A quarter century ago on this day, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was unleashed in theaters and it was indeed a game changer. For those not old enough to remember its release, it’s a bit difficult to describe just how groundbreaking its visuals were at that time in the early 1990s. The idea that realistic dinosaurs could roam the silver screen didn’t seem possible. However, Spielberg’s wizardry and the geniuses at Industrial Light & Magic proved us all wrong.
The scene above had audiences expressing the same reaction as Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum. Mouths open. Jaws dropped. As we have learned in the 25 years since, amazing visuals aren’t enough to make a film great. That said, if any picture could claim greatness due to its effects, this is the one.
Yet Jurassic Park was special for more reasons than just that. Based on Michael Crichton’s bestseller, the cinematic adaptation tapped into a childhood fascination with Earth’s first dwellers that struck a chord. The concept seems so simple now: mix Steven Spielberg with dinosaurs and what could possibly go wrong? That recipe worked rather flawlessly, but let’s take some stock here.
Just a year and a half earlier, Mr. Spielberg made Hook. And when you think of that concept – America’s most commercially successful director taking on the Peter Pan story? What could possibly go wrong? Well, plenty did. Hook has its vocal defenders, but I fall into the camp of deeming it a major disappointment (particularly on subsequent viewings).
Jurassic arrived at a time where it was feasible to question Spielberg’s magic touch. Those queries went away with the first look at the dino creations and the suspenseful and masterfully directed picture that followed.
In terms of box office numbers, some may not know this franchise opener’s relationship to Batman, but there is one. Jurassic Park opened with $47 million dollars. At the time, that stood at the largest domestic debut in history by beating out the $45 million made the summer before by Batman Returns.
In 1995, it would be Batman Forever that would top the Jurassic record with $52 million.
Two summers after that, Jurassic follow-up The Lost World would snatch the record back with $72 million.
The original Jurassic now stands as the 247th largest opening and was surpassed by all three sequels that followed (and will certainly also be topped by next Friday’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom).
The original’s total domestic gross ended up being $357 million. A 2013 3-D re-release for its 20th anniversary added another $45 million to bring the overall haul to $402 million. And that is second only to Jurassic World from 2015 ($652 million).
The Lost World topped out at $229 million with Jurassic Park III at $181 million. When we adjust for inflation, Park tops World by a margin of $839 million to $724 million.
Looking back at 1993, it’s safe to say no director had a single better year in film history than Spielberg before or since. Not only did Jurassic Park set a new standard for visual effects and break every box office record, but he released another picture at the end of the year. That would be Schindler’s List. The Holocaust drama was nominated for twelve Oscars and won seven, including Best Picture and Spielberg’s first statue for directing (he’d win again five years later for Saving Private Ryan).
So as we await the fifth installment of this franchise, it felt worthy to take a moment and acknowledge the seismic happening that occurred 25 years ago today. The unleashing of the dinosaurs. The advent of visual effects in a way we’d never experienced. A year unparalleled for a filmmaker. Welcome to Jurassic Park… 25 years later.