Ever since Jurassic Park steamrolled into movie theaters in 1993, summer just seems to be the season of dinosaurs. Maybe it's always been this way but, at any rate, with summer approaching, we've put together a short list of important dinosaurs who have influenced movies and television.
The First Dinosaur in Movies
As far as we know, the first dinosaur to appear in moving media was named Gertie. Back before time began — or at least something like it, before television at least — audiences had their first opportunity to view a moving dinosaur, thanks to cartoonist and vaudevillian Winsor McCay.
Allegedly inspired by the flip books his son brought home, McCay created the animated short film "Gertie the Dinosaur" in 1914 — the first animated dinosaur. For the time, McCay's techniques were nothing short of innovative, and were said to inspire none other than Walt Disney himself. Gertie was honored with preservation in the U.S. Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
The Most Influential Dinosaur Who Maybe Isn't One
As with most great debates in history, this one has been argued over and over with no conclusion: Is Godzilla a dinosaur or a monster?
Godzilla sure looks like a Tyrannosaur — only with Dwayne Johnson's forearms. Since his/her(?) debut in 1954, Godzilla has starred in more than 30 feature films, establishing the cinematic prototype for what any self-respecting dinosaur would do if placed in a modern city: Smash it to pieces.
Moreover, if you look at some of Godzilla's co-stars, you can't say there isn't a dinosaur connection. Mothra? Totally a pterodactyl. And Anguirus? C'mon!
The Friendliest Dinosaurs are Always Purple
A slightly less contentious issue is the color of dinosaurs. Over the last couple of decades, paleontologists have blown the minds of nearly every dinosaur-loving child (and parent) as they determined, not only did dinosaurs likely have feathers, but those feathers were almost certainly multicolored.
For generations, the grey-and-green dinosaur color palate was all there was — unless the dinosaur was especially friendly. There's Dino, Fred Flintstone's endlessly loyal pet: purple. PBS's Barney, the unrelentingly chipper purple dinosaur who tortured parents from 1992-2009: also purple. Warning parents: there's talk of Barney returning to the airwaves! Where's Dr. Ian Malcom to put a stop to this?
The Great Upheaval in Dinosaur Animation
Dinosaurs may have been ended by a great upheaval triggered by an asteroid strike, but so much of what we know about dinosaurs in film can be traced back to another singular entity: Ray Harryhausen. Though not a dinosaur himself, Harryhausen ranks among the terrible lizards for his contributions to the modern views on dinosaurs and has been honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Harryhausen was an expert in stop-motion animation, even creating a technique he called "Dynamation" that made it appear that model animations were engaging with the live-action actors. After years of groundbreaking work, Harryhausen finally entered the prehistoric realm in the mid-'60s, when he worked on two consecutive dinosaur movies, 1 Million Years B.C. and The Valley of Gwangi. The latter, which followed the story of a dinosaur who escapes a traveling wild west show, was considered a masterwork in stop-motion visual effects. As for the previous film, the visual effect it was most remembered for was Raquel Welch.
The Dinosaur Destined for Early Extinction
Dinosaurs are experts at destruction, but at delivering a punchline? For some reason, studio execs have tried to integrate dinosaurs into sitcoms and comedies with almost zero successes. We all remember Dinosaurs, the early-'90s uninspired collaboration between Walt Disney and Jim Henson though it did managed to hang on for four mediocre seasons. However, if you really want to contemplate early extinction, consider Theodore Rex, the 1995 futuristic buddy-cop feature film starting then-megastar Whoopi Goldberg and a cookie-eating Tyrannosaur. The movie is as stupid as it sounds and after it was finished, the studio execs thought so, too. At the time, it was the most expensive film ever to go straight to video.
The 'Carnosaur' Trampled by Jurassic Park
1993 was a great year for dinosaur movies. It was the year Jurassic Park trampled all-rivals to become one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. But, do you remember the film released four weeks before, that same year? It was Carnosaur! Perhaps to the casual observer, the plot line between Jurassic Park and Carnosaur was more-or-less the same: Dinosaurs discover that humans are both easy prey and delicious. The difference? Carnosaur shamelessly wallowed in the bloodbath that Steven Spielberg famously avoided. Perhaps that is why Carnosaur grossed $1.7 million in the U.S. while its more famous competitor raked-in a cool $402.4 million in the same year.