Think of a dinosaur. What popped into your mind first? More than likely it was the classic Tyrannosaurus Rex- the King of the Lizards.
Now think of why that dinosaur is the one that popped into your head. I’m betting it is the pop cultural representation that T- Rex has enjoyed in the past 100 years of movie history, from 1933’s King Kong to 1993’s Jurassic Park and everything in between.
Walking home today this somewhat menial topic came to mind and at first I dismissed it as such, but upon further thought I began to realize that it is not menial to think of the T- Rex as one of the most significant figures in cinema. What other character has had as much long lasting appeal and box office pull as the mighty Tyrannosaurus? Perhaps James Bond, but other than that nobody comes close. This unsubstantiated claim is made even more impressive in that that T- Rex always appears on screen as the biggest baddest villain any hero has ever faced. Sorry Lord Vader and Dr. Lector, even you would be hard pressed to not quake and quiver in front of that mighty maw.
With it being said that the T- Rex is indeed one of the greatest and vilest of all Hollywood movie stars, it should be determined which of all the depictions of the prehistoric beast is the quintessential image we movie goers of 2009 now hold in our conscience. Could it be Sharptooth in The Land Before Time (1988) or the CGI monster from this past summer’s Land of the Lost?
The Lost World (1925)
Adapted from the classic 1912 novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this silent epic is the film that set the standard for the next 70 years. This was not the King’s film debut, but it was his breakthrough role, all in glorious stop motion animation as well. The special effects were top notch and directly lead to Merian C. Cooper being able to film the wondrous creatures in King Kong.
The Land Before Time (1988)
As a young man now in 2009, I can say that as a child one of my biggest fears was Sharptooth in The Land Before Time. What ’90s kid did not have nightmares about T- Rex after watching this movie? We have rooted for Littlefoot and the gang against their struggles with Tyrannosaurus through thirteen movies but it was the early ones and most importantly the original that has stuck in our subconscious even a decade into the 21st century.
OK, yeah, it is technically a television series but can we really take this blog that seriously? Rugrats started the same year many of us were born and we therefore really did grow up with Reptar, the green T- Rex who was more hero than villain in this instance. As babies in the early ’90s, we tended to have the same view as the babies were watching on the screen and consequently loved Reptar as much as Tommy and the rest. This T- Rex was a breath of fresh air when compared to the alternative Sharptooth and as young kids we craved Reptar Bars at Halloween.
King Kong (1933)
In perhaps the greatest visualization of T- Rex came in this landmark film by Merian C. Cooper. The special effects that allowed Tyrannosaurus to come alive in this movie were directly descendant from The Lost World, only this time they were taken to even great heights when Kong and the T- Rex met in one of the most epic fights ever filmed. And it was all done in stop motion animation. Our favorite dinosaur, while on screen for such a limited time, (a cameo if you will?) instantly stole the show from Kong and successfully imprinted himself into the retinas of subsequent generations despite his gruesome demise.
The Japanese jumped onto the science fiction bandwagon of the ’50s with this pop culture superstar. For over fifty years Godzilla has either destroyed Tokyo or saved it and we love him no matter what he decides to do. Although technically not a T- Rex, it is clear that old Rex was the defining inspiration so I will make a call now and say that Godzilla belongs on the list (same as Reptar). Godspeed Godzilla, and may you wreck our world for another fifty years.
Jurassic Park (1993)
We all knew this would be the last and greatest T- Rex movie on the list and for good reason. EVERYTHING changed with this movie, Tyrannosaurus got a make over that was well over due. Up until 1993, T- Rex had always been portrayed as a sluggish upright lizard that could hardly walk straight, let alone run. If you don’t believe me scroll up and look at all the other pictures. It was with this film that suddenly T- Rex could run really fast, was more sleek, and almost given personality. What made this possible? Like King Kong and The Lost World revolutionized special effects, so did Jurassic Park. After its release, computer animation open the doors wide open for every movie from the remakes of Kong and Godzilla to even The Lord of the Rings.
So in the end, we have to tip our hats to Tyrannosaurus Rex for being with us for so long and achieving all the incredible feats most actors only dream of. He revolutionized movie making (more than once!) as well as being our dearest friend and most abominable foe. Any real person would instantly garner AFI’s Lifetime Achievement Award, so I will now nominate T- Rex for that honor because he certainly deserves it as not only the king of the dinosaurs but as the real king of Hollywood.