In 1975, Steven Spielberg created the summer blockbuster – that is to say, a high concept movie that draws in summer crowds and promises thrills and fun – with what was, at the time, the highest grossing movie of all time. He also effectively created a subgenre of horror movies that revolve around man-eating sharks. It’s hard to be a good shark movie that isn’t Jaws, but this year, the latest entry in that subgenre starred Jason Statham alongside a prehistoric shark that was 75 feet long. It received warm reviews from critics and grossed over $500 million worldwide, so the shark movie genre is far from biting into a scuba tank and getting blown up by Roy Scheider. Here are 10 great post-Jaws shark movies to feast your eyes on.
Yes, it’s really stupid, and yes, it is a made for TV B-movie. But also, it knows those things – and it embraces them. The first one is not as overtly comedic as the sequels. The sequels were too lazy. The original puts on the facade of seriousness and the ridiculousness of the plot and the premise are played for laughs in more tongue in cheek ways. Actress Tara Reid, who appears in the movie, explained it best: “It is silly, and there’s only a certain amount of barriers you could go into. You can’t take it so seriously when it’s absolutely the sharks flying in the sky. It’s so out there that it’s actually really funny.” It comes off as a little cynical in its attempts to be ironic and self aware, but what the hell, it is a lot of fun. The endless string of sequels to this movie have dragged the joke out a little bit too much, but the original has just the right amount of irony and cynicism and self awareness. It’s interesting, because it is actually striving to be included in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, and so its approach is all about that. It’s a lot of fun.
9. Bait 3D
A lot of the plot points in this movie are clichés and tropes, and the acting in the supposedly emotional and dramatic scenes is not really up to snuff, but the shark thrills are there and there’s plenty of them. Kimble Rendall, the director of this movie, had initially planned to go full Spielberg and not use any CGI effects at all in portraying the shark. However, the budget was low and CGI is actually the cheaper option these days, and so the movie did eventually have to utilize a little bit of CGI in some areas. Still, the effects are mostly practical and the 3D technology is put to great use to portray the terror of shark attacks. In the end, it’s not a great movie – but it is a great shark movie. There was actually a sequel in development back in 2014 about a plane that crashes in the Pacific Ocean on its way from China to Australia, and then the passengers all get attacked by sharks, but it was scrapped after the premise was found to have “uncomfortable similarities” to the real life case of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Oh, well. That could’ve been a fun and very thrilling movie, based on the premise.
8. Shark Night
The premise of this 3D horror movie plays like a slasher movie where the killer is a shark. A bunch of friends from college head out to a lake house to enjoy a vacation and then they are attacked by a huge shark one by one. This movie was directed by David R. Ellis, who had previously graced the silver screen with “these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane” that Samuel L. Jackson had eventually had enough of. It was actually Ellis’ final film before he died, so this is the mark that he left on the world. He utilized minimal CGI effects in favor of practical effects, which included animatronic sharks, and that seems to certainly be the best way to make a shark movie. No one was ever kept up at night by a CGI shark. No one ever avoided the ocean on a summer vacation because of a CGI shark that they once saw in a movie. But if the shark is really there in a water tank or even the actual ocean with an actor, then the fear of it comes off as real and the shooting of it comes off as much more visceral and believable.
7. Jaws 2
Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic won over both critics and audiences. It was a heck of a ride, filled with suspense and thrills and terror and action. None of the three sequels that followed Spielberg’s masterpiece managed to live up to its Hitchcockian mastery, but the first of them is not too bad. The third movie relied on 3D technology a little too much, especially given that it was made when 3D technology was in its infancy and therefore didn’t look very good, and the fourth movie was just flat out terrible with a shark that looked like a big rubber dildo and a plot that contradicted what Hooper said about the biology of sharks in the first one. But the second movie in the series is actually pretty good. It’s certainly the best of the sequels and it maintains some of the shark thrills that Spielberg had honed and crafted in the first movie. The shark is shown minimally, and when it is, it has some frightening impact, so some of the Hitchcockian suspense carries through from the original movie into the sequel. Although there was no involvement from Spielberg, his imprint can still be felt on the franchise brand.
6. 47 Meters Down
This shark horror movie from just last year, starring Claire Holt and Mandy Moore, has a deviously captivating setup: it’s about two girls who do a cage dive to get a closeup look at some sharks, and then the cage breaks loose and crashes down onto the ocean floor, where their air supplies run low and the sharks try to eat them. As soon as that cage comes loose and those girls are trapped on the ocean floor, the viewers are engaged and compelled and they want to see how this thing turns out. This movie has all of the shark thrills that a fan of the shark horror subgenre has come to expect. Those moments are all pretty intense and terrifying. Without spoiling anything, the movie’s ending has a real heartbreaking gut punch to it, as all good horror movie endings should. There’s a sequel to this movie currently in production that will be released in the summer of 2019, after the original did moderately well at the box office, grossing over $61 million worldwide on a modest budget of just $5 million. It was also a nominee for the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film at the last ceremony.
5. The Shallows
You know all those extravagant shots of sharks viciously attacking people, breaching the surface of the ocean in a horrifying display of its bloodthirsty monstrosity, that Steven Spielberg would have put into his 1975 classic if he’d had both the money and the working mechanical shark to do it? Well, in 2016, with all of the CGI technology and big studio bucks at his disposal, Jaume Collet Serra gave us all of those shots. He even did a version of that clip of the shark emerging from the ocean’s surface to grab a seal in its teeth, except with a human being on a surfboard instead of a seal. A lot of the movie plays out more like a music video or a YouTube extreme sports montage than a movie, with a dubstep soundtrack playing over shots of people surfing and an overuse of GoPro footage. Plus, having texting and Instagramming on screen isn’t very cinematic. Still, it is a thrilling story about a woman facing a bloodthirsty great white shark and Blake Lively provides a terrific performance in the lead role – a rare strong female role in an otherwise misogynistic Hollywood landscape. Because she’s so lovable, we really root for her. It’s just a shame that she’s given unnecessary backstory. We’ll still care about a woman who is fending off a giant shark that wants to eat her if she’s not also contemplating dropping out of med school.
4. Open Water
This frightening true story about a couple who go out on a boat with a scuba diving group to the middle of the ocean and get accidentally left behind is possibly the most realistic shark movie ever made. It has been followed by a few sequels that haven’t been based on true stories and have gone for a more cinematic approach to their sharks by having tidal waves wipe out boats and giant sharks swimming around, gobbling up people one by one, but this original movie has a realistic view of sharks and that’s even more terrifying. The shaky camerawork is very visceral and puts us right there in the middle of the ocean with this couple as they lose hope. Every time they look under the surface of the water, they see swarms of sharks circling around. They’re not 25 feet long, but they are still terrifying beasts. When the night falls, these two people are just floating on the surface of the sea, getting nipped at by sharks that they can’t see, because it’s pitch black. There’s no unnecessary backstory given to these characters, because the filmmakers are smart enough to realize that the film doesn’t need it. It’s just a scary tale of survival.
3. The Reef
The setup of this Australian horror flick is pretty simple. A bunch of friends go out in a yacht in the waters surrounding Indonesia, and when the boat capsizes, some of them decide to give swimming to an island that they can see in the distance a go, rather than sitting on the underside of the boat and waiting to die. But on their way to the island – and bear in mind that long distance swims always end up being a hell of a lot further than you think they’re going to be when you start – they are targeted and pursued by a bloodthirsty great white shark. The whole experience of watching the movie is tense, gut-wrenching, and exhilarating. And what makes the movie even more haunting is the fact that it is based on a true story about a man who survived a similar disaster back in 1983. The tourist board in the area where the movie is set objected to the film, fearing that a movie about a man-eating shark would hurt tourism in the area, but at the end of the day, it’s only a movie. Sharks aren’t really like that – it’s just fun to see it in a movie.
2. Deep Blue Sea
This movie is remembered for killing off its lead character and most famous cast member, Samuel L. Jackson, halfway through in an unexpected twist, but because of that infamous moment, it is not such an unexpected twist anymore. It has an interesting setup. Whereas Steven Spielberg’s shark was just a shark with some primal instincts to eat people, Renny Harlin’s movie has a slightly smarter and more considered premise. Not only does it involve a bunch of different sharks, rather than just the one, those sharks have had their intelligence enhanced by scientists who are developing a cure for Alzheimer’s at a facility deep under the sea. So, there are super smart sharks targeting people deep underwater. That setup leads to some ridiculous situations – like a chef played by LL Cool J hiding from a shark in an oven and then the shark turns the oven on – but those situations are always staged and directed deftly. Each such scene is tense and exciting and exhilarating. As the survivors struggle to climb out of a big cylinder while the shark infested waters rise below them, we are simply riveted. If Spielberg’s movie is the first word in shark movies, then for a long time, this was the second word.
1. The Meg
Ever since Steven Spielberg made audiences terrifying to go back in the ocean after making a movie about a 25 foot shark that terrorizes a small resort town, filmmakers have struggled to replicate the fear that he instilled into his audience. Where do you go from there? It’s the biggest shark that anyone has ever seen and it’s terrorizing hundreds of people. Well, if you’re Jon Turteltaub, then you make a movie in which a 75 foot shark terrorizes an entire country. Go big or go home, right? The fun of the movie comes from the fact that it doesn’t take itself seriously, and yet it’s also not trying to be cynical or hip or ironic. It knows it’s a big, dumb movie in which Jason Statham fights a humungous shark, and it knows that that’s ridiculous, but all it wants to be is a thrilling moviegoing experience that can scare you and also put a big, goofy smile on your face. And that’s exactly what it is. It’s a B movie with some ridiculously over the top action sequences and some genuine jump scare moments. It’s gloriously silly summer blockbuster entertainment. It’s dumb fun for all the family with a real heart at its core.