There's something in the water
Summer’s here. Which means it’s time for yet another killer-shark movie. The latest, The Meg, features Jason Statham settling scores both personal and psychological with a 75-foot prehistoric megalodon. It’s the definition of a warm-weather B-movie guilty pleasure. But where does it rank on the all-time best-to-worst list of shark flicks, you ask? Read on and find out…
1. Jaws (1975)
Steven Spielberg’s granddaddy of all Great White movies isn’t just great for a shark movie, it’s a great movie period. A masterpiece in fact. Spielberg’s malfunctioning mechanical monster forced the director to be clever, suggestive, and Hitchcockian – the scariest moments in the film are the ones where you don’t see what lies beneath the water line, but anticipate what could be. Come for the carnage (RIP little Alex Kintner), stay for the chilling character moments (Robert Shaw’s USS Indianapolis speech as Quint).
2. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
This time the sharks aren’t just deadly, they’re smart. Genetically enhanced with intelligence — a hubristic experiment that anyone could easily predict would end in a chum-strewn come-uppance, Renny Harlin’s giddy fright flick gets high marks for one gotcha scene in particular. You know the one.
3. Blue Water, White Death (1971)
Peter Gimbel and James Lipscomb’s deep-sea documentary about nature’s perfect killing machine predates Jaws by four years, but it packs a similarly uneasy white-knuckle punch. Two of the film’s divers/underwater photographers, Ron and Valerie Taylor, would later shoot the real second-unit shark footage that Spielberg spliced into his film.
4. Open Water (2003)
A couple (Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan) goes out on a group scuba-diving trip only to be left behind at the end of the day. Treading water in the middle of the ocean as day turns into night, alone with no one coming back for them, they have to fight the terrors they can’t see below. The power of suggestion meets primal fear.
4. The Shallows (2016)
Blake Lively plays a surfer who goes on a Mexican beach vacation to get over her mother’s death. It doesn’t go well. With the shoreline in easy sight, the injured Lively is stranded to fight off a killer shark with nothing more than her wits (and a seagull, which becomes her Wilson the volleyball).
6. The Meg (2018)
The Stath goes medieval on a prehistoric megalodon that’s slipped through a breach in the ocean floor. A romantic subplot with a Chinese scientist (Li Bingbing) is kind of laughable and totally unnecessary, but The Meg delivers on the giant shark mayhem even if it could have used a little more gore than its PG-13 allows.
7. Jaws 2 (1978)
Yes, it’s a pretty steep come-down from Spielberg’s brilliant original. But if watched in a vacuum, it’s a decent enough bit of disposable fun. With Quint previously chomped to death and Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper too smart to return for sloppy seconds, the sequel follows the Brody clan (Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, and not-so-little-anymore Michael and Sean). The highlight is a flotilla of teens on boats tied together like a seafood smorgasbord, but the preposterous sight of a Great White eating a hovering rescue helicopter has a certain insane je ne sais quoi.
8. 47 Meters Down (2017)
Rushed into theaters to capitalize on the success of The Shallows the previous summer, this Mandy Moore cage-diving flick should really be better than it is. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its moments. Moore and Claire Holt play thrill-seeking sisters who get talked into the dumbest of Mexican vacation day trips and pay the price. 47 Meters Down cheaps out a bit on the shark stuff, but the presence of a seemingly shifty Matthew Modine adds some spice. Let’s call it a draw.
9. The Reef (2010)
If a straight-to-video sequel to Open Water didn’t already exist, this middling Aussie adventure could have filled in for it. Four friends are sailing to Indonesia, the yacht capsizes, and they’re surrounded by lifeless eyes (“like a doll’s eyes”…different movie, but you get the idea). I wasn’t expecting much with this one, so I was pleasantly surprised.
10. Finding Nemo (2003)
Yes, there’s a shark in this one. His name is Bruce. And if you’re 5 years old and think you’re about to watch a harmless Pixar movie, well, he can be pretty damn scary. Does Finding Nemo belong with these other movies? No, not really. So consider it a mid-list palate cleanser.
11. Shark! (1969)
Three years before Deliverance would turn him into a bona fide movie star, Burt Reynolds played a gunrunner and shimmied into a wet suit to go mano-a-mano with nature’s most efficient killing machine in Sam Fuller’s lite-on-thrills cheapie. The plot is pure Hemingway-by-way-of-Clive Cussler what with its treasure-hunter villains. But bonus points for its exotic Red Sea setting (even if it was actually shot in Mexico).
12. The Last Shark (1981)
No one was quicker to rip off Jaws and crank out a slew of low-budget counterfeits than the Italians. B-movie maestro Enzo G. Castellari’s The Last Shark, a.k.a. L’Ultimo Squalo, is pretty slow and incredibly cheesy, but it is goosed by a handful of macho Hollywood expats (James Franciscus, Vic Morrow doing a poor man’s Quint) chewing the scenery like they were digging into a plateful of pasta Bolognese. Universal sued to have it yanked from theaters citing its shameless copycatting of Jaws. They weren’t wrong.
13. Sharktopus (2010)
When Jaws was released in 1975, one astute critic claimed that it was nothing more than a Roger Corman B-picture enhanced by a big budget. I don’t think that’s true. But either way, Corman would eventually return the favor by producing this SyFy monster mash-up featuring a patently CGI shark-octopus hybrid. Forget that it looks more like a half-squid than a half-octopus shark and just file this one under the same schlocky category as such disposable, chum-scented comedies as 2-Headed Shark Attack, Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus, Ghost Shark, Attack of the Jurassic Shark, and of course the venerable Sharknado series.
14. Shark Night 3D (2011)
From the director of Final Destination 2 and Snakes on a Plane comes this howler about a swarm of deadly sharks that terrorize a group of horny, party-hearty college kids who think they’re safe vacationing on a lake. But wait, it’s a saltwater lake! Having seen this one on cable, I can’t vouch for its 3-D effects, but if we’re to judge from the rest of the movie, then I can’t imagine they’re very good. Still, you could do worse at 3 a.m. on a sleepless night.
15. Jaws 3-D (1983)
Speaking of so-bad-they’re-okay 3-D shark movies, this Jaws installment remains solely notable for its star-studded cast, which is far better than it has any right to be (Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Lea Thompson, Louis Gossett Jr.). The Brody boys reunite at SeaWorld, where Michael now works and where a Great White has also penetrated the park’s underwater barricades. I saw this one in the theater with the red-and-blue cardboard 3-D spex and I remember laughing more than shrieking, but by all means have at it.
16. Dark Tide (2012)
Essentially an all-expenses-paid early South African honeymoon for Halle Berry and future-fiance Olivier Martinez, the VOD Dark Tide stars the Oscar winner as a debt-ridden shark expert who needs cash so badly she reluctantly agrees to take some extremely sketchy businessmen out on her boat to go cage-diving. Glub!
17. Tintorera: Killer Shark (1977)
Another Italian Jaws knock-off, this time with the studly Euro-hunk Hugo Stiglitz and gratuitous nudity (!), Tintorera is said to be a Quentin Tarantino favorite. It’s easy to see why. Between the swingin’ bed-hopping, its sweaty disco vibe, and the presence of a third-tier star in Priscilla Barnes (future Three’s Company roommate, Terri), this is a movie that seems tailor-made for a ‘70s drive-in double feature. By which I mean, it’s a hoot.
18. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
This time it’s personal. The unfortunate widowed Ellen Brody heads down to the Bahamas to visit her son Michael and guess who follows? The fourth and final Jaws movie is not good. But Michael Caine does drop in to lend it some class. Who cares if his khaki shirt is wet and then mysteriously dry in the same scene? This is not a movie to pick apart with logic. It exists beyond logic in a shark-movie universe where the fewer questions that are asked, the better.