National Science Foundation lavished over $3.2 million on dinosaur documentary, related programs 

Made for an estimated $6 million, the 40-minute, giant-screen documentary "Dinosaurs of Antarctica" grossed a paltry $478,810 worldwide.

Published: December 17, 2022 10:59pm

Updated: December 17, 2022 11:07pm

The Golden Horseshoe is a weekly designation from Just The News intended to highlight egregious examples of wasteful taxpayer spending by the government. The award is named for the horseshoe-shaped toilet seats for military airplanes that cost the Pentagon a whopping $640 each back in the 1980s.

This week's Golden Horseshoe goes to the National Science Foundation for awarding $3.2 million over a 3-year period for a documentary called "Dinosaurs of Antarctica" and related programs.

Large-format film production and distribution studio Giant Screen Films touted the film's "major" NSF funding in several news releases on its website. While the film premiered during the pandemic in 2020, it launched worldwide in 2022.

"The Antarctic Dinosaurs project aims to leverage the popularity and charisma of dinosaurs to inspire a new generation of polar scientists and a more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)-literate citizenry," according to the award abstract posted by the NSF's Division of Research On Learning.

Aimed at middle schoolers, "the project, centered on a giant screen film that will reach millions of theatrical viewers across the U.S., will convey polar science knowledge through appealing, entertaining media experiences and informal learning programs," continues the abstract.

In addition to the "giant screen film in 2D and 3D formats" that is the centerpiece of the program, the initiative also included "a 3-episode television series; an 'educational toolkit' of flexible, multi-media resources and experiences for informal use; a 'Field Camp' Antarctic science intervention for middle school students (including girls and minorities); fictional content and presentations by author G. Neri dealing with Antarctic science produced for young people of color (including non-readers and at-risk youth who typically lack access to science and nature); and presentations by scientists featured in the film." 

The estimated cost  of "Dinosaurs of Antarctica" was $6 million, according to the Internet Movie Database ( Its gross revenues worldwide were a paltry $478,810.   

Many high-impact documentaries are produced for much less while grossing far more than this 40-minute film. "Super Size Me" (2004), for instance, grossed $20.6 million worldwide on an estimated production budget of $65,000 ($98,000 adjusted for inflation). Al Gore's Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth" grossed $49.6 million on an estimated budget of $1.5 million in 2006 ($2.1 million in real dollars).

The NSF did not respond to a request for comment on the justification for the film's public funding and large budget.

In addition to "Dinosaurs of Antarctica," taxpayers are now on the hook for "Ice Worlds." The NSF awarded close to $3 million for a documentary about polar environments to the same production company behind the dino documentary. The NSF has obligated $2,786,215 for the film to date.

The film will "inspire millions of children and adults to gain new knowledge about polar environments, the planet's climate, and humanity's place within Earth's complex systems — supporting an informed, STEM literate citizenry," the NSF claimed in its award abstract.

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