Open Wide: Best Killer Shark Movies

Sorry Shark Week, but sharks are scary. Maybe it’s the fear of what’s beneath you in the ocean. Or perhaps it’s the row of very sharp teeth. But sharks have been popular horror movie villains since Jaws swam into theaters in 1975. Over the years, we’ve seen our share of good killer shark movies (Deep Blue Sea), mediocre ones (The Meg), and the dreadfully awful (Jaws 3D, Jaws: The Revenge). Apparently, there’s even a movie called Ghost Shark. But forth this edition of The Chopping Block, I take a look at my personal favourite killer shark movies.

5 – 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)

Yes, critics haven’t been that impressed with the sequel. Moreover, the box office returns have diminished from 2017’s 47 Meters Down. But frankly, I don’t really care as I thoroughly enjoyed 47 Meters Down: Uncaged. Predictable, paper-thin characters, over-the-top – Uncaged is all these things. Nevertheless, this killer shark thriller does exactly what you expect of a late-summer horror movie. Aside from some early jump camera work, the scares are spot on and the albino great white sharks are convincingly menacing. There’s suspense to spare, and the last 15 minutes or so are nail-biting. Some horror fans may argue that Deep Blue Sea or even Jaws 2 are more deserving killer shark movies. I wouldn’t argue with either of those recommendations. Like all lists, this one is entirely subjective.

4 – The Shallows (2016)

By the time The Shallows was released, the campy Sharknado series was already on its fourth entry. Horror fans were probably hungry for a serious, scary shark movie. And The Shallows delivered. The movie has a simple premise – a shark attacks surfer Blake Lively, leaving her stranded on a rock that will disappear when the tide rises. That’s it. Yet director Jaume Collett-Serra wrings maximum tension out of the simple concept. Over the course of the movie’s tight 1 hour and 26 minute runtime, Collett-Serra finds several hand-wringing ways to put Lively in danger. In the tradition of Jaws, The Shallows’ climax veers to the preposterous. But if you’ve made it that far through the move, you’re not likely to mind. In addition, Lively shines with the spotlight firmly on her for the entirety of the movie.

3 – The Reef (2010)

Aussie’s know a thing or two about dangerous wildlife. Great White Sharks get pretty big ‘Down Under’. Not surprisingly then, Aussie ‘killer shark’ movie, The Reef, finds itself right in the middle of this list. Director Andrew Traucki’s (Black Water) story of a sailing cruise gone wrong is a fantastic low-key thriller. When their yacht hits a reef and capsizes, several friends risk swimming for safety as a great white shark stalks them. The Reef trades over-the-top action for more methodical and realistic scares. It’s this approach, along with the use of real shark footage, that makes this killer shark movie unnerving. All of the performances are good. Even with its downer of an ending, the movie just works.

2 – Open Water (2003)

Loosely based on real events, Open Water divided critics and audiences. Yes, its story of scuba-diving American tourists accidentally left behind in the ocean takes its time. This is definitely a ‘slow burn’ that requires patience. And its ‘cinema verite’ approach means the protagonists often come across as unlikable. There’s lots of bickering and yelling. Yet similar to The Blair Witch Project, Open Water expertly ratchets up this ‘slow burn’. There’s a genuine feeling of terror and hopelessness permeating the movie. In addition, Open Water’s uses real sharks giving the movie a grounded feel, which just makes it scarier.

1 – Jaws (1975)

Did you think any other movie could top this list? Steven Spielberg’s Jaws isn’t just a great ‘killer shark’ movie or horror movie – it’s just a great movie, period. In addition to spurring a series of ‘nature strikes back’ knock-off’s, Jaws changed how we watch movie. Arguably, Spielberg created the ‘summer blockbuster’. From the opening beach attack to its stunning climax, Jaws is filled with memorably terrifying moments. When the titular Great White Shark isn’t on the screen, Spielberg finds clever ways to maintain the sense of threat. The shark’s first appearance is a classic movie moment. Though some may disagree, I would argue that the movie’s shark effects remain the standard for killer shark movies.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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