This year is the 25th anniversary of the release of the first Jurassic Park. For most of us at Cinedelphia, it is a film that has defined what we look for in a summer blockbuster. So what better time than now to revisit the last 25 years of summer blockbusters and pick our favorites? View the criteria and full introduction here, and the whole series here. You can also see a snapshot here on letterboxd! As our conclusion, here is a roundtable about our far and away first choice for the best blockbuster…
1. Jurassic Park (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1993)
Jurassic Park was the inspiration for this list, coming out of my entry from this Split Decision we did in May about summer blockbusters. If I had known the results ahead of time, I might have made it ineligible for the list, as it topped a good number of our lists, and appeared on almost all of them. That’s a huge testament to how great this movie is.
I wrote there about how much this film has meant to be as a movie lover, and a few years ago I wrote about what “Sparing No Expense” actually means within the film. I think that captures something that I truly love about the film, which is that it combines spectacle, interesting characters, and big ideas into something that remains a thrilling experience no matter how many times I’ve seen it (which is many many times). —Ryan Silberstein
Between viewings, I tend to forget about Jurassic Park’s opening scene, in which a raptor pulls a zookeeper into its cage as the dinosaur is being transferred in the park.
Most movies about a scary new technology wait to show you how that technology completely screws everybody over until at least 40 minutes in. But the audience already knows the tech will fail. We know going in that Jurassic Park isn’t about Dinosaur Disneyland and its successful opening and subsequent hundred years of popularity. Nobody walking into Jurassic Park is under the assumption that the movie is going to be a loving, bloodless look at a group of scientists’ attempts to reroute nature’s path.
And Spielberg and his screenwriters know this. They don’t pretend that their audience is dumb. Five minutes in and shit is already hitting the fan. Things are outside of anybody’s control. At this point, the question the movie is asking is not “will this go bad?” but instead “when will this get worse?” and the immortal Texas Chainsaw question “who will survive and what will be left of them?”
I have to believe that this opening scene is a big part of why Jurassic Park has endured as well as it has. The movie doesn’t insult your intelligence; it goes “yeah, RIGHT? DINOSAURS are going to EAT PEOPLE!” before the opening credits hit, and by doing this it keeps the important surprises surprising, wasting no time or momentum later on a revelation that dinosaurs are crazy.–Alex Rudolph
I am going to have to echo Alex’s praise for that opening scene, which sets up the whole movie to come. As a youngster watching it, it took my breath away- as they might say on The Walking Dead, it was pants shitting time. I had forgotten all about it too, until I recently did my first rewatch in forever. It is basically a scene from a horror movie, and in many ways that is exactly what Jurassic Park is.
What I love most about it now is watching the characters interact with each other when everything is going fine at the beginning. The way they shoot the shit, talk science, philosophy, religion, man’s folly- it’s all just a joy to watch some seriously talented actors speak the dialogue. Spielberg is a master of timing, and the imbues these super talky scenes with rhythm and grace. Everybody remembers this movie for the set pieces (and rightfully so- that first T-Rex reveal is still an absolute nailbiter), but I hope that people will also take the time to marvel at David Koepp’s brilliant take on Michael Crichton’s novel.–Andy Elijah
A small but important detail about this story that Spielberg capitalizes on brilliantly is the idea of the impending typhoon that is set to hit the island. Hammond’s eagerness (or ego-ness) to obtain buy-in from his handpicked outsiders trumps any worry of how bad the storm could be, which plays well into his character, so we buy it as the audience.
But what Spielberg does with that tiny little fact informs the whole movie. Samuel L Jackson’s Ray Arnold is tracking the storm many scenes before we see any rain. The calm before the storm occurs during a tranquil, unrelated sequence with an ailing Triceratops, all while the clouds roll in and the wind starts to whip the grass; slowly at first, then picking up speed. The control room is still working out bugs associated with controlling and communicating with the Jeeps near the paddock. All of this is a master class in building tension within the audience without them even realizing it. It also cuts down our visibility so Spielberg can successfully veil the movie magic on display. By the time the downpours begin, the audience feels just as trapped as our protagonists, because we should have seen this coming and yet, here we are. The sense of foreboding begins with the opening sequence and the idea of the storm quietly propels that feeling through to the T-Rex sequence, which truly begins the roller coaster ride that is Jurassic Park.–Jeff Piotrowski
When you’re a little kid and you first find out about dinosaurs, it’s a pretty magical discovery. Is there a greater source of wonder than to find out that giant beasts roamed the earth millions of years ago? Seriously, find me a person my age plus/minus five years who doesn’t at least have a little bit of dinosaur knowledge. You can’t do it.
What do I love about Jurassic Park? Easy. Spielberg’s seminal blockbuster harnesses the wonder of dinosaurs and uses it to thrill us, to scare us, and to show off cutting edge filmmaking technology (which still bests that of every sequel). Not a moment of Jurassic Park lacks the wow factor, even 25 years later. Having recently revisited the film, I can attest that the wow factor is still there, and even though I’m in my thirties and the folds of my brain devoted to dinosaurs have been repurposed for bills and menial work related tasks, as soon as Jurassic Park begins, my youthful sense of wonder comes flooding back. That’s the magic of movies my friends. Jurassic Park is THE blockbuster. —Dan Scully
I’ve seen Jurassic Park so many times that the movie has been many different things to me over the years. Most recently, the thing I’ve come to enjoy most about the movie is just how much Spielberg revels in Timmy getting FUCKED UP. He is first crushed under a car by a giant T-Rex foot. That car is then thrown off a cliff, eventually landing in a tree. Upon climbing out of the car and down the tree, the car falls out of the tree and Timmy is crushed beneath it a second time. And THEN he gets electrocuted by a fence. This all happens before his traumatic experience with the raptors in the kitchen, which at that point he barely seems to register as danger due to how fried he is from all four of his previous traumatic experiences. And the best part of all of it, is that every single time he gets injured, the most comfort and sympathy Dr. Grant can muster is “Gee, you OK there Timmy? I know this is horrible and all, but it’s important to remember that your most recent trauma TOTALLY PROVES MY THEORY THAT DINOSAURS ARE BIRDS, MY DUDE!” —Garrett Smith
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.