How Jurassic Park Made 'Velociraptors' the Most Beloved Dinosaur

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Owen (Chris Pratt) with a baby Velociraptor in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. and Legendary Pictures Productions, LLC.

Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?

The question is simple and echoes through the trailer for the newest edition to the Jurassic Park franchise—dubbed Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom—which debuted on Blu-Ray and DVD September 18, 2018. The very first time I saw a dinosaur was in the movie The Land Before Time. I was six and the cartoon dinosaurs captured my attention right away. Afterwards, I remember begging my parents to take me to the local science museum to see some actual fossils. When we walked into the exhibit hall, I remember standing in awe looking up at the massive skeleton in front of me. That first dinosaur happened to be a Tyrannosaurus rex (AKA T. rex), and I could really see why Littlefoot and the gang called them sharp teeth. 

But unlike Littlefoot, I wasn’t afraid; instead, I wanted to learn as much about the lizard king as possible. I devoured every book I could get my hands on. Then, in the summer of 1993, Steven Spielberg released his ode to dinosaurs— Jurassic Park —and a new flock of dinosaurs caught my attention. But one stood out above the rest: the Velociraptor.

See 25 years ago, before the film franchise that made dinosaurs mainstream, the word Velociraptor wasn’t in my vocabulary. All of my attention was focused on my beloved T. rex, with its tiny arms and lumbering gait, but with the release of each new chapter in the Jurassic Park franchise, I could feel my loyalties switching. These stealthy, hyper-intelligent pack hunters had worked their way into my heart (and maybe my nightmares).

The T. rex is ubiquitous; you can go to practically any science museum (and even Disney World) to see a T. rex skeleton. Perhaps no dinosaur is more cherished than the T. rex. The massive carnivore embodies all that enchants us about dinosaurs: the size, ferocity and even bizarre nature. We’re so smitten with T. rex that we are continually bringing the dinosaur back to life through art and film.

In 1990, just three years before Jurassic Park was released, an incredible discovery was unearthed in Montana—a fossilized skeleton dubbed specimen FMNH PR 2081. Given the moniker SUE after the person who discovered it, FMNH PR 2081 is the most complete and best preserved T. rex skeleton ever found. SUE is on permanent display at Chicago’s Field Museum, while several casts of the remains travel around to different museums, captivating visitor’s across the country. One such cast is on permanent display outside of the dinosaur attraction at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Park in Florida. 

Revived thanks to a combination of computerized special effects and puppetry, the film’s T. rex is a muscular, agile predator. One that is far more imposing than the lumbering, tail-dragging iterations that had appeared on film before, like the sharp teeth that tormented Littlefoot and friends.

An adult Tyrannosaurs Rex robotic dinosaur. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Spielberg and the gang capitalized on the world’s love for T. rex, using their CGI wonder to help audiences fall in love with dinosaurs. Then slowly and systematically, over the next 25 years, the T. rex would step into the shadows, allowing a new (perhaps even deadlier) murderbird to take the spotlight.

Velociraptors’ presence continued to grow over the course of the next few films. We learned that these pre-historic birds of prey could open doors, hunted in packs and could even communicate with each other. But it wasn’t until the debut of Jurassic World in 2015 and the anthropomorphism of Blue—a female Velociraptor featured in the last two Jurassic World movies—that raptors really began to capture the hearts of the public.

Blue, Charlie, Delta and Echo may only be actors in motion capture suits, but in the film, they are a highly trained raptor squad able to follow commands and are used to help corral the Indominus rex—the real dino villain of the story—after it escapes. That plan is quickly thwarted as the squad learns the genetic hybrid is one of their own. However, the newly forged alliance quickly falls apart, and as the film progresses, the Indominus turns on its new raptor brethren, causing audiences to shed collective tears for each of the fallen raptors. 

Blue, the T. rex, and the Mosasaur eventually team up to form a dino hit squad, taking out the Indominus and saving the day. This scene is pretty much the only action the T. rex sees throughout the entire film, while the raptors steal the show. A switch from the first film in which the T. rex saves everyone from the Velociraptors, proving that “lizard king” is a fitting moniker for the massive predator.

Then, when the trailer for Fallen Kingdom dropped, and the world laid eyes on the baby raptor squad, that was all it took. Those fours tiny dinosaurs, led by Blue, have collectively sealed the Velociraptor’s fate as the most beloved dinosaur. Sure, the T. rex will forever be the lizard king, but right now Blue is the retail queen. And that all started with Jurassic Park.