Some movies are about history, but others deal with matters that predate history. There’s something fascinating about prehistoric times, and it gets even more intriguing when you bring those ancient matters into our own world. Many movies deal with prehistory one way or another, even if they aren’t all set entirely in a time before we started keeping a record of what was going on. This is a collection of films that are at least partially prehistoric.
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“10,000 BC” (2008)
We’re not starting with a big movie, but with one that has a year from prehistory as its title. “10,000 BC” is a Roland Emmerich film, so it’s basically a big, sloppy action movie but only set in ancient times. There are mammoths instead of aliens. Many consider this to be Emmerich’s worst film, which is saying something.
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“The Flintstones” (1994)
No, “The Flintstones” is not accurate. Humans didn’t live alongside dinosaurs, much less have bird can openers. However, the Flintstones truly is the modern Stone Age family. It’s basically “The Honeymooners” in prehistoric times, but with a lot of added modern flavor. That’s the TV show, of course. The film isn’t animated but instead stars the likes of John Goodman in a live-action adaptation of the iconic cartoon.
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“One Million Years B.C.” (1966)
20th Century Fox
Years before Emmerich made his film, another movie went way further into prehistory. “One Million Years B.C.” is actually a remake of a 1940 film, but this is the one people remember because it starred Raquel Welch and had stop-motion animation from the legendary Ray Harryhausen.
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A broad caveman comedy starring Ringo Starr and directed by the co-writer of “Jaws?” It happened! “Caveman” is kind of a crazy slice of film history for its weirdness. Most of the movie is done in a made-up caveman language. One good thing came out of this film, at least. Ringo Starr met Barbara Bach on “Caveman,” and the two got married a year later.
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“The Clan of the Cave Bear” (1986)
“The Clan of the Cave Bear” stars Daryl Hannah as a Cro-Magnon woman raised by, and living with, a Neanderthal clan. There is little dialogue and characters mostly use sign language. The film was based on the first book in a five-book series, but it was a major flop. It made a mere $2 million against an $18 million budget.
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“The Croods” (2013)
20th Century Fox
“The Croods” is one of those animated family films that feels totally forgettable if you don’t have kids but made a shocking amount of money. The film also has a really impressive cast, including Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, and Nicolas Cage. “The Croods” was successful enough to receive a Netflix spinoff and a sequel movie that hit in 2020.
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“The Good Dinosaur” (2015)
It’s fair to call “The Good Dinosaur” the least-remembered Pixar movie, right? Are we reminding you it exists right now? Do you remember the moves it came out between? Can you name one thing that happens in it? “The Good Dinosaur,” which by the way came out the same year as “Inside Out,” is set in a world where the dinosaurs never go extinct and are around when humans arise. It’s arguably the only financial flop Pixar has ever produced.
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“Early Man” (2017)
You either like Nick Parks’ animation style (and low-key comedy) or you don’t. Have you enjoyed the “Wallace & Gromit” films? Then you should check out “Early Man.” If not, though, it probably won’t be up your alley, unless you really like stories about prehistoric people living in the Stone Age.
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“Ice Age” (2002)
20th Century Fox
We know there have been several “Ice Age” sequels, but we don’t want to just list a bunch of sequels in this article. As such, consider this an entry for every “Ice Age” film. The movies, which focus on talking animals voiced by the likes of Ray Romano and Denis Leary, have proven quite popular. And shout out to Scrat and his endless quest for acorns.
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“The Land Before Time” (1988)
Speaking of sequels, there have been so many “The Land Before Time” movies at this point. There have actually been a whopping 14 movies in this series, but all of them save for the first one have been direct-to-video. Hey, there will always be kids who want to watch movies about kid dinosaurs going on adventures, right?
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“Brother Bear” (2003)
“Brother Bear” is quite notable, as it is the final animated movie Disney made at its studios down in Orlando, Florida before they moved to making exclusively computer-animated films. It also features Rick Moranis’ last role in a theatrically-released film, and his last role to date was the 2006 direct-to-DVD sequel “Brother Bear 2.” All that yielded an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, even if “Brother Bear” has certainly not entered the Disney canon at this point.
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“Quest for Fire” (1981)
20th Century Fox
“Quest for Fire” is about a tribe of cavemen on, well, a quest for fire. Hey, the control of fire was huge for human civilization. While the movie uses an invented language, the movie is a Canadian-French co-production, which is how it was eligible to win Best Picture at the Cesar Awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars. “Quest for Fire” also won an Academy Award for Best Makeup.
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“Jurassic Park” (1993)
Welcome to Jurassic Park. As we said, all of these movies aren’t taking place in prehistory. They just involve prehistory elements. “Jurassic Park” certainly is that kind of film. As you surely know, it’s about dinosaurs being brought back at a planned amusement park. It doesn’t go well. Jeff Goldblum is involved. “Jurassic Park” is one of the biggest blockbusters and most-beloved movies ever. It has inspired four sequels.
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“Conan the Barbarian” (1982)
Technically, “Conan the Barbarian” takes place in a fantasy world in the fictional Hyborian Age of Earth’s history. However, it’s clearly prehistory, even if it is not entirely real. Just take one look at Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Conan garb and you get clear prehistoric vibes.
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“Encino Man” (1992)
Brendan Fraser must like playing a man out of time. He starred in “Blast From the Past,” where he plays a guy who went into a bomb shelter in the ‘50s and emerged decades later. In “Encino Man,” he spends even more time away from the world. Fraser plays a caveman who is frozen during the Ice Age and thawed out in 1990s Los Angeles. Then, he gets to hang out with Sean Astin and Pauly Shore. It’s a really wacky comedy.
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“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)
Warner Bros., MGM
A bunch of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Stanley Kubrick’s epic movie, takes place in what was then the future. Of course, there’s also the films famous opening. A bunch of early humanlike being basically discover tools, and quickly tools become weapons. A bone is thrown into the sky, it is match cut into a spaceship, and “2001” goes from there.
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“History of the World, Part I” (1981)
20th Century Fox
This is basically a sketch movie set in different historical eras, starting with the Stone Age. It’s a Mel Brooks movie, and not the best one, so there are some funny bits and some that don’t really work. You see the invention of fire, the invention of art, the invention of art criticism, and so on. Nothing stands out like the big Spanish Inquisition musical number from later in the movie, but “History of the World, Part I” begins with prehistory.
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“Year One” (2009)
Unfortunately, “Year One” was Harold Ramis’ last film. It’s not exactly the most glamorous way to go out. The movie is about two cavemen (Jack Black and Michael Cera) heading out into the world. There’s a lot of religious stuff in there, but we’re talking Cain and Abel and things of that ilk, so it is technically still prehistory since the Bible isn’t pretending that those things were written down as they happened.
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“Land of the Lost” (2009)
Speaking of flops, “Land of the Lost” showed the limits of Will Ferrell’s star power. A goofy comedy based on an old ‘70s show about a family that falls into a world of dinosaurs? That could work. Just look at those “Brady Bunch” movies. Alas, “Land of the Lost” was a total flop, both critically and commercially. Just stick to the TV show.
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“We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story” (1993)
“We’re Back!” kind of gives away the premise in its title. It’s about dinosaurs, fun, talking cartoon dinosaurs, arriving in 1990s New York. They are a bit smaller than most dinosaurs, though, and this movie is also slimmer than most at a mere 71 minutes. Also, it was produced by Stephen Spielberg’s animation company. Apparently, Spielberg had dinosaurs on the brain in 1993.
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“Lost Continent” (1951)
There are many movies about people, scientists usually, finding some uncharted space on the planet Earth where dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures still roam the land. “Lost Continent” is one of those films, but it is noteworthy for two reasons. One, the stop-motion dinosaurs. Two, the movie stars Cesar Romero, aka Joker on the ‘60s version of “Batman.”
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“Night at the Museum” (2006)
20th Century Fox
The “Night of the Museum” movies are basically about Ben Stiller being a harried watchman at a museum dealing with exhibits coming to life. Sure, Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt or Owen Wilson as a random cowboy gets more love. However, there are also Neanderthals in the mix, as well as a talking Easter Island head voiced by Brad Garrett. That counts.
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No, this isn’t about Val Kilmer’s character from “Top Gun.” It’s another movie about a caveman frozen in ice that is revived in modern times. “Iceman” is no “Encino Man,” though. It’s a dark and serious drama with a lot on its mind, which is not what you would say about any Pauly Shore film.
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If you are wondering if “Eegah” is any good, just know that it is the centerpiece of one of the best episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Richard Kiel, best known as Jaws in a couple of James Bond movies, plays Eegah, a caveman in modern times. The movie is truly awful. Watch out for snakes!
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We end, oddly enough, with a movie named after the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Kind of like a prehistoric “Call of the Wild,” “Alpha” is about a teenage boy who befriends an injured wolf during a hunt around the time of the last Ice Age. Unlike that “Call of the Wild” movie, they used an actual dog instead of a bizarre animated dog.
Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the booksThe Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000andThe Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.