of all ages at museums such as Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, New York City's Museum of Natural History, and Hill City, South Dakota's Black Hills Museum of Natural History—to name a few. With an average body of 43 feet long (a typical school bus is 45 feet) and a 5-foot head teeming with razor-sharp teeth, it's got a face not easily forgotten. Based on its bone structure, it probably weighed about 7.5 tons (adult African elephants average about 6 tons), and despite its size, many paleontologists believe it could efficiently run after prey and certainly outrun a human.

of 10


Triceratops dinosaur, artwork


Probably the most instantly recognizable of all dinosaurs is the North American Triceratops (three-horned face), with its parrot-like beak and huge frill at the back of its head. It combined a gentle, plant-eating disposition with three fearsome-looking horns that were probably used both in courtship and keeping hungry tyrannosaurs and raptors at bay. This dinosaur is from the late Cretaceous period (68-66 million years ago), and the adults were big—about 26 feet long, 10 feet tall, and 12 tons. It's South Dakota's state fossil and Wyoming's official state dinosaur. It has held a spotlight in movies such as "Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb," and was later shrunken considerably to promote the film as a freebie in fast-food meals for kids. A dinosaur room at any museum is an awesome place for dinosaur lovers, and the Triceratops gets lots of attention at New York City's American Museum of Natural History—you can see the evidence of an injury from perhaps a fight with another Triceratops on the fossil at this museum. And in Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, kids of all ages still can't wait to see the museum's beloved Hatcher, a favorite Triceratops specimen enjoyed in a complete form by crowds since 1905 until it fell apart 90 years later to be displayed as a T. rex meal.

of 10


Velociraptor dinosaur roaring against white background.
Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

More than any other dinosaur, the Velociraptor can trace its popularity to two blockbuster movies: "Jurassic Park" and "Jurassic World," in which this feathered raptor (ancestors of birds) was portrayed by the much bigger Deinonychus. Velociraptor, which actually means "swift or speedy thief," was small in size (about 3 feet tall and 6 feet long), smarter than most dinosaurs, and a fast runner on its two hind legs—up to 40 mph, which was great for hunting prey when it wasn't scavenging. Fossils that have been found in northern China, the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, and Russia showing sharp teeth and long, sickle-shaped claws always give crowds at dinosaur museums extra pause.

of 10


Digital illustration of stegosaurus dinosaur.

No one knows why Stegosaurus (which translates to "roof lizard") had such distinctive plates that on average were 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide, but that hasn't kept this tiny-brained dinosaur from holding a tight grip on the popular imagination. Some believe this dinosaur's spiky plates could have been brightly colored and could move, and the spikes on the tail may have actually been horizontal instead of vertical, which would help ward off predators. Thanks to its debut in "Jurassic Park" movies, theme parks, games, toys, and trading cards, this elephant-sized dinosaur from the late Jurassic period won the hearts of many as a peaceful plant-eater that roamed the plains in what is now North America.

of 10


Digital illustration of spinosaurus dinosaur.
Sciepro / Getty Images

An up-and-comer on the dinosaur popularity charts, Spinosaurus, or spine lizard, was distinguished by its vast size (59 feet long) and likely weight of a couple of tons more than T. rex. It has a mysterious 5.5-foot sail on its back—a fin-like fan that's purpose is richly debated. From the few fossils discovered in Egypt and Morocco, it is assumed that the Spinosaurus was mostly a fish-eating river dweller and perhaps one of the first dinosaurs that could swim. Although, its strong back legs have some believing it could run up to 15 mph.

of 10


Digital illustration of archaeopteryx dinosaur.

Was it a bird, a dinosaur, or something in between? Whatever the case, the exquisitely preserved fossils of Archaeopteryx (meaning "ancient wing") are among the most famous of such artifacts in the world. Even though it had wings, the jury is still out on whether or not it could fly or also glide, and that, coupled with its scary-looking claws and razor-sharp teeth, gives the imagination something to run with. One such fossil found in Germany is a favorite at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming.

of 10


Digital illustration of brachiosaurus.


Like the Velociraptor, the Brachiosaurus owes much of its current popularity to its featured cameo in the 1993 movie "Jurassic Park," munching placidly on tall trees and sneezing on actress Ariana Richards—but this huge giraffe-like dinosaur was fascinating in its own right. Based on fossils found in Algeria, Portugal, Tanzania, and the United States (Utah, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Colorado), it is believed that an adult Brachiosaurus could have had an 82-foot-long body with a 30-foot-long neck and a weight of 62 tons.

of 10


Digital illustration of allosaurus dinosaur.

Smaller than Tyrannosaurus rex, but faster and more vicious with serrated teeth, Allosaurus was the all-purpose predator of the late Jurassic period—and may even have hunted its prey (including sauropods and stegosaurs) in packs. Most of the discovered fossils are from Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, but they've also been found in Portugal, Siberia, and Tanzania. It became Utah's state fossil after 46 of them were discovered in Utah's Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry.

of 10


Digital illustratino of apatosaurus dinosaur.
SCIEPRO / Getty Images

Apatosaurus owes its popularity to the fact that it used to be known as Brontosaurus—a name that epitomized dinosaurs for generations of kids who watched "Flintstones" cartoons—but beyond that, it's one of the best-attested sauropods of the late Jurassic period. Its size makes it a favorite at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History and others. Apatosaurus, or "deceptive lizard," hatched out of eggs that were up to a foot wide. But it's their unique look in adulthood that's a marvel, as they likely grew to 70–90 feet long. Its neck towered above a wide body, which helped it graze on tall foliage, and the purpose of its whip-like, 50-foot-long tail is anyone's guess. Fossils have been discovered in Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah.

of 10


Digital illustration of dilophosaurus dinosaur

Corey Ford / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Despite what you saw in "Jurassic Park," Dilophosaurus didn't spit poison; it didn't have a neck frill, and it wasn't the size of a Labrador retriever. However, this dinosaur remains popular with dinosaur enthusiasts even after they learn the truth. After studying fossils from North America and China, scientists believe that the Dilophosaurus (which means "double-crested lizard" for its fancy head decoration) was about 20 feet long from head to tail and weighed about 1,000 pounds. And with a mouth full of sharp teeth, they are thought to have been scavengers, supplementing their diet by hunting for small animals and fish.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Strauss, Bob. "The Top 10 Famous Dinosaurs That Roamed the Earth." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Strauss, Bob. (2021, February 16). The Top 10 Famous Dinosaurs That Roamed the Earth. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "The Top 10 Famous Dinosaurs That Roamed the Earth." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).

Watch Now: 9 Fascinating Dinosaur Facts