Jaws was released 40 years ago this week. Almost immediately following its release, Hollywood began churning out cheap knock-offs to capitalize on the audience’s craving for killer creatures. Swap one animal for another, change the location, add a brainy scientist and a heroic cop, and presto: A Jaws knock-off movie is born. While many of the movies quickly faded into the watery abyss, a few managed to crawl their way to cult status and even spawn remakes of themselves.
In honor of Jaws’ anniversary, I thought it would be fun to look back not at the movie that launched the summer blockbuster, but at the many, many movies that shamelessly copied its very format.
Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976)
Mako prides itself on not using any giant mechanical sharks and going for the real thing, which really is just a nice way of saying “we don’t have the money for a giant mechanical shark.” Capitalizing on the shark backlash created by Jaws, Mako centers around a brooding diver who decided to join a shark cult instead of trying to make human friends. Naturally, being in a shark cult means that he can telepathically communicate with the sharks and send them out to kill anyone who dares disturb his happy shark love nest.
Released in theaters just a year after Jaws, Grizzly essentially takes the same story and swaps the giant fish for a giant bear. Set in a fictional national park, the movie opens with two young coeds being ripped apart by the bear. The park’s ranger and a helicopter pilot must then go on the worst camping trip ever, as they track down the bear while it slowly makes the park’s visitors its own personal buffet.
In a town that apparently never thought of creating an animal control department, a pack of wild dogs run loose, terrorizing any sort of social gathering that they come upon. You can tell that the filmmakers wanted to scare people by bringing the terror closer to home, but the idea is so laughable that suspense never even comes close.
Orca was one of the better-known Jaws ripoffs and simply swapped a shark for a killer whale. With the animal already having “killer” in its name, this one was pretty much a no-brainer for Hollywood. The movie didn’t do especially well with critics, but has become somewhat of a cult classic, and you can’t help but root for the orca to seek revenge on the asshole who killed its family.
No shark this time around, just a giant mutant octopus that’s mucking up the tourist season for a small California beach town. Considering that octopuses are pretty much the geniuses of the mollusk world, this monster had the potential to be terrifying, but the scariest thing about the movie is unfortunately the special effects and acting.
Tintorera: Killer Shark (1977)
Jaws had already laid claim to the great white, and Mako had the mako shark, which meant that the tiger shark was up for grabs with Tintorera. The movie centers on two men hunting a killer tiger shark along the Mexican coast while competing to see who can get a woman into bed first. Just like any ’70s B-horror, it attempted to keep viewers engaged with some blatant nudity in between feedings, but was ultimately dead in the water.
Eaten Alive (1977)
1970s movie audiences loved two things… psychopaths and killer animals. Eaten Alive attempted to be both and marketed itself as combination of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jaws. Instead of a maniac with a chainsaw, though, we have a maniac with a scythe who takes pleasure in feeding his victims to his pet alligator.
Probably the most famous of the Jaws knock-offs, Piranha takes the toothy terror and multiplies it by a million with a school of devil fish feasting on a Texas summer camp. The original wasn’t particularly memorable, but had enough blood and boobs to inspire an even more campy remake that’s actually a solid choice if you’re drunk or stoned at midnight on a Friday.
Don’t get me wrong, barracudas are nasty-looking fish, and I would not want to get bit by one. That being said, I’m fairly certain one barracuda couldn’t eviscerate an entire seaside town. But this movie’s about a chemically altered super hungry barracuda! If that wasn’t bad enough, Barracuda even ripped of Jaws’ iconic “dun, dun, dun, dun” music.
Up from the Depths (1979)
Sure, Jaws was terrifying to audiences in 1975, but everyone knew by 1979 that all you needed was an oxygen tank, a rifle, and a badass one-liner to take them out. Enter Up from the Depths. Yes, it was a shark movie, but it was about a prehistoric shark ruining people’s vacations. See the difference?
If Jaws taught Hollywood anything, it’s that you can’t catch a giant predator without a local cop and nerdy science guy. This early ’80s horror movie’s got ’em both, but instead of hunting a shark, it’s a giant alligator, and instead of eating a people in a resort community, it’s living in the sewer and snacking on the good people of Chicago. The movie didn’t do especially well, only netting $6,500, but that was apparently enough to warrant its own board game.
Blood Beach (1981)
By the early ’80s, every possible threat in the ocean had been made into a horror movie, so the next logical step was to take the terror to the sand. Generally, the worst part about walking to your beach towel is hot sand when you’ve forgotten your flip-flops. Yeah, it sucks, but it’s not really the recipe for a horror movie, which is probably why this camp fest about people getting sucked into the beach failed to make Blood Beach 2 a thing.
Monster Shark (1984)
Before the internet had conjured up Bearsharktopus, there was Monster Shark, a film about a part shark, part octopus beast that had a craving for sexy young coeds. Just like all shark movies, it’s up to a brainy scientist to send the creature back to the prehistoric hell from which it came.
As the 1980s wore on, the Jaws knock-offs slowly began to fade with even the Jaws franchise losing its luster and spitting out dismal sequels like Jaws: The Revenge. The 1990s ushered in a fresh crop of Jaws tributes that offered somewhat updated takes on the story of a killer beast terrorizing a small town, and movies like Tremors, Lake Placid, and Deep Blue Sea all found appreciative audiences. More recently, we’ve seen the rise of the Syfy films where the a shark simply isn’t terrifying enough by itself, but takes the form of a double-dose of terror in Two-Headed Shark Attack or internet sensation Sharknado.
As cheesy and oftentimes terrible as these Jaws knock-offs are, they make you appreciate the original that much more. Plus, we now have ridiculous GIFs to cherish forever like this: