troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Prehistoric Monster
Would Allosaurus have any hope to become the new WWF icon?

This series tells the extraordinary story of life before the dinosaurs, a time when strange and savage creatures forth a ruthless battle to rule the Earth. [...] This is Life's forgotten story, an epic war for our world. A war between MONSTERS.
— Extracted from Walking With Monsters trailer

A subtrope of What Measure Is a Non-Cute?

A prehistoric/extinct animal which is portrayed as more powerful, dangerous and/or deadly (if not also dumber) than any still-living equivalent to the point where they cease being an animal and becomes a marauding monster.

Sometimes, if you are a prehistoric/extinct animal you'll be automatically qualified to be a Prehistoric Monster. Even though you're small and would appear cute and harmless to modern humans. Even though you are closely related to modern animals that are commonly regarded as beautiful and majestic. Even though all extinct species were well adapted to their environment in the period they were around, otherwise they would have never appeared in our planet. Even though the only real difference between prehistoric and modern animals is that the former didn't have the fortune (or misfortune) to know modern humans, and if they were still alive today they will probably be considered "charismatic megafauna" and hailed by conservationists as modern animals are.

This trope has been with us since the very first paleontological discoveries at the start of 1800: a lot of old paleo-art portrayed prehistoric worlds filled with nothing but monstrous creatures that fight each other, followed soon by popular writers and then film-makers that consolidated the trope (see Dinosaurs Are Dragons for more about this). The fact we don't exactly know how extinct animals behaved (and even looked precisely) has contributed to make them appearing mysterious, and we humans have the silly habit to qualify every unknown creature as a horrible "monster" (see Loch Ness and Yeti examples).

Interesting to note that certain modern animals have (or had) such a reputation in media as well: giant squids, anacondas, great white sharks, bats, tarantulas, scorpions, and so on. As well as gorillas, whales, and other giant mammals, but these examples are now usually discredited, because Most Writers Are Mammals. However, even these misunderstood animals have the concrete possibility to be portrayed in a more positive manner because they are still-living, and thus they may get a consideration among animal rights and/or environmental groups in Real Life; an impossible thing for creatures which are already extinct. Thus, nobody (except perhaps some paleontologists and paleo-fans) normally complains when hearing things such as Stegosaurus, Woolly Mammoths, Pteranodons and Trilobites qualified as "scary monsters" in Prehistoria -related stories (and with their appearance modified to make them look scary).

Even though in Fictionland all this could be justified by Rule of Scary, the major problem is another: even popular-science works such as documentaries or non-narrative books often do play straight this trope. Many modern paleo-artists tend to do this in a subtle way, depicting their dinosaurs, pterosaurs, mammals, fish, invertebrates and whatnot as nasty as allowed by scientific accuracy: the fact that the skin texture/color and, above all, the appearance of the eyes are almost always unknown, all this allows imagination to travel freely, of course. Just for example, compare this Compsognathus with this one, and guess which plays it straight and which averts it. When a watcher see such depictions, he usually has nothing to say against the Darker and Edgier varieties since they still remain anatomically accurate (useless to say that Rule of Cool plays a strong role).

Some people might see this trope a bit more excusable than What Measure Is a Non-Cute? however. This because modern animals are often persecuted by humans in Real Life, and their portrayal in fiction may affect negatively their public image and thus all the efforts to protect them; while extinct animals may get considered expendable by writers since they don't live alongside us in our modern world, so the same aforementioned moral issues cannot be applied to them.

Of course there are also popular works which tend to avert this trope, especially in the last decades, in part thanks to the influence from popular documentaries like Walking With: no doubt however the traditional "prehistoric = monstrous" thing is all but a Dead Horse Trope even today. It's worth noting at this point that Prehistoric Monster may be considered a subtrope of Artistic License - Paleontology only when anatomical inaccuracies are present as well. If extinct critters are portrayed in an unpleasant but still scientifically acceptable way (at least in respect to the knowledge of the time the work was created), it may be qualified more as a subtrope of Rule of Cool.

See also Dinosaurs Are Dragons, Reptiles Are Abhorrent, Everything Is Trying to Kill You and Our Monsters Are Different. If you want to see some Real Life infos about extinct critters, see here. For a popular way of averting this, see Domesticated Dinosaurs.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • Nissin Cup Noodle advertisements feature many oversized ancient animals that either want to eat humans, or feel the urge to be utter jerks to them.

    Anime And Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The comic series The War that Time Forgot featured prehistoric monsters capable of battling humans with World War II level armaments — and WINNING.
    • This idea is expanded on for DC: The New Frontier as "Dinosaur Island" turns out to be an Eldritch Abomination that spawns the Prehistoric Monsters as a natural defense and ready made army. It's later revealed that the entity, "The Centre", is known better by comic fans as Starro the Conquerer.
  • The Savage Land in Marvel Comics is loaded with Stock Dinosaurs that are these half the time.

    Documentary 
  • The documentary series Walking With...' played straight the trope in two cases (Walking With Monsters and Sea Monsters), but averted it in most part of the series: the original Walking With Dinosaurs, Walking With Beasts, Ballad of Big Al, but above all Prehistoric Park. In this spinoff prehistoric animals are described as "something which is missing in our world, amazing animals that time has left behind" and worth to be brought to life; moreover, they show up later in the park alongside their living relatives (Martha the mammoth with african elephants, dinosaurs with birds and crocodiles, sabre-toothed cat with cheetahs and so on). Here the discrimination between extinct and non-extinct animal is totally absent (a very rare example in media). The trope is even inverted in one case: keeper Bob being affectionate with the giant millipede relative Arthropleura and saying "this is not like spiders and other small modern creepy-crawlies, this is a proper animal".
    • It's worth noting the accompanying book "A Natural History" has a Darker and Edgier tone when talking about the same arguments portrayed in the TV show WWD.
    • Moreover, many WWD imitations portray prehistoric critters (not only dinosaurs) as nothing but ever-fighting brutes often with altered look to make them scarier: Jurassic Fight Club and Animal Armageddon are two main examples.
    • The Truth About Killer Dinosaurs may be counted as another example. Paleontology never tells actual "truths", it is more like an educated guesswork... maybe we will never be certain about how T. rex and raptors hunted their prey.
    • When Dinosaurs Roamed America and Dinosaur Planet tend to represent dinosaurs in a more realistic way than the aforementioned shows, and thus seem more related to the original documentation purpose which led WWD producers initially (even though certain scenes from WDRA look more violent than those from the BBC docu, while DP dinos seem a bit too humanized in their actions and feelings).
    • Subverted somewhat in the Walking With Dinosaurs spinoff Sea Monsters: the show's presenter Nigel Marven tends to describe the creatures as "spectacular" (the Cymbospondylus) or "awe-inspiring" (the Liopleurodon) as often as he describes them as monsters.
  • Monsters Resurrected plays this painfully straight — it's even in the title! The most notorious example may be the Spinosaurus, compared to which even Jurassic Park III's depiction of the animal could be considered realistic.
  • Dinosaur Revolution subverts this trope: The animals act more like cartoon chracters rather than savage monsters and Noisy Nature is averted. That said, this trope is played straight with the Saurosuchus and Torvosaurus.
    • Noisy Nature is also played straight (and arguably parodied) with the Torvosaurus, who just loves to show off his Mighty Roar
  • Walter Cronkite's documentary "Dinosaur!" (1990) plays it straight several times during the four episodes (especially the first one), and some puppetry scenes involving predatory dinosaurs hunting their prey may appear as Nightmare Fuel for some people. However it averts it in the last two episodes, where dinos are described in a more positive way, as intelligent, caring creatures.
  • The Hunt for Chinese Dinosaurs provides an example of Lampshade Hanging of the trope: dinosaurs are called dragons from the start to the end, but the narrator does specify at one point that this makes part of the cultural tradition of both Western and Eastern world.
  • The Italian documentary Planet Of Dinosaurs (1993) averts this trope completely: dinosaurs here are never called monsters, and are instead genuine animals with social attitudes and colorful design (anticipating Walking with Dinosaurs six years before). At the end of the last episode (which tells about their extinction), they are described as "extraordinary animals that deserve to be remembered in their best moments, when filled the Earth with their strength and their vitality".
    • Interestingly, this series has also an accompanying book with a slighty Darker and Edgier style, just like the aforementioned "A Natural History".

    Film 
  • The first live action dinosaur film, Brute Force (1914) started the tradition with a battle between a caveman and a Ceratosaurus.
  • 1925's The Lost World features the earliest Kaiju attack — a Brontosaurus that goes on the rampage in downtown London with little provocation. At least it doesn't try to eat anyone.
  • King Kong - Skull island is full of nothing but Prehistoric Monsters. Both the original (1933) and Peter Jackson's (2005).
  • 1948's Special Effects Failure laden Unknown Island sports a Flesh-Eating Giant Ground Sloth and its Ceratosaurs are relentless predators.
    • Recent studies suggest some ground sloths may have eaten carrion as well as plants (but they certainly weren't active predators).
  • The Rhedosaurs from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and the Paleosaurus of The Giant Behemoth (1959) are the iconic images of what people think of when they think "Prehistoric Monster" (aside from Godzilla, see below).
  • Godzilla and many other Kaiju are real or fictional Dinosaurs—and not all of them are mutated by radiation to be 150+ft long.
    • Godzilla later subverts this in his later film appearances. He's shown as being rather intelligent (Generally about as smart as an ape) and as being a loving and protective father.
  • 1960's Dinosaurus has a T. Rex which acts like a rampaging monster. The T. rex then fights a Crane. Really!
  • 1966's One Million Years BC (the image above comes from it) plays this trope as straight as possible. Here dinosaurs and other animals all seem to do nothing else but fight each other and menace cavemen (which are portrayed as the classic, prehistoric brutish savages; this trope may be applied to prehistoric and modern humans as well other than to beasts).
  • 1968's The Lost Continent has most of its monsters think humans are tasty.
  • 1977's The Last Dinosaur has a Great White Hunter battle a Prehistoric Monster type T. Rex.
  • 1977's The Crater Lake Monster features a semi-aquatic plesiosaur that eats cattle and humans.
  • 1978's Most of the large animals in Planet of the Dinosaurs are extremely dangerous. The T. Rex in this film acts like Jason Voorhees with a busted Calender. To him, every day is Friday the 13th.
  • 1988's The Land Before Time may be count as one of the first aversions in Movieland. Here the main characters are thinking dinosaurs trying to reach the Great Valley with the Power of Friendship; however the villain Sharptooth is one of the most ferocious T. rexes ever heard, although tyrannosaurs, interestingly, become humanized and even friendly in the Lighter and Softer sequels (Chomper). Also note the Fantastic Racism that permeates some adult herbivorous dinosaurs (most notably Cera's father and sometimes his daughter herself).
  • 1993's Jurassic Park film and its two 1997/2001's sequels seems to zigzaging this trope a lot. For example, in the first movie Alan Grant tells to a young boy that Velociraptors are scary killers, but much later he responds to Lex that carnivores behave only by nature. Furthermore, dinosaurs in this film are described as both terrible and attractive, with predators that correspond more to the former image and the herbivores to the latter (with the sick Triceratops being the best example). Interesting to note that the only one time in which a character calls the dinosaurs as "monsters" (Lex with the brachiosaurs), Alan says "These are NOT monsters, these're animals!".
    • However, in the two continuations the cloned animals appear more frightening altogether, and more like Everything Trying to Kill You: see the difference between the Triceratopses' attitude in Jurassic Park 1 and Jurassic Park 2. The scariest example, however, may be the tiny Compsognathuses acting as two-legged piranhas, tearing chunks of flesh from a human and devouring him alive. While in Real Life the "compies" will be not more dangerous than house cats.
    • Alan himself later refers to the dinosaurs as "genetically engineered theme park monsters" in Jurassic Park III. It appears to be justified however, since the paleontologist seems referring to the dissonance between real dinos and JP creations rather than the nature of prehistoric animals.
    • The Triceratops behavioral contrast between the first and second films mentioned above was probably just due to the fact that the Triceratops in the first film was very sick and tired (the vet tending it even mentions that it had been tranquilized), and thus probably just didn't have the energy to defend itself from the humans poking and prodding it. Had it been a more healthy animal, chances are it would be just as nasty as its counterpart in the second film. To be fair, though, the trike in the second film had more than likely been chased, tranquilized, and forced into a cage for at least several hours before going on the rampage.
      • Lady Margaret, the alpha-female triceratops (and according to some fans, the very same sick trike noted above) pretty much drives the above point home in Jurassic Park: The Game. All three of them, in fact, if you don't turn off the car horn or get out of the way in time.
  • The Carnosaur series played this trope horrifically straight.
  • 2000's Disney Dinosaur averted this trope (like the similar Land Before Time) having several humanized characters, many of them are gentle and likable, such as Aladar (baby Aladar is a very cute thing) and Neera, but also Eema, Baylene and Url; but played it straight with Carnotaurs and raptors, as well as (for some extent) Kron. Furthermore, one can note a crucial difference in portrait between the social, humanitarian lemurs and the self-centered "Social Darwinism" that permeate all the dinosaur of Kron's herd (even the old and the young ones, which should actually be the victims of this mentality). Please note that the lemurs are modern Sifaka lemurs and not prehistoric primates at all.
  • The Ice Age movies (the first of them comes from 2002) avert this as far as mammals and birds from the Cenozoic era are concerned. Dinosaurs and other mesozoic reptiles, however, get this treatment whenever they appear, be it frozen over and thawed, as in the second movie, or located in a Lost World, like in the third (with the exception of, ironically, the T. rex).
  • 2003's Ice Crawlers features killer trilobites.
  • Super Mario Bros. The Movie portrays the population of humanoid-evolved dinosaurs in the parallel world as rough, dumb, murderous and just plain rude. This may be true only for the carnivores, while the herbivorous dino-humans are more usually naive and absent-minded. However, production designer David Snyder and others on the production noted that they weren't meant to be "mean-spirited." They just liked living that way.

    Literature 
  • "Journey to the Center of the Earth" written by Jules Verne may be the Trope Maker in literature, with the iconic battle between two monstrous (and rather improbable) marine reptiles called "Ichthyosaur" and "Plesiosaur".
    • Changed to a group of Dimetroons in the 1959 movie, wherein it was more of a brief obstacle in that they had to buy enough time to get their raft into the water without getting attacked. Also justified by the fact that they were in a position that made them appear to be an easy source of food. The later 2008 version just used a tyrannosaurus and played it straight.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs's "Pellucidar" series similarly depicted most prehistoric animals as dangerous monsters. On David Innes's advent to the eponymous world At the Earth's Core, he is attacked — by a giant sloth.
  • In his The Land That Time Forgot series, Burroughs does the same thing — his Tyrannosaurus is an armor-plated dragon which sometimes runs on four legs, with three-fingered hands.
  • 1990 Crichton's Jurassic Park has a similar approach to Spielberg's movies (see above) but with a Darker and Edgier tone (as one may get soon after reading the summary).
  • In Robert E. Howard's "Shadows In Iron", Conan the Barbarian identifies the hide of a golden leopard and an enormous snake — both of which had been extinct for years in his time — as ways to deduce that something is very, very, very wrong.
  • Raptor Red averts it completely. Not surprisingly, since it was written by a paleontologist. And not an ordinary one: the guy who started the "Dinosaur Renaissance".
  • Averted by the Dinotopia series, in which all the dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures are Intellectual Animals that for the most part exist peacefully alongside humans. The exceptions are the large uncivilized theropods of the Rainy Basin and even they get portrayed as Noble Savages that can be bargained with. Contrast the miniseries.
    • Most large carnivores in the Rainy Basin area are typically monstrous but will allow safe passage through their territory so long as the traveler(s) in question (a) don't mess with their young; (b) don't try to steal Sunstones or Strutters; and (c) pay tribute with baskets of smoked fish. Some smaller carnivores like Deinonychus, Velociraptor, and Troodon even shed their predatory lifestyle to live within the city limits and even become aesthetic monks.
    • One notable aversion occurs in the novel Chomper, where a boy raises a young Giganotosaurus in the city and teaches it the basic customs, all while other Dinotopia citizens repeatedly treat it with prejudice; fortunately, it still remembers these years later while living as an adult in the Rainy Basin.
      • One curmudgeonly old character in the above novel viewed all large theropods as monsters and missed no opportunity to make his displeasure at Chomper's presence in the city known.
  • Mostly averted in Dinoverse, though it depends on the book. In the first/first two books (the first was split into two) an Elasmosaurus and one Tyrannosaur are pretty randomly monstrous, but with the rex it's actually discussed and sort of justified, with a character believing that he's drawn to keep following and disturbing them. Triceratops pose a threat and are seen as overreacting in the protection of their young, but everything is fairly intelligent. In the second set of books various predators are looked at as noble, even one who'd attacked and bitten a protagonist earlier. Of course, the series is extremely prone to Amplified Animal Aptitude.
  • The 1997 Leigh Clark novel Carnivore features a T-rex that hatches from an preserved egg recovered in, of all places, Antartica, reaches full size in a matter of days due to exposure to radioactive waste, and turns an entire research outpost into its personal buffet table.
  • Carnosaur by Harry Adam Knight is basically an adventure/horror novel with dinosaurs horrifically ripping people up after escaping from the estate of the evil aristocrat who cloned them.

    Live Action TV 
  • Zig-zagged in Primeval. Every extinct animal has some dangerous aspect to it — even dodo birds house deadly parasites. However, while plenty of the creatures are portrayed as terrifying predators (the anurognathid swarm, Deinonychus, mosasaur and phorusrhacids, for instance), others are only dangerous because they're large/powerful and panicked (the Embolotherium herd, Dracorex and Columbian Mammoth), still others are outright harmless (Scutosaurus) and some are so harmless they're adopted as Team Pets (Rex the Coelurosauravus, as well as the Diictodons, which are even mentioned in-series as Ugly Cute). Heck, even the Spinosaurus, in spite of being a huge predator, doesn't seem to be trying to eat anyone; it's just dangerous because it's a large, panicked animal in a populated area.
  • Lost Tapes features several surviving prehistoric animals that all think humans are VERY tasty...

    Tabletop Games 
  • The original 3rd Edition rules for Dungeons & Dragons inexplicably classified all prehistoric vertebrates as "beasts", not "animals", thus lumping them together with fantastical monsters such as the ankheg. This meant that dinosaurs and other creatures extinct on Earth couldn't be affected by magics or class abilities targeting the "animal" creature-type, even if they still constituted a natural part of their native game-worlds' contemporary ecosystems. This arbitrary and pointless distinction lasted until the 3.5 revisions sensibly abolished the "beast" creature type.

    Toys 
  • Averted by many earlier LEGO themes, such as the Duplo line that had cavemen and dinosaurs living together peacefully, or the dinosaur-related subline of ''Adventurers'', which was about saving the animals from falling into the villains' hands. It is, however, played straight in ''Dino 2010'' and especially in its American counterpart, ''Dino Attack'', which centered around destroying the evil beasts using the most over-the-top weaponry.
    • Zigzagged interestingly in the Darker and Edgier Dino Attack RPG, wherein the mutant dinosaurs were revealed to be the product of a Mad Scientist ( who had actually been manipulated by an Eldritch Abomination from the start), but weren't inherintly evil, the character of Rex having literally been able to tame some of them. Also it puts an odd twist when most regular dinosaurs (including the tyrannosaurus) are treated as benevolent and intelligent.
  • The Mix And Match dinosaurs from the 1998-99 Jurassic Park: Chaos Effect toy line by Kenner/Hasbro could certainly qualify as nearly all of them are carnivorous and described as being far more lethal than their natural counterparts due to being engineered as bio-weapons.

    Video Games 
  • Several Pokémon fall under this category. Obtaining them requires the player to obtain their fossilsnote  and use the DNA extracted from them to resurrect the creatures.
    • Averted, actually. None of the ancient Pokémon are treated as dangerous monsters, and most don't even look more scary than average.(With the exception of Kabuto/Kabutops.) In the anime a couple of them are mean, but it's not a general rule. However, Pokémon that look like dinosaurs are usually treated as extremely destructive, even if their stats say otherwise.(Such as Aggron, which is more in the vein of a bulky defender than a destructive attacker. But it looks scary...and is therefore treated as scary.)
  • Played straight in Capcom's Dino Crisis series, where even the sole herbivore of the franchise obeys the rule of Everything Trying to Kill You.
  • In general, almost every non-RPG video game featuring dinosaurs will invoke this trope on all of its carnivores and upon its horned/armored herbivores.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Flintstones (started in the 1960s) completely averts the trope, showing funny prehistoric animals that behave either like living tools or pets (Dino).
  • The first aversion was the lovable Gertie the Dinosaur (ironically, the very first prehistoric critter to show up in cinema, in 1914).
  • Invoked in Phineas and Ferb when Doofenshmirtz resurrects dodos. He doesn't actually know what a dodo is, but they're extinct like dinosaurs, so he imagines it'll be like giant dinosaurs destroying the city. He is disappointed to find out that dodos are turkey-like creatures.
    • Which is a bit ironic when you realize that dodos are dinosaurs.
  • Subverted in Cadillacs and Dinosaurs , where dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures are treated as normal animals.
  • Predaking of Transformers Prime is this towards the modern-day Cybertronians, an extremely powerful Super-Persistent Predator who outclasses everyone else in the show subverted in that he and his species were apparently sentient all along.
  • Subverted in the Looney Tunes short "Prehistoric Porky" with dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals that look fearsome, vicious, and frightening but turn out to just be acting that way as part of a joke, misunderstanding, or Jerkass Façade. Averted by Porky's pet dinosaur Rover, who acts just like a gigantic dog.

    Real Life 
Sometimes palaeontologists have given to their fossilized animals quite nasty-meaning scientific names, even though they usually create more neutral names for their critters.

  • The word dinosaur is usually said to mean "terrible lizard" (but see below).
  • Tyrannosaurus rex translates into "tyrant lizard king"
  • Deinonychus means "terrible claw"; Deinosuchus: "terrible crocodile"; Deinocheirus: "terrible hand" (Possibly subverted since it might not even have been a meat-eater); Deinotherium: "terrible beast" (Even though it would appear today as a simply odd-looking elephant); Dinofelis: "terrible cat" (even though this kind would not be more menacing than a leopard if alive today). It's worthy of note, however, than Dino/Deino in Greek also mean "magnificent"; indeed, when Richard Owen (the dinosaurs Trope Namer) give them the name intended that his dinosaurs were ponderous creatures rather than terrible.
  • Velociraptor ("swift thief" or "swift murderer") and all the other -raptors. Ironically, Gigantoraptor ("gigantic murderer"), despite its name was probably vegetarian.
  • Triceratops horridus: "Horrid Three-horned Face". However, "horridus" in Latin also means "spiky": an alternative translation might be "spiny three-horned face", subverting the trope.
  • The pachycephalosaurians Stygimoloch and Dracorex mean respectively "demon from the Styx river" and "dragon king".
  • Gorgosaurus, Teratosaurus: both meaning "monstrous lizard".
  • Let us not forget about Teratophoneus, which means MONSTROUS MURDERER
    • Lythronax, king of gore
    • Several tyrannosaurs had such names, including Tarbosaurus ("alarming lizard"), and Daspletosaurus ("frightful lizard").
  • Daeodon, a type of entelodont, means "dreadful tooth".
    • Remains that turned out to be individuals of Daeodon were previously known as Dinohyus, which means "terrible pig".
  • Troodon means "wounding tooth".


Plant PersonIndex of Fictional CreaturesProportionately Ponderous Parasites
PrehistoriaTropesaurus IndexPtero Soarer
Predators Are MeanScary Animals IndexPsycho Electric Eel
Nubile SavageImageSource/Live-Action FilmsSlurpasaur

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
63201
22