The 17 Best Pop-Culture Dinosaur Cameos
Obviously dinosaur buffs glory in such primordial favorites as The Lost World, King Kong, The Valley of Gwangi, One Million Years B.C. and the Jurassic Park movies. But there’s another, hardcore level of dino-nerdom for whom even a scrap of stock footage on a sitcom, even an allegorical dinosaur in a political cartoon, indeed, even the little green brontosaurus on the sign of a Sinclair gas station is a sweet breath of muggy Mesozoic air. Such scavengers may even find ourselves watching for the nearly subliminal dinosaurs in the opening of The Big Bang Theory.
So, with Jurassic World opening, let’s acknowledge a few of the dinosaurs who turned up for just a scene, or maybe even just a tantalizing glimpse, in movies – or TV shows, or comics, or whatever – that weren’t really properly of the dinosaur genre:
17. Trog’s Dream
Even if it didn’t have dinosaurs, the 1970 melodrama Trog, about a cave man running amok in modern England, would be priceless. It features Joan Crawford at her most un-ironic and earnest as the scientist in charge, Michael Gough at his nastiest as the bad guy, and hilarious dialogue.
But…it also has dinosaurs! In a dream sequence we get to see Trog’s memories of his younger days, back in that prehistoric epoch during which, you know, dinosaurs and cavemen coexisted. These memories are provided courtesy of footage from the wonderful stop-motion dinosaur scenes crafted by Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen for Irwin Allen’s 1956 nature documentary The Animal World.
This sequence was also the source for the “Prehistoric Animals” View Master slides, and as such even makes a cheeky cameo in Jurassic World.
16. Pee-wee’s Dream
In Tim Burton’s 1985 comedy classic Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, the title character interrupts his quest to recover his beloved missing bike to have a heartfelt conversation with Simone the waitress (Diane Salinger). This tete-a-tete takes place inside a third tete – that of the familiar, portly predatory dinosaur that stands vigil alongside I-10 at Cabazon, California, just west of Palm Springs (this icon of roadside Americana is, along with its sauropod neighbor, currently part of a creationist attraction).
The titanic tourist trap obviously makes a strong impression on poor Pee-wee’s psyche, as a little later, it shows up in a terrifying bike-related nightmare.
15. My Science Project
Less fondly remembered among 1985 comedies, this one concerned a high school kid (John Stockwell) discovering an extraterrestrial “gizmo” and inadvertently using it to open a hole in the fabric of time. It’s not much of a movie, but it has, along with Dennis Hopper as an ex-hippie science teacher, a pretty respectable T-Rex who wanders out of the Cretaceous and into the gymnasium to do battle with the ’80s-era high school douchebags.
Tragically, the latter faction prevails.
14. “Curse Your Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal!”
Pilot “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk) on Firefly liked to pass the time at the helm of the Serenity by playing with toy dinosaurs. Most memorable was the following exchange between his stegosaurus and his carnosaur:
Stegosaurus: This is a fertile land and we will thrive…We will rule over all this land, and we will call it…This Land.
Carnosaur: I think we should call it…your grave!
Stegosaurus: Ah, curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!
…at which point the predatory beast attacks.
The herbivorous dinosaur’s curse became, among the show’s fans, one of the unlikelier catch phrases of recent years, as this bit of time-killing improvisational puppet theatre took on a life of its own through the medium of T-shirts. I was quite unfamiliar with it when a friend made me a gift of such a garment depicting the two dinosaurs, with the lament in a word balloon over the stegosaur’s head:
I was, I admit, fairly perplexed.
13. The Tree of Life
It’s not like this 2011 Terence Malick epic was ambitious or anything. It just takes on the Meaning of Life. Alongside the elliptical family drama featuring Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, this Tree‘s most curious branch is a lengthy special effects sequence, with which Malick was reportedly assisted by Douglas Trumbull of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame, featuring the Creation of the Universe and the Rise of Life, from nascent planets and belching volcanoes to pulsing cytoplasm and wriggling worms…
Also plesiosaurs. Yes, one minute we’re watching mid-century Texan emotional dysfunction, and all of a sudden we’re watching a beached plesiosaur nursing a wound in its side, or a young dinosaur, maybe sick, maybe starving, lying in a creek bed while a second, predatory dinosaur approaches, steps on its face a time or two, and then wanders away, seemingly indifferent even to the poor creature’s vulnerability.
And why are we seeing all this, you may ask? Because, of course, Terence Malick.
12. Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Among the greatest of all pop-culture time travelers are the hands-on historical revisionist canine with the specs and the clipped Boston-Brahmin accent, and his loyal and enthusiastic adopted boy sidekick. Two of the three openings to their Peabody’s Improbable History cartoons feature glimpses of dinosaurs.
11. Aurora’s Cave
In the original release box of this model kit, part of Aurora’s “Prehistoric Scenes” series of the early ’70s, we see a green allosaurus leering into the entrance, undoubtedly looking for some unfortunate tasty Neanderthals or Cro-Magnons to snack on (cavemen, as is well known, were among the favorite prey of carnivorous dinosaurs). The only difficulty with this is that the kit contained no such predator. The slobbering dino was sold separately. His absence from the Cave kit no doubt pissed off young model buyers, and the resulting indignant whining no doubt pissed off parents.
So, in subsequent years, the box looked like this:
Presumably the creature gave up when he realized nobody was home, and left.
The styracosaurus has had a limited screen career. Cut from the original version of King Kong, the multi-horned ceratopsian turned up in Son of Kong and Valley of Gwangi, briefly both times.
The noble beast also turns up as Scrotty, one of the dizzying array of characters in the doggedly whimsical, baffling-to-non-players game Banjo-Tooie, the sequel to Banjo-Kazooie (she can be seen at 6:45 in the clip above). It is, though supporting, a juicy role: that of a single mother.
9. Korg’s Carlton Covers
Despite some low-budget risibility, Korg 70,000 B.C., 1974’s short-lived Saturday morning show on ABC, had a degree of scientific integrity in its presentation of Neanderthal life. It would not have resorted to showing us prehistoric humans co-existing with dinosaurs.
The tie-in comic (1975-76) from Carlton, however, felt no such compunction. The covers of at least two of the title’s nine issues showed Korg and clan encountering anachronistic prehistoric fauna. A couple of them featured robots and aliens, too.
8. Spider-Man vs. T-Rex
In The Amazing Spider-Man: Adventures in Reading, a Marvel freebie from 1991, a villain called The Troglodyte uses a ray gun to transport Spidey and some disadvantaged teen pals directly into the settings and plots of famous books – War of the Worlds by Wells, Kipling’s Jungle Book, Scott’s Ivanhoe, That Was Then, This is Now by S. E. Hinton and Doyle’s The Lost World. It’s there that, on page 5, the gang is briefly pursued by a T-Rex, whose bellow, apparently uncertain, is rendered as “GRONK?!” Maybe he doesn’t see guys in red-and-blue tights every day. The Web-head manages the threat expeditiously (and humanely) by shooting his webbing into the beast’s eyes (THWIP!) and assuring him that it will dissolve harmlessly in a half-hour.
The comic, designed to encourage reading, begins with a message from then-First Lady Barbara Bush which asserts, in part: “The President and I believe that improved literacy is one of America’s greatest needs, and that we can fill that need by working together. The building of a more literate America has to go on everywhere – in our workplaces, our homes, and our schools…So if you know young people, or adults, who have problems with this or any book, make sure they get special help. We will all share in the benefit of their learning.“
Commie thinking like this would not, of course, be tolerated today.
7. James A. Michener’s Diplodocus
So let’s say that First Lady Bush and Spider-Man have successfully prevailed upon you to become a voracious reader, and you sit down with James A. Michener’s 1974 doorstopper Centennial, a sprawling epic about the turbulent history of a fictitious Colorado town. You’d probably expect the drama about the Arapahos and the trappers and the cowboys and the buffalo hunters and so forth.
You’d be less likely to expect a lengthy chapter, toward the beginning, detailing the fate of a female diplodocus, an enormous sauropod dinosaur that has been found abundantly in the fossil record of the region. But that’s what you’d get. It’s quite possible that the rest of Centennial is rich in literary merit, but I couldn’t tell you, as this is the only part I ever read, when I stumbled across it published as an excerpt, “Life and Death of the Dinosaur,” in the November 1974 issue of Reader’s Digest.
Being a popular novelist, Michener is careful to give us some sex: “They approached each other slowly, poling themselves along the bottom of the swamp, and when they met they rubbed necks together. She came close to him, and the little mammal watched as the two giant creatures coupled in the water, their massive bodies intertwined in unbelievable complexity. When he rutted he simply climbed on the back of his mate, locking his forepaws about her, and concluded his mating in seven seconds.“
Well, that’s a bit disappointing, perhaps. But Michener goes on to note that “The two reptiles remained locked together most of the forenoon.” So at least male diplodoci knew how to cuddle.
6. The Sound of Horror
OK, this one admittedly strains our premise a bit, as a dinosaur is the main antagonist of this 1964 shocker. But this dinosaur is still only fleetingly glimpsed, because, you see…it’s an invisible dinosaur. And like Claude Rains in the Universal version of The Invisible Man, the monster becomes fully visible only (and not very convincingly) in the final minute of the picture.
This, presumably, is why this Spanish production, shot in Greece (it was the film debut of the glorious Ingrid Pitt) isn’t called The Sight of Horror. But what the phantom fossil lacks visually, it more than makes up for vocally. Turns out that the sound of horror is a slightly louder and more drawn-out version of the sound a cat makes having sex outside your window at 4 a.m.
5. The Twilight Zone (1)
At the end of Act One of “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” from the 1961 season of the revered anthology show, a flight from London to New York drops out of the clouds to find Manhattan Island a jungle. Not an urban jungle, you understand, a literal jungle. The flight crew realizes they’ve passed through a time warp when they look down and see, browsing among the vegetation, a gigantic brontosaurus.
This creature appears (at 16:03), for a few glorious seconds of black-and-white stop-motion, gazing up in equal perplexity at the metal pterodactyl flying overhead. It’s the second acting credit for the bronto, who previously appeared in the amusing 1960 color feature Dinosaurus! The tyrannosaurus who costarred in that film also turned up for a stock footage cameo in a episode of Gilligan’s Island, in which Gilligan dreams himself and his fellow castaways as cave people, a distinct evolutionary uptick for most of them.
4. The Twilight Zone (2)
In “It’s a Good Life,” Rod Serling’s chillingly oppressive TZ adaptation of the Jerome Bixby short story, Billy Mumy plays Anthony, a little boy with omnipotent psychokinetic powers who keeps the handful of grownups in his family in a terrified state of cheerful agreement with whatever he does, lest they be pronounced “bad” and sent “to the cornfield.”
At one point (10:57 above) we see the grownups gathered around the TV, watching what Anthony has programmed: a bloody triceratops duel from the 1951 adventure The Lost Continent. “That’s all the television there is!” he declares, as one ceratopsian shoves the other off a cliff, and Anthony’s relatives enthusiastically assert that it’s much than the old TV. Sadly, there are those of us who, at Anthony’s age (and maybe even as adults) might tend to agree.
3. Cardiff Kook
Officially titled Magic Carpet Ride, the Kook is a bronze statue of a surfer in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, reportedly much-loathed by the surfing community there because of his undignified beginning surfer’s pose, and often the target of pranks. In 2011 he was placed in caveman drag and menaced by a swooping pterodactyl and pursuing dinosaurs.
As pranks go, this one was pretty spectacular. It even included a backdrop with an erupting volcano. Hodad or not, The Kook appears to have outsurfed all of these perils.
2. Dino Alley
The Chiodo Brothers have provided pungently characterized animation and puppetry for everything from the Critters films to Tales from the Hood to The Simpsons to Sabrina the Teenage Witch. These bros clearly have a special soft spot for the Mesozoic reptiles, having created creatures ranging from Lily, the animatronic parasaurolophus at the Santa Barbara Zoo, to the number one dinosaur on this list.
But the punkish dinosaur delinquent featured, fleetingly and furtively, in the studio’s atmospheric logo is one of their best creations. This startling minute of film took First Place at the Los Angeles International Animation Festival in 1985.
Work like this led the Chiodos to such triumphs as…
1. 6000 SUX
For a long time the word “dinosaur” meant something extinct or outmoded, as when the mealy-mouthed captain said “You’re a dinosaur, Callahan!” to Dirty Harry. But that sense of the word may well be fading, as paleontology teaches us how dynamic and successful these creatures were, and how many hundreds of millions of years we would have to survive as a species to justify the slightest condescension toward them.
But the stop-motion dinosaur that turns up in a fake TV ad in the middle of the original 1987 Robocop, symbolizing a conspicuously gas-consumptive car, is a classic specimen of the dinosaur as conservative relic. It’s also a briefly-glimpsed doozy of a dino, bursting with all the personality that the Chiodo Brothers instill into their creature effects. 6000 SUX recalls Harryhausen’s “Rhedosaur” from The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, but, like a good fuel hog, he seems less irritable, more mischievously pleased with himself.
Sadly, if Detroit tried to sell the 6000 SUX today, they probably wouldn’t find the market extinct.
Previously by M.V. Moorhead:
The 18 Strangest Versions of Dracula