The collective noun for sharks is a shiver. This is fitting when shark films are a thriving sub-genre of horror. Sharks have been used in films since the 1930s but films about sharks really began in 1975 when Jaws started a worldwide phenomenon. The recent Sharksploitation (2023) documentary is a wonderful look at the rich history of this category of film.
Shark films often share tropes; the sharks roar and defy all laws of physics, there’s an abundance of wayward teens, pseudo science, scantily clad women, warring families or lovers, yappy dogs, and sharks that never ever get full from the rich feasting. The best shark films are about human fragility and our collective determination to survive while being our own worst enemy.
These films are popular guilty pleasures, and moviegoers’ propensity to accept them in all their absurdity seems to know no bounds. Sharknado (2013), Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009) and House Shark (2017) all exist, have all made money and all have sequels – spoiler alert, this top ten does not include any giant octopuses. The films included in this Movie List from The Film Magazine are all studio efforts, though with budgets ranging from measly to mega. And they all share one thing: teeth.
These are the 10 Best Shark Movies.
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10. Jaws 2 (1978)
Roy Scheider phones it in, in a sequel he famously didn’t want to do. Without Quint (Robert Shaw) or Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) for Brody (Scheider) to spar with, the film lacks any of the real joy of the original Jaws (1975). The town’s idiotic mayor (Murray Hamilton) seems to have learned nothing from the previous summer and is befuddled by Brody’s notion that Amity could have another shark problem.
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc instead of Steven Spielberg, the animatronic shark is very visible a lot of the time, and the film is 85% teenage screaming – Spielberg obviously didn’t pass on the message that less is more. But given how bad Jaws 3D (1983) and Jaws: The Revenge (1987) are, Jaws 2 will go down in history as an okay shark movie.
9. Open Water (2003)
Filmed as if it was camcorder footage, Open Water was the brainchild of director Chris Kentis. A diver himself, he could think of nothing scarier than being accidentally left out at sea while on holiday. The jerky movements of the camera evoke an unease reminiscent of seasickness.
Open Water is frequently cited as inspiration for the shark films that followed, and it is impressive what was achieved on such a low budget. The film uses real sharks, so the threat is amplified slightly by this, but the simple premise does make for quite a slow finished product.
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