In 1993, the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park set a new benchmark for thrilling special-effects-driven blockbusters. Twenty-two years later, director Colin Trevorrow kicked off the Jurassic World sequel trilogy to continue the tale of these scientifically resurrected beasts, with Jurassic World Dominion wrapping things up this summer.
Now that all six Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies are out, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on the long legacy of this iconic movie series by ranking them all from worst to best. Let's start.
6. Jurassic Park III (2001)
Released in 2001, Jurassic Park III saw Sam Neill reprise his role from the first film as Dr. Alan Grant, but alas, it wasn't enough to carry this one to greatness.
The premise of the movie is that Dr. Grant is approached by millionaire adrenaline junkies Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni), who want the famed paleontologist to come with them on a flyover of Isla Sorna for their anniversary. They’re willing to pay for years of Dr. Grant’s research in exchange, so despite his insistence that he’ll never go near either of the dinosaur islands again in his lifetime, he’s persuaded.
Once they get there, though, it's clear that the Kirbys have bamboozled him. They’re not millionaires and are only going to the island because their son went missing there two months earlier. The movie plays out like one big theme park ride from there, as Grant and the rest of the group narrowly avoid being eaten by one creature after the next in their quest to find the Kirbys’ son Eric (Trevor Morgan) and get off the island.
The problem with Jurassic Park III is that it really didn’t have much of anything to say. Every single other film in the franchise is a delicate balancing act between the grounded, terrifying story of surviving some kind of dinosaur crisis and a commentary on the folly of blind human progression. Jurassic Park III is all about the adrenaline rush; there is no B plot or subtext to the film (unless you count the divorced Kirbys reconciling).
5. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
There’s no weirder movie in the entire Jurassic franchise than 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Picking up a year after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, Fallen Kingdom sees Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to Isla Nublar when it’s discovered that an imminent volcanic eruption is about to wipe out all the dinosaurs on the island. They go in order to save Blue, Owen’s Velociraptor that he trained from birth. But after the rescue mission goes awry, things get real weird real fast.
The bulk of Fallen Kingdom feels much more like a haunted house movie as Owen, Claire, and Blue are swept off to the mysterious Lockwood mansion, where the newly rescued dinosaurs are being auctioned off on the black market. The Lockwood estate has secrets aplenty, from the introduction of a new hybrid dinosaur named the Indoraptor to Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a young girl who is revealed to be a clone.
In many ways, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom doesn’t even feel like a Jurassic film at all. The whole human cloning plotline is out of place, as is the introduction of Benjamin Lockwell (James Cromwell), a former partner of John Hammond who we’re supposed to believe was pivotal to the creation of the original Jurassic Park despite never being mentioned in the previous four movies.
Despite its many flaws, Fallen Kingdom is, at the very least, bold, unpredictable, and ambitious. And it did set the stage for the much better Jurassic World Dominion by ending with dinosaurs being released out into the wider world.
4. Jurassic World Dominion (2022)
Jurassic World Dominion took the ambition of Fallen Kingdom and elevated it to a whole new level by bringing back just about every living major character in the entire series, including Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).
In short, Jurassic World Dominion is packed to the gills with memorable characters and new dinosaurs, set against the backdrop of a world where the terrible dinos have repopulated the globe and are learning how to co-exist with humanity. On the one hand, all those elements make for an exciting popcorn flick that is extremely entertaining. On the other, there are so many elements and characters floating around that most of them feel somewhat underserved. And having so many A-list stars in the film means that this is the only Jurassic movie where there are practically no memorable deaths.
Perhaps the place where Jurassic World Dominion most sets itself apart from the rest of the franchise is the special effects. Unlike the previous two Jurassic World movies, Dominion steers clear of making up its own hybrids in favor of bringing in a ton of actual prehistoric creatures instead. The result is an undeniable improvement, from the imposing Giganotosaurus to the terrifying Therizinosaurus, to the return of the poison-spitting Dilophosaurus from the first Jurassic Park. The bestiary of dinosaurs in this film is the largest of any in the series, and Dominion uses it to great effect. It also makes ample use of animatronic puppets, something the previous two Jurassic World films severely lacked.
3. Jurassic World (2015)
A lot of what puts the first Jurassic World over Dominion comes down to the overall strength of the vision behind this movie. The choice to introduce the next generation of Jurassic movies through the eyes of a pair of teenage brothers who are going to visit it for the first time was wonderfully transportive. Getting to actually see what John Hammond’s dream dinosaur park might have looked like if it were actually realized was glorious.
On the writing side of things, it also had arguably the best character development of any movie in the entire franchise for its leads, Owen and Claire. This movie spent a lot of time fleshing them out, and they really do feel like they ended the movie as different people. The movie also had a tremendous supporting cast, including Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Judy Greer, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus, and BD Wong reprising his Jurassic Park role as Dr. Henry Wu.
That said, the Indominous Rex is divisive. The first three-quarters of Jurassic World almost feels like a Frankenstein’s monster story, with the genetically engineered hybrid getting loose and going on a bloody rampage through the park. Whether you liked the hybrid dinosaur or not, the plotting is very focused and effective.
At its heart, though, the thing that sets Jurassic World above its two sequels is that it really feels like it was trying to have a dialogue with the original Jurassic Park trilogy. From the sweeping introduction to the park to the ruminations on the dangers of reckless genetic engineering to the thrilling nighttime Velociraptor hunt, Jurassic World really felt like it understood the heart of the older films and was prepared to take up the mantle.
2. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
While 1997’s The Lost World had practically no similarities to the Michael Crichton novel on which it was based, it was still an all-around solid film that has aged surprisingly well. After the disastrous events at Jurassic Park during the first movie, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) enlists Dr. Ian Malcolm to lead a team to Isla Sorna, or Site B, another island with dinosaurs on it where Hammond’s company InGen did most of its actual research before shipping the animals off to the park.
Malcolm is initially reluctant until he learns that his girlfriend Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) is already on Isla Sorna, since she’s one of the world’s leading animal behaviorists. Hammond hopes to have Malcolm and Sarah document the animals in an undisturbed ecosystem as a means of garnering enough public support to keep his own company (which has just kicked him out of leadership) from starting up another amusement park.
However, once Malcom, Sarah, and the rest of their team (Richard Schiff and Vince Vaughn) arrive on the island, they discover that InGen is already hard at work capturing dinosaurs to please the investors. Acts of sabotage lead to acts of destruction, and before you know it both parties are stranded on the island.
Like the first Jurassic Park, The Lost World is directed by Steven Spielberg, and it shows. The shots and effects are often breathtaking, and it included the debut of many new dinosaurs that would become series mainstays, including Stegosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Pachycephalosaurus, and the best Compsognathus scene of the franchise. It had a razor-sharp script that really allowed Jeff Goldblum to let loose with his trademark wit to great effect; this is easily the funniest Jurassic movie, though it does go a little overboard at times. The score by John Williams is also excellent, and different enough from the original Jurassic Park to not feel like a retread.
And let’s not forget the cliffside T. rex trailer attack, which is arguably the single scariest sequence in the entire Jurassic franchise. Or the T. rex rampaging through San Diego at the film’s climax, which was the only time we saw a dinosaur wreak havoc in the wider world before Dominion.
The Lost World may not have achieved quite the same transcendence as the original Jurassic Park, but it was just as much of a success in its own way.
1. Jurassic Park (1993)
Was there ever any doubt that the original Jurassic Park movie was going to end up in the top spot? For as great as many of the sequels have been, none has ever topped the absolute legendary status of the first film, which follows a focus group of scientists who are whisked off to give an early endorsement for John Hammond’s dinosaur theme park, only for it to all go horribly off the rails due to corporate espionage.
When Jurassic Park came out in 1993, its special effects were completely revolutionary—they’ve influenced literally decades of movies, yet even now, they still stand above many modern films. Part of it had to do with the way the movie combined CGI with sweeping practical effects. Viewers don’t need to stretch their disbelief at all to imagine how terrifying the Tyrannosaurus Rex is, because it’s actually on screen as an enormous, animatronic puppet. The same goes for many of the other dinosaurs in the movie.
There's also the iconic score by John Williams and the top-tier cast, which includes Wayne Knight, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Peck, Ariana Richards, and Joseph Mazzello in addition to Neill, Dern, Goldblum, and Attenborough. There’s a reason this film is still so highly regarded even today. It’s the stuff of cinema history and moviemaking magic.