We’re living in a momentous time. Not only has Shark Week on TV become a celebrated annual occurrence (with even Guy Fieri participating this year), but Jason Statham — who punches lots of things in a lot of movies — is about to unleash his fury in The Meg, so named for the megalodon shark who stalks the film’s characters. Now, Statham may or may not actually punch the shark who threatens humanity, and some people will be awfully disappointed if he doesn’t, but regardless, it’s safe to say that the film should be entertaining enough to give the “best” shark films a run for their cult-favorite money.
That is to say, as charismatic as the lead actor may be, The Meg isn’t (as is the case with nearly 100% of shark movies) a prestige film. Yet much in the way that folks lined up to watch The Rock fight a crocodile, people will do the same for Statham antagonizing “the largest shark that ever lived.” And The Meg shall now compete against a dubious cinematic tradition spanning decades, at least all the way back to 1969’s Shark!. In this spirit, we present a very serious ranking of the most enjoyable shark attack films in existence.
10. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
To warm up this list, here’s a straight-up shark-eats-people movie that aimed straight for a mix of science-fiction and horror. The film wasn’t lauded by critics and only achieved moderate financial success. However, Deep Blue Sea contained one truly amazing scene that featured Michael Rapaport freaking out about how to escape an underwater facility where genetically engineered sharks are rampaging. Sam Jackson’s character, naturally, then delivers a furious lecture, a battle cry of sorts against the sharks. Unfortunately for him, however, and before Jackson can take this movie higher up the list by saying his favorite word, a shark rudely interrupts his speech.
Yes, that one scene pretty much landed this movie on this list.
9. Soul Surfer (2011)
On a much more serious note, Soul Surfer does provide a necessary dose of inspiration for this list. Although this film doesn’t contain the usual shark movie tropes — not even close — the film follows the story real-life teenage surfer Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), who survives a horrific attack that costs her one arm. The film, which is entirely earnest in its execution, could melt the hardest of hearts and show that few dealings of adversity are worth losing one’s hope. Yes, it’s a preachy film and, at times, difficult to witness, but Bethany’s refusal to give up on her dreams (and talent) do make for a valuable watch.
8. Jaws 2 (1978)
Steven Spielberg wasn’t on board for this sequel to the 1975 box-office juggernaut that made everyone afraid to go into the water. However, holdover (and link to the past) Roy Scheider returns as police Chief Brody, who must protect his community after another enormous shark descends upon the beaches of Amity. While there was no way to match the original’s allure, director Jeannot Szwarc delivered a follow-up that, although very redundant, delivered a solid night at the movies for audiences who were chomping at the bit for more.
7. The Reef (2010)
This truly terrifying horror-survival flick from down under takes viewers to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where everything goes wrong for a group of friends who must brave shark-infested waters when their ship strikes an obstacle and can’t stay afloat. Shot beautifully, this armseat-gripper of a final product keeps up a relentless pace while one wonders whether it truly would have been preferable to drown rather than deal with a menacing great white shark. Incredibly, several lengthy chase scenes are contained within a film that runs less than 90 minutes, so audiences get what they came for, and The Reef promises no more or less than the terrifying ride it delivers.
6. Sharknado (2013)
A lot of goodwill for this movie prevails, which guarantees that I can’t do it justice with a blurb (or maybe even justify ranking it at this spot). Of course, the SyFy franchise has spawned six films thus far, and folks instantly fell in love with this initial installment. Ian Zierling and Tara Reid (it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing these characters, and perhaps they were born to play them) both take their lead roles to the limit — one that is completely, utterly, and gleefully ridiculous. Unabashedly so, and perhaps that’s why audiences turn out again and again for this completely unfathomable franchise. The first film, set in L.A., introduced flying sharks, chainsaws of vengeance, and helicopter rides into hell, and the genre is better for them. Long live the Sharknado flicks.
5. Open Water (2004)
Naturally, any film that claims to be based on a true story will unsettle more viewers than the norm, but Open Water was truly (and loosely) based upon a couple who got separated from a diving group near the Great Barrier Reef’s shark-infested waters in 1998. The resulting film remains a leading example of how well shoestring-budget thrillers can work when word-of-mouth publicity prevails. Further adding to the horror of the basic plot are the long-winded conversations that take place between the pair as they angrily debate the decisions that led them to this Caribbean death sentence, rather than vacationing at a cozy ski resort. Can you imagine …. facing certain demise while also arguing with your spouse? No joke, though, this is a terrifying and haunting genre pic.
4. Finding Nemo (2003)
The Pixar film’s famous initial shark scene introduces Bruce, a great white, who instantly sends Marlin and Dory into unease with while baring his chilling smile. Although it became apparent that Bruce attempted to send the pair into the mouths of his two sharky pals, the tables soon turn, and a strange discussion begins when Bruce begins leading a sort-of 12-step group that attempts to halt sharks from eating their fishy friends. Obviously, Pixar enjoys toying with their viewers’ emotions, and Bruce soon breaks down in tears when he learns that Marlin’s searching for Nemo. All is eventually well, other than the youngest children who may grow a wee bit scared during this irresistible story arc. Technically, is this a shark attack movie? No, but for the target audience, this scene was scary enough to generate the same effect.
3. The Shallows (2016)
Although filmmakers didn’t have to do much more than hand Blake Lively in a bikini to audiences in order to turn a profit, this project delivered well-executed thrills to boot. The Shallows excels while knowing its place and exceeding most expectations by delivering a claustrophobic experience far from the comforts of shore. Lively is completely game in her role, and the film embraces its trashy side while delivering a taut thrill ride with no excess weight (or narrative) to be found. Even better, Lively proves that she can stand with the most hardened survivalist heroines of the large or small screens. The end result is a thrill ride that earns a high ranking on any shark-attack list.
2. Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
At this point, there are six Sharknado movies, and I’m here to argue to the death that the second installment was (as with the Godfather saga) the best one. Not only did the franchise switch venues to the Big Apple, where everything is bigger and better, and this sequel mercilessly pokes at the tropes familiar to follow-up efforts. Hell, even the first scene of Sharknado 2 tops the rest of the franchise, and witness this amazing dialogue from Ian Zierling:
“There’s a storm coming. A storm of the likes that you’ve never seen before … I know you’re scared. I’m scared, too. They’re sharks. They’re scary. No one wants to get eaten. But I’ve been eaten. And I’m here to tell you … Takes a lot more than that to bring a good man down.”
Vivica A. Fox kicking ass for the rest of the movie was a mere bonus, not to mention Mark “Sugar Ray” McGrath in a supporting role along with Richard Kind’s character knocking a shark out of a ballpark in a home run.
Sharknado 2 deserves more respect than it sometimes receives, but of course, it can’t beat the undisputed winner of all time…
1. Jaws (1975)
When’s the last time you rewatched this classic? This weekend would be a fantastic time to discover it again. Steven Spielberg famously almost lost his mind while helming what could arguably be considered the first major popcorn flick, one that made people not only afraid to grace beaches but to take a goddamn bath. Deep and shallow water alike were vilified by Jaws, and even though the film’s at-times glacial pace (compared to more frenetic paces often handed to contemporary audiences) could be arguably taken down by more recent thrillers in the genre, the mastery’s still evident. The final scene itself, which was seemingly never-ending, was both interminably suspenseful and impeccably executed while cementing standards for decades to come.