Thursday, January 15, 2015

Top 10 Dinosaur fights in fiction

Everyone loves dinosaur fights. All the best dinosaur films have them. What’s better than big, bizarre prehistoric creatures? When they duke it out! They can be violent, they can be bloody, but they’re always exciting.  The very first would be the Ghost of Slumber mountain, where two Triceratops duel and one of them is then killed by a Tyrannosaurus in a fight. The last would be the Pachyrhinosaurus-Gorgosaurus brawl at the climax of Walking With Dinosaurs.  Hopefully this year’s Jurassic World will have the decency of giving us one.  Most of these fights are wildly anachronistic between supersized versions, and some of them involve animals that are not dinosaurs or even real animals, but it gives that element of fantasy that dinosaurs invoke by their very prescence. This list is entirely subjective, so I’ll leave a long list of runners up first-

Tyrannosaurus vs Triceratops (1932)-this will represent paleoart. This classic tableau of the greatest dinosaur predator and its most dangerous prey by artist Charles R Knight for the Field Museum of Natural History is in my opinion not only the best dinosaur painting ever, but also my favorite painting in the world. The fight hasn’t even begun in this depiction; the dinosaurs glare at each other in fighting stances, ready to do battle. This overshadows even Knight’s action-packed painting of Dryptosaurus in 1896 in terms of grandeur and suspense. This is a classic faceoff that was featured in art, fiction, and film ever since and it deserves a place of honor.

Ceratosaurus vs Megatherium (1948)-the only memorable scene of the otherwise awful Unknown Island (review coming this year) was Crash Corrigan in his modified gorilla suit (given claws and fangs and painted red) killing a suitmation Ceratosaurus in the climax.  Not only are these seldom-seen species on the big screen, and is unintentionally hilarious, but the novelty and uniqueness of this battle makes it worthy of a mention

Ceratosaurus vs Stegosaurus (1955)-the otherwise kid-friendly Journey to the Beginning of Time features a clash between these two contemporary dinosaurs witnessed by the child protagonists. They mortally wound each other, a common outcome in real fights between animals (and between people). The animals are depicted by very-good-for-Soviet-Czechoslovkian stop-motion, the choreography is clumsy, and the scene is right out of a Zdenek Burian painting.

Godzilla vs Rodan (1964 and 1993) While Godzilla’s fights with Rodan in 1964’s Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster and 1993’s Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla 2 are not the climactic battles of the films, they’re well-choreographed, well-shot and beautifully scored. Even in terms of Godzilla’s many, many battles, or suitimation fights in general, they’re excellent. The first ends in a draw, as Godzilla finally meets his match and Mothra intervenes to force reconciliation. The fight is somewhat played for laughs, with pratfalls, boulder volleyball, and the monsters even arguing and laughing at each other.  The second is more violent and serious, as in most of the Heisei era films-Godzilla and Rodan fight over a prehistoric egg, and Godzilla strangles, then blasts Rodan with his atomic fire ray. It’s still just as exciting and done with more up-to-date effects.  

Godzilla vs Titanosaurus (1975). Titanosaurus is the last Toho kaiju based on a dinosaur, and actually proves to be a worth opponent. In one of Godzilla’s best entrances, he shows down with Titanosaurus in Tokyo at midnight, but the brawl ends with Titanosaurus’ control being lost and the dinosaur fleeing back to the sea with Godzilla in pursuit. Their rematch is a spectacular two-on-one where Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla (Godzilla’s robot counterpart in his second film) nearly kill Godzilla. With the help of INTERPOL scientists and agents, humans intervene and Titanosaurus is badly wounded and chased off.

Tyrannosaurus vs Monoclonius (1984) Prehistoric Beast was a stop-motion animated project by animator Phil Tippet (responsible for the stop motion in the Star Wars films, Dragonslayer, Robocop, Howard the Duck, and was involved in Jurassic Park). This prehistoric thriller showed a Monoclonius (now recognized as a species of Centrosaurus) being hunted and killed by a Tyrannosaurus (of course) in a deadly battle. The set, models, direction and animation are excellent. The animation proved so impressive Tippet was hired to expand his dinosaur short with the help of his coworkers Tom St. Amand and Randal Dutra for the documentary “Dinosaur” in 1985

Tyrannosaurus vs Velociraptor (1993) The Deus Rex Machina ending of Jurassic Park featured the featured Tyrannosaurus killing the villainous “Velociraptors” to inadvertently save our heroes. The fight is one-sided and over in seconds-both dromeosaurs are easily dispatched by the giant alpha predator, but it’s spectacular and a suitable climax for the film.

Utahraptor vs Acrocanthosaurus and Utahraptor vs Deinonychus (1995) Representing literature is Raptor Red, Dr. Robert Bakker’s excellent piece of paleofiction. The titular Utahraptor engages in two dramatic fights-she saves her sister’s offspring by luring a giant Acrocanthosaurus into the jaws of a Kronosaurus midway through the film. The climax of the book is when Raptor Red defends the corpse of her sister from a gang of Deinonychus. She is crippled and starving, but with the timely assistance of her mate and niece, they kill the leader of the pack and drive them off.

Kron, Neera, and Aladar (Iguanodon) vs Carnotaurus (1999) I’ve already discussed Disney’s Dinosaur film, but I admit the ending battle is well-choreographed (considering Disney’s aversion to their heroes killing the villain), well shot, and well-scored.

Tyrannosaurus vs Spinosaurus (2003) In the horrible Jurassic Park 3, the most debated dinosaur fight in history started the film. Eager to prop up the new villain of Spinosaurus (because bigger=better), they had it kill an iconic Tyrannosaurus as its introduction. The fight is fun to watch except for the ending, which removes it from the list. There’s a childlike love of dinosaur fights, but also a childish insistence to promote the new brand over the classic. It’s akin to breaking a child’s toy to make them play with a new one. My stance? Spinosaurus’ anatomy is not suited for fighting dinosaurs more than half its size,  and Tyrannosaurus was a predator adapted to kill huge, powerful, dangerous prey, so the size difference isn’t enough to make Spinosaurus the victor. Unless they were fighting in the water, I suppose.

Tyrannosaurus vs Triceratops (2005) One of my favorite documentaries (to be reviewed this year) is the two-episode series The Truth About Killer Dinosaurs, in which Bill Odie hosts scientific investigation about these hypothetical dinosaur battles. Unlike most documentaries which have the fight as part of the narrative, the documentary actually discusses the mechanics of the fight. If I had paleontologists and a great deal of resources at my beck and call, I would have something like this instead of my current dinosaur battle series. The final segment shows an outcome of the battle suggested by a Triceratops fossil with its horn missing, in which the herbivore loses a horn but kills the tyrant dinosaur.
Utahraptor vs Gastonia, Arctodus vs Panthera (2008) I’ve already discussed Jurassic Fight Club, so I’ll include my two favorite episodes from it-the Cedar Mountain and Natural Trap Cave fights. They’re just better choreographed, longer, more even, and more plausible than the other fights in this series.

Scowler, Patchi, and Juniper (Pachyrhinosaurus) vs Gorgon and family (Gorgosaurus) (2014) I’ve discussed this movie, and the ending is one of the better part. Instead of taking revenge on Scowler, Patchi charges the Gorgosaurs attacking him and with the help of his brother and his mate, he drives them off. It’s cliché, it’s stock, but it’s a nice little action sequence.

Those were just the runners up. Without further ado, here are the top ten (in chronology) dinosaur fights!

Icthyosaurus vs Plesiosaurus (1864) The very first prehistoric fight in fiction was in Jules Verne’s groundbreaking novel “Voyage Dans Las Centre de la Terre”. Professor Lindenbrock, his nephew Axel, and their guide Hans encounter a central sea in their title journey. In that sea they witness a Plesiosaurus fight an Icthyosaurus. The animals have ludicrous sizes and anatomy, but it’s still exciting and well-explained.  Verne is a great writer, and the clash is epic in its size despite having little to do with the plot. The Icthyosaurus kills the Plesiosaurus, but neither is seen again.  The reason I counted this one that while no dinosaurs were involved, it set the stage. Icthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus were much more popular than the dinosaurs until late in the 19th century, so if it had been written later, dinosaurs would have taken their role.

Allosaurus vs Anatosaurus, Allosaurus vs Triceratops, Allosaurus vs Agathaumas, Tyrannosaurus vs Agathaumas, Allosaurus vs brontosaurus (1925). The first dinosaur blockbuster was the 1925 Lost World. I’ve discussed this film before, but I think the sheer number and variety of dinosaurs puts this film on the map. I couldn’t decide on a single fight, but the cumulative action sequences are still strong. The villainous Allosaurus makes his debut killing a Trachodon at the edge of a cliff, then proceeds to threaten our heroes. He is driven off by a torch, then attacks a Triceratops family. The mother Triceratops gores him and chases him off, and he finally meets his end attacking an Agauthamas. Said Agauthamas is in turn brought down by a Tyrannosaurus. Finally, another Allosaurus battles a Brontosaurus, and the latter falls off a cliff to later be captured and brought to London. It’s very violent and fast-paced, making dinosaurs start off with excitement.

King Kong vs Tyrannosaurus (1933). King Kong is my candidate for the greatest movie ever made, and one of the highlights is the fight with Tyrannosaurus. Kong first debuts his heroism by saving Anne Darrow from a Tyrannosaurus. Willis O’brien’s animation is beautiful, as both creatures show personality, intelligence, and activity in the fight. Kong boxes and wrestles, and the combatants are always moving, always active. Kong’s victory is thrilling as he outmaneuvers the dinosaur, jumps on its back, pulls its head to the ground, and finally breaks his jaw. It’s one of the best movie scenes ever.

Tegu vs Baby Alligator(19040) In the original One Million BC, the lead couple Tumak and Loana are separated by a fight between their prehistoric neighbors. They’re not identified by name as everyone speaks “Caveman”, but I suppose they’re intended to be dinosaurs. The tegu is unadorned but the alligator sports a fin on its back to resemble a Dimetrodon. I guess considering the limitations and ignoring the animal cruelty, it’s still a visually exciting fight. It proved so successful that something like 20 films have used this fight as footage, so you have to give it at least that much credit.

Tyrannosaurus vs Stegosaurus (1940) I’ve already talked about this sequence-the animation and music are amazing, and it’s the high point of the movie for me.  Not much to say about it. It’s a beautiful scene and as iconic as Mickey commanding the stars or Chernabog summoning the minions of hell. The Stegosaurus’ death traumatized many children, including me, and that Tyrannosaur haunts all our dreams.

Godzilla vs Anguirus. (1955) This is the first Godzilla fight ever, so it’s appropriate that it’s between two dinosaurs. Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka, even in their heavy suits, fight animalistically, and the footage was sped up by director Motoyoshi Oda to give it a more frenetic feel. It’s a very exciting fight, a complete departure from the martial arts of the 70s films and the slo-motion beam shootouts of the 90s. Godzilla doesn’t punch out his enemy or blast him with his ray to kill him-he bites Anguirus on the neck as they grapple, and eventually breaks it with his jaws and teeth. It’s brutal and very natural, again a complete contrast to later fights

Triceratops vs Ceratosaurus (1966) Very few remakes completely outclass the original, but One Million Years BC is one of them.   Only one giant lizard and spider appear-the rest are animals in complete stop motion. Instead of Tumak and Loana being separated by two enlarged reptiles, they encounter a Triceratops and a Ceratosaurus. The two animals clash in the rocky desert (filmed in the Canary Islands), grappling, dodging, swishing their tails and snapping their jaws. The stop-motion is excellent and allows for careful choreography as they struggle to bring each other down. The Triceratop’s impalement of the Ceratosaurus is one of the few victories for the genus in film.

Gwangi vs Styracosaurus (1969).  Valley of Gwangi is a sadly forgotten film, despite an original setting and plot. The human characters are weak, cliché, and often prone to Western sexist and racist tropes, but Gwangi is the dinosaur version of King Kong.  Again, I plan to review this later this year, but it features an excellent battle between Gwangi and a Styracosaurus. Harryhausen originally planned Triceratops to be the antagonist, but since he had done Triceratops just 3 years earlier he decapitated his Triceratops model and placed on the distinctive skull of Styracosaurus. Like Kong, Gwangi shows his might overcoming the ceratopsian (with humans assisting, as they want Gwangi alive) in an exciting sequence coming in between several more Gwangi setpieces.

Littlefoot’s mother vs Sharptooth (1988) In this Don Bluth cartoon classic, the heart-wrenching death of the baby hero’s mother is preceded by her mortal wounding. The villain of the piece, the Tyrannosaur Sharptooth, first appears as a shadow as he attacks the heroic Apatosaurus hatchling Littlefoot and his Triceratops friend Cera. The children are rescued by his mother, and the resulting fight is brutal and violent for a children’s film. The battle even takes place during an earthquake tearing apart the ground as the sun sets. The sequence ends with Sharptooth falling into a chasm (later to be slain by Littlefoot, Cera, and their friends in the film’s climax) and Littlefoot’s mother mortally wounded. It’s a dinosaur fight not only awesome to behold, but with emotional resonance, tragedy, and between actual characters, not just monsters.

King Kong vs Vastatosaurus (2005) In the horrible 1976 King Kong remake, the dinosaurs are removed from the story. Kong has a brief unconvincing tussle with a giant snake instead, Rick Baker’s excellent suit showing its weakness and the rubber snake looking very obviously fake.  In 2005, a die hard King Kong fan finally made his remake.  Peter Jackson, a huge fan of all the action sequences from the original, made them more elaborate for his over-the-top love letter. So, for the Tyrannosaurus fight, he made all the dinosaurs evolutions of the original species (called Vastatosaurus in the literature) and had no less than three of them fighting Kong. He keeps the original motion and energy of the original sequence as both dinosaurs and gorilla are constantly in motion, Kong trying to protect himself and Ann Darrow and always fighting with her in his hand. He crushes one with a giant rock, then the fight moves out of the jungle off a cliff and into a thick tangle of vines. In a three-dimensional battle, Kong kills another. The last pursues Anne onto the plain nearby, but Kong comes to her rescue once again and finishes the dinosaur off in the same way as the original fight. It’s the highlight of the film, and the last great cinematic dinosaur battle in history.

Jurassic World, if we are lucky, will have good dinosaur action scenes, and hopefully future dinosaur films, documentaries, literature and art will keep these battles coming. For now, however, these ten sequences are high points in the century of dinosaur films.


  1. In my opinion As a paleontologist (25 years practice) These great ancient creatures Set the foundation For today's creatures As adaptation And evolution took Its course. The prehistoric skeleton is apparent In a variance of species todayNot to the extent of pre evolution But ratherPost evo Adapting to today'sLess competitive And aggressive Li predatorial species.

  2. More Stegosaurus...there is one you havent featured...its a stock motion dinosaur story featuring a lot of dinosaurs and Styracosaurus fifghting a fat T Rex. Also fire breathing Dimetrodon vs T Rex in Land of the Lost.

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  5. I always felt the Ceratosaur's death scream sounded like Billy Idol at the ending of 'White Wedding'.

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