When Jurassic World premiered in movie theaters in June 2015, it was as impactful as the bellow of a T-Rex. The long-awaited blockbuster managed to score not only the biggest June opening weekend ever but the largest North American opening weekend in history, dethroning The Avengers for that honor. This gargantuan behemoth reflected not just satisfaction with Jurassic Worldbut also long-held affection for the original Jurassic Park. Given all this success, it’s easy to forget that Jurassic Worldonce known as Jurassic Park IVwas not always a surefire thing to even exist, let alone resonate with audiences.
In fact, in the 14 years between Jurassic Park III and Jurassic WorldUniversal Pictures went through countless iterations of Jurassic Park IV. Such lengthy efforts would take this franchise down countless creative dead-ends and at times make the possibility of ever securing a gargantuan success like Jurassic World a far-fetched notion, at best.
The story of Jurassic Park IV starts, naturally, with Jurassic Park III. Two months before the film’s release, The Daily News reported that Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment had commissioned ideas for a fourth Jurassic Park installment. A spokesman for Spielberg did not 100% confirm the rumors but did say that he had heard “rumblings” similar to this news and that he was very impressed with what he’d seen on Jurassic Park III. This spokesman also reaffirmed that, much like on Jurassic Park IIISpielberg would not be helming a prospective Jurassic Park IV.
The eventual box office performance of Jurassic Park III would clinch the notion that more entries in this franchise were on the way. Granted, Jurassic Park III’s cash intake was noticeably down from its predecessors, particularly in international markets. Critical reception was noticeably mixed, with many wondering if the series was out of juice creatively. However, Jurassic Park III still did nearly four times its $ 93 million budget and ended up as both the ninth-biggest title of 2001 worldwide and the second-biggest Universal Pictures release of that year globally. Money talks the loudest in Hollywood, and even if the franchise wasn’t pulling in $ 400 + million at the box office anymore, more Jurassic Park was inevitable.
The mixed critical response to Jurassic Park III loomed large over the earliest rumors of the project, with E! Online reporting in April 2002 that Jurassic Park IV would ignore the events of its predecessor and jettison cast members from that feature contracted for multiple films, like William H. Macy. More concrete information began to surface by the end of the year, with William Monahan getting hired as the film’s screenwriter. As the script kept developing, cast members for the film started to come into focus, with Kiera Knightley confirming in 2003 that she was being eyeballed for two different parts in the prospective project.
Producer Kathleen Kennedy informed Sci-Fi Wire in July 2003 that Monahan’s Jurassic Park IV script was finished. Her comments about the project echoed a recurring sentiment that would define all early discussions about the film: this will not be like other Jurassic Park movies. Kennedy went to great pains to emphasize that the story did not take place on an island while noting that Monahan had been hired because everyone felt he could bring something fresh to the franchise. By 2004, though, Monahan would move on to other things and screenwriter John Sayles would take over penning the Jurassic Park IV screenplay.
It is with the Sayles iteration of Jurassic Park IV that we come to arguably the most famous discarded element from this project: dinosaur / human hybrids. As seen by leaked concept art, the plot of Jurassic Park IV at one point involved the creation of organisms that were both human and dinosaurs so that they could work as optimal soldiers. It would certainly have offered something new in the franchise compared to its predecessors and one wonders what on Earth these creatures would’ve looked like if they’d been brought to life with CG technology from the mid-2000s. They could’ve been terrifying for all the wrong reasons.
Interestingly, this incarnation of the project, though sounding like it came from another planet, did have some vestiges of what would become known as Jurassic World, namely that a human character in it was tasked with training raptors. With a bizarre premise in tow, Universal was moving full steam ahead on the project for a winter 2005 / summer 2006 debut. However, by April 2005, visual effects legend Stan Winston confirmed that Jurassic Park IV was being paused. Disagreements over the balance between cerebral and exciting elements in the proposed screenplays for the blockbuster had ensured that Jurassic Park IV was not going anywhere anytime soon.
The preceding few years had brought in a steady stream of updates on potential castings and script details for Jurassic Park IV. The second half of the 2000s, meanwhile, was more erratic in updates. Jurassic Park III director Joe Johnston, for example, was constantly going back and forth on whether he’d direct this new sequel. Further hardships befell the follow-up by the end of the decade with two notable losses to the saga. The first came from John Hammond performer Richard Attenborough retiring from acting in 2008. The next tragedy emerged that same year in the form of Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton passing away.
The latter death led Kennedy to say that, without Crichton around, it seemed like it might be best to let the Jurassic Park franchise lie. Immediately afterward, it appeared that Jurassic Park IV had gone as extinct as the dinosaurs themselves, with no further major updates arriving. Beyond losing key creative people in the series, the problem Jurassic Park IV constantly faced was a lack of urgency. Jurassic Park was a big-name franchise, but there were no lingering plot threads from Jurassic Park III to resolve, nor were there cliffhanger elements from earlier installments that needed to address. Meanwhile, the more mixed response to both Jurassic Park sequels ensured that the public was not banging on the doors of Universal executives for more of the franchise.
In early 2010, a ripple of life returned to the franchise when Johnston, in an interview, said that Jurassic Park IV was on the horizon. In hindsight, his comments here seem to tee up basic conceptual notions for the Jurassic World saga, as he noted that the upcoming fourth installment would take the series in a new direction, kick off a trilogy, and focus on new characters. He also noted that there was a possibility that the earlier drafts from Sayles and Monahan focusing on the human / dinosaurs going on mercenary missions could come back, though that was one part of his comments that did not end up reflecting eventual plans for the Jurassic World features.
In July 2011, Spielberg confirmed that Jurassic Park IV was back on track, with this iteration of the production eventually morphing into Collin Trevorrow’s 2015 film Jurassic World. After so many years of stopping and starting, it’s impressive they were able to get the production up and running so comparatively quickly, with only four years separating Spielberg’s confirmation and Jurassic World’s release. Part of what may have made Jurassic World easier to get through was it wasn’t quite as audacious as earlier incarnations of Jurassic Park IV. This one still took place on an island and featured several characters who served as clear parallels to figures from the original. Jurassic Park.
While the bizarre visions for Jurassic Park IV may have been difficult for studio executives to wrap their heads around, the more familiar Jurassic World likely had an easier time clicking with people and, by proxy, getting into production. Whatever the reason, Jurassic Park IV would eventually see the light of day as Jurassic World and rack up big box office bucks in the process. Nobody at Universal is complaining about a series that keep on churning out $ 1 billion-plus hits, but diehard fans of the series may always be more than a touch curious about what those earlier versions of Jurassic World would’ve looked like. After all, who does not want to see a movie starring gun-toting dinosaurs?
How to Watch ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Jurassic World’ Movies in Order (Chronologically or by Release Date)