The Jurassic Park trilogy retrospective and ranking

With all of the Jurassic Park movies on Netflix, we're ranking them worst to best.
Jurassic World Waterloo Take Over
Jurassic World Waterloo Take Over / Ian Gavan/GettyImages

Throughout film history, there have always been great escapist movies that deliver some kind of movie magic. However, when director Steven Spielberg arrived on the scene, a new benchmark was set for spectacle, wonder, and excitement. From the enticing terror of Jaws to the exciting thrill of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Speilberg had crafted the modern blockbuster. 

He and his long-time friend George Lucas had set out to make films that, as they say, were like the movies they grew up watching, but just the fun parts. Flash Gordan, westerns, and samurai films were blended into Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia and treasure hunting serials were remixed into Indiana Jones. These two directors were looking into films of old, reimagining them, and updating them for their current times. They helped push film and special effects in directions that it had never been. There’s something poetic about drawing on the innovations that The Ten Commands made for film and updating it in a similar fashion in Raiders.  

By 1993 audiences had grown to love the Speilberg “magic” that had dominated the late 70s and 80s so when it was announced that Steven was going to adapt Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, people were ecstatic. He was once again pulling from old innovations in special effects as seen in the stop-motion dinosaur movies of the 50s and 60s (of which there were many) and updating them with the almost brand new computer-generated imagery (CGI). 

Jurassic Park was a mega-hit and began a dinosaur craze over the culture. Every age group had something to enjoy. 

As is typical for Hollywood, they saw a money-making machine in the IP of Jurassic Park and were going to green-light a sequel. To everyone’s surprise, Steven Spielberg agreed to sign on to make the sequel. This announcement was shocking as most people didn’t see the need for a sequel as the story wrapped itself up. Steven had notably avoided making the “unnecessary” sequels in the past with Jaws and had only done them for Indiana Jones in which sequels were always in the playbook. 

After the mixed reception of The Lost World: Jurassic Park which suffered from the very critiques just mentioned as well as other complaints, Speilberg stepped down from doing the third in the franchise. A film that seemed inevitable because dinosaurs still sold at the box office. 

For Jurassic Park III, a student of Speilberg and Lucas, Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America: The First Avenger, Jumanji) took control of the project and did his best to give it the Spielberg touch. He had previously worked on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films as a visual effects artists and art director. 

Now contrary to many who would lump the Jurassic Park Franchise in the bin of “movies that should have never gotten sequels” I believe that each entry in this franchise is well worth existing (in contrast to Jaws). While this ranking might seem predictable, I intend to show why these films are still worth watching and even vastly superior to their more recent Jurassic World (or take your pick at the many soulless movie franchises pumped out today).

3. Jurassic Park III

Closing out the trilogy, Jurassic Park III, has the unfortunate task of figuring out how to make it’s movie different. The first used the theme park idea and the second used the dinos in the wild premise. For it to stand out the film needed a premise hook that would differentiate itself from its predecessors while also justifying its existence. The choice of a rescue mission led by the first film’s lead Alan Grant (Sam Neil) is less than inspired, yet it gets the job done. 

The film struggles with a lot of elements such as character development and acting, and is often regarded as the worst Jurassic movie. The most often cited critique seems to be the “Alan” moment that has become an internet meme. 

For myself and many other defenders of the film (most notable being Roger Ebert), these things are forgivable and even over-hated. The Alan moment, albeit silly, comes in a dream sequence that is not part of the story and serves as a moment to chuckle at if taken the right way. The characters and acting come straight out of the B movies that inspired Jurassic Park in the first place. And while that may not be an excuse to call the movie great, the movie knows what it is. The film’s runtime is a mere hour and a half and knows what its viewers want to see without much fluff or self-seriousness (looking at you Jurassic World). 

Johnston helps elevate the setpieces to a high tension while never losing sight of the fun that comes from watching black market pilots getting picked off. The film is built around set pieces that the inner child inside us all dream of seeing play out. All things he no doubt learned from working with Spielberg. 

While nowhere near a great movie, Jurassic Park III is an hour and a half of fun movie magic. You get in, you have fun, you get out, and then never have to think of it again because it’s not tied to a cinematic universe that requires homework (looking at you Marvel).

2. The Lost World: Jurassic Park

In the early days of the internet, people were harsher to movies than ever before. The Lost World had the unfortunate timing to come out during this time and had its fair share of takedowns. If you don’t believe me, look back at all the major films released around this time. The Star Wars prequels, the Brosnan Bonds, and the Matrix sequels, all fell into the den of nitpicking and rage along with the Jurassic Park sequels.

And while these films are far from perfect, (excluding Revenge of the Sith and Matrix Reloaded which I will forever defend) they simply did not deserve all the hate they got. These films had great filmmakers, groundbreaking effects, and some interesting ideas. Yet, because of some small moments that missed the mark, were deemed as bad by angry fans who held the orginal movie/movies to an impossible standard.

As time has moved on and the emotions have settled, all of these films have started to be reevaluated in the wake of the current state of the industry. The Lost World is a prime example of that.

In the film, Speilberg crafts some of the most thrilling set pieces he has ever made with the shattered glass on the cliffside and the hunting of the velociraptors. He assembles a fun cast of characters with Juliann Moore, Vince Vaughn, and Peter Stormare and sets them loose in a jungle safari but with dinosaurs. 

While the ending does fall a bit flat with the T-Rex in the city and the gymnastics kick, one can not deny that the film is directed better than most movies ever are because of the steady hand of Spielberg. If the point of the movie is to make its audience feel the tension and gasp at the spectacle, then the movie exceeds with flying colors. Not every film needs to be a masterpiece and for what it is, The Lost World delivers on what it sets out to be.  

1. Jurassic Park

Big surprise here.

Jurassic Park is one of the definitive examples of trasportive movie magic. Ask anyone to remember the first time they saw the movie in theaters and they can recall, with great detail, the way this movie made them feel. 

The film was a massive mile stone for both digital and practical effects. The phrase has almost become cliche to say at this point, but the effects hold up incredibly well. Not many films that came out 30+ years ago can boast that. 

However, it wasn’t just the effects that made Jurassic Park a classic. All of the subsequent films also had incredible visuals as well. No, the reason Jurassic Park has remained a classic is the journey Steven Spielberg takes his viewers on. He gives the viewers the same sense of wonder the characters experience through use of music, cinematography, and performances. Every line of dialouge is inspired, every character is captivating, and every plot development is riveting. 

While all this should be attributed to actors like Sam Neil, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum, as well as the writers Michael Crichton and David Koepp and of course John Williams, Spielberg is the glue that holds it all together. He infused it with his sense of technical mastery and heart to make the film an American classic.

While the Jurassic franchise lives on today, this era has ended. The reason for this is that Spieberg touch. Without it, the movies begin to feel like corporate nostalgia bait trying so hard to capture that magic without knowing how to do it. Yet the reason these film live on in people’s memories, despite some of their flaws, is the style that comes from an artist’s (and his pupil’s) unique perspective on life and filmmaking. Without that, they are just another dinosaur movie.

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