From 'Jaws' to the creatively bad shark films of 2013, we revisited them all for you
Sometimes, when you’re floating on your surfboard between sets, your mind starts to wander. Why does every shark movie released post-Jaws pale in comparison? What kind of burrito am I getting later? Was that a piece of kelp that just grazed my foot or a vicious killer stalking its prey? We love that each year gives us a new thriller that indulges our fear of shark attacks (even though they’re so statistically unlikely).
As summer allows us more time in the ocean, and Shark Week allows us to watch Michael Phelps race a real shark, we’re looking back at the pantheon of great (and truly awful) shark movies, presented in descending order of greatness.
#1. Jaws (1975)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 97 percent (duh)
Did the Trailer Make Us Squeal a Little: No, but the ride based on the film at Universal Studios sure did.
Would We Pay Money to See It: Obviously.
Is It Realistic: Very. Classic case of morals pitted against profit, and those fishermen really did need a bigger boat.
Can you make a list of shark-related movies and not include Jaws? Answer’s no. It also gets the distinction of being a film based on a book that’s actually good—and the movie was directed by Spielberg, after all. On a summer weekend at an Atlantic Ocean beach town, a woman takes a midnight dip and never returns. The police suspect a shark attack when pieces of her body wash up on shore, but the mayor doesn’t want to issue an alert, because the town would lose money from tourism. (You see where this is going.) Only after the shark kills a few more people—and after the movie milks that ominous theme song quite a few more times—does the mayor order local fishermen to catch the shark.
#2. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 57 percent
Did the Trailer Make Us Squeal a Little: No, but it hooked us.
Would We Pay Money to See It: Without a doubt.
Is It Realistic: Yes. Maybe the scientific-breakthrough plotline isn’t airtight, but the message—“don’t mess with smart sharks”—sure is.
When we polled staffers about this important topic, DBS was a clear office favorite. Why? The cast includes LL Cool J and Samuel L. Jackson, for starters. They’re part of a team at an offshore lab doing cutting-edge medical research that could save the lives of millions of people, but it involves genetically modifying sharks. (These sharks swim backwards! But sharks can’t swim backwards!) It’s a thriller that pits humans against the velociraptor-smart shark beast they’ve created, with the additional variables of a tropical storm and a sinking research lab. We won’t tell you who dies, but we will tell you that you’ll be disappointed about who dies.
#3. The Shallows (2016)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77 percent
Did the Trailer Make Us Squeal a Little: Yeah. Sound design is on point.
Would We Pay Money to See It: After watching that trailer, for sure.
Is It Realistic: Most definitely.
Blake Lively stars in a cinematic experience you want to hate, but can’t. During a solo surf trip, Lively gets bumped off her board and bitten by a shark but manages to escape to the temporary refuge of a rock outcropping a few hundred feet from shore. From her perch, she watches another surfer get eaten in one bite and another get dragged under. Lively, though certainly a surf babe, uses resourcefulness and smarts in her attempt at survival and getting back to shore—a respectable departure from the typical damsel-in-distress plotline.
#4. 47 Meters Down (2017)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 55 percent
Did the Trailer Make Us Squeal a Little: We didn’t want to, but yeah. What can we say? It’s engineered for thrills.
Would We Pay Money to See It: It would make a fun third date.
Is It Realistic: We guess it’s plausible. Just don’t go with the budget shark-diving operator.
Mandy Moore is back on the big screen! In the newest shark thriller on this list, she and her sister head to Mexico for vacay, expecting sunburns and hangovers. The girls meet some guys who convince them to go shark diving, though Moore is foreshadowingly resistant. Once in the cage with the sharks, she’s loving it—until (surprise, surprise) the cable that attaches the cage to the boat snaps and sends them plummeting to the ocean floor with a limited supply of oxygen to navigate shark-infested waters and get back to the safety of the boat. Like The Shallows, this one succeeds on the sheer hopelessness of our protagonists’ situation. Wouldn’t want to be you, Mandy!
#5. Open Water (2004)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 72 percent
Did the Trailer Make Us Squeal a Little: No, but it certainly made us feel dread.
Would We Pay Money to See It: Yeah, when we’re in a dark place.
Is It Realistic: It’s “based on true events.”
Absolute worst-case scenario: A workaholic couple go scuba diving on a rejuvenating vacation, when their boat leaves them behind in the middle of the ocean. It’s nerve-wracking and intense, playing on the primal fear of being alone in shark-infested waters. And it’s plain demoralizing to watch the stranded and helpless couple. As they consider their impending demise, they get stung by jellyfish and are psychologically tormented by circling sharks, which later bite them. SPOILER! There’s no heroic last-minute rescue. They both just die.
#6. Avalanche Sharks (2013)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 7 percent (This one doesn’t even include a critic’s rating—guess they felt they were above reviewing Avalanche Sharks.)
Did the Trailer Make Us Squeal a Little: Of course not.
Would We Pay Money to See It: Sounds like a great DVD for the ski cabin.
Is It Realistic: Ha ha.
Finally, a shark movie for winter sports enthusiasts. The distant memory of ski season triggers intense nostalgia, so, to be honest, we’re pretty into this right now. It’s spring break at a resort, and the youths are out and underdressed, but a mystical snow shark is killing people left and right, swimming through the snow like it’s water. Amazing concept, hate-watch-worthy execution.
#7. Sharknado (2013)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 82 percent
Did the Trailer Make Us Squeal a Little: Ha, no.
Would We Pay Money to See It: Hell yeah.
Is It Realistic: Don’t we wish.
A premise so ridiculous that this D-list film became part of the 2013 zeitgeist: A storm brings man-eating sharks to Los Angeles. There’s a “we’re gonna need a bigger chopper” line, an homage to the original shark movie that would be embarrassed to have had any influence on this very entertaining mess. It’s amazingly dumb, and we highly recommend it.
#8. The Reef (2010)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 79 percent
Did the Trailer Make Us Squeal a Little: Yeah.
Would We Pay Money to See It: A little too predictable, but we could be persuaded with free popcorn.
Is It Realistic: The accents are.
Hot Australians stand on a boat and marvel about how lucky they are—until their boat capsizes, and they must swim to shore through shark-infested waters. That’s pretty much it. There’s nothing creative or even zany to this will-they-survive plot—but, fine, it’s still scary.
#9. Ghost Shark (2013)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 29 percent
Did the Trailer Make Us Squeal a Little: Mainly we were just confused.
Would We Pay Money to See It: No way. (Well, maybe.)
Is It Realistic: Nope.
Like in Jaws, a young girl slips away from a beach party, and her severed arm later washes ashore, and then a sea captain kills the offending shark. Then things take a very weird detour: Turns out, this is a ruthless ghost shark that can kill on land, sea, and anywhere there’s water. Rain! A puddle! Seriously! This movie was released a few months before Sharknado (was 2013 the year of the bad shark movie?), but we all know which came out on top.
#10. 2-Headed Shark Attack (2012)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 15 percent (no critic’s rating)
Did the Trailer Make Us Squeal a Little: Nah.
Would We Pay Money to See It: $4, max.
Is It Realistic: Take a guess!
Set during a semester at sea, a group of hot college students (including Carmen Electra and Brooke Hogan) are living their best lives in the tropics when that mutated two-headed shark sinks their boat. The students escape to a remote atoll, which of course starts flooding. Expect a lot of blood and a lot of screaming.
#11. Attack of the Jurassic Shark (2013)
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 3 percent (no critic’s rating)
Did the Trailer Make Us Squeal a Little: Erm, no.
Would We Pay Money to See It: Nope.
Is It Realistic: C’mon.
If there’s anything to say for this one, it’s that the filmmakers at least tried for an environmentally friendly message. When an oil company’s drilling awakens a megalogon, a group of people stranded on a nearby island must band together to fight the shark. One by one, they’re killed. This is Jaws meets Jurassic Park, with that super-low-budget feel.