My five-year-old son loves dinosaurs, prehistoric creatures, Godzilla, Mothra, King Kong, and Ray Harryhausen movies. He’s a real chip off the ol’ block. So it was a bit of a disappointment when I had to explain to him that dinos and humans never actually walked the earth at the same time; they meet and clash only in the movies. Luckily, there are plenty of those movies that capitalize on this fun concept, prompting me to assemble a chronological list of my favorite guilty-pleasure dinos vs. humans flicks and TV shows.
KING KONG (1933)
There’s something about the original KONG that gets my Monster Kid endorphins running every time I see it. The story of a prehistoric world on the mysterious Skull Island, populated by giant reptiles and a massive love-struck ape, towers above the rest. Willis O’Brien’s animated creatures in the original 1933 version inspired Ray Harryhausen to greatness, and Kong’s three-minute battle with a T-rex to protect Fay Wray remains surprisingly visceral, brutal, and intense. Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake ups the ante with oversized creepy crawlies and a heart-stopping, high-wire battle royale between Kong and a pair of T-Rexes that wasn’t for everyone, but enthralled me nonetheless. (The 1976 KING KONG features a fun battle between Kong and a giant snake, but since there are no dinos in that version, it’s not a qualifier).
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)
This Sci-Fi classic predates GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! by a year, introducing the concept that a rampaging prehistoric creature could be awakened by an atomic blast. Stop-motion animation legend Ray Harryhausen brings the thawed-out, fictional four-legged “Rhedosaurus” to life with a location-stomping menu that includes Times Square, Wall Street and the famed Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster. It remains a favorite from my own childhood.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959)
This one always felt so real to me. James Mason leads a brave expedition into the depths of the earth in this Jules Verne classic. That moment when our heroes are cornered by a pack of hungry dimetrodons (brought to life by way of live lizards with spiny sails glued to their backs) at the shore of an underground ocean is a true highlight. I also love how their escape to the surface is almost thwarted by a giant, lethargic, blood-red lizard. There have been several takes on this tale — Brendan Fraser ran away from CGI dinos in that forgettable 2008 3D version — but the ’50s original is the far superior entry in my opinion.
I stumbled onto this dopey flick as a kid one afternoon and it sticks firmly in my memory as a much better movie than I know it really is. Still, all the ingredients I needed are in there: Two frozen dinos (and a caveman!) discovered by a Caribbean construction crew come to life thanks to a lucky bolt of lightning; havoc and hilarity ensue as the T-Rex and brontosaurus stomp around the island. Directed by THE BLOB helmer Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr., I was sure there would be a sequel when the last frame of the film said “The End” and then formed a question mark. Alas, no dice.
ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966)
After seeing this cavemen vs. dinos saga at a young age it took me years to shake the fact that they never actually shared the same time period. The ’40s version of the film with humans at the low end of the food chain used real-life lizards for dinosaurs, like in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, but it was the 1966 update with Raquel Welch in a fur bikini that made me want to protect my cave-mate from hungry dinos (and a giant sea turtle), courtesy of Mr. Harryhausen.
THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969)
Yee-haw! It’s cowboys vs. dinosaurs in this reworking of the KING KONG concept in which a rodeo circus discovers and captures a prehistoric predator for fun and profit. Once again, Ray Harryhausen’s amazing stop-motion creatures outshine the actors (including ultra-cool James Franciscus of BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES fame) as Gwangi takes on a circus elephant, smaller dinos, lassos — and unlucky spectators.
LAND OF THE LOST (1974)
“Marshall, Will and Holly, on a routine expedition…” From furry Cha-Ka, wise Enik and the creepy, slow-moving Sleestak to dino co-stars Dopey, Grumpy, and Big Alice — plus those mysterious Pylon portals — Sid and Marty Krofft’s Saturday morning live-action spectacle had it all for the under-10 crowd, and made the most of its dime-store budget with creative use of chintzy blue-screen effects and GILLIGAN’S ISLAND-like jungle sets. But its most important ingredient was imagination. That’s why it endures in the hearts of so many ’70s kids. Special shout-out to Hanna-Barbera’s animated VALLEY OF THE DINOSAURS, which was my mainstay humans vs. dinos diet until the LAND OF THE LOST programming conflict made me switch. No such thing as a DVR or VHS recorder in my house back then!
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975)
Based on the 1918 Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, WWI Brits and German make unlikely allies when they stumble onto the lost land of Caprona, populated by feisty dinos and grunting cavemen. The terrible lizards are seriously low-rent rubber puppets in this movie, which only increases the camp value of this self-serious flick and makes it the perfect fodder for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. The rugged Doug McClure returns for THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT in ’77 to continue the corny action.
AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976)
An Edgar Rice Burroughs tale once again combined with everyman action star Doug McClure with the added bonus of a bumbling Peter Cushing proved an irresistible combination when it came to cheesy dinosaur movies in the ’70s. Our intrepid Victorian explorers burrow to the center of the earth in a giant drill, only to battle flying, fire-breathing rubber dinos, razor-backed creatures, pig-faced slavedrivers and more. Sexy slave girl Caroline Munro is the cherry on top of this campy distraction, also perfect fodder for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. THE LAST DINOSAUR, out a year later in 1977, also used the “drill to a secret dino lost world” concept and was a big hit for me as a kid.
Taking place in One Zillion B.C., this goofy cavemen vs. dinos comedy starring Ringo Starr, his Bond girl bride-to-be Barbara Bach, Dennis Quaid, Shelley Long, and NFL defensive end John Matuszak features some cute stop-motion dinos with buggy eyes who steal half the laughs. Other than the fun, cartoonish dinos, the most memorable scene for me from this stone-aged misfire — which does not age well at all — is when that giant mosquito lands on Quaid’s face, calling for it to be epically squashed.
JURASSIC PARK (1993)
A real cinematic corner had been turned in the early ’90s when Steven Spielberg redefined the dinos vs. humans template with groundbreaking, almost seamless CGI and animatronic effects. Dinosaurs finally looked real and were truly menacing. Other than the cunning, killer velociraptors, the bravura sequence in which we see the T-Rex in his full glory smashing the kids in an auto-drive SUV, then eating the lawyer in the outhouse, is one of the most memorable in modern movies. Of course, THE LOST WORLD, JURASSIC PARK III, AND JURASSIC WORLD followed in 1997, 2001, and 2015 respectively. With more to come…
Some honorable mentions: THE LOST WORLD, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN, THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER, KING DINOSAUR, BABY: SECRET OF THE LOST LEGEND, CARNOSAUR, and TEENAGE CAVEMAN!