Cinema's Greatest Dinosaurs

King Kong (1933)
King Kong battles a T-Rex.

With LAND OF THE LOST opening today, I was thinking of doing a list of “Top Ten Dinosaur Movies,” until I realized that unearthing ten such titles would take more effort than mounting a major paleological expedition. In order to spare myself the struggle of rounding out a list of ten, I considered revising the title to “Hollywood’s Greatest Dinosaur” movies, but that risked resulting in the shortest article every written. The sad fact is that there are few good – let alone great – dinosaur movies. Too often, the special effects outweigh the stories and acting, leaving little to enjoy besides the spectacle of rampaging reptiles.
But when you stop and think about it, what more do you need? Dinosaurs are among cinema’s biggest stars. The very sight of them – when achieved with technical competence and some style – is more than enough to stir our Sense of Wonder. With that in mind, my list will work on the theory that great dinosaur movies consist of movies featuring great dinosaurs, regardless of the overall quality of the films.
I covered many dinosaur titles in The History of Prehistoric Movies, which focused on films set in the past. In order to avoid too much duplication, I will emphasize films featuring dinosaurs that have survived into the present day. So if it seems as if films like ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. are being short-changed, just click through on the link to the older article to see these films get their due consideration.
The Lost World (1925)THE LOST WORLD (1925). This silent film, based on the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, is the first feature-length movie to showcase stop-motion dinosaurs. (One showed up briefly in Buster Keaton’s 1923 comedy THE THREE AGES.). The special effects by Willis O’Brien (who went on to do KING KONG) are crude by today’s standards, but they still have a certain charm that makes them endearing. When it’s captured brontosaurs escapes into the streets of London, the film establishes the tradition of a rampaging prehistoric beast on the loose in a modern city – a plot device that would recur many times thereafter. There were several remakes, usually using lizards or rubber suits instead of stop-motion. A 2001 version for BBC used computer-generated imagery to good effect.
KING KONG (1933). The giant ape is the star of the show, but Willis O’Brien’s menagerie of prehistoric monsters gives him a run for his money – including a brontosaurus, a stegosaurus, a pteranodon, and an elasmosaur. The dino-highlight of the film has to be Kong’s battle with a T-Rex (seen at the top of this page), which is one of the great fight scenes ever recorded on film. Overall, the stop-motion effects have improved noticeably over THE LOST WORLD. They may not be completely convincing in the sense of being “realistic,” but they establish their own style, perfectly suited for the film’s fantastic storyline. The 1976 remake featured no dinosaurs, just a giant snake. The 2005 version had some great dinosaurs, but ruined the impact with some ridiculously over-the-top sequences.
FANTASIA Allosaurus from "The Rites of Spring"FANTASIA (1940). Disney’s medly of animated sequences set to classical music includes “The Rights of Spring,” which depict primitive prehistoric life, including some wonderful dinosaurs. In a grim sequence backed by Stravinsky’s powerful music, a stegasaurus falls prety to an allosaurus. Pretty dark and grizzly stuff for Disney.
ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) features Raquel Welch and great stop-motion dinosaurs by Ray Harryhausen, one-time protoge of Willis O’Brien. (Covered in The History of Prehistoric Movies)
THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969). Ray Harryhausen is back, this time with a dinosaur who survives into modern times in a hidden valley, until some ranch hands find him and bring him back to civilization, putting him on display like a circus act. Inevitably, the allosaurus breaks free and mayhem ensues. As usual, Harryhausen’s stop-motion work is technically excellent, and he brings some style to the creature, giving it as much personality as a ravenous reptile can muster. As usual, the movie itself is weak, serving only as a showcase for the title character – who is worth the price of admission.
WHEN DINOSARUS RULES THE EARTH (1971). A follow-up to ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., this time with stop-motion dinosaurs provided by Jim Danforth. Lots of great special effects in this one. (Covered in The History of Prehistoric Movies)
CAVEMAN 1981 T-RexCAVEMAN (1981). Starring Ringo Starr, this one is played for laughs, but Dave Allens’ special effects are actually very good, especially when it comes to combining human actors with the dinosaurs. The T-Rex in this one is far from fearsome, but he is well suited to the comic tone, especially when he eats some berries that give him a buzz. In fact, the dino’s comic “performance” comes close to stealing the show.
MY SCIENCE PROJECT battling the T-RexMY SCIENCE PROJECT (1985). In this comedy science fiction film, about a kid who’se high school project goes wrong, there is a brief scene in which a time warp places a T-Rex in the school gymnasium. Achieved with rod puppet effects, this is one of the most convincing uses of the technique to depict a dinosaur – in part because the cramped location prevents the dinosaur from moving very much, thus hiding the limitations of the technique.
THE LAND BEFORE TIME 1988 Littlefoot's mother attacked by T-RexTHE LAND BEFORE TIME (1988). Former Disney animator Don Bluth directed this prehistoric tale of talking dinosaurs searching for a safe valley. This is a very good family film with cute characters that appeal to children and also some reasonably adult story-telling. The death of the lead character’s mother – at the claws and teeth of a T-Rex – is harrowing without being explicit. There were several direct-to-video sequels, none of them memorable.
JURASSIC PARK (1993). This is the film in which computer-generated imagery replaced stop-motion as the best way to breathe life into the extinct animals known as dinosaurs. Steven Spielberg’s film version of Michael Crichton’s novel was widely derided at the time of its release, but it still holds up over sixteen years later thanks to its great special effects and the suspense the director achieves. The film also introduced a new dino-star – the Velociraptor – who for the first time challenged the T-Rex’s crown as the all-time most valuable dinosaur – until Rexy puts him in his place in the spectacular finale. This is probably the best dinosaur movie ever made (depending on whether or not you count KING KONG as a dinosaur movie). The sequels, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK and JURASSIC PARK III, cant take a bite out of the original.
DINOSAUR 2000 groupDINOSAUR (2000). Disney is at it again, this time with using computer-generated animation instead of the old hand-inked technique of FANTASTIA. Like THE LAND BEFORE TIME, this features talking dinosaurs, but here they are rendered with special effects that make them almost lifelike, in spite of their dialogue and human emotions. Another nice touch is that the backgrounds are all live-action plates, not drawings. The result is not quite a total success, but the opening sequence (of a mammal’s egg being stole from its nest and dropped into a dinosaur’s nest) is a breath-taking piece of cinema.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2006 dinosaur skeleton and Ben StillerNIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (2006). Perhaps the most memorable image of this comedy, starring Ben Stiller as a night watchman in a museum, is the sight of a T-Rex skeleton that comes to life. The special effects perfectly captures the initial thrill of fear that turns to relief when Stiller’s character realizes the Rex merely wants to play fetch with one of its own bones.
LAND OF THE LOST 2009 T-Rex snaps at people hanging on vinesLAND OF THE LOST (2009). After seeing this film, I had to come back and add it to the list. Although too much of the comedy falls flat, the dino never disappoints. In fact, Grumpy the T-Rex is a real sceen-stealer. What’s really impresive is that, thanks to “Crash” McCreery’s designs and some great special effects, Grumpy really does look convincing and threatening when you first see him, but then without missing a beat, he turns into a comical character, getting at least as many laughs as the more overtly humorous Rex in CAVEMAN. The joke is that Grumpy loses interest in eating the humans and becomes more focused on avenging the insult he receives from Will Ferrell’s paleontologist, who derisively notes that the tyrannasaurs has a brain the size of a walnut (words that come back to haunt him when Grumpy leaves a humongous walnut for him to find).

MYTHICAL PREHISTORIC BEASTS

Lots of movie monsters claim to be dinosaurs, but we omitted the mythical ones from out list above. For those who are interested, here are some of the most notable movies featuring fictional dinosaurs, often revived in modern times by radioactivity.
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953). Ray Harryhausne’s rhedosaurus is a delightful on-screen monster, but you won’t find it in any paleontology book.
GODZILLA (1954). Japan’s answer to BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS features a creature (achieved with a man in a monster suit) that looks a bit like an upright T-Rex with plates on its back vaguely like a stegosaurus. And it’s way too big to be a real dinosaur.
THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959). Eugene Lourie, director of BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, offers a virtual remake, this time with Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen’s mentor, creating the stop-motion effects. The creature looks more or less like a brachiosaurus, but it appears to be carnivorous; it swims like a plesiosaur; and it emits radioactive waves as only a movie-monster can do.
GORGO (1961). Director Eugene Lourie offers up a third and final film about a giant prehistoric monster attacking a modern city. This upright-walking sea beastie is identified as a dinosaur in the dialogue, but it looks nothing like a real dinosaur.

LESSER DINOSAURS

Many other films have featured dinosaurs, but too often, Hollywood saved bucks by using cheap puppets, lizards in makeup, or men in suits. The films may have been entertaining in a juvenile way, but by offering discount dinosaurs, they lost their chance to top our list.

ONE MILLION B.C. 1941
Victor Mature and Carol Landis in ONE MILLION B.C.

ONE MILLION B.C. (1940). This black-and-white effort, starring Victor Mature and Carol Landis, features “dinosaurs” that are actual reptiles with fins and horns glued on (the technique of live lizards had been pioneered in 1934’s THE SECRET OF THE LOCH). Sadly, this results in some all-too-real animal cruelty, when a juvenile alligator and a gila monster are allowed to tear into each other on camera.
THE LOST CONTINENT (1951). Cesar Romero and crew crash-land on an island with some cheap stop-motion dinosaurs, which receive little screen time.
KING DINOSAUR (1955). Astronauts land on a planet inhabited by an iguana pretending to be a T-Rex.
BEAST OF THE HOLLOW MOUNTAIN (1956). This film gets points for novelty by mxing dinosaurs with cowboys. The prehistoric beast is not seen until the end; achieved with stop-motion, it is is puppet-like, but there is a good sequence of the predator running.
THE LAND UNKNOWN (1957). Another trip to a lost world, this time inhabited by rubbery looking dinosaurs.
A T-Rex chases Brendan Fraser in the 2008 version.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959). In the tradtion of ONE MILLION B.C., some briefly glimpsed lizards and baby alligators pass for dinosaurs in the 1959 adaptation of the Jules Verne novel. The 2008 remake, starring Brendan Fraser, features a chase scene with a CGI Tyrannosaurus Rex that is pretty decent, and it had the added bonus of being in 3-D.
DINOSAURUS (1960). A T-Rex and a Brontosaurs are realized with passable stop-motion – pretty convincing if you’re a kid, but not when you see the film as an adult. Still, the fight scene between the Rex and a steam shovel is a good idea.

Mechanical dinosaurs battle in THE LAND BEFORE TIME (1975)
Mechanical dinosaurs battle in THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975)

THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1974). Based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, this features mechanical dinosaurs, some of them miniature, some of them full size. They don’t look too bad, but their limited movements give them away. The sequel THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT was much the same.
PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS (1977). Astronauts crash-land on a planet full of stop-motion dinosaurs. The effects are not bad, but they lack the Harryhausen touch.
BABY: SECRET OF THE LOST LEGEND (1985). Based on real-life rumors about a surviving brontosaurus, this adventure film offers up mechanical dinosaurs with faces that are way too cute and anthropomorphic. It’s as if someone wanted the beasts to look like E.T.
CARNOSAUR (1993). Low-budget producer Roger Corman rips off JURASSIC PARK but instead of modern CGI, he utilizes old-fashioned mechanical dinosaurs, including a full-size T-Rex. The design and look are not too bad, but the movements are slow and sluggish. The same mechanical dinosaur reappeared in two sequels and in 1994’s DINOSAUR ISLAND.

The Art of Ray Harryhausen: Interview Part 3 – "One Million Years, B.C."

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.

Since Ray Harryhausen recently completed a mini-tour of California in February, here – in advance of the opening of 10,000 YEARS, B.C. – are some of Ray’s comments on his own prehistoric dinosaur epic from 40 years ago: ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: After doing THE ANIMAL WORLD, you didn’t work with dinosaurs again until you made ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. for Hammer. Before that, did you ever try to get Charles Schneer interested in making a dinosaur film?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, because we were always doing pictures with very tight budgets. We were able to get a better budget from Hammer for ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.That was their 100th anniversary movie and they spent a little more money than they usually did. We went on location to the Canary Islands, shooting mostly on Lanzarote, which had many bleak and desolate landscapes that were made of pure volcanic rock. They lent themselves quite well to re-creating the landscapes of a prehistoric world.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you know that in America Fox released the 91-minute version of the movie on DVD rather than the more complete 100-minute UK version?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh really? I didn’t know that. Of course, I have no control over what the studios do, but that actually goes back to one of problems we had while we were making the film. [Producer] Michael Carreras realized the film was going to be too long and originally it ended up with a sequence where a brontosaurus attacked the Rock people in their cave. But it was decided that we already had enough animation sequences and rather than doing any more costly animation, we abandoned that entire sequence, which I quite regretted. But because the model of the brontosaurus had already been built, I used it for a few shots at the beginning of the picture, where John Richardson sees it moving behind a hill.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: According to the production log for ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C., you spent eight months in 1966 animating the film. From March 17th to April 7th you worked on the pteranodon scenes, from April 12 to the 30th on the giant turtle, from May 2nd to June 3rd the allosaurus battle, and the longest time (June 6th to July 15th) was devoted to the ceratosaurus fighting the triceratops. By contrast, it took you less than a week to film the live-action of the iguana, so you saved quite a bit of time by using a real lizard.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, that’s the reason I used the iguana, to save time. I also thought by showing a live creature at the beginning, it would make the animated ones more convincing, but it did just the opposite, because the lizard kept falling asleep and we had to substitute other lizards. When I animate my creatures they all do exactly what I want them to do. There is no talking back.
Raquel Welch in ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.LAWRENCE FRENCH: When ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. came out in 1966, it became a big hit, possibly because of Raquel Welch appearing half naked on screen, more than your dinosaurs.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, it turned out to be quite a success and it made Raquel Welch into a big star. It also led Charles and I to try dinosaurs once again for our next picture, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. But it took us over two years to make GWANGI, and the people at Warner Bros who we started the picture with, were gone when it was finished. The new people at the studio had no respect for what the old people had sanctioned and GWANGI really needed a really big publicity campaign, because most people thought GWANGI was another Godzilla type of thing.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Would you have liked to animate some of the newer dinosaurs species, such as the velociraptors that were so popular in JURASSIC PARK and KING KONG?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh, sure. But at the time, I used the most popular ones, because one was enough for me to animate, let alone a herd of them.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: After you worked at Hammer, did you ever think about using their most famous actor, Christopher Lee as a villain in one of your movies?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, but I knew Christopher Lee because we lived near him when we moved to Cadogan Square. Christopher still has a flat there.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: And until he died, Boris Karloff lived right next door to Christopher Lee on Cadogan Square.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, that’s right. But when we moved to Cadogan Square, Boris Karloff had already died. Since that time we’ve moved to Ilchester.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Looking back at your sixteen feature films, you made six movies in the fifties, and six films in the sixties, but only two in the seventies. I know animation is a very laborious process, but is there any reason for a four-film difference in the seventies?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Good Lord! I never added it up that way. I don’t know how to account for that, really. I guess we were more prolific in our early days.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Of your sixteen films, all of them were produced by Charles H. Schneer after you first began to work with him in 1955, with the exception of ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. which you did for Hammer. How were you able to maintain such a long and successful working relationship?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: By never agreeing, I suppose. We were together for a long time. Charles always had a great sympathy for fantasy. We had many disagreements, which brings up that old saying, “if two people think exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary.” So we battled out many things in the name of the film, and in the end we’d come to a compromise.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Bernard Herrmann, who scored four of your films was quite a temperamental person, so was there ever any trouble with him about scoring JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS? The reason I ask is because the initial 1963 credits list Mario Nascimbene as the composer for JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, Bernie was always going to write the music for JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Crediting Mario Nascimbene was probably just a mistake somebody in Columbia’s publicity department made.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you have any input about using Mario Nascimbene to score ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. ?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, getting Mario Nascimbene was something I had nothing to do with. Hammer made the arrangements to use him. But I thought he did a very effective score, although his music was not in the tradition of what we usually did – but it certainly seemed to fit the picture.
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The History of Prehistoric Movies

10,000 B.C.,which opens this week, is only the latest in a line of films that stretches all the way back to ONE MILLIONS YEARS, B.C. – and beyond. Hollywood has long had a fascination for portraying primitive life as it might have been lived before the invention of modern technology, but more often than not these films are outright fantasies with at best a passing interest in scientific accuracy. Most notably, the desire to see cave men confronting dinosaurs is usually too much to resist – even though the last dinosaur died out over 50-million years before the first primitive men were born. The appeal of glamour is also not to be discounted: depictions of life before the invention of the toothbrush seldom show neanderthal men and women walking around with rotting teeth in their mouths, and you can bet that, despite their loin clothes and fur bikinis, early examples of homo erectus inevitably have perfect skin and well coiffed hair; look closely and you may even note a trace of eye liner on the leading ladies. And when you stop and think about it, can you really blame Hollywood? After all, remove the dinosaurs and the babes in clam-shell bikinis, and all you’re left with is a bunch of hairy ape-men grunting around the fire for 90 minutes – and who wants to watch that? To be fair, there are one or two worthy exceptions to this rule, which you will find as we take you on a tour of prehistory…
Buster Keaton (left) in THREE AGESTHREE AGES (1923). Silent comedian Buster Keaton’s first feature film steals the structure of D.W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE, telling three stories set in three different eras. In each of them, Keaton stars as the put-upon hero who must win the love of a woman against all odds. One sequence, set in prehistoric times, has Keaton competing with a bigger, stronger caveman rival for the lady’s affections. There is also an amusing, if crude, early special effects shot that depicts the character riding on the head of a brontosaurus. The story goes that Keaton chose the episodic structure so that, if the feature film failed, it could be cut into three short subjects. He needn’t have worried. THREE AGES is a gem of silent comedy, still worth seeing today.

Victor Mature and Carol Landis confront a magnified lizard meant to be a dinosaur.ONE MILLION B.C.(1940). The first major trip down memory lane to the distant, distant past establishes many of the conventions that would persist throughout these films for decades to come; most notably, we see that cave men looked pretty much like their modern counterparts. However, ONE MILLION B.C. does something that its descendants did not bother to do: it accounts for the modern appearance by framing the story with a modern day prologue, in which an archaeologist interprets some cave drawings for the benefit of a young couple (Victor Mature and Carol Landis); not knowing what the characters in his story really looked like, he suggests that his audience imagines themselves in the roles. Their prehistoric adventures involve lizards and baby alligators optically magnified to suggest battling dinosaurs – a rather immoral bit of animal cruelty censored when the film screened in Britain (nevertheless, the sequenced was recycled as stock footage in several subsequent low-budget movies). Lon Chaney, Jr. also appears, as the leader of a cave man tribe. Ironically, considering that Keaton’s THREE AGES was a spoof of INTOLERANCE, producer-director D.W. Griffith had a hand in this production, although he eventually stepped aside and had his name removed from the credits.

PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1953). An obscure, low-budget entry, apparently filmed in the “wilds” of El Monte, about some stone-age women who decide they hate men but must keep a few around for procreational purposes. One of the men discovers fire, which he uses to defeat some prehistoric beast, proving that men really should be the ones running the show. 4 million years of male patriarchy, sexism, and spousal abuse follow.

TEENAGE CAVEMAN(1958). A young – but clearly not teen-aged – Robert Vaughn stars in the title role of this tale of primitive life. Despite his animal fur clothing, Vaughn sports a very modern haircut, but the surprise ending sort accounts for that. We don’t want to spoil it for you, but once you’ve seen the ending, you realize that this film doesn’t really belong in a list of “prehistoric” movies.
Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion dinosaurs battle it out.ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.(1966). This remake of ONE MILLION B.C. is probably the apex of achievement for this kind of film, thanks to the unique convergence of two profoundly entertaining fantasy elements: Raquel Welch in a fur bikini and stop-motion dinosaurs animated by Ray Harryhausen. For young boys around the world, both seemed equally fascinating and unattainable, yet here were their dreams, displayed on the movie screens bigger than life. Suddenly, the unreal became real, at least for an hour-and-a-half. The anthropology here is rather ridiculous: Raquel hails for an advanced tribe of blond-haired, blue-eyed people, who have developed something resembling a culture (not to mention skin and hair care products, judging from their good looks). She hooks up with John Richardson, whose tribe of dark-haired swarthy types are obviously several rungs down the evolutionary ladder. As absurd as it it, it hardly matter, not when you can count on one of Harryhausen’s dinosaurs to intrude at regular intervals, rather like a string of vaudeville entertainers, each of whom gets a few minutes on stage before being ushered off to make room for the next. Highlights include the archetypal battle between a peaceful plant-eager and a ferocious carnivore (guess who wins?), Raquel being kidnapped by a pteranodon, and a fight between cave men and a young allosaurus who invades their village.
WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS (1970). This Italian film (co-written by the respected Lina Wertmuller) is apparently a sex comedy spoof of prehistoric movies. Beautiful Senta Berger stars as a cave woman who meets some orphaned cave brothers who have been living alone on an island without women all their lives. She falls for one and introduces him to the joys of sex, but when the other brothers start wondering what the couple are doing together in private, trouble starts brewing.
Jim Danforth's stop-motion plesiosaur lumbers into a prehistoric village.WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH(1970). This follow-up to ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. substitutes Victoria Vetri for Raquel Welch and Jim Danforth for Ray Harryhausen. Both are quite good, but neither can quite live up to the impact of their predecessors. The results are much the same as before, with another class between an advanced, blond-haired tribe and a retro bunch of dark-haired troglodytes. Aclaimed science fiction author J.G. Ballard, who wrote the original treatment, later said, “I’m very proud that my first screen credit was for what is, without doubt, the worst film ever made.” (Apparently, Ballard never saw PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE.) Whatever the short-comings, Vetri (former Playboy Playmate of the Year) looks great, and her interaction with mommy dinosaur and its baby is loads of highly improbably fun: she takes shelter inside and egg shell and ends up adopted into the family!

CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT(1971). Hammer films, the company behind ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. and WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, tries one more time with this flick, but they forgot one thing: the dinosaurs! All you get is a snake. Oh well, Julie Ege make a pretty cave girl, but she is not striking enough to pose a threat to Welch or Vetri.
An attempt at less glamorous portrait of primitive life.QUEST FOR FIRE (1981). A rare attempt to portray a scientifically accurate view of primitive mankind, this film avoids the obvious mistakes (such as dinosaurs co-existing with humans), but the science is still a bit off (the screenplay was based on an outdated book). The story has a tribe losing its sacred flame when it is attacked by a rival group of savages. A trio heads out to recapture the fire. Along the way they encounter a more advanced tribe that has actually learned the secret of making fire (as opposed to just preserving a flame that started naturally). Reduced to its bare bones, the plot is not that different from ONE MLLION YEARS, B.C., but the grungy production values make it all seem much more believable.
CAVEMAN(1981). The lovable Ringo Starr plays the title role in this spoof of prehistoric movies, featuring comic stop-motion dinosaur effects by Dave Allen. The jokes are not great, but the whole thing is so light-hearted and good-natured that it hardly matters. Despite the comic tone, the special effects are very impressive – as technically polished as anything in a serious movie. The highlight has to be the T-Rex; played for laughs here, the predator is decidedly not fearsome, especially when he gets stoned on a mouthful of berries from a very special bush.
CAVEGIRL (1985). A low-budget spoof in which a high school nerd on a field trip finds himself transported back in time, where he falls in love with the titular character.
CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR(1986). Adapted by John Sayles from a book by Jean M. Auel, this film is another attempt, a la QUEST FOR FIRE, to take a serious approach to the depiction of prehistoric life. Still, with Daryl Hannah in the lead, the film’s depiction of its primitive leading lady is inevitably more beautiful than the real thing.
THE FLINTSTONES (1994). The long-running TV cartoon becomes a live-action feature film. The joke here, as on television, is that everything in the past exactly parallels the present, just with stones, rocks, and dinosaurs in place of electricity, hydraulics, and pets. Followed by a less successful sequel, VIVA ROCK VEGAS in 2000.
DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRLS (1996). An ultra-low-budget comedy about a modern man who gets sucked into the past where he helps out a tribe of women in fur bikinis. There are a handful of special effects shots, including some crude stop-motion and some magnified lizards, but mostly the film tries to sustain itself on the running joke that these women are the prehistoric equivalent of Valley Girls (as immortalized in the song by Frank Zappa). The big joke is that their crude grunting language includes syllables that sound suspiciously similar to “For sure.”
ICE AGE (2002). This computer-animated comedy about life in the titular ice age focuses on an unlikely team of wild animals (mammoth, sabre-toothed tiger, etc). It’s all good fun (especially Scrat, the squirrel-rat forever chasing down an acorn), and in a way it’s no more impossible than DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRL. If anything, the glimpse we get of early humans – a nomadic tribe of hunters – is probably more accurate. Followed by ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN in 2006.

Cave Women: A Gallery of Prehistoric Pulchritude

Dinosaur Island (1994)It is no secret that the much of the appeal of prehistoric movies lies in pulchritude. No one really cares what real life was like back in the days before civilization, and only little boys and a few paleontologists care about dinosaurs. No, the reason that (predominantly male) audiences watch these films is for the opportunity to see beautiful women clad in minimal clothing, usually fashioned from furs and/or clam shells. It’s a bit of a joke to characterize all men as primitive cro-magnons who would be happy tossing bones onto the cave floor after dinner; perhaps prehistoric movies tap into this atavistic part of the male soul, suggesting that you can be an uncouth, inarticulate, hairy brute – and still cavort with Raquel Welch. In-depth insight or pop culture psycho-babble? We leave you to ponder that question while perusing the following gallery of pre-history’s sexiest women.

European beauty Senta Berger plays a cave woman who teaches an ignorant cave man about the joys of sex, in the Italian comedy WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS (1971).

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Martine Beswicke in PREHISTORIC WOMEN

After battling Raquel Welch in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., Martine Beswicke graduated to playing the Queen of a a lost tribe of Amazonian warriors in PREHISTORIC WOMEN (a.k.a. “Slave Girls,” 1967). Of all prehistoric leading ladies, along with glamour and beauty, she captures something a bit more primitive and thrilling, elevating this campy film into something worth seeing.

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Julie Ege in Creatures the World Forgot (1971)

Julie Ege took spear in hand for CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT, the third of three prehistoric-themed movies produced by England’s Hammer films. Unlike its predecessors, CREATURES featured no dinosaurs, only a snake. Still, Ms. Ege makes it worth a look.

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Dana Gillespie in PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT

In THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, Dana Gillespie is, technically, not a prehistoric woman, since the film is set in the 20th century. Rather, like Beswicke in PREHISTORIC WOMEN, she is playing a primitive character who lives in a lost world that has survived unchanged into modern times. Whatever – she certainly fits the bill when it comes to filling out her fetching cave girl outfit.

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Carol Landis and Lon Chaney, Jr. in ONE MILLION B.C.

One of the earliest big-screen cave girls was Carol Landis in ONE MILLION B.C. (seen above with Lon Chaney, Jr.). Ms. Landis bared considerably less skin than her successors; nevertheless, she made a fetching example of prehistoric pulchritude.

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Caroline Munro in AT THE EARTH'S CORE

Caroline Munro plays the princess of Pelucidar, the lost world in AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1977). Technically, she is not “prehistoric” in that the story takes place during the Victoria Era, but she comes from a prehistoric-type world, complete with revealing clothing that will make any man sigh in gratitude.

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Edina Ronay in PREHISTORIC WOMEN

Edina Ronay plays the good, blonde cave girl in PREHISTORIC WOMEN, the polar opposite of the Evil Queen played by Martine Beswicke. Of course, the “Good Girls” are usually less interesting than their seductive rivals, but Ms. Ronay overcomes the handicap thanks to the way she fills out a fur bikini.

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Raquel Welch in a posed publicity shot from ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.

The Queen of all Prehistoric Women has to be Raquel Welch, seen her in the role that made her famous, Loana in ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C., the 1966 remake of the film starring Carol Landis. Ms. Welch’s impossibly perfect figure turned her into a sex goddess, serving as a fantasy figure for an entire generation of young boys who went to the film only to see its dinosaurs and came away with the first inkling that there was something far more fascinating that prehistoric reptiles.

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Victoria Vetri in WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH

When Hammer Films wanted a follow-up to ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C., they titled it WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970) and cast Playboy Playmate of the Year Victoria Vetri in the lead. Although she did not go on to international stardom on par with Raquel Welch, she cut almost as striking a figure in her primitive garb.

RELATED ARTICLE: The History of Prehistoric Movies