Audiences love a franchise sequel. It is the foundation of the 21st-century moviemaking landscape, and every studio wants to get their hands on a serialized film franchise, where each installment is looked at just like a piece of a bigger, continuous story and guarantees a committed and paying fanbase.
The Star Wars saga returned in 1999 to continue the beloved Skywalker saga, and by 2001, the trend had taken hold with theHarry Potterand The Lord of the Ringsfilms kicking off the juggernaut franchises they would become. Sam Raimi’sSpider-Man trilogy soon followed, helping pave the way for the MCU, and the pattern continues with almost every major film series—including the Jurassic Park franchise.
Audiences love and crave interconnected series rather than a film that stands alone as a sequel, which is why Jurassic Park III feels like the awkward younger sibling your mom forces you to take with you everywhere. But looking back at the film and the experience it takes you on in the current moviemaking climate, you can’t help but appreciate its existence. Let's take a deeper look.
How Jurassic Park III stands on its own
At the time of its release, Jurassic Park III was a standalone franchise sequel that became the least financially successful installment of the whole series at the box office, leading to a 14-year hiatus before Jurassic World brought the franchise back from the grave. The biggest downturn for the franchise in 2001 was timing—the culture of the blockbusters had changed, and Jurassic Park III couldn’t deliver what audiences wanted.
Without any more Crichton novels to base the films on, Jurassic Park III was free to wander down its own course. The sequel was a briskly-paced, self-contained, family-friendly creature-feature—that admittedly I can’t help but love. It left the door cracked for future installments without expressing any desire to move forward with these characters’ narratives.
With a 92-minute runtime and budget of $93 million, director Joe Johnston made a sequel that delivered something familiar, yet different. While it wasn't a perfect film by any means, it was deeply concerned with itself and what it could achieve with its original premise.
Unlike the first two Jurassic Park films and the new Jurassic World: Dominion, Jurassic Park III isn’t about Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) even though he is the main character throughout the film. Instead, the story is focused on the survival of a family, the Kirbys, that has fallen apart while Grant spends most of the time trying to keep his clients alive as they try to save their son from the island. As the dinosaurs threaten lives, Jurassic Park III reminds us that nothing is more important than family and being there for the ones you love in the end.
This idea is brought home as Grant gives the raptors back the egg they’d been desperately searching for throughout the film.
Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant in 'Jurassic Park III'Credit: Universal Pictures
Everything is resolved by the end of this family action-drama, which was a nice change of pace for a franchise that wanted to keep the story going. There was no clear place to go at the end of Jurassic Park III, and that is a satisfying place to be at the end of any film.
Another way Jurassic Park III changed the conventions of the franchises was by switching the antagonist from the T-Rex to a bigger and badder dinosaur. Audiences were reminded that they might be somewhere they once knew, but things are not the same. As a filmmaker, the freedom to subvert expectations by creating a story beyond familiarity while still adhering to series conventions is exciting and freeing.
Jurassic Park III takes this warped familiarity by bringing us back to the park, which has fallen into a decrepit state. There is something dangerous about this once exciting and colorful world. The horror is no longer just about the creatures. Their newfound dominance of the park shows us that man no longer is needed. Instead of returning time and time again to marvel at these creatures that should exist in the modern world, Jurassic Park III tells us that it's time to let the dinosaurs live freely and unbothered. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdomplays into this idea of nature reclaiming itself, but fails to do anything new with the idea because of its commitment to the series.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Grant’s campy dream sequence on the plane that revealed why he is no longer needed in the franchise. Grant is beyond traumatized and needs to leave the past behind so he can move forward or die at the claws of a raptor.
Why make a sequel?
When it comes to making a sequel, it’s important to ask why a sequel is being made. Is it to make money by retelling the same story over and over again, or is it to bring the characters' narratives to a conclusion while telling an original story in a familiar world? Why create something that’s already been done?
Jurassic Park III is a fun, contained ride, and there is something refreshing about that. It is cheesy, heartwarming, and full of tension, which is the same reason why Top Gun: Maverickis such a fun watch as well. Audiences don’t need to commit to watching the previous film(s) to understand what is happening.
That’s the fun of watching movies like the Jurassic franchise. We just want to be entertained and have some emotional stakes to the story without committing to the world.
These films don’t rely on the past. Instead, they tip their hat to their predecessor, dip their toes into the pool of nostalgia, and then create their own original premise and explore a new part of their world.
Will Jurassic World: Dominion be a standalone sequel that helps aid the changing landscape of moviemaking, or will it feed into the vicious IP machine? Have you seen the film? What do you think?
What are some of your favorite standalone sequels? Let us know why you love them in the comments!