In this article:
- We’re more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a shark, but that fact doesn’t make most of us feel any less afraid of one of the ocean’s apex predators.
- Since Jaws hit theaters in 1975, shark movies have been capitalizing on that human instinct to be wary of predators and have been steadily stoking the flames of our fear.
- Even so, movies in this subgenre of creature features tend to lean toward over-the-top or unrealistic scenarios, even when they’re done well.
- Whether you want a genuinely chilling film on par with Jaws or a completely ridiculous concept rivaling Sharknado, these are the best and worst shark movies to watch this weekend.
The odds of getting fatally attacked by a shark is 1 in 4.3 million. Theoretically, you’re more at risk of being killed by heart disease, bike accidents, and even lightning than by a shark. Yet most of us would much sooner give up dipping our toes in the ocean than give up meat and alternative modes of transportation.
While you could be missing out on amazing aquatic experiences because of your fear of one of nature’s apex predators, you’re not alone.
According to London’s Natural History Museum fish curator, Oliver Crimmen, “I actually saw a big change happen in the public and scientific perception of sharks when Peter Benchley’s book Jaws was published and then subsequently made into film.”
Since that genre-defining film, we’ve continued to feast on dozens upon dozens of shark movies, feeding our fear of the creatures in the process.
Let’s Face It: Shark Movies Are Far From Realistic
If there’s one opinion casual moviegoers and film critics can share, it’s that there are actually very few good or believable shark movies. Jaws (1975) was the first one most people could say is actually a good movie, not just a good movie for its subgenre.
47 years later, having watched a good chunk of shark movies, I can confidently say that no other title has come close to being as good as Steven Spielberg’s open water thriller. Yet, we continue to watch the newest shark-infested schlockfest in theaters because their entertainment value doesn’t seem to go away.
Some of them are so bad they immediately gain cult status, like Sharknado. Tornadoes are traumatizing enough. Can you even imagine sharks raining down from the sky? And when some prehistoric-looking shark is paired against another gigantic predatory animal? That’s when I really settle in my seat and dig into my popcorn.
As mindlessly enjoyable as they are, it would be nice to get a contender to Jaws every once in a while. If you really think about the plotlines of cheesy shark movies, most have none. Many seem to follow a template like formulaic slasher films: A group of young beautiful people go out to the water, get stuck without a way to shore, and get dragged underwater one by one.
Having sharks as the main antagonist is also a double-edged sword. Sharks are naturally terrifying so filmmakers already have a conflict to work with. Shark movies rely on the shock value that each attack brings on screen. In the case of Jaws, in which we barely see the mechanical shark, the buildup to its appearance is what ultimately sold it as an intense two hours of film viewing.
Sharks being sharks is indeed scary but it’s not exactly villainous. When sharks attack humans, they’re likely doing it out of curiosity or even fear. Most species prefer smaller prey and humans rarely fit that bill. I say shark movies are dead in the water because the initial thrill of each bloody attack naturally loses effect the more we witness it.
That said, there’s no shame in watching the newest shark movie of the summer. I, too, enjoy them for guilty pleasure viewing or for times when, oddly enough, I just want to relax with a gory flick.
In honor of Discovery Channel’s ongoing annual Shark Week, here are some of the best and worst shark movies, according to IMDb.
3 Shark Movies That Are Almost as Good as Jaws
1. The Shallows (2016)
IMDb Rating: 6.3
Essentially a one-woman show starring Blake Lively as Nancy, The Shallows is an example of what a solid shark movie needs to be. It doesn’t have unnecessary subplots or characters. It’s focused on the protagonist’s determination to survive.
The premise is straightforward: Nancy goes surfing, spots a whale carcass, and gets attacked by a nearby shark feeding on the dead animal. Sharks are opportunistic feeders and a dead whale is basically a buffet table for them. This is where the story truly begins, with a wounded Nancy clinging to a rock for safety and finding a way back to shore.
The real appeal of this shark movie is Lively’s performance. Not only does she already have the quintessential surfer babe look, she’s also incredibly convincing as a stranded surfer who’s not ready to lose to a shark.
If there’s a lesson to learn here it’s to surf or swim far away from dead whales. Nearby predators could mistake you for another source of food.
2. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
IMDb Rating: 5.9
If people are afraid of eating genetically modified crops, then they should really hide from the genetically modified sharks in Deep Blue Sea. The brains of the sharks in this film were altered for Alzheimer’s research. Little did the scientists, including Samuel L. Jackson, know, this only made them more intelligent and even deadlier.
Like Jaws, the directors used animatronic sharks in addition to some real ones in the footage. It took eight months for the special effects team to put the sharks together.
They meticulously researched the movement patterns of mako sharks, one of the larger species with terrifying jaws. This made the sharks look realistic and very scary in close-up scenes. For me, though, the elaborate sets and the action are really where we witness the magic of this 90s classic.
3. Open Water (2003)
IMDb Rating: 5.8
It’s every scuba diver’s nightmare to get left behind by their crew. Unfortunately for Tom and Eileen Lonergan, that’s exactly what happened.
The couple went on a dive trip in the Great Barrier Reef in 1998 and were abandoned by their boat. The organizers miscounted the number of passengers and went back to shore, leaving the couple behind in shark-infested waters.
The tragic disappearance of the Lonergans inspired the shark movie Open Water. While we can only assume what truly happened to the real-life couple, the 2003 survivalist horror explores the possibility of a shark attack. Knowing that this is inspired by true events definitely enhances the terror of this shark movie.
3 Shark Movies That Are Worse Than Sharknado
3. Sand Sharks (2011)
IMDb Rating: 2.6
If you’re afraid of sharks but don’t want to miss out on summer fun, why not stay on the beach? You can sunbathe, knock back a few beers or kombuchas, and enjoy a light beach read.
But if you live in the universe of Sand Sharks, you might want to skip this part and stay home. Even white sand beaches aren’t safe from shark infestations when, in this direct-to-video shark movie, sharks live in the sand.
You read that right. Sharks in this movie ignore all the laws of biology and physics as they swim through sand.
In our non-ridiculous reality, sharks can’t burrow in the sand like mole rats or sand crabs because they’re not terrestrial creatures. Sharks have gills and simply can’t breathe on land. They’d last one hour on the beach, tops. What’s more, they actually need to keep swimming to facilitate the flow of oxygen in water, not lie dormant in the sand and breach to attack unwitting beachgoers.
Say you can suspend your disbelief for the purposes of this shark movie and accept the nature of these sand sharks. I guarantee that it will be hard to sit through the unconvincing special effects, the messy plotline, and corny lines in Sand Sharks without laughing.
2. Shark Week (2012)
IMDb Rating: 2.4
Nothing beats the cheesiness of the writing in Shark Week. Not to be confused with Discovery Channel’s annual programming, this 2012 independent horror film doesn’t have the biggest budget and it shows.
Shark Week tells the story of a maniacal drug lord who kidnaps eight people and brings them to a remote island. The kingpin puts them through a gladiator-like challenge: fight each other until only one is left standing. Oh, and there are ravenous sharks in the mix.
While the premise is not as ridiculous as that of Sand Sharks, the overly dramatic script and acting are really where the movie fails to be “so bad it’s good.” It’s just bad.
1. Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast (2012)
IMDb Rating: 1.9
Fans of Sand Sharks rejoice! Here’s another shark movie in which the predators feed in territories that are actually unfamiliar to them. In Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast, we mostly see the creature’s dorsal fin. But the terror on the faces of the biologists investigating it assures us the rest of the animal is lurking below.
While we can appreciate the effort in Snow Shark, the absurdity of the premise of this shark movie is too much to bear. It doesn’t really explain how the shark seamlessly “swims” through the snow-covered ground. Suddenly, Sand Sharks doesn’t sound too ludicrous.
You can tell the actors tried their best to bring the script to life, but the amateur quality of the film makes Snow Shark truly one of the worst shark movies to date.
Shark movies are rarely the place to go if you want a well-made film, engaging acting, and a believable storyline. But they are entertaining and enjoyable as their own subgenre, so there’s no reason you can’t sink your teeth into any of these films, including the worst ones.
Personally, I’m still holding out hope for a shark movie that can top Jaws. After more than four decades, I think we deserve to have one. Perhaps the sequel to The Meg, which was passable for a shark movie, could give the audience what it wants.