The idea of dinosaurs is a beguiling one. The giant creatures last roamed the Earth 65 million years ago. Still, we see them as almost mythical, given how far removed we are from their existence.
But their existence also makes seeing them in all their glory more magical, which is why dinosaur movies are so popular.
The Jurassic Park movies, of course, are the most famous and highest-grossing dinosaur movies ever made. So if we were to list the best dinosaur movies of all time, they would completely dominate it.
To make things a little more interesting, we've put together a list of the best dinosaur movies that aren't in the Jurassic Park franchise. And no, we won't be including the inexplicable cult classic The VelociPastor, because it's an absolute dumpster fire of a movie!
1. The Land Before Time (1988, directed by Don Bluth)
The Land Before Time is an epic animated adventure about a young Apatosaurus named Littlefoot. After a Tyrannosaurus Rex kills his mother and leaves him orphaned, Littlefoot flees famine and upheaval to search for an area spared from devastation called the Great Valley. Along the way, he makes friends with four fellow young dinosaurs of varying shapes and sizes.
Although it's aimed at younger children, The Land Before Time is charming enough to be enjoyed by everyone. Excellent animation, an easy-to-follow story, and likable characters make viewers experience the whole range of emotions – including scenes that will reduce anyone to tears! Not surprising when you find out that a confirmed dino nut Stephen Spielberg also produced this film. It was followed by 12 direct-to-video sequels that, are less well-done.
2. The Good Dinosaur (2015, directed by Peter Sohn)
The Good Dinosaur is a computer-animated Pixar adventure movie. Set in an alternate timeline in which dinosaurs never became extinct, it tells the story of a timid young Apatosaurus named Arlo. Having been washed downriver by a rainstorm, Arlo meets an unlikely human friend while attempting to return to his home.
Although The Good Dinosaur doesn't quite reach Pixar's usual standards, the animation – particularly of the landscapes – is beautiful, and the story is simple, heartfelt, and engaging. The characters are also likable and relatable, which helps. Children will love this one.
3. One Million Years B.C. (1966, directed by Don Chaffey)
This remake of the 1940 American fantasy movie One Million Years B.C. is a British adventure set in a fictional age of cave-dwelling humans and dinosaurs. A publicity photograph of the film's star, Raquel Welch, in the iconic fur bikini she donned for the role, became a best-selling pinup poster and even appeared in Andy Dufresne's cell in The Shawshank Redemption.
Featuring stop-motion dinosaurs animated by the late, great Ray Harryhausen, this is a bona fide classic. Granted, we now know it's hugely inaccurate to portray humans and dinosaurs living alongside each other, but does it matter? It's an action-packed, good-humored romp with all the flair expected of a Hammer Film Productions movie.
4. Dinosaur (2000, directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton)
A mixture of live-action and animated footage, Dinosaur follows a young Iguanodon who was adopted and raised by a family of lemurs. The movie chronicles them surviving a meteor shower, befriending a group of dinosaurs, and being hunted by predatory carnivores.
Although it has a generic and mundane plot, Dinosaur is still a great viewing experience, thanks to its stunning visuals. The details in the titular creatures themselves and the settings in which they dwell are spectacular – and, of course, any children watching will love the fact that the dinos talk.
5. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959, directed by Henry Levin)
The first of many movies adapted from the 1864 novel of the same name by Jules Verne, 1959's Journey to the Center of the Earth remains the finest (no offense to Brendan Frasier). It follows an Edinburgh professor and his colleagues as they head down an extinct Icelandic volcano to the Earth's center. There, they find a lost prehistoric world.
Although the special effects are badly dated, this is still a highly engaging movie. It has characters you root for, monsters you don't, plenty of action, and big epic sets. So if it's silly, easy-to-watch fun you're looking for, this is the perfect movie.
6. The Lost World (1925, directed by Harry O. Hoyt)
Several movies have been called “The Lost World,” but this one remains the best as the first dinosaur-oriented movie hit. Adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel of the same name, the film chronicles an expedition to a plateau in the Amazon basin of South America where prehistoric beasts still roam.
The Lost World featured pioneering stop motion special effects by Willis O'Brien, a forerunner of his work on the original 1933 King Kong movie. With great action and genuinely awe-inspiring scenes, the movie remains hugely influential. It is the reason films like Jurassic Park even exist.
7. Fantasia, “The Rite of Spring” (1940, directed by Bill Roberts and Paul Satterfield)
This inclusion is an anomaly, as it's not referring to a whole movie but a segment of one. “The Rite of Spring” is the fourth and longest segment of the Disney classic Fantasia. It's a visual history of Earth's beginnings with selected sections of the eponymous ballet score playing over it. In addition, it includes a brilliant sequence devoted to the reign and extinction of the dinosaurs.
The loud, colorful, bold, exciting segment is arguably the best part of the masterpiece Fantasia – and it fully warrants a place on this list.
8. Walking with Dinosaurs (2013, directed by Neil Nightingale and Barry Cook)
Walking with Dinosaurs is a family movie named after the 1999 BBC television documentary miniseries of the same name. It features computer-animated dinosaurs in live-action settings with a famous voice cast including Justin Long, John Leguizamo, and Karl Urban. It's an underdog story about a little dinosaur who becomes a hero.
With this one, it's best to ignore the writing and storytelling and appreciate that it's aesthetically breathtaking. Visually, it's a phenomenal technical triumph – and it's an utterly fantastic watch based solely on that.
9. The Valley of Gwangi (1969, directed by Jim O'Connolly)
The Valley of Gwangi is a Western fantasy movie about a cowboy named Tuck Kirby. Kirby chases fame and fortune by capturing an Allosaurus living in the lost Forbidden Valley (the titular Gwangi) and putting it in a Mexican circus. Featuring stop-motion creatures, The Valley of Gwangi was the last dinosaur-themed movie Ray Harryhausen animated.
This movie's premise is so much fun, and its central image of cowboys roping a dinosaur is iconic. Harryhausen's animation is, as usual, excellent. And while you'll probably end up rooting for the dinosaurs rather than the cowboys, sadly, that particular aspect of your viewing experience will likely result in disappointment.
10. King Kong (1933, directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack)
Several King Kong movies have heavily featured dinosaurs, but the original pre-code 1933 offering remains the superior production. It sees a film crew heading to a mysterious tropical island for a shoot and discovering dinos and a giant ape, Kong, who develops a fondness for their leading lady. Kong is subsequently captured and taken to New York City to be displayed as an attraction.
This movie is terrific, and the undoubtedly-aged special effects give it a creepiness that Hollywood can't replicate with slick modern CGI. Nevertheless, it's thrilling from start to end, and seeing Kong fight dinosaurs remains a great spectacle. King Kong is a landmark movie – and one we must thank for paving the way for the monster movies that exist today.
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