Header image by Alamo Drafthouse Graphic Designer Kelsey Spencer for Birth.Movies.Death. magazine.
Jurassic World arrives this Thursday, and it's the latest in a long, long list of films that celebrate the magnificent dinosaur. Here's a short list of the very best - or at least the weirdest - of those titles.
KING KONG (1933)
It may be a movie about a giant gorilla but that giant gorilla has to have something else giant to fight, besides the Empire State Building of course. What formidable foe to face off with the King of the apes than the King of the dinosaurs, the Tyrannosaurus Rex?! Unfortunately the T-Rex was no match for Kong's jaw-breaking, skull-crushing fatality move. But long before Jurassic Park, it was the dinosaurs in 1933's King Kong that captured the imaginations of moviegoers.
It was stop motion special effects pioneer Willis O'Brien that not only brought "The Eighth Wonder of the World" to life but Skull Island's various dinosaurs including the Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus and many winged, flying dinos. His then-groundbreaking FX had come a long way since Winsor McCay's Gertie The Dinosaur - which, in 1914, was the earliest animated film to feature a dinosaur.
Fun Fact: O'Brien also provided stop motion dinosaurs for 1925's The Lost World and made a series of prehistoric-themed shorts commissioned by Thomas Edison.
THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969)
Cowboys versus dinosaurs...need I say more?! With special FX by Ray Harryhausen (the last dinosaur film to be animated by the FX master), the western fantasy tells the tall tale of a heroic stuntman in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and his former lover, a beautiful cowgirl and rodeo rider, who discover a 'Forbidden Valley' in the Mexico desert, claimed by gypsies to be cursed. And cursed it is...WITH DINO-SAURS! In a tale as old as time, man tries tame beast by capturing and featuring the Gwangi (aka an Allosaurus - the Tyrannosaurus' older yet smaller but just as monstrous brother) in the traveling circus. You know the rest...dinosaur escapes, runs amok, lots of clowns get eaten, etc.
Fun Fact: If that plot did not seem oddly familiar to you, the film was originally planned as a follow-up to KING KONG after its success - an idea coincidentally conceived and written by aforementioned dino man of his day, Mr. Willis O'Brien. Instead of a gigantic gorilla found on Skull Island by explorers, this time it was to be a gigantic dinosaur found in the Grand Canyon by cowboys. The project went into pre-production at RKO in 1941 under the title GWANGI. That version was scraped when studio heads changed and later ended up at Warner Bros where it became The Valley Of Gwangi, which was released 7 years after O'Brien's death. 1956's The Beast Of Hollow Mountain was also based on O'Brien's story (under the pseudonym El Toro Estrella) and ended up beating The Valley Of Gwangi to the punch for the first 'Weird West' movie to show both cowboys and dinosaurs together on screen.
THE LAND BEFORE TIME (1988)
5 years before he would welcome us to Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg produced along with George Lucas a prehistoric animated feature directed by animation auteur Don Bluth (The Secret Of Nimh, An American Tail). It's not only the most depressing movie about dinosaurs ever made - seriously, Littlefoot's mom being killed by the murderous Sharptooth was too much to handle as a kid on top of a dino draught and a bitchy Triceratops. But it's also undeniably the one that has hatched the most sequels - 13 straight-to-video spinoffs with the latest releasing this year!
Fun Fact: 19 scenes were cut from the film because they were deemed too frightening for children and were believed could even cause psychological damage to young viewers, giving it a runtime of only 69 minutes. I told you...f'ing depressing. But hey, remember those cool Land Before Time dinosaur hand puppets you got with your pizza from Pizza Hut when the movie came out?!
Released less than a month before Jurassic Park, the Roger Corman produced Carnosaur (very loosely based on the novel of the same name by John Bronson) is one of the most notable "mockbusters" ever made (See Also: Transformers/Transmorphers). The film is the poor man's JP, with shoddy FX, a far smaller budget, and lot more gore. But hey, let's see Spielberg pull off a movie that involves a major plot point involving impregnating chickens with dino DNA!
Fun Fact: Diane Ladd stars in Carnosaur. Ladd is the mother of Laura Dern, who of course starred as Dr. Ellie "Dino Poop" Sattler in Jurassic Park.
SUPER MARIO BROS. (1993)
It's nice to relegate your thoughts to the fun loving, adorable Yoshi when you think about dinosaurs in the Super Marioverse. But alas, 1993's Super Mario Bros. movie does exist and full of dinosaurs it is. If you may recall, it takes place in the parallel universe city of Dinohattan (the film's version of the Mushroom Kingdom) which is populated by a human hybrid race that evolved from dinosaurs after that pesky meteorite crashed into the Earth 65 million years ago. This is where Mario, Luigi and Daisy find themselves after digging for dinosaur bones in tubes under the Brooklyn Bridge, encountering shrunken head Goombas, Yoshi the Raptor, Toad the Singer/Songwriter and all your other favorite bastardized Mario characters. But perhaps the oddest dino-morphed element in the story is Bowser. Rather than the the spiked-shelled turtle-like creature he is in the games, King Koopa (played effortlessly by the late, great Dennis Hopper in his self-professed worst role ever) is a tyrannical, lizard-tongued Sex Pistol humanoid decedent of a T-Rex, which he transforms into during the film's epic and climatic battle between himself, Mario and Luigi. I'm not sure if it was screenwriter Ed Solomon (Bill & Ted, Men In Black) or husband/wife directing duo Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel (Max Headroom) or the studio that were obsessed with this idea of making everything into dinosaurs (like Carnosaur it was released in May just weeks before Jurassic Park) but all I know is the Super Mario Bros. movie is like the bad bootleg action figure your dad would bring you back after a business trip to Japan. So much so that despite it being the first movie based on a video game ever, Nintendo has not optioned any of their properties to be adapted for the big screen in the 20+ years since. Talk about going extinct!
Fun Fact: The film's soundtrack features a cover of the Was (Not Was) one hit wonder "Walk The Dinosaur" by George Clinton joined by The Goombas as his backing band (they appear to be good at playing the harmonica but their naturally short T-Rex arms make them horrible drummers). That song has appeared in a number of other family friendly dinosaur-themed movies including The Flinstones, Theodore Rex, Ice Age amongst others - odd considering it devolves into chanting "Everybody kill the dinosaur!" Unfortunately, it has yet to be used in a Jurassic Park film.