Why do we love shark movies? This question is at the heart of Sharksploitation, the new documentary that I produced along with Kerry Deignan Roy for director and shark maniac Stephen Scarlata (Jodorowsky's Dune) – premiering on Shudder July 21; just in time for Shark Week!
As marine biologist Vicky Vásquez says in our film, sharks "...scare you and impress you at the same time." They're right smack in the middle of a Venn diagram of "scary" and "cool." Toss in most people's innate fear of being in deep water, and you wind up with the perfect real-world movie monster.
Scarlata and I love shark movies. We love the tropes, the conventions, the cliches. So when FANGORIA asked us to make a list of shark films, we dove at the chance! But making a "best shark movies" list seems pretty needless – it is always the exact same handful of movies rearranged in slightly different order. You don't need us to tell you about the Jaws franchise, The Shallows, Open Water, 47 Meters Down, or Deep Blue Sea.
We thought it might be more useful to shark fans (shark fins???) if we highlighted some lesser-known or under-loved films instead.
1. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)
The Premise: Four friends discover the sunken ruins of a submerged Mayan city. Exploring the underwater labyrinth, they realize the ruins are home to blind, albino sharks!
Johannes Roberts' 47 Meters Down became a beloved surprise hit in 2017. Despite doing decent box office, when Uncaged dropped in 2019, a lot of people jeered that it was just The Descent with sharks. We say - so?! The Descent meets The Ruins meets sharks sounds awesome! I think Roberts would be the first to admit that while he was going for naturalistic scares in the first film, in the sequel, he's just going for a good time. And while it may not be as suspenseful as the first film, there are jump-scares galore and some great FX.
2. Bait 3D (2012)
The Premise: In an Australian coastal town, a freak tsunami traps a mismatched group of employees, customers, and even some thieves, inside a grocery store… with some hungry sharks too.
Unfortunately, the best way to fully appreciate Bait is in 3-D, but even in two sad dimensions, the film more than delivers. We're also fans of 2011's Shark Night 3D, but the sheer simplicity of Bait is part of its appeal. The film maximizes its limited space in all the best ways and pushes heavily on the fun while still grounding itself just enough as a disaster movie to avoid becoming a silly joke. This movie is reason enough to go on eBay and buy a 3D TV.
3. Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020)
The Premise: Scientists studying sharks from a decaying artificial island near South Africa cross paths with a suspicious group of hunters attempting to capture three sharks displaying unnatural behavior. If you've seen the original film, you know these aren't any ordinary sharks.
It is tough for 'straight-to-video' sequels to live up to a big-budget theatrical predecessor, but Deep Blue Sea 3 is an admirable entry. The decrepit floating city is an appealing setting, which gave us some of the same vibes as SyFy's bananas post-apocalyptic Waterworld-with-sharks Planet of the Sharks (2016). Carrying on the spirit of Jaws, a quality shark movie needs a quality climax, and DBS 3 has a killer final showdown, taking a page from The Terminator, of all things.
4. Ghost Shark (2013)
The Premise: A ghost hunter joins forces with a sea captain to battle a supernatural shark with the ability to manifest in even the most abstract water source.
Actor/Director Griff Furst has gifted the world with some really wonderful shark schlock, like Swamp Shark, Trailer Park Shark, and Nightmare Shark, but Ghost Shark swims above the rest. The movie was practically designed to generate hilarious shark attack GIFs, as the shark phantom nabs victims in increasingly preposterous ways – probably the funniest and best-known of which is the Ghost Shark appearing on a child's Slip 'N Slide. If you've already seen Sharknado and want to dip your toes further into the SyFy sea, this is an ideal one to watch next.
5. The Last Shark aka Great White (1981)
The Premise: A massive great white shark terrorizes beach-goers at a coastal town. Sound familiar?
Made during the heyday of shameless Italian rip-offs, Enzo G. Castellari's paint-by-numbers mash-up of Jaws and Jaws 2 made the mistake of becoming an actual hit at the box office when it was released - which drew the ire of Universal, who promptly filed a plagiarism suit against distributor Edward L. Montoro and had it banned from North America. Now easily viewable, the film is a good time, with cheesy FX and Vic Morrow's equally cheesy riff on Robert Shaw's Quint.
6. Mako: The Jaws Of Death (1976)
Jaws of Death had the distinction of being the first theatrical movie to really cash in on the post-Jaws shark craze. What makes the film so interesting, though, is that it isn't a Jaws rip-off at all. Director William Grefé wrote the film before Jaws and was ripping off his own 1972 film Stanley, which itself was basically a rip-off of 1971's killer rat classic Willard (with Stanley using his pet snakes to take revenge on people instead of Willard's pet rats). So Jaws of Death is an odd original in the subgenre, playing with an entirely different set of tropes. And despite the unfortunate fact that real sharks were mistreated during production, ironically, it is also a rare sharksploitation movie of this era about the mistreatment of sharks in real life. The title is an oddity, too, since there are no mako sharks in the film. But it is a great example of 1970s eco-horror.
7. Red Water (2003)
The Premise: An oil company looking for a place to drill in Louisiana, and gangsters looking for millions of dollars lost in a river, cross paths with an irate off shark.
Lou Diamond Phillips + Coolio + shark. What more needs to be said? Mr. Belding from Saved By the Bell and Kristy Swanson are here too. This was a made-for-TV movie, for TBS Superstation, but done in the pre-SyFy era when everyone was taking things a little more seriously (a little more). Directed by Charles Robert Carner, who wrote the weirdo action gems Gymkata and Rutger Hauer's Blind Fury, the film has an amiable tone that, at times, gives off an Elmore Leonard vibe. Worth viewing just to see Coolio fight with a shark over a case of money.
8. The Reef (2010)
The Premise: Inspired by a true story, a group of Australian friends capsize their boat while sailing to Indonesia and make the risky decision to swim to a nearby island – risky because a hungry shark patrols these waters.
Following in the vérité footsteps of 2003's Open Water, The Reef ups the shark presence for what is one of the most genuinely suspenseful and terrifying shark films of the 21st century. Steve and I are rubber shark fans, so generally speaking, we hate the cop-out of using stock footage of real sharks as a way not to have special FX, but director Andrew Traucki (who spent nearly a week shooting his shark footage) is extremely deft at this approach, having previously utilized the same technique with crocs in 2007's Black Water. At times the film truly makes you wonder if you're looking at a composite shot, or a real shot of a human and shark sharing the same space. And Traucki is very creative at working with what he's got – the tension every time the character of Luke pops his head under water to look for the shark is so simple, but increasingly takes on a Hitchcockian level of expectation-terror, as we know one of these times there will be something there.
9. Santa Jaws (2018)
The Premise: A kid makes a wish to be alone on Christmas. And I think we all know what comes next… a comic book character he drew named Santa Jaws comes to life and starts eating people. Naturally.
From Misty Talley, who also directed Ozark Sharks, this film is delightfully insane. And it has one of my favorite opening scenes of any SyFy shark movie, featuring a murderous Santa Claws taken down by our titular fish. Maybe not for everyone, but if the image of a shark that wears a Santa hat on its dorsal fin makes you giggle, pop this on next December. And just when the gag starts to wear thin, Santa Jaws gets a massive candy cane spike stuck in its head, turning it into a Christmas narwhal of doom.
10. Shark Bait (2022)
The Premise: Some vacationing partiers steal two jet skis and wind up stuck in the middle of the ocean, menaced by a very hungry shark.
This is kind of a spring break version of The Reef. Directed by James Nunn, who was the second unit director on both 47 Meters films, Nunn brings a similar 47 Meters sensibility to this film, which is quite enjoyable but seems to come and go mostly unnoticed by shark fans. Nunn and screenwriter Nick Saltrese find some interesting things to do with their limited concept, including a great bit where one of our heroes finds themselves tethered to a shark attack victim and is thus forced to go on an underwater ride too while the shark munches away on their friend.