Fiction vs. Reality – What Famous Dinosaurs Really Looked Like

New discoveries and new revelations are always surfacing in Paleontology – the branch of science concerned with prehistoric animals and plants – expanding our knowledge of how life might have looked like millions of years ago. Since Jurassic Park first premiered in 1993, a lot has changed in our understanding and depiction of prehistoric animals. Here is an up to date representation of how some of the most famous dinosaurs really looked like as well as some famous prehistoric marine animals.


Tyrannosaurus Rex

How it is popularly depicted


T Rex depicted in Jurassic Park

Movies such as Jurassic Park show it as a massive reptilian beast and a cold-blooded killer, standing upright with short useless arms. It is also implied that the T. Rex lacks good eyesight as shown in the first Jurassic Park movie.


Most accurate depiction of T rex



No, fear not! The fearsome T. Rex was not an over-sized fluffy chicken but It is likely that the ‘King of the dinosaurs’ did have some feathers, similar to how large mammals today like elephants still retain some hair. The recent discovery of the closely related Yutyrannus and many others indicate that the tyrannosauroid species possessed feathers but the extent of which varied depending on body size and climate. Unlike in Jurassic Park, the T. Rex had superb vision and excellent depth perception, surpassing not only that of humans but eagles as well, allowing it to see objects as far as 3.7 m (6 km) away! And as for the arms, they were far from useless appendages, capable of lifting 200 kg (439 lbs.) of weight individually. Likely they were used by the Tyrant to slash at a struggling prey.


How it is popularly depicted

Spino, How Famous Dinosaurs Really Looked Like

In games and movies, most famously in the third installment of Jurassic Park, the Spino is represented as a large and mean-looking killer machine to rival even the mighty T. Rex.


Accurate spino, What Famous Dinosaurs Really Looked Like


“Working on this animal was like studying an alien from outer space”, described Nizar Ibrahim, an American Paleontologist. Indeed the real world Spinosaurus was far stranger than the creature in our popular imagination as well as bigger – growing to lengths of 60 ft.! Looking more akin to a crocodilian with a sail than a theropod, it was a niche-based predator with a diet consisting mainly of fish rather than other dinosaurs, more at home in the water than on land. Could it have beaten a large carnivore like a T. Rex? Probably not, its weaker jaw and less robust frame would not have allowed it to stand its own against Rexy.



How it is popularly depicted

Carnotaurus, How Famous Dinosaurs Really Looked Like



A relatively large aggressive predator with a bulky muscular built designed to hunt and take down smaller dinosaurs.


Accurate, How Famous Dinosaurs Really Looked Like

Both Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Disney’s Dinosaur depict it far larger than it actually was and with a proportionally bigger skull.  Carnotasaurs was an ambush hunter built for speed with a light frame, strong muscular legs, occupying a niche similar to that of a today’s cheetah. Like its modern-day.


How it is popularly depicted

Jurassic Park Raptor, How Famous Dinosaurs didn't Looked Like

An extremely intelligent human-sized pack hunter with lizard-like eyes and scales.


Accurate raptor, How Famous Dinosaurs Really Looked Like

Real-life velociraptors were fully feathered and little bigger than a turkey; would not have been able to take down an adult human being. Like all dinosaurs, they weren’t very bright, having the intelligence of a talented chicken and despite being shown as a pack hunter, there is little actual evidence to support it. Quite unflattering a description for a dinosaur so famous.



How it is popularly depicted

brachiosaurus Jurassic park scene

A giant herbivore with a vertical slender neck, which could lift itself on its hind feet to reach higher tree branches.


Accurate Brachiosaurus , How Famous Dinosaurs Really Looked Like

The neck of a Brachiosaurus was more slanted forward as well as more realistically more muscular than usually shown in most Hollywood portrayals. Also unlike in movies, the dinosaur’s nose probably sat near the front of its snout rather than at the top of its head and it was unlikely, given the top-heavy built of the massive beast, that it would have reared onto its back legs while feeding. Brachiosaurus, like other sauropods, did not chew their food, rather swallowed it whole.


How it is popularly depicted

Jurassic World beast, Mosasaurus

A blue whale-sized muppet nomming at everything.


Mosasaurus Hoffmanni, largest mosasaur

The largest species of Mosasaurus didn’t exceed more than 56ft, far smaller than the one depicted in the movie Jurassic World, which was a massive 85 ft. long. The skin probably would have also been smooth rather than rough so to reduce drag while swimming. A real-life mosasaur also couldn’t have been nearly as acrobatic as one shown in the movie.



How they are popularly depicted

School of Ichthyosaurs, Early Jurassic

A group of small skittish marine reptiles, very similar in appearance and size to a dolphin.


Big boi, Whale Ichthyosaur size comparison

Ichthyosaurs were a very diverse group of marine reptiles that swam the Mesozoic seas; some were small and very stereotypical like the popularly known ichthyosaurus, while others could reach truly gargantuan sizes such as the Shonisaurus shown in the image above. A recent discovery of a specimen in the UK may have even rivaled the blue whale in size! Ichthyosaurs adapted to fill a myriad set of niches, from apex predators to bottom feeders, and thrived until 90 million years ago, when they became extinct for unknown reasons.


How it is popularly depicted

Fake megalodon,

A supersized great white shark, prowling the ancient oceans as its apex predator, constantly searching for its next prey.


thicc megalo, How Megalodon Really Looked Like

While the teeth of a Megalodon and a great white look similar at a glance, this is more a result of convergent evolution rather than them being closely related. In recent years, a closer examination of dental morphology reveals that the Megalodon was a member of a distinct line of sharks that are now extinct, with the nearest living relative being the sand tiger shark. Also because of its size, it would have had a proportionally massive tail and large pectoral fins, like many other large sharks such as the basking shark, in order to create enough thrust to swim. However, any true representation of the beast is impossible as only some fragments and fossilized teeth have been discovered.

Fun Fact: The Megalodon probably wasn’t even the apex predator of its time. The extinct predatory whale, Livyatan, is more worthy of the title.


A. R. Usmani

Historian | Researcher | Likes to live in the past because housing is much cheaper

One thought on “Fiction vs. Reality – What Famous Dinosaurs Really Looked Like

  • March 22, 2021 at 2:33 pm

    For me there are no pictures but the information is crazy!


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