Dreamworks’ CGI caveman spectacular The Croods comes out on Friday. It’s the first big animated movie of the year, but it’s hardly the first time a bunch of modern(ized) stone-age characters have hit the big screen. Here are 10 more of the best caveman movies in (pre)history.
Ringo Starr in the role he was born to play: that of a monosyllabic caveman. Co-written and directed by Carl Gottlieb (he wrote The Jerk and played Iron Balls McGinty), it’s a pretty funny story of a misfit caveman who must defeat a relatively powerful caveman to get the girl. The cavegirl is played by Barbara Bach, who Ringo landed in real life, too.
The History of the World Part I (1981)
Only the first segment “The Dawn of Men” from Mel Brooks’ exhaustive documentation of civilization applies, but we do get to learn much, such as that cavemen had gay marriage, art critics who hated cave paintings, and that music consisted of dropping rocks on feet and enjoying the screams.
One Million Years B.C. (1966)
Another “banished caveman earns redemption” story as cavemen begin to civilize. But the only things anyone has ever — or ever will — remember about this is that it made a barely-loincloth-covered Raquel Welch a movie star and sex symbol.
Half-caveman movie, half formulaic monster movie, the film concerns a troglodyte, the fancy-science word for caveman, found in the modern British countryside by a scientist (Joan Crawford in her last film). She tries to domesticate him, but of course a boorish fellow (Michael Gough) releases Trog, Trog get angry, Trog wreak havoc on people and property. Troooooooooggg!
Quest for Fire (1982)
Based on an early 20th century Belgian novel, this film is literally about the journey to figure out fire,in the Paleolithic era. That sounds incredibly dull, and yet that’s probably the most important development in the history of human civilization. There’s also mammoths and sabertooth tigers, and Rae Dawn Chong. (Spoiler alert: they figure out fire. It involves sticks; I’ve said too much.)
The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)
This is quite ambitious in that it’s an already introspective movie about a Cro-Magnon woman (post-Splash Daryl Hannah) who loses her family in an earthquake and is taken in by a tribe of Neanderthals, which are slightly less evolved on the “history of humans” scale, and speak a different language. In fact, the entire movie is told in sign-language, with subtitles to help out.
10,000 B.C. (2008)
Imagine a silly action movie with all of the usual action movie beats, tropes, and cliches, but applied to proto-humans. That’s 10,000 B.C., written and directed by Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, the newer Godzilla). All the usual caveman movie stuff is hit along the way though, including prehistoric creatures, vandals, and onomatopoeic names, such as D’Leh, Tic-Tic, and Baku. With a $94 million take, it’s the highest-grossing caveman movie ever.
Land of the Lost (2009)
The original, Saturday morning show about a scientist who travels through a space-time rift into a prehistoric nightmare world was cheesy and poorly-funded, so it was worth a shot to make the big-screen version a comedy with good special effects. Will Ferrell and Danny McBride play to their strengths as a blowhard and sleazeball, respectively, but Jorma Taccone steals the movie as Cha-Ka, a tempermental cave-creature who is way, way smarter than the modern-day humans.
The only serious character study on this list, about how incredibly difficult and said it would be if the common movie and sketch comedy formula of “unfrozen caveman” came true. No wacky comedy, no dinosaur fights, no dawn of civilization — only a confused and disoriented caveman (John Lone), if you’re into that sort of thing.
Encino Man (1992)
Contrary to popular belief, Pauly Shore does not play the caveman who is unfrozen in SoCal at its most ’90s, SoCal-iest. That would be Brendan Fraser, who looks like a caveman and is damn funny in this and so is Pauly Shore and oh God why did I just admit that?