Steven Spielberg crafted one of the unquestioned greatest blockbusters of all time with 1993’s Jurassic Park. It also spawned one of the most successful franchises in cinematic history, with four sequels produced over the years, earning more than $5 billion at the box office. A sixth entry, Jurassic World: Dominion is currently in the works, but we’ve got some time to kill before it arrives. So, now comes the task of ranking the movies, in order, from worst to first.
Right off the bat, I need to say that Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time (not to spoil things in terms of the ranking here). That’s important because this is near and dear to my heart. Movies are an enormous part of my life. This series is at the apex of this massive pillar of my existence. But this is just my view on the subject and there is not a single one of these movies I don’t enjoy on some level. I rank these movies with nothing but love. With that said, here is how it shakes out.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Director J.A. Bayona was tasked with following up 2015’s smash blockbuster Jurassic World and the result was 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to its predecessor and ended up being something of a big mess, albeit one that has its moments. There is a lot going on, oftentimes too much, with the world trying to figure out what rights, if any, the dinosaurs who were brought back from extinction through science, have. It feels like a too many cooks in the kitchen scenario that goes firmly off the rails at points. The clone girl subplot, in my humble opinion, is an all-time low point in the series. That said, the cold open is truly excellent and there are some cool sequences, as well as some solid dino action. But this two-hour spectacle felt like a complicated means to an end. The goal was to get the dinosaurs off Isla Nublar and out in the world with humans, setting the stage for Jurassic World 3. The journey left something to be desired, but mission accomplished.
Jurassic Park III
I’ve often joked, even though I am quite serious when I say it, that Jurassic Park III is the worst movie I have seen the most times. Directed by the great Joe Johnston, the third entry in the series suffers from a lack of meaningful story to tell. It feels, more than any other entry in the series, obligatory. There are only a handful of people at play who end up stuck on Isla Sorna, aka Site B, because the Kirbys, played by William H. Macy and Tea Leoni, were attempting to rescue their son, with disastrous results. The good news is this brought Sam Neill back as Alan Grant. Credit to Neill for bringing his A-game. Even when he reacts to the talking raptor in that unforgivable, head-scratcher of a dream sequence.
For some reason, I find this movie to be extremely watchable. It is paced well. The story sails by with little drag. Johnston also has an inherent gift for bringing a sense of wonderment and adventure to life, which led to some really great sequences, such as the “birdcage” set piece, which finally made good use of flying dinosaurs. Not to mention the Spinosaurus being thrown in the mix, for better or for worse. Part of my problem with Fallen Kingdom is that the stakes are so big and that has lasting consequences in the universe. In contrast, Jurassic Park III is an isolated story. So, while it’s not quite as impactful as some of the other entries in the series, it can be enjoyed as its own thing, and that’s refreshing in some ways.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
This is where things get tricky. I am aware this movie gets a lot of flack from critics and certain fans, but I love The Lost World, warts and all. This is in a virtual tie with my number two pick and on any given day, I could flip-flop the two. In any event, it lands at number three for me. As a huge fan of the franchise, this is where things get downright good in my view. Steven Spielberg returned to direct the inevitable sequel to the original. Following up something like Jurassic Park is damn near impossible, but going into it knowing it can’t top arguable perfection, there is a lot to love. For one, Jeff Goldblum is back as Ian Malcolm. We also get Julianne Moore thrown in as Sarah Harding, and adding a world-class actress into the mix has never hurt anything.
The core plot involves the introduction of Site B, an island separate from the failed dinosaur-filled theme park on Isla Nublar where the prehistoric beasts run free. John Hammond sends a small team to help stop InGen from taking the animals off the island. It’s not as tight as Jurassic Park. It’s not as inventive as Jurassic Park, but it’s a tremendous amount of fun. Some of my favorite sequences in the entire franchise are in this movie. Specifically, the “don’t go into the long grass” raptor bit. We also get double the T-rex action. It’s hard to argue against the classic Spielberg intensity of the double T-rex attack, with the RV being pushed over the cliff. I also find Pete Postlethwaite’s Roland Tembo to be one of the best characters introduced outside of the original movie. Imperfect though it may be, the good far outweighs the bad here in my eyes.
I understand this is a divisive movie. I know it is not as objectively great as Jurassic Park. But I unabashedly adore Jurassic World. Following the release of Jurassic Park III in 2001, the franchise went extinct for 14 years. It took a long time to hammer down what JP4 was going to be. The result was director Colin Trevorrow showing us what an operational dinosaur theme park looks like. Who amongst us that grew up in the 90s can’t say they dreamed of seeing John Hammond’s dream become a reality? This movie, for all of its flaws, captures that magic. And, again, speaking on a purely personal level, I find it to be a great deal of amusement in it.
The Indominous Rex allows for interesting conversations about the franchise as a whole to open up. Where does one draw the lines in playing God? These creatures aren’t exactly as they would have been, given the genetic science being used to bring them to life, so why not make a hybrid creature? Yes, that plays out poorly, but it’s easy to see how corporate greed would get us to that point. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard lead the way as Owen and Claire, but it’s Ty Simpkins as Gray who allows the viewer to remember what it is like to be a kid who grew up loving these creatures. I have never been an inherently cynical viewer and going into this movie, bright-eyed and deliriously excited back in 2015 made for one of the most memorable viewing experiences of my life. We’re not treated to pop culture anticipation on that level that often, and the shared cultural experience this turned out to be carries with it tremendous value in hindsight. Also, a T-rex and a raptor teaming up to fight a hybrid dinosaur is pretty cool, right?
How could it be anything but Jurassic Park atop this list? This is, quite simply, one of the greatest works ever produced from one of the greatest filmmakers to ever do it. The adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name is not only the perfect blend of art and entertainment, but it was a technical achievement that pushed the limits of what movies could be. It is a deeply important movie, aside from being a great one. Spielberg’s brilliant and groundbreaking blend of state-of-the-art CGI, coupled with some of the best practical creature effects ever put to screen, truly brought these prehistoric beings to life in a way nobody had ever thought possible. So much so that it holds up remarkably well, even under intense modern scrutiny. The same can not be said for many big event movies throughout history, which end up being unfortunate products of their moment.
While the dinosaurs are the hook here, the genius of Jurassic Park lies in its compelling human characters. Alan Grant. Ellie Sattler. Ian Malcolm. John Hammond. Tim and Lex. All of these characters are brilliant creations in their own right and, as a group, they make for an all-timer of an ensemble. Far too many blockbusters are forced to learn the lesson that spectacle alone cannot stand the test of time. It must be anchored in something real in order to resonate. To create something that can endure. Jurassic Park does that as well as any popcorn movie ever has. And, for my money, the T-rex breakout sequence is right up there in terms of mankind’s greatest achievements, standing alongside walking on the moon, the creation of the internet and sliced bread, or whatever one wants to add to the list. It is roughly seven minutes of pure, unbridled cinematic bliss. Jurassic Park is now and will forever be something truly special and unique.
Jurassic World: Dominion is set to arrive in theaters on June 11, 2021, from Universal Pictures.