Of all the creatures in the animal kingdom, sharks are the ones that are deemed the most cinematic. Why not giraffes, rhinos or chinchillas, you ask? The reason why sharks remain a staple of cinema is simply due to Steven Spielberg and his iconic 1975 blockbuster Jaws, which terrified fans and critics alike when it was released, prompting other movie studios to make their own marine-related movies hoping to jump on the trend.
Making $476.5million at the box office from a budget of just $9m, Spielberg’s movie was considered a massive financial success, causing excited fans to queue around the block of American cinemas hoping to snatch a ticket, subsequently coining the phrase ‘blockbuster’. As a result, the film bagged three Academy Awards and was even nominated for ‘Best Picture’, narrowly losing out to Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
These glittering dollar signs have sparked the attention of studios and filmmakers ever since, desperate to make the next Jaws. Sadly for fans of the niche genre, few have ever been able to come close to Spielberg’s success, but there is still a solid collection of movies that are worth a watch for all your ocean lovers who can’t get enough of those sharp-toothed predators.
Take a look at our list of the ten greatest shark movies of all time below, including films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Rob Letterman and Jaume Collet-Serra.
The 10 best shark movies:
10. Jaws 2 (Jeannot Szwarc, 1978)
Thunder follows lightning, flatulence follows a curry, and a sequel follows an undisputed box office hit. When Jeannot Szwarc released a sequel to Spielberg’s Jaws in 1978, absolutely no one was surprised, equally when the follow-up turned out to be sub-par in every way, the world went on turning. Spielberg refused to be a part of the sequel, but this didn’t stop the film taking place and the likes of Roy Scheider returning to the fold.
Hilariously similar to the original film, Szwarc’s sequel is once again set on Amity Island, where a man-eating shark returns to continue the carnage. Surprisingly, it’s not totally awful, with a handful of decent bloodthirsty moments.
9. Sharknado (Anthony C. Ferrante, 2013)
Sure, we know just how bad Anthony C. Ferrante’s Sharknado really is, but it’s one of those genuine ‘so bad they’re good movies’ that’s striving for a strange kind of greatness. The clue’s in the name, but Sharknado tells the story of a pack of deadly sharks who take to the skies in the middle of swirling tornados that are tormenting the Santa Monica coast and its terrified inhabitants.
Alongside the infamous Tommy Wiseau flick The Room, Ferrante’s Sharknado is known as one of the most ridiculously silly cinematic delights ever made. Bathe in the glory of its utter stupidity.
8. 47 Metres Down (Johannes Roberts, 2017)
After two cinematic turkeys, Johannes Roberts is the first film on our list to have more than just a slice of cinematic goodness. Released in 2017, the movie follows two sisters on vacation who become trapped in a diving cage underwater. Running out of oxygen, their hardship is made worse by a pack of bloodthirsty sharks circling them, making for a pretty neat thriller.
Starring the likes of Claire Holt, Mandy Moore and Matthew Modine of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, the film is a neat twist on the simple shark flick that has a good few intense moments.
7. Deep Blue Sea (Renny Harlin, 1999)
Best known for the infamous death scene in which Samuel L. Jackson’s Russell Franklin is snatched unexpectedly by the giant jaws of a shark (sorry, spoilers), Renny Harlin’s silly 1999 shark flick is a fun watch. Telling the story of a group of researchers trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease by genetically modifying sharks’ brains, the film takes a turn when the ocean creatures turn on their creators.
A proper ‘90s flick that makes the most of its bombastic premise, Deep Blue Sea is elevated by its impressive cast that includes the likes of Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, Stellan Skarsgård, LL Cool J and Michael Rapaport.
6. Shark Tale (Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, Rob Letterman, 2004)
Sharks don’t just appear in live-action movies; they show up as characters in animated flicks, too, appearing in Pixar’s Finding Nemo and Dreamworks’ more specifically related Shark Tale. With an impressive voice cast that includes the likes of Will Smith, Jack Black, Martin Scorsese, Michael Imperioli, Angelina Jolie and Robert De Niro, Shark Tale is a favourite of fans worldwide.
Sure, Shark Tale may not compare to Finding Nemo, the film it was clearly inspired by, but it still remains a proper comedic hoot, largely thanks to the screenplay from the animation aficionado Michael J. Wilson.
5. Open Water (Chris Kentis, 2003)
Chris Kentis’ 2003 film Open Water is a great example of a simple concept being done really well, telling the supposedly true story of two scuba divers who are left stranded in the middle of the ocean after their tour boat left them behind. Their situation becomes significantly worse when they are pestered by a pack of sharks, giving them only a short amount of time to seek help and get out of the water.
One to avoid for life if you have thalassophobia, Open Water is a pretty terrifying film that pulls off its concept as well as you could hope, thanks to two solid lead performances from Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis.
4. The Meg (Jon Turteltaub, 2018)
For many of us, sharks are scary enough. But, clearly, Jon Turteltaub wanted to scar another generation of people as Spielberg had done in 1975, with the release of 2018’s The Meg, introducing the giant megalodon to movie lovers. Starring the likes of Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose and Masi Oka, The Meg is a wet, wild and lusciously silly shark flick.
The story follows a group of scientists exploring the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point of the ocean across the world, where they mistakenly discover the biggest shark to have ever existed.
3. The Shallows (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2016)
In the cliched world of shark movies, you’ve got to do something pretty special to stand out, with director Jaume Collet-Serra doing just this for his 2016 film The Shallows. Starring Blake Lively, the movie tells the story of Nancy, a surfer who becomes stranded 200 yards from shore after being attacked by a violent great white shark, leading to an intense game of cat and mouse (or shark and human).
Sure, The Shallows doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but if you’re looking for a neat shark thriller to see out a cold, wet and windy Saturday night with your friends, we don’t think you’ll regret watching this one.
2. Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story (Sally Aitken, 2021)
One pretty significant side effect of decades of cinematic fear-mongering regarding sharks is a global trepidation of the ocean’s largest predators. Sally Aitken’s 2021 documentary Playing with Sharks went about the noble task of dispelling these fears, telling the story of Valerie Taylor, a conservationist photographer and filmmaker who dedicated her life to the protection of sharks across the world.
An inspiring piece of non-fiction filmmaking, Aitken’s documentary is a nice antidote to the nine other movies on this list, with Taylor also having a hand in the making of two of the films in the Jaws franchise.
1. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
Speaking of Jaws, was there ever really any doubt that the Steven Spielberg blockbuster wouldn’t make number one? A revolutionary movie in its own right, Jaws would kickstart the cinematic obsession with sharks, telling the story of the fictional town of Amity, whose profitable summer season is threatened by the arrival of a bloodthirsty predator on their coastlines.
With a number of influential performances from the likes of Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, the movie is a highly enjoyable thriller as well as a genuinely insightful look at the unstoppable juggernaut of American capitalism, even in the face of insurmountable danger.