Having wrapped up the 30th anniversary of shark week and on the verge of the release of The Meg—potentially the biggest shark movie ever—it feels appropriate for a quick look back at some of the greatest on-screen triumphs featuring our fishy friends. Sharks get a bad rap on screen, being demonized for their many rows of teeth and their unquenchable appetite. It seems that movie sharks just hang around in shallow water waiting to ambush unwary skinny dippers who are trying to have fun.
I’m rather partial to Deep Blue Sea (1999), which isn’t really noteworthy as far as filmmaking goes, but it has an enjoyable cast (Samuel L. Jackson, Thomas Jane, Michael Rapaport and LL Cool J) to keep things entertaining. It also serves as another installment in the cautionary tale about man tampering with nature and getting what they deserve.
Certainly not the best, but the longest-running franchise of shark films is Syfy’s Sharknado series. Five films, each more dastardly than the last, combine the ravenous hunger of sharks with the devastating power of tornadoes. Perhaps the most brilliant feature of these films is the fact that a tornado can inject a shark into literally any situation, no matter the proximity to the ocean. Look forward to a sixth installment in the series when The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time sees its release later this year.
Those who prefer their shark movies with a dose of realism may enjoy 2016’s The Shallows, 2017’s 47 Meters Down or 2004’s Open Water. All feature people trapped in the water with hungry sharks, desperate to make it to dry land. While these films are far from the top shelf by any measure, they’re not necessarily bad. They do build tension on a more personal level than the other movies mentioned here, making them potentially more compelling than the action-oriented human-versus-shark contests we usually get.
Of course, it would be negligent to have a conversation about shark films and not have a look at the beginning. It all started in 1975 with the mother of all shark movies, Jaws. The shark is big but realistic, and the tension provided is truly visceral as some regular folks try and figure out what to do with nature’s perfect marine predator. The film spawned three lackluster sequels that can be avoided by those who aren’t really into sharks. In addition to creating cinematic history and launching Steven Spielberg’s career, Jaws is an all-around good film that doesn’t need the dubious qualifier of “shark movie” just to get noticed.