Just when film fans thought it was safe to head back to the cinema, another chomping shark movie arrives. Since Jaws popularised the concept more than four decades ago, killer sharks keep swimming across screens, whether serving up tense thrills or comedic silliness – or, in in the case of new Jason Statham vehicle The Meg, a little of both.
Indeed, even when they’re ridiculous there’s a reason that shark movies endure. Of the many different types of creature features, shark films feel closer to home, steeped as they are in realistic fears about actual animals that wade – and attack, and kill – across 70 percent of the earth’s surface.
Still, there’s a chasm as big as a shark’s hungry bite between the best and worst examples of the genre. Some definitely need a bigger screen; others have well and truly jumped the critters at their centre.
Steven Spielberg’s masterfully suspenseful thriller wasn’t the first shark flick ever made, but the watery flick is the one that defines the genre. It’s also the most frequently quoted, boasts the most unnerving accompanying music (thanks to John Williams’ Oscar-winning score) and remains the shark movie that all others that are rightfully measured against.
Demonstrating just how fearsome a film force this swimming foe can be, the Amity Island-set effort is also the feature that announced Spielberg’s arrival as a blockbuster director. It is a near-perfect blend of ocean spectacle and human drama.
As stripped back as a shark movie can be, The Reef remains the standout low-budget entry into the genre, at least from the past decade. Focusing on little more than a capsized boast, the passengers trying to survive on the Great Barrier Reef and menacing fins aplenty, Black Water director Andrew Traucki made the jump from crocodiles to sharks in an impressive fashion – not only with genuine thrills and tense actual shark footage, but with believable characters that earned the audience’s investment.
Truth is scarier than fiction in Open Water, which finds its basis in a real-life American couple’s disastrous Caribbean holiday. Like The Reef, it’s the sparse, minimalistic approach that helps this thriller hit the mark. Filmmaker Chris Kentis realises just what makes shark films incite such anxiety – knowing what’s going to eventuate, watching and waiting for the inevitable, and honing in on the folks stuck in dangerous waters in intimate detail.
47 Metres Down
Engagingly effective and marking a change of pace for Mandy Moore, perhaps 47 Metres Down shouldn’t work as well as it does. There’s little new or different about it, as a pair of sisters goes cage diving in Mexico and gets more than they bargained for. And yet, the end result is concise, briskly paced and delivers in the shark-filled action stakes, even with such a simple premise. Unsurprisingly, a sequel – 47 Metres Down: The Next Chapter – is in the works.
Stranding Blake Lively on a buoy for almost the entirety of its running time, The Shallows marries the shark genre with the solo survivalist genre, all under the guidance of action director Jaume Collet-Serra. Anyone familiar with the latter’s Liam Neeson-heavy filmography knows what to expect, and gets just that, even if Collet-Serra favourite leading man isn’t in the picture. The Gold Coast-shot final product throws up few surprises, but it’s committed to serving up just what it promises.
The Shark Hunter
Franco Nero faces off against not one, not two, but many a shark in Enzo G. Castellari’s 1979 Italian-language feature, which jumps from carnivorous sea critters to treasure hunting rather quickly. That said, there’s still much to like about the original Django and all-round Italian star Nero dipping a toe into shark-infested waters in such a spirited fashion, and not just due to his unmistakable blonde wig.
Deep Blue Sea
These days, Deep Blue Sea might be just as famous for its Dave Chappelle parody as for its actual contents. It definitely falls firmly into the incredibly ridiculous shark movie camp, too. And, it’s not just the film’s tone that’s outlandish, but its genetically engineered shark-focused premise. Still, this Samuel L. Jackson-starring effort sets the benchmark for shark silliness that still cares about its action sequences – and, in a genre increasingly filled with cheap effects, the latter can’t be underestimated.
Jaws: The Revenge
Across the late 1970s and the entirety of the 1980s, Jaws inspired a steady stream of cheap, quickly made knock-offs, but the franchise’s own Jaws: The Revenge beats the lot, and that’s not a statement of praise. A sloppy cash-in that exemplifies the worst traits of any sequel, it’s also the worst film on Michael Caine’s resume. Moreover, it typifies a sad truth – the less said about Jaws‘ three follow-ups the better, with everything from Jaws 2 onwards serving up steeply diminishing returns.
The Sharknado series
The first Sharknado film offers dumb, exaggerated, completely over-the-top fun – the type that plays well to a late-night cinema audience or anyone that’s had a few drinks. It still tests even the most willing viewer’s patience, however, a feeling its onslaught of sequels only amplifies.
Apparently this year’s The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time will be the final chapter. But if these Ian Ziering and Tara Reid-starring parodies have left viewers with a single takeaway, it’s that anything is possible when cyclones meet man-eating sea predators.
Mega Shark vs anything
The Mega Shark franchise pre-dates Sharknado, but that’s its only claim to fame. The central idea has more than a little merit, pitting the giant shark of the series’ title against an array of similarly overblown fellow critters in old-school monster mashup style. Alas, in The Asylum’s hands, it’s a concept that sounds much, much better than it is. The epnoymous mega shark battles a giant octopus, a crocosaurus, a mecha shark and a robot called Kolossus, but it can’t successfully hark back to the films that inspired the saga, or win out over boredom.
Sharks in a supermarket? It could’ve either proven inane or inspired. Sadly, it’s the first option that wins out in Kimble Rendall’s addition to the shark movie fold, and in never in a fun way. Co-scripted by Razorback and Highlander filmmaker Russell Mulcahy, the Australian-Singaporean co-production assembles plenty of familiar Aussie faces as shark fodder, floats through the usual motions even given its premise, but takes itself much too seriously to be enjoyable, even when it’s openly courting laughs.
USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage
USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage certainly possesses one of the more interesting casts to feature in a shark film. It’s also based on a true story – one that inspired a pivotal monologue in Jaws, no less – and it’s actually a war movie.
Still, Nicolas Cage, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane playing World War II naval officers stranded in shark-infested waters plays out poorly, although not for the expected reason. While the feature is a clear B-movie style effort from director Mario Van Peebles (who also featured in Jaws: The Revenge), it’s also much flatter and duller than its dramatic real-life tale deserves.