It’s Shark Week and in an attempt to pander a little bit to my readers I thought it would be fun to explore some of the greatest shark-based moments cinema has ever brought us. The “shark attack” subgenre of thriller and horror films, and I like to call it at least, has offered up some of the greatest moments of man versus beast ever presented on the big screen and while today it might seem like a cliché, the battle between man and the most dangerous predator in the sea makes for some gruesome and entertaining, if not gory and cringe worthy, moments. So to celebrate Shark Week I compiled a list of my picks for the Top 10 Cinematic Shark Attacks of all time.
For this list I looked at movies that featured at least one attack from a shark, Great White or otherwise, and chose the best moments from these films that stood out as man, or any other movie character for that matter, took on the dangerous predator. Be it horror, comedy, or even just a small moment irrelevant to the overall film plot, any cinematic shark attack, as long as it made it to the big screen in America or beyond, was considered.
Films like “Sharknado” were ignored for this list because, one, I don’t really have respect for them and, two and more importantly, they were not big-screen films anywhere in the world and were made for television movies.
As usual, only one entry per film, however I did allow for multiple entries per franchise so you may see a few from the same line of films on this list although they will be from different movies.
What cinematic shark attack was most memorable for you? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list!
10. Doby Turns on Ron, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”
The “Anchorman” movies are already ridiculous and the second film upped the strange factor quite a bit. One part of the film sees Will Ferrill’s Ron Burgandy bonding with his young son at a lighthouse as they nurse a baby shark to health before setting it free. Naming the shark Doby you’d think that would be the end of it, but nope. At the films conclusion Ron is attending the wedding of one of his longtime news team members, Brick, when Ron’s son notices that Doby has returned just off the shore. Ron swims out to meet his shark friend, but Doby being the animal he is turns on Ron and sees him as more meal than savior. As Ron tries to fight back against the predator his faithful dog Baxter comes to the rescue, showing Ron who his true animal friend is. It’s a strange, but oddly entertaining and amusing, shark attack scene that is appropriately out of place in an already cooky film. It may not be a work of cinematic genius, but the scene acted as a fitting conclusion to a film determined to throw everything at the audience and see what would stick.
9. The First Victim, “Shark Night 3D”
Setting the stage for this unapologetically campy 2011 horror film, the first attack from a shark on an unsuspecting young woman in a lake captures the horror that was to come from this surprising theatrical hit. Emulating the opening scene from the most popular shark film of all, “Jaws”, we see the young woman left alone by her boyfriend and as she prepares to do a bit of skinny dipping is attacked by a bloodthirsty shark. The victim ALMOST escapes, but is repeatedly pulled underwater until her screams are silenced for good. It’s a brutal and bloody scene that sets the pace for the entire film, which is filled with a few more ridiculous and over-the-top attacks that were also considered for this list, and strikes fear into the hearts of both viewers and the character onscreen as she is attacked by a beast of the ocean in a lake of all places, a body of water sharks don’t tend to occupy. We find out later in the film why the sharks are there, but in this moment we become afraid to go in not just the ocean, but any body of water as a newfound danger claims its first meal.
8. Don Lino verses Oscar, “Shark Tale”
In an animated film about a down-on-his-luck fish masquerading as a shark killer, you’re bound to see a few shark scenes play out. However it’s the final attack that catches my attention as Will Smith’s Oscar is not only revealed a fraud in front of the Godfather-like shark leader Don Lino, but the underwater mobster also discovers that Oscar has been hiding Lino’s thought-dead vegetarian son Lenny. Angered by the revelations, Don Lino chases Oscar through the ocean reef and into a “whale wash” in a cat and mouse game that sees Oscar come out on top. The film was building to this confrontation through most of its runtime and when we finally see Oscar have to face the inevitable consequences of his lies the payoff is satisfying with Oscar revealing to the world the falsehood of his fame and Don Lino and Lenny coming to an understanding about fatherly love and identity. It may not be the violent, blood-soaked spectacle we’re all used to seeing from a shark attack, but it’s a classic moment all the same.
7. Losing an Arm, “Soul Surfer”
Based on the real-life story of Bethany Hamilton, a surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack, “Soul Surfer” presented a more tasteful attack than it’s fellow 2011 shark film “Shark Night 3D”. After winning a surfing contest Bethany and her friends head out into the waters where she is attacked by a tiger shark, losing her arm in the process and setting the film in motion. It’s a real life incident put to film that doesn’t try to demonize the animal, but rather focuses on the rush back to shore and the natural dangers of spending time in the habitat of the world’s greatest predators. It’s a scene that nightmares are made of and unlike most entries on this list it really happened making it all the more disturbing. It’s also a well-paced and well-acted scene that drives home the seriousness of the situation without going too overboard, making for a gripping few minutes of cinema that hold on to your attention for dear life.
6. The Banana Boat, “Jaws: The Revenge”
By far the worst “Jaws” film to date, “Jaws: The Revenge” DOES contain one of the most epic shark attacks ever put to film in all its corny glory. Convinced a shark is seeking revenge for the previous sharks killed by the Brodys, Ellen Brody is already weary of the water and when her daughter Thea joins some friend on a banana boat she watches in horror as a great white attacks and kills a woman on the same banana boat, who screams as she hangs out of the massive sharks mouth. It’s a scene that, even if only briefly, captures some of the same magic and terror the first “Jaws” provided utilizing a modern family fun activity as the setting for the deadly attack. If moviegoers took nothing else away from this terrible sequel film, they did at least gain a new fear of the unknown while heading deeper out into the water on any boat, let alone a floating banana boat. It’s a scene that leaves a mark, as all good horror scenes should, and it’s by far one of the more memorable attacks outside of the original “Jaws” film.
5. Bruce’s Relapse, “Finding Nemo”
The most memorable animated shark scene in film goes to Pixar’s masterpiece, “Finding Nemo” which sees Marlin and Dory travel through the ocean to rescue Marlin’s lost son. Along the way they come across a group of non-violent sharks who have formed a club preaching that “fish are friends not food”, turning on their natural animal instincts. After Dory is accidentally stricken with a bloody nose the blood sends the club’s leader, a great white named Bruce who was named after the animatronic shark from “Jaws”, into a relapse, giving him the hunger for fish once again. Bruce gives chase to Marlin and Dory through an old submarine leading to one heck of an action sequence as the two fish try to escape and Bruce’s friends try to calm him down and assure their fish friends that this isn’t how Bruce normally is. It’s a popular scene that added a bit of action and suspense to a world under the sea and, ironically enough, provided a more positive introduction to the nature of sharks for young viewers as it made the shark’s blood thirst out to be more of an instinct and addiction than an act of intentional violence. Who knew such a dangerous scene involving such a powerful predator could be so educational?
4. Silencing Sam, “Deep Blue Sea”
Samuel L. Jackson is known as a monologue king, but in 1999’s “Deep Blue Sea” someone finally showed him up. Jackson played Russell Franklin in the film about altered super-intelligent sharks who turn the tables on the scientists studying them to break out into the sea. One by one the scientists are picked off, but early in the film the sharks claimed their first real meal in truly epic fashion. While trying to inspire his fellow captives deep below the surface inside a deteriorating structure Jackson’s Franklin spews an inspiring speech about survival. However, the head shark is having none of it as Franklin decided to monologue right next to a water pool, allowing the shark to jump out, grab him, and proceed to rip him in half with the help of another shark. It was a truly unexpected turn of events that not only killed off one of the biggest actors in the film early on, but defied expectations by cutting off a character actor known for his vibrato and epic speeches. The gruesome manner of the kill also added a nice touch as splitting people in half seemed to be the sharks’ favorite way of killing the scientists. In fact three of the victims see their bodies split apart over the course of the movie in the jaws of the predators.
3. Wave Crasher, “The Shallows”
The newest scene on this list, the initial attack by the great white in “The Shallows” was only the beginning of an epic cat and mouse story as Black Lively saw her character, Nancy, stranded 200 yards from shore after unexpectedly wandering onto the shark’s feeding ground. The buildup to this moment is intense and drawn out, leaving the viewer continuously expecting the attack that finally happens as Nancy rides a wave and the massive shadow arrives within the wave itself before the great white crashes into its pray. Nancy is injured as the shark threatens to finish her off before she can get away. It’s an epic, well designed scene that sets the tone for the entire movie without going TOO over the top in its attempt at shock value. Bonus points to the later scene of the shark jumping clear out of the water to claim another victim, but it’s this one that really sets the film’s violence and danger into motion. This film in itself was fantastic, with many hailing it the best overall shark film since “Jaws”, and it’s because of scenes like this that it earned that right. This is a perfect example of how restraint can make for some of the most terrifying scenes in any film, let alone one where humans and nature collide.
2. Floating Meal, “Open Water”
Some films are terrifying for their subtly and simplicity rather than their epic scale. Such was the case for “Open Water”, a 2003 horror flick that was based on real events as a married couple is left behind during a scuba excursion and they are forced to face the dangers of the deep alone. At one point sharks begin to enjoy the couple as a meal, leading to this well executed runner-up entry on this list. While the couple floats in place, being carried away by the waves, the sharks that circle them become anxious to enjoy a bite and so they do as the husband gets a nice chunk taken out of him. Later on he would go one to be devoured by said sharks, but it’s this scene that leads into the rest of the film that really stands out as we see very little, if any, of the sharks enjoying their easy meal and only see the effects their attacks have on both the victims who are helpless to fight back or escape. It’s a flawless presentation of nature versus humanity and serves as one of the most realistic and subtle incidents to make this list and while the blood shed and gore can’t match the previous entries, it’s this scene’s ability to capture fear and helplessness in the face of some of the world’s most terrifying sea-based predators that makes it a worthy second-place scene.
1. The Lone Swimmer, “Jaws”
The one that started it all and the scene that pretty much every scene on this list strived to emulate and, in some cases replicate, the lone swimmer at the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s original summer blockbuster “Jaws” is as iconic as they come. You know the scene well, and if you don’t then get on that! A lone woman swims in the dead of night off the beaches of Amity Island before she is tugged by an unseen predator below the surface. The now-iconic screams of the woman redefined fear at the time of the film’s release and the mysteries of what the predator looked like as well as what damage was being done left audiences immediately mesmerized, and this was just the start of the film. There were a lot of scenes in “Jaws” that could have made this list, from the attack that claimed the life of a young swimmer to Quint’s encounter with the epic great white, but THIS was the scene that defined a trendsetter of a film and showed everyone that mystery and a bit of reservation could make for a truly terrifying scene. It’s all topped off by the young woman’s scream’s being silenced as she is pulled under one final time and the best part is we never get to see the shark during the entire attack. This scene alone caused fear and panic in countless moviegoers as they became concerned with exactly what threat lurked in the waves of their local beach. It takes a truly effective and life-like scene of terror to have that kind of effect on the world and that’s why it claims the number one spot on this list as the greatest cinematic shark attack of all time.