Offering awe the likes of which we’ve never seen before, and matching that with a score as timeless and iconic as there has ever been, the Jurassic franchise has become a staple of modern Hollywood and more widely our society, its representation of dinosaurs coming to define their very image (whether that image is factually correct or not).
Initially working as a Steven Spielberg directed adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name, the Jurassic franchise has mixed themes of environmentalism, the ethics of cloning and astute commentary on conglomerated big business, with the blockbuster tropes of thrilling action, sharp comedy and wondrous special effects – the work of visual effects house Industrial Light & Magic coming to redefine visual effects techniques forever, ensuring the franchise’s indelible mark on the industry as a whole.
In this edition of Ranked, we’re revisiting this, perhaps the most recognisable film IP to spawn from the 1990s, in order to decipher which of the Jurassic franchise’s entries are the worst and which are the best.
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5. Jurassic Park III (2001)
When Joe Johnston took over from Steven Spielberg at the helm of the Jurassic Park franchise following success with the CG-laden feature Jumanji (1995), he seemed like the most natural fit. The director, who would go on to helm Captain America: The First Avenger among other notable films, was stepping into the franchise just as Spielberg had seemed to lose his passion for it, and was set to work with the series’ first script not based on a book. Herein lied the film’s greatest problem: they started shooting before the script was finished.
Featuring Jurassic Park star Sam Neill in a return to his role from the 1993 release 8 years prior, Jurassic Park III saw the paleontologist be conned into heading to the island of the 2nd movie The Lost World to rescue a teenager whom had become stranded there in a holiday mishap. While threads from The Lost World’s introductions of corporate greed and the ideas of dinosaurs as commodities were the bedrock upon which Jurassic Park III was created, ensuring a strong through-line between the two movies despite none of The Lost World’s lead actors returning to star, the plot of this third installment was boring. Who thought dinosaurs could be boring?
Of all the Jurassic Park/World movies, III is the most forgettable, owing largely to the disconnect people found with a movie that should have naturally excited them but ultimately tread water. Tonally it was all over the place, and while there were moments of genuine inspiration and points of high tension here and there, the film’s lack of awareness as regards its own cheesiness and silliness (both massive steps away from the Spielberg outings), made this the only franchise entry worthy of serious internet mocking – a Velociraptor talking to Neill’s character in a dream is cheesy, cheap and not even played for laughs, illustrating a likely “too many chefs in the kitchen” scenario in which director, screenwriters, producers and studios all had distinctly different visions of their cash-cow franchise’s third installment.
The result is poor to mediocre, but certainly not good; the film that would end the franchise for some 14 years; the worst of the lot.
4. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
The modern franchise reboot has, in general, played it safe in recent years. The recent Star Wars trilogy seemed to echo the story beats of its original franchise for example, while Jurassic World was a re-tread of Jurassic Park. World’s sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was even a re-tread of the ideas and themes of Spielberg’s 2nd movie in the Jurassic franchise, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, but in the case of this film, this was precisely the problem.
While The Lost World: Jurassic Park had a lot going for it, including a monumental box office run, the critical praise and audience love for the film was and remains less than that of the original Jurassic Park film, or indeed many of the films that recent remakes/reboots have based themselves upon. In retreading the same ground that had put off swathes of loyal Jurassic Park fans in the late 90s, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was sure to be (at best) divisive, and divisive it was.
Much as was the case with The Lost World, Fallen Kingdom moved away from the awe and spectacle of dinosaurs on offer in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World to instead present the dinosaurs through more of a typical monster movie lens – Universal even hired up and coming (and relatively unproven) horror director J.A. Bayona to get the job done. It made for a film that seemed to have everyone pulling in the right direction, which worked in its favour regarding comparisons with Jurassic Park III, but one that ultimately lost sight of the entire reason people went to see Jurassic Park and Jurassic World in the first place: the awe and spectacle.
Set in a rich man’s house instead of a sprawling and beautiful Central American island, Fallen Kingdom lost a lot of its scale, and while the movie did offer some pieces of genuinely spectacular visual storytelling (particularly of the horror variety), and did a lot to fix character issues with Chris Pratt’s Owen and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire, the drop-off in quality from the first reboot-sequel was as clear as the drop-off between Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, with the current franchise’s preference for action making for a less immersive and more box-ticking franchise outing from Universal that importantly didn’t have the blockbuster-directing genius of Steven Spielberg to fall back on this time around.
Recommended for you: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) Review