Shark movies appear to fill a deep psychological need in human beings. They are now a genre in their own right. Experts are fighting a losing battle to counteract the shark’s rep as a prehistoric killing machine – in reality, these fish generally only bite humans by accident, mistaking them for seals etc. I’m not sure how much of a comfort this is to their victims, though (If it’s any consolation, he wouldn’t have liked the taste of your legs. He probably spat them out.).
For those who fancy a more eco-friendly kind of shark film, try Beyond The Reef (1980), about a boy who raises a tiger shark as a pet (don’t try this at home) or Mako: The Jaws Of Death (1976): the story of a man with a telepathic connection to sharks and a vow to destroy anyone who tries to harm them.
But if general sharksploitation is more your thing (it’s not about the quality, it’s about the entertainment) here’s my top 25. I’ve tried to avoid giving away too many surprises, but it may still be vaguely spoilerish. Regrettably, there wasn’t room to include ALL the formulaic “chomper” movies; honorable mentions must go to Spring Break Shark Attack (2005), Red Water (2003), 2012’s 2-Headed Shark Attack (notable for the dispatch of two water-skiers simultaneously) and Dark Tide (2012) which was less about sharks and more about Halle Berry in a bikini.
25. Jurassic Shark (2012)
Jurassic Shark has the same plot line as 2002’s Megalodon. And 2010’s Dinoshark. And Eli Roth’s rumored future project Meg. And every other “creature awakened from a millions-of-years-long hibernation” flick.
Some movies are so bad they’re good; this one is so outrageously terrible, it has to be seen to be believed. It looks as if it was filmed with a 1990s era camcorder; a gigantic (and surprisingly vocal) shark has no trouble traversing knee-deep water, and we also have to endure long and pointless scenes of people walking through woods, with no dialogue and no sharks. Finally they decide the monster must be killed, in case it somehow reaches a crowded beach. Even though it’s currently trapped in a deserted LAKE.
Best death scene: The shark leaping overhead (presumably swerving in mid-air to get back into the water) and leaving nothing of a victim but a pair of bloody stumps in her shoes. (Every death is hilarious, despite mostly consisting of someone disappearing, followed by crunching and some documentary footage of a shark swimming away.)
24. Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus (2009)
I wanted epic battles between two giant sea creatures defrosted after millions of years. Instead, I got submarine scenes featuring clichéd characters and the kind of production values which made me nostalgic for Children’s BBC specials of the 1980s.
Our intrepid heroes (headed by Debbie Gibson – yes, that one) decide that luring the shark and octopus towards populated coastlines is a good idea. The villains of the piece suggest the creatures should be destroyed, much to the horror of the scientists who want to study them. However, everyone agrees it’s cool if the animals kill each other. Their fighting scenes are recycled several times, and the laziness continues in the dialogue:
“You know, only 8% of the ocean’s gone unexplored.”“Sounds like a challenge.”
No, it sounds like you got the sentence the wrong way round and nobody on the film set noticed or cared.
MegaShark was followed by three sequels: Vs Crocosaurus in 2010; Vs Mecha Shark in 2014 and Vs Kolossus, in 2015.
Best death scene: The shark does at least bite an aeroplane out of the sky, so its time is not entirely wasted.
23. Hammerhead/SharkMan (2005)
Appropriately enough given the type of shark featured, this feels like an old-school Hammer horror. Dr. King (resembling a child’s caricature of an evil scientist) has turned his adult son into a human/shark hybrid to save him from cancer. So the killer shark is called Paul, which I think is a movie first.
Paul needs a mate (so they can spawn a new and improved human race, of course) and his scientist ex-fiance (Hunter Tylo) is top of the list. She and her colleagues are lured to the island, and are soon asking each other “Did you notice anything strange about this place?” Well, there are “shark control devices” handily labelled as such on cupboard doors, and evil forest vines waiting to pounce on your ankles. Not to mention the predator-style (and very growly) landlubbing sharkman.
Best death scene: For script stupidity (we have too many characters who are still alive, we need to kill some more before the big showdown) it has to be the woman who brushes up against something in the woods which makes her itch, so she heads straight for the water….
22. Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002)
Shark Attack (1999) shares elements with Deep Blue Sea: cancer cure research results in hormonally screwed-up sharks. It was “successful” enough to result in two sequels, the last being the most sublime. Starring John Barrowman (who famously ad libbed something naughty for the blooper reel and was astonished to see it sneak into the movie), this story features yet another prehistoric monster fish. It’s so big that it can eat entire lifeboats full of people; the effects are so realistic that they look like paper dolls. You will laugh.
Best death scene: The man on a jet-ski who looks back with a dastardly grin at the other yacht passengers flailing around in the water, then rides into the waiting mouth of the shark.
21. Super Shark (2011)
Super Shark caters to the 14-year old boy demographic; not only is there is a shameless sequence of bikini beauties in a bar (and a follow-up scene with the world’s worst photographer taking pictures of them) but the shark is fought with flame throwers and a walking tank (which attacks by kicking with its little legs).
Sarah Lieving plays Kat “Catfish” Carmichael, a “fish doctor” (the film’s words, not mine) investigating what could have destroyed an oil rig. The lone survivor claims it was a giant shark, but then retracts his statement for fear of being seen as crazy. (Because… large sharks are mythical creatures?) There are some classic B-movie lines, such as a hushed “They say it came out of the water and walked on its fins!” and a theme song which makes it clear that the shark is the star of the show: “He makes Jaws look like Flipper.” Superb stuff.
Best death scene: Never say “I wish I was dead” within earshot of a shark. They’re pretty obliging.
20. Ghost Shark (2013)
You’ve got to hand it to the writers of Ghost Shark. Now that we’ve had all the possible variations on sharks in water, on land, in the sky and coupled with other creatures, you might have thought there were no more original options left. A vengeful ghost shark that can appear as long as there is even the tiniest amount of water in the vicinity? Genius. Ghost Shark 2: Urban Jaws (2015) follows the same idea but is totally unrelated; it started life as a spoof trailer which proved a hit.
Best death scene: So many to choose from! For performance alone my pick is the guy who finds an unfortunate surprise in his drink. His writhing and gurning as the shark kills him from the inside is a sight to behold.
19. Shark In Venice (2008)
At its best, Shark In Venice provides lessons in how not to act (pay special attention to Stephen Baldwin’s portrayal of “man tossing and turning, unable to sleep”) or flee from gangsters (every time they lose you, make a noise to alert them to your presence). At worst, it’s a disappointing payoff from a promising idea. Had the canals of Venice been haunted by suspiciously shark-shaped predators and mysteriously disappearing gondoliers, we might have enjoyed some intriguing build-up. Instead we fall straight into a crime thriller with some sharks in it, as the most pouty of all the Baldwin brothers discovers hidden treasure underwater, to the dismay of the local gangsters.
Best death scene: There aren’t any really entertaining deaths, so instead, I shall list my favourite moment: when divers with regulators in their mouths manage to hold a totally clear conversation as if via mind-reading equipment.
18. Shark Swarm (2008)
Environmental activist Daryl Hannah was presumably drawn to this script because of its “evil pollution” theme, with toxins released into the sea making sharks eat people (wait, don’t they do that anyway?). The trouble is that a whole bunch of sharks isn’t really scarier than one, as either way, you’ll be eaten if you go for a swim.
Although the script is clunky and the actors behave as if the directions were “awkward at all times,” there are some redeeming features – it’s certainly the first time I’ve ever seen a shark film utilising a mass baptism. The local fishermen are crap at their jobs; terrified of every bump against the boat and like all the other locals, visiting scientists etc., they fall into shark-infested water with very little provocation.
Best death scene: My favorite scene was not a death, but an attack… by a dead, beached shark. Well, would you put your hand in its mouth?
17. Raging Sharks (2005)
Raging Sharks begins with some extra-terrestrial fun when a capsule full of particles hurtles from space and hits a boat in the middle of a big empty ocean (what are the chances?). It seems we now have an explanation for why so many ships disappear in the Bermuda triangle: alien-crystal-fed sharks!
An underwater research center full of bad actors provide the laughs; Vanessa Angel is worth the admission price alone, with monotone warnings like “They’re coming back. Swim.” They also have a magical hatch which instantaneously kits out the staff in either wetsuits or dry clothes, depending on which way they’re going. When people are being eaten by sharks, the procedure is to go and join them in the water, and if someone doesn’t fancy this idea – call them “chicken.”
If you enjoy watching shark attacks with extra-crunchy biting, and fistfights that look like scenes from Naked Gun, this is the movie for you.
Best death scene: Credit has to go to the shark who manages to correctly identify and exact justice upon the villain.
16. Swamp Shark (2011)
The tale begins with an animal smuggling exchange which goes wrong, resulting in a shark loose in the swamplands. The locals are surprisingly slow to react to “Get out of the water” warnings, even though the area is usually populated with alligators. They also leave large boats and get into smaller ones when they know a shark is nearby, so it’s a case of Darwin Awards, really.
Brazenly ripping off Jaws, the all-important holiday “Gatorfest” must go ahead, no matter how many people have been eaten lately. Luckily the characters are so irksome, you can’t wait for them to get chomped up.
Best death scene: The one involving a flying shark and a surprise decapitation.
15. L’Ultimo Squalo aka The Last Shark aka Great White (1981)
Here’s a pro tip: if you’re going to throw chum into the water in the hope of attracting a killer shark, don’t fall in. It’s a simple rule, but one that’s forgotten by an astonishingly high number of characters here. People wake in their hospital beds screaming “Kill it!”, they run in slow-motion into the sea, and when bitten by a shark, their legs snap off like Twix biscuits. It’s quite a show, all accompanied by a glorious 1980s soundtrack, and a giant rubber shark with a weirdly human-looking mouth.
It’s not the most original storyline: the town’s windsurfing contest is imminent, and “No damn shark is going to screw up a year’s planning!” But he’s such a clever, naughty shark that he can even manage to trap divers in an underwater cave by bricking up their exit. No wonder one character says “There’s something fishy here,” a line so perfect I can’t believe it hasn’t been used in all the movies.
Best death scene: The man who slowly swims alongside the pier rather than climbing onto it, thus giving the shark ample time to attack.
14. Blue Demon (2004)
It was a toss-up whether to include this film, or for the sake of hilarious deaths, 2012’s Jersey Shore Shark Attack. But who could say no to that face?
Scientists have created sharks who can be remotely controlled by microchips in their heads and used as military protection. Dedee Pfeiffer (a Cameron Diaz lookalike who is actually the sister of Michelle) is determined that their special skills must be used for good, but her boss (Danny Woodburn) wonders if they could also be trained to attack on command. Did I mention, the sharks are named Groucho, Harpo etc and are known collectively as the Sharks brothers?
To my surprise, the movie wasn’t dreadful; there are some intentionally funny parts and at times it has a 1980s-cop-buddy-movie feeling. Look out for the foolproof way of thwarting your enemies by throwing a rubber ring over their shoulders; it renders them helpless.
Best death scene: It’s a near miss rather than a bloody death, but I enjoyed the little girl who caught something heavy on her fishing line…
13. Sand Sharks (2011)
With the tagline “Just when you thought you were safe out of the water,” this silly movie is hilarious and innovative, seamlessly blending sharks with Tremors. It features the least convincing scientist I’ve ever seen on screen, a “Sandman” festival, and a climax which involves a flame-thrower, molten sand, and Ride Of The Valkyries providing the soundtrack.
The sharks are prettily multicoloured, just like the ones in Avalanche Sharks (2013), which has basically the same premise, but with snow (Also see Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast, 2011. Actually, don’t; it’s unwatchable).
Best death scene: The James Bond-esque punning involved in “You just don’t have a head for business” and the predictable next few seconds.
Apologies, as always, for splitting an article over more than one page. It’s something we do with much longer pieces to cut down on load times, especially when there are so many pictures of sharks involved.
Rest assured more shark pictures follow in the rest of this countdown, which begins right here…
12. Sharktopus (2010)
Syfy’s Sharktopus is unashamedly ludicrous but the title alone makes it a must-see for a certain kind of person (you). Followed in 2014 by Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda (a pterodactyl crossed with a barracuda, of course) and 2015 with Sharkopus Vs Whalewolf. The special effects are video game-esque, but at least you know these movies are funny on purpose.
Interestingly, back in 1984 there was a movie about a similar hybrid, known variously as Devil Fish, Monster Shark, Shark: Red On The Ocean, and Devouring Waves. (Never a good sign when a movie has multiple names, is it?) It’s an AWESOMELY cheesy and terrible film with the best 1980s music ever; watch it now.
Best death scene: “Oh no! Not like this!”
11. Jaws 4: The Revenge (1987)
The Jaws franchise truly jumped the shark with this final instalment; the sharp-toothed protagonist is presumably either a descendant of the sharks in Jaws 1, 2, and 3, or an actual ghost/zombie, and is coming after all the members of the Brody family. When one character survives what looked like certain death and is asked how he did it, he simply replies “It wasn’t easy, believe me.” This gives you an idea of the amount of care and thought put into the writing.
But I did learn some salient life lessons. One: If a shark bites your arm off, don’t lean over the side of the boat with your other arm. Two: Sharks explode if you shoot them. Three: Michael Caine can keep his clothes dry even when he’s climbing out of water into a boat. Four: If your mother tells you that a shark is targeting your family and has followed you from Massachusetts to the Bahamas, you should believe her. SHE JUST KNOWS (She can also have flashbacks to events she didn’t actually see happening, so she’s a pretty spooky lady).
Best death scene: Just when you thought it was safe to ride an inflatable banana…
10. 12 Days Of Terror (2005)
Back in the days when people’s swimsuits reached their knees and a mutilated body being dragged up the beach made them gasp in horror rather than stand around filming it on their phones, the press was gripped by a spate of shark attacks which gave them the “ferocious maneater” reputation they maintain to this day (sharks, not journalists). If you like your bitey animal movies with a historical flavor, this period docudrama covers the famous Jersey Shore attacks of 1916, which are often cited as inspiration for Peter Benchley’s Jaws. He denied this in 2001, but the story sounds sadly familiar: multiple deaths abound when authorities are reluctant to acknowledge any danger.
Best death scene: Not strictly a death scene, but there’s a nasty surprise when someone is rescued, but not in time to save all of him.
9. Bait (2012)
When a tsunami hits, everyone in the supermarket has to make a quick plan for survival as the flood brings hungry sharks with it. Unfortunately the film isn’t as good as the original (and vaguely realistic) premise, although there are some decent jumps and gory deaths.
Reality isn’t a strong point; some people are trapped in an underground car park, but luckily have magical waterproof cars which allow them to sit there for some time with no real danger, as the water level here is no higher than it is on the floor above them. Some of the actors, for reasons known only to themselves, are pretending to be American. The rest stick with their Australian accents, resulting in a confusing mishmash of nationalities.
People wait until they’re in the water to have long, meaningful conversations, and bodies decompose so super-fast that I wondered if the movie was going to combine my two great loves, sharks and zombies (Oh, it’s happened. Zombie Shark, 2015). I still don’t understand why they didn’t electrocute the sharks when they had the chance, but then I don’t understand why one electric eel doesn’t kill everything in the sea, so I’m probably not the best person to ask.
Best death scene: When the triumphant cries of “I can make it, I can make it!” are interrupted by a leaping shark.
8. Jaws 3D (1983)
To the casual observer, Jaws 3D is a rubbishy sequel with too many murky underwater shots. On another level, it’s a deep, subtle horror film told from the point of view of a mother shark. First, she is trapped within the confines of a water park. Next, her baby is seized by humans who argue over which would be the most profitable way to exploit it; death on TV or life in captivity. Mrs. Jaws breaks into Seaworld in a desperate rescue attempt; tragically, her baby is already dead.
This interpretation would explain the pitifully low number of exciting death scenes; even when swimming amok in the water park she causes few fatalities, mostly damaging the frighteningly poorly constructed underwater tunnels.
As always when 3D is used as a gimmick, there are plenty of objects inexplicably hurtling towards the camera; unfortunately, moments when the effect could have been genuinely great are missed completely. For instance, the now infamous scene when she breaks through glass is seen from the side. Why not a head-on shot, just to emphasise the fact that a giant killer shark is smashing through the cinema screen RIGHT INTO YOUR FACE? Speaking of missed opportunities, the first draft of the movie was titled National Lampoon’s Jaws 3, People 0 and featured shark-costumed aliens and Jaws author Peter Benchley being eaten in his swimming pool. However, the movie does end as all shark movies should, with two dolphins twirling triumphantly through the air.
Best death scene: The view from inside the shark’s mouth as she devours her prey.
7. Shark Night 3D (2011)
After too many ropey films that look as if they were made by a group of drama students with a video camera, this came as a pleasant surprise. Yes, it follows the usual crowd of scantily-clad college kids out to have a good time on a lake, but it’s a glossy, professional production with several enjoyable twists and even a tiny bit of character development. Trapped on an island with no telephone reception, the teens realise too late that there is a shark in the lake (actually, the place is teeming with them), for reasons which will become clear.
As you might expect from producer Chris Briggs (whose credits include the Hostel franchise), this throws out some slightly uncomfortable questions for the viewer – why exactly do we watch shark attacks with such glee?
Best death scene: Well, I feel guilty about this now. But it’s the one with the jet-ski and an airborne shark.
6. Sharknado (2013)
The popularity of this instant classic has resulted in (to date) two sequels: Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014), and Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015). More are promised, so this could run indefinitely…
A tornado over the ocean causes a downpour of vicious sharks. No rocks, no seaweed, no squid. Just sharks. Ex-Beverly Hills 90210 star Ian Ziering stars as Fin (subtle, no?) who bands together with his bar room employee Cassie Scerbo and their pal John Heard, to track down his kids and ex-wife (Tara Reid, with a performance so cringeworthy it brings the entire film down. Sorry). It’s a cheerfully ridiculous romp which requires zero brain power and has countless flying maneaters.
Best death scene: It’s a shark’s death rather than a human’s… but how many people can say they’ve broken out of a shark’s stomach with a chainsaw?
5. Open Water (2003)
A haunting movie about a nightmare of a situation – two tourists left behind on a Great Barrier Reef diving trip. Unbelievably, it’s based on a true story; the real-life couple were the victims of a botched head-count on their tour boat in 1998.
The crazy facts continue: no CGI was used in the film, but actors Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis put their trust in chain mesh-undersuits and the constant supply of tuna snacks provided to keep the shark ‘actors’ from taking a nibble at them. Nearly half of the $130,000 budget was spent on an expert shark wrangler, Stuart Cove, to keep things safe.
In 2006, unrelated movie Adrift was re-named Open Water 2 to cash in on its success; it featured a bunch of people who “lock themselves out” of their boat by jumping into the water without first lowering the ladder. Watching them make a bad situation into a disaster is almost unbearably frustrating.
Best death scene: There’s too much raw fear and horrific realism for this to be a fun, chomp-em-up kind of movie. Definitely not one to watch before your backpacking trip to Oz.
4. Jaws 2 (1978)
Sequels rarely match the greatness of their predecessors, but Jaws 2 gives it a good bash, leading with one of the most infamous taglines ever: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…” Roy Scheider gives it his all (in a film he wasn’t keen to make) as the man trying to convince the authorities that he isn’t paranoid.
But you can see the rot beginning to set in; too many teenagers giving it a ‘Friday The 13th – with sharks!’ vibe, and hints of the silliness which was to come: “Sharks don’t take things personally” (Oh, really?). There are some effective shocks, but some rubbish ones too, such as the moment when Brody sees a piece of ruined speedboat in the water. He takes ages to take off his shoes and socks so he can go in (accompanied by scary music and a disconcerting point of view shot which is so high out of the water, Jaws must be actually sitting on a yacht). When Brody finally touches the piece of wreckage, it somehow makes a dead body ping upwards into his face. There is also some unintentional comedy when Jaws sets fire to a boat.
Best death scene: I can’t ruin the surprise if you haven’t seen it (shame on you) but there is a one traumatising sequence when you think everything is going to be all right and then… it isn’t.
3. The Reef (2010)
This low-budget but gripping movie was written and directed by Andrew Traucki, who apparently enjoys making menacing predator films (including The Jungle (2013) and 2007’s Black Water, an equally suspenseful crocodile flick).
The story is simple but effective; five Australian friends are sailing towards Indonesia when they hit a reef which wrecks their boat. Now they have a dilemma; do they stay with the vessel and hope somehow to be picked up (without a radio for mayday calls) or attempt to swim for shore? The script carefully makes it clear that it’s a lose-lose situation; you can’t berate the characters for making stupid decisions when they’re between a rock and a hard place. Or more accurately, between a drifting tide taking the boat out to sea, and swimming in shark-infested waters.
Best death scene: The chilling realism of these characters seeing their friends get eaten is more memorable than any number of silly shock deaths. Having said that, the last few minutes are incredibly tense.
2. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Intellectual it is not, but Deep Blue Sea (inspired by writer Duncan Kennedy’s childhood nightmares of sharks who could read his mind) is a Friday night pizza and popcorn movie. It’s action-packed, features more explosions than you’d expect in a film set at sea, and the sharks are super-intelligent and able to use ovens. What’s not to like?
Scientist Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) is working on a cure for Alzheimer’s, using sharks because of their super non-ageing brains. But she has forgotten the oft-repeated movie moral that interfering in nature (even to cure disease) leads inevitably to disaster; the creatures she and Jim (Stellan Skarsgård) have genetically engineered are too smart for their own good.
The moral tone continues with LL Cool J offering comic relief as ‘Preacher’ (who knew that a crucifix could make such a fine weapon?) and a theme of the hubris of man preceding his downfall. When someone says “What in God’s creation…?” don’t say smugly “Not His. Ours…” It just won’t end well.
Best death scene: The infamously surprising one. If you’ve seen it you know the bit I mean; if you haven’t, watch it now.
1. Jaws (1975)
It really doesn’t matter what kind of amazing special effects or Oscar-winning acting is included in shark films of the future – nothing will ever replace Jaws as the big daddy of them all. It is too deeply entrenched in our collective psyche, too mired in myth and legend, just too damn good to ever be superseded from the top spot.
In a culture where shark movies have become a mixture of in-jokes and absurdity, Jaws stands out as a film which may feature a big scary fish, but also works fantastically as a drama. The fight of two thinking men versus a group who only see dollar signs, a small town menaced by a killer but trying to, er, stay afloat financially, and deaths which affect us because we’ve come to care about the characters, even those who only appear fleetingly. (Brody being slapped by the mother of a victim is perhaps the only moment in a shark film which is a little bit heartbreaking.)
All the more impressive for having been made so early in Spielberg’s directing career, the film is famously different from its original concept because Bruce the mechanical shark refused to co-operate, forcing the trademark underwater-point-of-view accompanied by the iconic musical score. (In fact, the only parts of the movie which now look dated are those in which the shark actually shows his face.) There were also problems with the actors, particularly Robert Shaw as Quint; after a shambolic and alcohol-fuelled first attempt at his key monologue, he came back sober to give Spielberg the mesmerising take which was used (geeks may be interested to know that the real-life event which Quint describes was fictionalized for TV movie Mission Of The Shark in 1991, and is the subject of upcoming 2016 movie USS Indianapolis: Men Of Courage).
With Roy Scheider’s solid central performace, Richard Dreyfuss doing his patented cheeky chappie bit, and an underwater head making quite possibly the best shock scare in the history of film, Jaws is a stunner which not only re-popularised Hitchcock’s favourite camera shot (the dolly zoom), but also made generations of children frightened of taking baths. Bravo, Spielberg!
Best death scene: Stuntwoman Susan Backlinie plays the first victim in a scene which is the subject of much internet lore. Did she really break her ribs as she was whipped back and forth via a harness? Although careful listening reveals that she did say “It hurts!” she has since denied that she was genuinely injured. (Considering that her job probably entailed pain as an everyday occupational hazard, it seems likely that all her screams were in character.)The gurgling sounds were created in a recording studio; she held her head upside-down and water was poured down her throat. Who’d be in showbusiness, eh?