The Jurassic Park franchise is split down the middle, like a modern-day dinosaur’s DNA. The first three films, made from 1993 to 2001, were made in the antiquated era of sequels; the third one was a flop, so the franchise was considered kaput. But once Marvel redefined blockbuster culture, everything extinct was available to be reborn, and the dinosaurs were brought back from the dead. From 2015 to the present, there was a new Jurassic franchise with the same thrills and carnage, but a new cast and a barely-revised story. The latest iteration, Jurassic Park Dominion, was released on Friday to middling reviews and enormous box-office. Such is the new way. The future of the franchise is unknown, so let’s take stock of how we got here by ranking the six Jurassic Park movies.
6. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
My biggest problem with the most recent films is that they’re conflicted in their feelings towards the dinosaurs. On the one hand, carnage is the thing that drives this franchise; that’s why every film ends with a dino-a-dino battle. But the new ones also want us to see the dinosaurs as animals worthy of protection and maybe even rights. In Fallen Kingdom hundreds of dinosaurs get killed when a volcano erupts on their island. How am I supposed to enjoy the bloody mayhem after that? The idea might be to create an emotional roller-coaster for the viewer. The result is numbness.
5. Jurassic World Dominion
The first few minutes of Dominion are its best. In the style of an online news program, the filmmakers show us a world in which human beings have been forced to live with dinosaurs, who were unwittingly unleashed on the planet at the end of Fallen Kingdom. It’s creative stuff with beautiful, haunting imagery—see the dinosaur nest on top of the World Trade Center—but the film strangely blows right past those ideas and instead simply recreates the beats of the first movie, even bringing back Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum. To rehash their admittedly potent chemistry. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s always a mistake to choose nostalgia over originality.
4. Jurassic World
For a few minutes there, it felt like the reboot of the Jurassic franchise might have been a good idea. Come for the early sequence in which an innocent bystander gets ravaged by a pterodactyl and then a mosasaurus, stay for the hilarious will-they-or-won’t-they subplot between park technicians played by Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus. This one doesn’t hold a candle to the original, but it’s as good as the rebooted franchise ever got.
3. The Lost World
The immediate sequel to Jurassic Park has some of the most terrifying sequences in the franchise, but its story is a muddled mess, and the replacement of Sam Neill and Laura Dern with Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore is just downright confusing. They’re talented actors, but they both feel out of place—or you might say, lost—in this world. Director Steven Spielberg later admitted his heart wasn’t in this one, and it shows.
2. Jurassic Park III
The dance between high-minded discussions on the ethics of science and murderous, rampaging dinosaurs is a delicate one indeed, and most films that have attempted it have failed to find the right balance. What makes Jurassic Park III so successful is that it has modest ambitions. It’s not trying to tell us anything important about science. It’s just a gnarly monster movie in which a bunch of unsuspecting civilians get hunted and murdered by mean-ass dinosaurs. Sign me up for more of these, please.
1. Jurassic Park
It’s the platonic ideal of a summer blockbuster. Smart and scary, Spielberg took Crichton’s bestselling novel and applied all the lessons he learned from Jaws. Most importantly, hold tight to your monster. The T-Rex doesn’t show up until an hour into Jurassic Park, and all in all, the dinosaurs only have 15 minutes of screentime. It creates a delightful tension, and it helps that the monsters look incredible. Recent films in the franchise have been too reliant on CGI, but Spielberg blended new technology with tactile effects. The result? These dinosaurs—and the film—haven’t aged a day.