I LOVE shark movies. This predator has fascinated me for pretty much my entire life bringing fear and amazement to my brain every time I think about it. Hell, my first career goal in life was to become a marine biologist before I found my passion to be more in communications and writing than the sciences. Still I find myself drawn to films that put this legendary predator front and center. This weekend we see the shark’s great ancestor the Megalodon take center stage in “The Meg” giving us what could be one of the most innocently campy and entertaining shark films of all time. So naturally I went back and looked at other innocently campy shark movies of the past, and even ones that were pretty good as cinematic art. It’s a list I held on to specifically for the release of this film. These are my picks for the Top 10 Shark Movies.
For this list I looked at theatrically released films that heavily involve sharks. Simply put if it was released in theaters and a shark played an important part in the plot I considered it for the list. I rated these films keeping several aspects in mind including their popularity, their interpretations of the animal, their overall quality either as works of art of campy escapism and, of course, my own personal.
As with all my lists the movies in question had to be released theatrically in one form or another so THANKFULLY you won’t see any of those stupid “Sharknado” movies here.
As “The Meg” approaches I want to know, what is your favorite shark movie of all time? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list. Look for my review of “The Meg” coming soon.
Released in 2012 to theaters in Australia, “Bait’s” visuals may not hold up well today but the concept alone makes this a fun little film that sees a group of people cornered in a flooded supermarket by a pair of sharks after a tsunami. It’s campy in all the best ways with brutal deaths and bloodshed and the sharks being portrayed as cold-blooded hungry killers with little motive other than to be bad guys. The combination of animatronics and CGI helps bring the animals to life allowing for some scenes to look realistic while others border on the delightfully ridiculous. In short “Bait” is what it needs to be as a shamelessly fun survival flick that forces its human characters to think outside the box to outsmart one of the world’s most dangerous predators. Even with all its B-movie camp and clichés “Bait” has a certain innocent horror movie charm to it. Also, it’s not the first foreign market theatrical film you’ll see on this list, which speaks to the international allure of these creatures as antagonists.
9. “Shark Night 3D”
Released in 2011 “Shark Night 3D” may be much tamer than it ever should have been but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad experience. It has its own special charm as a predator-based horror movie taking a group of friends and putting them in the middle of the shark infested waters of a lake trying to survive the carnage. The animatronic sharks are pretty cool and were produced by Edge Innovations which also created the sharks used in “Deep Blue Sea”. Despite being negatively reviewed and relatively ignored upon its release “Shark Night” has taken on a life as a cult classic of sorts and a harmless shark themed flick that offers enough blood to entertain the masses but doesn’t go all the way with that violence thus avoiding being over-the-top. Simply put it’s a fun if flawed shark flick that hits all the right notes but doesn’t take chances. If you’ve never seen a shark movie before and you want to ease yourself into this subgenre of predator horror movies this would be a good place to start.
8. “Shark Tale”
The only animated movie of this list, “Shark Tale” is often considered a “Finding Nemo” ripoff but there’s quite a bit that separates this 2004 offering from the 2003 Pixar classic. While sharks are involved in “Finding Nemo” they are actually the main antagonists in “Shark Tale” as Will Smith portrays Oscar, a fish who befriends a nice shark and as a result is mistaken for a shark killer that earns him celebrity status. He also becomes the target of a mob group of sharks with the likes of Robert De Niro and others playing the villains. “Shark Tale” didn’t earn a lot of critical love but it has a legacy all the same earning an Academy Award Nomination and helping further establish DreamWorks as a legitimate competitor as a follow-up to the first two “Shrek” films. As a shark movie it’s a pretty neat idea. While it has its detractors, myself included to some extent, “Shark Tale” is really the only kid-friendly selection, along with the aforementioned “Finding Nemo”, to introduce the animal’s cinematic legacy to those still too young to experience the violence and terror these predators can bring.
7. “The Reef”
Another Australian production, “The Reef” is a highly underrated 2010 film that depicts a potential real-life situation straight from the nightmares of anyone afraid to sail the sea. The movie shows a group of friends who capsize while sailing in Indonesia. Their only hope of survival is to swim to a nearby island and signal for help, but a great white shark swims between them and salvation. “The Reef” was loved by critics and despite receiving little attention while in theaters in its home country went on to become a beloved must see on home release. It’s a nail-bitter that leaves you on the edge of your seat watching a battle of wits between man and animal. It’s so well done in fact that it’s been compared to other legendary pictures still to come on this very list and is possibly the most well-respected shark movie produced outside of the United States. It’s just a well-paced horror experience that takes everything great about shark movies and what these predators are capable of and puts it into an intriguing story of survival you will believe could happen in real life.
6. “47 Meters Down”
The newest film on this list, “47 Meters Down” was released in 2017 and was one of the few mainstream releases I wasn’t able to see in theaters. However, I wish I had because it’s a fun movie if sharks are your thing. The idea is simple and effective putting two sisters, played by Mandy Moore and Claire Holt, in a nightmare scenario as vacationers trapped underwater while viewing sharks in a cage. The cable snaps leaving the two women stuck at the bottom of the ocean running low on oxygen and surrounded by great white sharks. Could you imagine being in such a creepy life-threatening scenario? While “47 Meters Down” doesn’t fully cash in on the premise it does provide great shark-based thrills worth the short hour-and-a-half run time and despite the massive expanse of the ocean the setting feels claustrophobic. The sharks make for great antagonists who feel like natural predators and best of all it makes the audience question what they would do in such a scenario. It’s a great survival story and was an underrated gem of the genre in 2017 with a gut-wrenching ending that I personally never saw coming. Definitely check it out if you get the chance.
5. “Jaws 2”
The “Jaws” franchise doesn’t have a lot of sequel success. In fact, the fourth film is one of those rare movies with 0% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. The second entry however is much more respected especially as a follow-up to its legendary predecessor. The film brings back members of the original cast, including Roy Scheider as Martin Brody, as yet another great white sets it sights on Amity Island and Brody must once again convince the unsuspecting citizens and leadership of the danger. Aside from debuting one of the most famous taglines in cinema history with “just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”, “Jaws 2” was also briefly the highest grossing sequel ever before “Rocky II”. While it had big shoes to fill for sure “Jaws 2” has managed to earn respect as a decent if imperfect continuation for a franchise that only went downhill from there. If you enjoyed the first this sequel does just enough to satisfy and recapture at least a good portion of the suspense and fear that its predecessor perfected. If “Jaws” established the shark film trope, “Jaws 2” solidified it as a permanent part of cinema.
4. “Open Water”
Sometimes it’s not what you see, but what you don’t that makes a film worth the watch. “Open Water” isn’t about the blood or gore, but really about the fear of being at the mercy of the ocean’s biggest threats. Based on the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan who were left at sea during a scuba diving expedition in 1998 this excellent horror film shows us what the couple may or may not have experienced before their presumed deaths. Among those threats is sharks who are seldom seen in full but are still responsible for toying with the couple numerous times in the movie. Because of the low budget and more intimate filming style “Open Water” shows sharks in a natural and believable setting as they would likely act in real life rather than taking their violent behavior to the extreme. The sharks aren’t ruthless antagonists. These two people are in their territory and at their mercy. They’re simply doing what sharks do. One of the most respected movies on this list “Open Water” is a unique, eye-opening and suspenseful experience that’s so realistic and frightening it became infamously hated by businessmen and lawmakers for the impact it could have on tourism along the reefs.
3. “Deep Blue Sea”
Where “Open Water” is controlled and realistic “Deep Blue Sea” is the exact opposite, completely ridiculous and out of control in all the best ways. When you ask shark movie fans about their favorite film chances are this one is up there as it has evolved from a mild box office success to the go-to campy shark film of the last 19 years after it’s release in 1999. The movie focuses on a group of scientists seeking the cure to Alzheimer’s by using the brains of mako sharks. However, the enhancements leave the three sharks extremely smart and they begin to kill off the scientists one by one. From the plot to the deaths and outdated CGI “Deep Blue Sea” is legendary for being a beloved B-quality science fiction horror that borrows from and pays homage to shark movies that came before it. Its popularity helped revitalize the shark as a credible and scary predator on the big screen and legendary scenes like the kitchen showdown and Samuel L. Jackson’s death in the film have kept it alive as a must-see cult favorite. While it might not be the best or highest grossing shark movie out there, it’s popularity and legacy alone earns it this top-three spot. The movie eventually even earned its own direct-to-video stand-alone sequel release earlier this year.
2. “The Shallows”
In 2016 a little film turned into a big success that reminded filmgoers how scary and entertaining shark movies can be. That movie was “The Shallows” which earned critical and box office success as it put a woman played by Blake Lively up against a massive and hungry great white. Trapped on a rock and looking for a way to escape and outsmart the predator, Lively’s Nancy Adams must put everything she knows to the ultimate test to win out or become the shark’s next meal. “The Shallows” is a near-perfect balance of everything that makes a shark movie great. It has blood and incredible pacing, a terrifying and well-designed predator, and even a few amazing shots that have become near-iconic in modern cinema including the silhouette of the shark in a wave and the shark jumping out of the water to attack a surfer. It’s just a great film that truly captures the tenacity and terror of the great white while also providing one of the best survival thriller stories of the last decade. It’s not just a great shark film, it’s a product that deserves to be a modern classic and if you haven’t seen it yet seriously check it out. I guarantee it will make you second guess going in the water alone ever again.
There was never any other choice and you all know it. “Jaws” is the quintessential shark movie and the first to make the animal a credible movie antagonist. The original summer blockbuster, “Jaws” took the world by storm with its revolutionary effects and its great execution of suspense by showing only glimpses of the shark until the finale. These aspects of the film have been since been acknowledged as cases of cinematic brilliance from director Steven Spielberg. No matter who you ask, this is likely the first shark movie anyone thinks of and rightfully so. “Jaws” was responsible for the fear and terror that is still associated with real-world sharks to this day. It was a massive hit and is the most critically lauded movie on this list as well as a three-time Academy Award winner and a Best Picture nominee. Even without the superlatives “Jaws” is just an incredible movie experience that’s entertaining, thrilling, suspenseful, and even now still contains some of the most inventive and legitimately horrifying shark attacks to ever be put to film. Simply put this is THE shark movie and a classic whose legacy paved the way for every film featured on this list.