Dinosaur attractions across the UK are preparing for a new wave of visitors following the release of Jurassic World Dominion this weekend.
The sixth film in the franchise is set to deliver a boost not just to UK cinemas – the series’ box office takings so far exceed £200m – but to the country’s many dinosaur-themed attractions.
Most of them were founded in the past 30 years to capitalize on the popularity of paleontology inspired by the first Jurassic Park film in 1993. Roarr!, the UK’s biggest dinosaur attraction, was founded in Norfolk in 2006 and plans further expansion next year to increase annual visitor numbers from around 300,000 to 500,000.
Large increases in attendance are usually seen within weeks of the release of major dinosaur movies, says park manager Ben Francis, though he anticipates a more muted effect this year due to the economic climate.
“Going out days are taking a back seat at the moment as families need to see how much money they have left at the end of the month. The tourism market has improved since Covid but the cost of living now has a impact and there is no government support.
The Natural History Museum in London – whose grants allow it to waive an entrance fee – was established 160 years ago. But a substantial increase in visitor numbers coincided with the release of the first Jurassic Park, reports Professor Paul Barrett, senior dinosaur specialist at the museum.
“Those levels have been maintained, with smaller peaks around the release of sequels or hit documentaries such as Walking with Dinosaurs in 1999 or Prehistoric Planet earlier this year. At the moment, interest is really, really high.
The museum monetizes this interest with a carefully curated program of events and sponsorship deals. As well as touring the museum’s galleries, current visitors are, for example, encouraged to take a selfie in front of Andy’s Clock – the time-traveling grandfather clock used by CBeebies’ Andy Day for his prehistoric adventures. .
Two weeks ago, the museum’s most famous skeleton, the cast of a diplodocus from around 150 million years ago, returned from a five-year world tour, just in time for mid- tenure and release of Jurassic World Dominion.
The UK section of Dippy on Tour attracted over two million visitors, with each of the eight sites recording record numbers. A report commissioned by the museum estimated a national economic benefit of £36 million.
A new Dino Snores sleepover scheme at the museum for ages 7-11 (£69) is now waitlisted only; an adult-only version (£185) remains very popular.
Yet dinosaurs’ status as the preeminent cash cow for elementary school demographics extends far beyond brick-and-mortar attractions.
Figures from market research group NPD show the dinosaur toy sector grew by 23% in the year to May 2022 and was worth £51.6million. Melissa Symonds, executive director of UK toys at NPD, predicts dinosaurs will overtake superheroes as the fastest growing toy theme later this month, once audiences see Jurassic World Dominion.
Such popularity is partly due to the fact that unlike superheroes or Disney characters, dinosaurs are not subject to copyright. This makes them easy wins for a wide range of brands and retailers.
Besides toys, coloring books, watches, night lights and hot water bottle covers, dinosaur clothing is popular at all price points. Dinosaur t-shirts are £3 from George at Asda and £17 from Boden.
Official Jurassic Park and World merchandise is the largest dinosaur toy property in the UK and accounts for 27% of all sales, growing 44% year-on-year. Items are available through over 30 manufacturers, including Mattel and Lego, WOW! Stuff, Tomy, Ravensburger and Posh Paws. Adults are also catered for, with Folio Society editions of Michael Crichton’s novels (£39.95), chess sets and inflatable triceratops costumes for adults.
Only a handful of film-related merchandise are available at the National Museum of History. Yet content creators work closely with the institution, eager for their educational stamp of approval. This gives NHM time to “modify or add to our product lines to take advantage of that,” says Barrett.
One of the museum’s three permanent shops is exclusively devoted to dinosaur products. Most are NHM-branded and created in conjunction with in-house paleontologists so they’re “at least not inaccurate,” says Adam Farrar, director of retail and visitor experience.
Stuffed animals remain the museum’s biggest sales; this year, overall dinosaur-themed sales are expected to exceed £1 million.
Yet some prehistoric attractions remain relatively isolated from the popularity of movies. A spokesperson for the Jurassic Coast Trust, which oversees tourism on the 95 miles of south coast cliffs renowned for their fossil density, reports that it would be “difficult to attribute any quantifiable increase in visitor traffic specifically to the films”. .
Programs such as Broadchurch, filmed in the region, as well as the recent biopic of Mary Anning with Kate Winslet, “have a comparable effect”.
Nonetheless, they concede, “The Jurassic and Prehistoric Planet films definitely add something more to the mix, and they encourage people to try their hand at fossil hunting and to visit our wonderful local museums and centers.”
Mass popularity and specialized science are not always compatible interests. Some have expressed fears that the more ubiquitous dinosaurs become, the more they may suggest to children that extinction isn’t necessarily the end.
Still, Professor Barrett remains optimistic and an appropriate message is being communicated. “Dinosaurs give us a sense of our place in the universe. They teach us that you can be very successful, but then, for reasons beyond our control, everything goes wrong.”