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These Are the Dinosaurs Paleontologists Want to See in Movies

Therizinosaurus, the Edward Scissorhands of dinosaurs, is a popular contender.

Two weekends ago, Jurassic World snagged the biggest box office opening in history, and it has continued to set new commercial records ever since. The people have spoken, and understandably, they demand dinosaurs.

With that in mind, it's no shocker that sequels to the film are already rumored to be in the works, which raises an intriguing question—what new dinosaur species will star in future installments of the revived franchise? After all, Jurassic World debuted a beefed-up version of the Cretaceous swimmer Mosasaurus, as well as the entirely made-up monster Indominus rex. What will be the next species that will, to quote the movie's heroine, "up the wow factor?"

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Paleontologists are precisely the people one should consult about this quandary, so that's exactly what we've done. Read on for some expert recommendations about underrated dinosaurs that have earned themselves some screen time.

Steve Brusatte:

I suppose the franchise could go down the path of making more and more crazy genetically modified dinosaurs. If so, they could do whatever they want. A 500-foot-long flesh-chomping monster covered in rainbow fur? Sure, anything is possible when you are no longer dealing with real dinosaurs.

But hopefully, they can put some new dinosaurs on the screen. It would be really awesome if at some point they could put some serious feathers on their dinosaurs. I think the reality of dinosaurs—as monstrous fluffy scary big birds—is probably more incredible to the general public than the spectacle of Indominus rex.

I would also love to see Deinocheirus. Also, Gigantoraptor. And Dreadnoughtus. And how about some of the smallest dinosaurs like Fruitadens and Hesperonychus? They would have been nasty little buggers.

I suppose my ultimate dream is to see one of my dinosaurs on the big-screen. One of the beasts that I helped to discover or describe. Things like Qianzhousaurus (Pinocchio rex). That would be a career highlight that I don't think I could ever top

BBC feature on "Pinocchio rex." Image: BBC/LiveTV/YouTube

Steve Brusatte is a University of Edinburgh paleontologist who has studied Scotland's Jurassic sea monsters, the evolution of early avian dinosaurs, and the bad timing of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, among many other things. He also helped discover Qianzhousaurus sinensis, and appeared in the recent National Geographic special T. rex Autopsy.

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Lindsay Zanno:

If Jurassic World is looking for an awesome new dinosaur to feature, I'd recommend casting the enormous feathered theropod, Therizinosaurus. This bizarre beastie holds the record for the longest claws of any animal to have walked the planet, or in this guy's case, lumbered.

Therizinosaurus had a tiny beaked head, long ostrich-like neck, a gorilla-sized pot belly, and broad four toed feet. Fully cloaked in feathers, waving four-foot-long, scythe-shaped claws on its hands, and topping the scales at over 13,000 lbs, Therizinosaurus would must have been an amazing sight to see.

Lindsay Zanno is the head of paleontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the director of the Zanno Lab. She recently described Carnufex carolinensis, a new species of Triassic carnivore, in a paper published in Scientific Reports.

Caleb Brown:

A therizinosaur would be amazing to see in a Jurassic World movie. We've recently gained a lot of understanding about what this animal actually looked like. It was a mystery for a long time, but we now really know—especially in the case of Deinocheirus—so it would be really cool to see that one portrayed on film.

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Also, whenever you see a horned dinosaur in a movie, it's almost always Triceratops. Everyone knows Triceratops. But there's a huge diversity of other horned dinosaurs out there that have a great variety of horns, frills, and different adornments on their skull. Some of the most dramatic ones are Regaliceratops [which Brown described in a recent paper], or Styracosaurus.

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One of the other things that would be great to see—which we briefly saw in The Lost World: Jurassic Park—is Pachycephalosaurus. Those are the dome-headed guys. It would be really cool to see something like Dracorex, which has spikes all the way around its head—a really weird-looking animal that has a great name, as well. [Indeed, the holotype species is named Dracorex hogwartsia after the Harry Potter series].

Another possibility would be Giganotosaurus, which is a large theropod from Argentina, or Carcharodontosaurus, which is from Africa. Though they are about the size of a T-Rex, they are designed differently. Their teeth are better for cutting flesh as opposed to crushing bone. If they wanted to have more of a "battle of the titans" thing, those are two very good candidates.

There's also a bit of a bias in Jurassic Park, of course, because it's the scary ones that get the screentime. But I think the hadrosaurs, the duck-billed dinosaurs, haven't been given the attention they should. They have a huge amount of crests and processes coming off of their skull, and are very impressive looking animals that you don't see very much highlighted in the films. They are always in the background—never a highlight.

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[With regard to the more passive role of herbivores in the film] Some of the most dangerous animals that we have alive today are not carnivores. Look at what happens when people approach young bison in Yellowstone, or hippos in Africa.

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Those are just animals that are defending their territory and they can be quite dangerous. I suspect something very similar would happen with the horned dinosaurs, with the armored dinosaurs, and with the hadrosaurs as well.

[On the idea of making new dinosaurs] The thing that some paleontologists are kind of a bit sensitive about is that, especially in the most recent movie, they are not using known dinosaurs anymore. They have started making up their own. Apparently, the ones that we find and describe aren't necessarily exciting enough. But the cool thing is that there is a huge number of really cool, really weird dinosaurs that could be included [such as Amargasaurus, Oryctodromeus, or Masiakasaurus].

The moral of the story is that there are so many fascinating and bizarre dinosaurs that actually existed, that we don't need to worry about making up new ones.

Caleb Brown is a paleontologist based at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Canada. He led the team that recently described the extraordinary new species of horned dinosaur Regaliceratops peterhewsi.

Ryan Carney:

I fully admit that I'm biased, since my organism of study is Archaeopteryx. But I can also say that the reasons that I'm fascinated with this flying Jurassic dinosaur are the same reasons why it would make the perfect addition to the prehistoric menagerie of a Jurassic World sequel.

The first reason is the historical and scientific significance of Archaeopteryx. In 1861, fossils were discovered in Germany that were the perfect embodiment of a so-called "missing link," presaged by [Charles] Darwin just two years earlier in The Origin of Species. This crow-sized Archaeopteryx displayed a mosaic of both bird-like and reptilian features: Plumage with modern feathers, but also clawed fingers on its wings, teeth in its mouth, and a long bony tail.

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Indeed, these 150 million year old fossils seemed to capture a special moment in time, an intermediate link from one major group to another—from dinosaurs to birds. In turn, this creature was considered to be the first flying dinosaur and earliest bird known. Ultimately, Archaeopteryx became an icon of evolution, and arguably the most important fossil in the world. Yet, it has been completely ignored in all four movies of the Jurassic Park franchise. A missing link indeed.

The second reason is that Archaeopteryx remains the best example for illustrating this dinosaur-bird connection, one of the great and captivating stories in evolution. Personally, it was Archaeopteryx and the evolution of flight—and yes, also Jurassic Park—that inspired me to become a paleontologist!

To be fair, the beginning of Jurassic World does cleverly allude to this evolutionary relationship with a close-up shot of a crow's foot. But the cool fact that birds are dinosaurs was never made explicit, nor was this evolutionary transition explained or illustrated with any dinosaur examples. And of course there's also the infamous decision not to put feathers on any of the dinosaurs.

While this may maintain cinematic continuity, it does do a disservice to the scientific advances made over the past 22 years. That omission was a lost opportunity, and broke tradition from the original movie's strength of integrating cutting-edge paleontological knowledge (with some exceptions). At least with Archaeopteryx, a future film would be able to introduce the animal in fully feathered finery.

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Lastly, we already have a scientifically accurate picture of what Archaeopteryx actually looked like. Specifically, we know exactly what the shape of the plumage looked like on its wings, tail, and legs, and we even know that at least some of its feathers were originally matte black in color.

Additionally, we now know that Archaeopteryx even had a smaller version of the killer claw made famous by the "velociraptors" that "retractable claw, like a razor, on the middle toe," to quote Dr. Alan Grant.

Ultimately, depicting a claw-wielding and crow-looking Archaeopteryx would not only link these two references from Jurassic Park and Jurassic World. It would also finally bring this iconic fossil link back to life, and accurately portray the evolutionary connection between the dinosaurs we see on the screen, and the dinosaurs we see in the sky.

Ryan Carney is a PhD candidate in evolutionary biology at Brown University, and the lead author of a Nature study about Archaeopteryx feather color. His research will be featured in the upcoming traveling exhibit Dinosaurs Take Flight: The Art of Archeopteryx.

Feature about giant ground sloths. Image: BBC/YouTube

Given the wealth of fascinating, under-represented dinosaurs that these paleontologists nominated for the cinematic treatment, Jurassic World sequels should have no trouble finding new stars for the franchise.

Furthermore, it might be interesting to include extinct species from other time periods, because the Mesozoic definitely doesn't have a monopoly on producing captivating creatures. To that point, I asked paleontologist Grant Zazula, who specializes in Pleistocene animals like mastodons and Western camels, what kinds of species he'd like to see on screen.

"A Jefferson's ground sloth would be awesome," he said, referencing a massive extinct animal that weighed about 1,000 kilograms. Zazula also nominated giant beavers, which were about the size of modern black bears, as well scimitar cats—an extinct feline decked out with serrated fangs. Clearly, Universal Pictures would have a lot work with if it ever considers a "Pleistocene Park" spinoff series.

But regardless of what direction the franchise takes in the future, Jurassic World's success is a testament to the perennial public interest in bygone ecosystems. Making up fake dinosaurs is inventive and all, but Universal would be wise to listen to the sage words of its new protagonist.

"They're dinosaurs," notes Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), early in the film. "Wow enough."