Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Turn On Your TV: The Top Ten Shark Attack Movies By Amanda Reyes

That Was Then: I originally wrote this article in 2008 for a website that is no more. Since then, Asylum Films has literally vomited up a new breed of direct-to-video shark movies. And while I do not care for their output, I do appreciate the cold hard fact that it is impossible to keep a good killer fish down. With that in mind, I feel fairly confident that I wouldn’t change too much about what I wrote (although I did add an addendum and tweaked my original piece a bit to release it of some unfortunate jibes… I was far more bitter in 2008, apparently). Also, I should note, at this point, I had missed a classic or two that probably should have made the list. I’ve already been scolded for omitting Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), so please that keep that mind!

And away we go…

People have always been fascinated with sharks, although film audiences may not have recognized that until 1974 when Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was released. The film was so popular that the term blockbuster was created to define its chartbusting success. Since then, many a filmmaker has tried their hand at undersea terror.

The stories generally remained the same, even if the creatures changed. Piranha 2 for example, follows the blueprint of Jaws almost verbatim but instead we get tiny but toothy flying fish. OK, so that one didn’t really work out (don’t misunderstand me though, I love that movie!) and truth be told, it was the shark movies people kept coming back to. Jaws itself spawned three sequels and countless rip-offs that continue to this day. And, since we are #2 on the old food chain, why not sink your teeth into some of the best, and some of the not-the-best-but-pretty-damn-fun shark movies ever imprinted on celluloid?

1. Jaws (1975) – Without a doubt, Jaws is the greatest shark film ever made and one of the most cherished horror films of our time. The success of Jaws is partially due to the fact that it transcends the typical man vs. nature plot and becomes a human drama about men facing their fascination, fears and objects of revenge. If you haven’t seen this film then you’ve either been living under a rock, or have a terrible fear of sharks. Essential viewing for anyone who loves great filmmaking.

2. Jaws 2 (1978) – However, Jaws 2 was probably not made for lovers of great filmmaking, but fans still ate it up. It never comes close to being better than its predecessor but as a lover of slasher films, I find that this movie is basically a version of Friday the 13th featuring a shark as an unstoppable killer. We’ve got beer guzzling teens, girls in cut off shorts, isolation and one scary creature! Made purely for the love of entertainment, this movie succeeds at that on every level. (Confession: I watch Jaws 2 way more than the original. It’s how I roll.)

3. Open Water (2003) – Yeah, yeah, yeah, Open Water is not really a shark movie, it’s a metaphor about the disintegration of a marriage and about how self-importance can lead to one’s downfall. But let’s face it, that’s not what drove the masses to the Cineplex. We came to see lots of sharks terrorize a good-looking couple that find themselves cast away into the brutal ocean. The mixture of art and horror works beautifully and it made Open Water one of the most thoroughly haunting pieces of guerrilla filmmaking I have ever seen.

4. Shark Attack 3 (2002) – To date, this is the mutha of Megaladon movies and is also the best entry in the Shark Attack series. It’s a non-stop ride for fans of MST3K and is not without its share of surprises either. One of the best lines ever put in a movie is here and it’s a doozy. And the awesomely bad CGI only adds to its charm.

5. Deep Blue Sea (1999) – High budget Hollywood all the way, Deep Blue Sea is one of the few films in the recent onslaught of shark movies that made its way into the theaters (recent being relative of course, I forgot this movie came out in the 90s!). It’s certainly one of the better nature gone amok films of recent memory and frankly was far more entertaining than most people gave it credit for. It’s deliciously over the top, especially Stellan Skarsgard’s hilariously serious performance, and it has enough truly suspenseful moments that it just had to make the list (Hollywood haters be damned!). Plus its got the beautiful Thomas Jane proving that he’s often a bit better than the material he’s saddled with.

6. Spring Break Shark Attack (2005) – This made for TV movie is just great. OK, it’s not ‘great’ by normal standards, but it’s far cheekier and more entertaining than most TVMs of late. There was no reason for CBS to have aired this, since their audiences seem drawn to cerebral police procedural fare. But hey, slap a bikini on a couple of pretty girls, sink some CGI teeth into a few obnoxious teens, and somehow convince Bryan Brown to show up for a small cameo and you’ve got yourself a winner!

7. Blue Demon (2004) – It’s a dream come true! A shark attack comedy. I mean it’s an intentional comedy! And it’s actually funny! Although not well received when it was released (PG13 shark movies are usually a no-no), there are enough funny moments, including an incredibly hilarious turn by Jeff Fahey that the admittedly bad CGI doesn’t hurt nearly as much.

8. Up From the Depths (1979) – Well, it’s a monster fish and not really a shark, but I qualified it because it’s just too much fun not to mention. Made for the drive-in audiences of the 70s, this is a pure popcorn thriller complete with a giant gilled fiend that can attack in three feet of water! Check out the older couple blaming the hotel manager for ruining their good time when he tries to rescue them from a con artist! Good stuff.

9. Cruel Jaws (1995) – OK, this movie gets points for ripping off every shark movie ever made. I don’t merely mean they lift the story either – they plagiarize dialog, music and re-use footage (most of the extra footage came from L’ultimo Squalo aka The Last Shark)! If you’re a shark attack movie connoisseur you’re sure to pick out every pilfered moment – and you’ll love every second of it!

10. Shark Attack 2 (2000) – OK, it’s not quite as jaw dropping as Shark Attack III, but there are enough what-the-heck moments to make it one of the more entertaining attack films to have been released of late. The best scene features our heroes, who, supposedly beside themselves with worry about the killer sharks, take time for a sightseeing tour of the island! Good times.

Honorable Mentions:

Dark Waters (2003) – This didn’t quite make the list, but I have to include any Lorenzo Lamas extravaganza featuring our brunette beefcake going toe to fin with some killer fishes. It’s a surprisingly engaging film. Or I’m an easy sell.

Megaladon (2002) – This is a serious attempt at making a suspenseful shark attack movie and minus the utterly horrible special effects, it’s actually a very good little film. The acting is top notch; it’s just too bad the shark looks a bit like Jabberjaw. Still, it’s not a bad way to kill an evening.

L’ultimo Squalo (aka The Last Shark, 1981) – Just because James Franciscus is so cute.

This is Now: Well, it’s 2014 and here I am reliving my favorite shark moments, and wondering if I’ve missed anything. Since I wrote this I have seen Mediterranean Shark Attack (2004), Sharks in Venice (2008) Shark Night 3D (2011), and Bait (2012), all of which I’ve enjoyed on some level (and I’m wondering why I haven’t seen The Reef (2010)… and I still haven’t seen Jaws of Death either! Argh!). Of those, I think only Bait would make a new top 10, but since I’m a sucker for the toothy water creatures, I will add them all to the honorable mentions list. I’m like that – everyone gets an award!

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8 years ago

What a fun list, Amanda! I must admit that I have only seen Jaws and Jaws II from your list. Would Orca the Killer Whale (1977) qualify for this list? I will never forget my nephew (when he was about 8 or 9) begging me to rent him that movie. I finally caved, then he screamed and ran from the room when Bo Derek had her leg bit off. Have you watched Sharknado? I am a bit curious, but I am not sure if it is worth my time.

unkle lancifer
8 years ago

Amanda, Thanks for sharing this excellent shark list with us.

It is very well timed because I currently find myself suffering from shark fever and there are several titles here I have yet to see.

Ever since I watched “The Last Shark”, I can’t get enough. I’m afraid I even went to the JAWS 3&4 zone.

Those Jaws movies may get progressively worse but they never get less fun. 4 is a camp classic around here.

And I can’t believe The Reef is from 2010! Where did the last 4 years go? I caught that one on Netflix and really enjoyed it. Here’s a link to an old review…


I’m not sure if it counts but the other night on Netflix I watched the MST3 episode featuring Lamberto Bava’s “Devil Fish” It’s not really about a shark, it’s more like a giant dish rag with tentacles- but it did the trick.

That one is also on Youtube in it’s original form without the MST3 treatment….


Mickster, I just saw that Orca is on Netflix right now. I have not seen it since I was a kid so I’m going to check it out again soon!

8 years ago

Into the Blue and its spiritual predecessor The Deep.