The 10 Best Shark movies
With The Meg coming out this weekend (read our review here), it’s a good time to dive back into the ocean for a quick shark movie recap. Whether you’re long in the tooth, or just growing your chompers, this list is loaded with flicks that will make you think twice about swimming in the ocean again.
Shark Attack 3: Megalodon
- Release: 2002
- Stars: John Barrowman, Jenny McShane, Ryan Cutrona
- Rotten Tomatoes: 20% from Critics, 49% from Audiences
There are a ton of shark movies, but only a few good shark movies. The rest either fall in a category of so bad it’s good, or just plain bad.
Shark Attack 3 definitely falls under the former. It’s an awful, awful film with horrible acting, writing, directing and special FX. It’s not scary, even in the slightest. And it’s shot a the type of budget that gives it the look of a softcore porno.
Yet, it’s undeniably entertaining if only for the amazing final set piece in which the titular Megalodon attacks a yacht full of rich yuppies, and, well, for this particular bit:
Look, Jaws (spoiler alert) is obviously the de factor numero uno on this particular list by a very wide margin, but Shark Attack 3 serves up enough campy fun to be the wacky ying to its yang.
- Release: 2013
- Stars: Tara Reid, Ian Ziering, John Heard
- Rotten Tomatoes: 82% from Critics, 33% from Audiences
It was tempting to stick Sharknado at the top if only because this is unequivocally the shark movie of the decade if only for one very important reason: everyone involved was really trying. Like, trying really hard in an endearing Ed Wood-ish sort of way.
Movie great John Heard liekly scoffed at the very thought of Sharknado, but even he had to think it had the potential for … something. Maybe not greatness, but … something. In any event, he and the rest of the cast, including American Pie’s Tara Reid, go for broke to deliver some of the worst dialogue ever put to film in order to awkwardly set up the story’s big baddie: a giant tornado full of sharks.
Yes, you read that right. Sharknado is literally about a windstorm that sucks up a bunch of sharks from the ocean and tosses them all over Los Angeles. There are flying hammerheads, great whites, makos, etc. At one point a character uses a chain saw to slice one of the damned things in half. It’s actually quite beautiful.
Seriously, as insane B-movies go, Sharknado strikes the proper tone between embarrassing and entertaining. It’s gloriously stupid.
Jaws: The Revenge
- Release: 1987
- Stars: Lorraine Gary, Michael Caine, Lance Guest
- Rotten Tomatoes: 0% from Critics, 14% from Audiences
Full disclosure: I saw Jaws: The Revenge in theaters as a kid, and it sucked. I was heartbroken, having been perhaps the single greatest Jaws fan in the world. (Well … at least I discovered rest of the world via the internet.) Yet, I will also admit that this particular Jaws film scarred me in a way none of the others ever did if only because of this one terrifying scene:
Where the original Jaws was scary in that fun Spielbergian way, the opening to Jaws: The Revenge was just plain nasty. The sequence is meant to invoke the opening of the original, but the tone is just … off. Yet, time and again I find myself watching the horrifying demise of Sean Brody, his cries muted against the distant Christmas carolers, with morbid fascination.
And while the remaining 80 minutes of the film, featuring a giant shark trailing Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) to the Bahamas to exact revenge, are pure crap, that opening bit is reason enough to at least start watching the film.
Come for the first ten minutes, stay for Michael Caine’s cockney accent, Mario Van Peebles’ wonky death scene (and resurrection, depending on which cut you watch) and perhaps the worst miniature ever blown up for a feature film. Jaws: The Revenge is the Hollywood train wreck at its best.
- Release: 2004
- Stars: Will Smith, Jack Black, Robert DeNiro
- Rotten Tomatoes: 35% from Critics, 49% from Audiences
Not even the voices of Jack Black and Will Smith, fresh off Bad Boys II, could fish this DreamWorks Animation entree from the bowels of mediocrity, according to critics and audiences. Oh sure, the animation is stunning, as is the ensemble cast which includes Robert DeNiro, Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie and Martin Scorsese. The whole shark mob thing is funny, but the script doesn’t do it justice. The result is a colorful film, that will kinda sorta entertain the kids but ultimately leave you pining for Dory.
So, why is Shark Tale on here? We sorta dig it, in the same way Aquaman digs Batman. Don’t get me wrong, this is as far from a classic animated film as they come, but Smith and Black work hard to infuse the plot with energy. And, damn it all, I love sharks.
Deep Blue Sea
- Release: 1999
- Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane
- Rotten Tomatoes: 56% from Critics, 38% from Audiences
There is one thing that can be said for the movie and its one brilliant scene. You know which scene I’m talking about.
Apologies for spoilers but come on! That was absolutely brilliant. Despite nearly an hour of bland dialogue, clunky visual FX and bad acting, Deep Blue Sea morphed from absurd, straight-faced sci-fi drama to absurd, straight-faced sci-fi drama with a twinkle in its eye.
And we get to see LL Cool J get revenge for a parrot. What’s more dope than that?
- Release: 2004
- Stars: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis
- Rotten Tomatoes: 72% from Critics, 32% from Audiences
Open Water, the Chris Kentis directed film ultimately feels like one of those kitschy one-note ideas that creep up every now and again in which a character (or two) are dropped unassumingly into a bad situation — be it a phone, coffin, or ledge — and forced to endure their predicament. It’s basically 90 minutes of people suffering for no reason at all.
Still, Open Water features strong performances from Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis, as a couple who are stranded in the ocean surrounded by hundreds of sharks. The film is, admittedly, unsettling, especially as the horde of sharks slowly close in on the poor couple.
- Release: 2016
- Stars: Blake Lively
- Rotten Tomatoes: 78% from Critics, 49% from Audiences
The Shallows is a brilliant movie that is completely undone by its last reel. What starts out as a believable woman versus shark survival story, in this case Blake Lively taking on an angry great white after stumbling into its feeding territory, reverts to generic CGI monster thriller replete with dodgy CGI.
Too bad. Lively gives it her all and is completely believable in the role. The film mimics Jaws early onas the shark starts out as a menacing force of nature that you rarely see before tailspinning into the type of bland actioner found in the DVD bargain bins at Wal Mart.
The Shallows is certainly worth the watch and remains one of the better shark flicks out there, but it’s merely an enjoyable piece of fluff when it could have been so much more.
47 Meters Down
- Release: 2017
- Stars: Many Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine
- Rotten Tomatoes: 55% from Critics, 36% from Audiences
After reading through this list you may conclude that no truly great shark films exist outside of the Jaws series. That’s actually not true. No, 47 Meters Down is not a great film, but it works well enough to at least warrant the moniker, “best shark film since Jaws.”
Yes, it’s one of those “stuck in a situation” movies but in this case about two scuba diving pals (Mandy Moore and Claire Holt) stuck inside a cage on the bottom of the ocean surrounded by great whites, this time the production is done mostly right. Director Johannes Roberts keeps the action moving along at a brisk pace without ever (over)succumbing to dumb movie tropes. In fact, the great white sharks on display here actually behave like real sharks. They’re not out for revenge. They’re not setting traps, or communicating. They’re merely large fish probing at two unexpected visitors. And it’s that sense of realism that keeps 47 Meters afloat for most of its brief run time.
Bizarrely, 47 Meters Down was once called In the Deep, and produced by Dimension Films for a DVD VOD release before Entertainment Studios bought the rights and distributed the film into theaters under its current title. Good thing, too, as it hauled in over $60 million on a budget of $5.5 million. Someone got a promotion.
- Release: 1978
- Stars: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
- Rotten Tomatoes: 57% from Critics, 38% from Audiences
In a lot of ways — and this might sound blasphemous — Jaws 2 is every bit as thrilling as its classic predecessor. That’s mostly due to the character driven plot that finds shark killing hero Chief Martin Brody losing his mind upon learning of the existence of yet another killer shark off Amity’s shores. And Roy Scheider does a damned good job selling the Chief’s descent into absolute manic paranoia.
The production values are high, John Williams’ score is more thrilling than the original, the shark looks cool and the second half, featuring a bunch of stranded teenagers surviving sporadic attacks from the big bad beastie in the middle of the ocean, is actually quite terrifying. And that helicopter bit …
Where the film falters is in its closing reel during which Chief Brody must once again travel out to sea and kill the great white shark via some sort of crazy plot device. In this case, an electric cable. Plus, the true villain of the film, Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo), a local developer who spends most of the film trying to destroy Brody’s life for whatever reason, never receives his comeuppance — which is truly bizarre since so much screen time is dedicated to this particular plot point.
Instead, the film ends on a curiously positive note despite the fact that several teenagers (along with Brody’s sons) were either killed or mentally scarred for life.
It’s not a perfect film, nor does it draw the same enthusiastic reaction as the original. But, for a sequel to one of the greatest films of all time, it’s passable summer entertainment.
- Release: 1975
- Stars: Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss
- Rotten Tomatoes: 97% from Critics, 90% from Audiences
How remarkable is it that a shark film produced in 1975 would still stand as not only the greatest shark film ever made, but as one of the greatest films of all time some 40 years later?
I’ve watched Jaws so many times I’m pretty sure I could close my eyes and recite the film in my mind shot for shot, beat for beat, music cue for music cue without fail. And it still entertains all these years later.
I’m not going to recount the typical bits that come with every Jaws post. By now everyone knows about the troubled production, and director Steven Spielberg’s ingenious decision to hide the shark for most of the movie as a result. (If you don’t, just watch The Shark is Still Working; one of the best making-of docs out there.)
Everyone knows Jaws is a classic. There’s really nothing more I can add to that discussion.
What bogs my mind is that no other film has tried to mimic Jaws’ less-is-more approach. Or, they try, but abandon the concept far too quickly. The ensuing knockoffs, including Jaws‘ three sequels, brought buckets of blood and carnage, but ignored the main ingredient that made Spielberg’s film such a treat: the heightened suspense created by the unseen terror lurking beneath the waves.