One of my earliest fears was of bodies of water that may or may not be hiding a people-eating shark underneath calm surface views. Shark movies fueled that paranoia by reminding my younger self, over and over, that the world’s natural order could strike at any time. Fin flicks seem so easy a concept — vacationers, boaters, or any group of floaters are hunted by one or multiple sharks — but many examples fail the formula. That’s why I love writing lists like these, to steer moviegoers toward the best of the best. There have been so many shark films since Jaws, but have any surpassed 1975’s famous smash hit?
Top Shark Movies of All Time
Check out the best Shark movies of all time below or take a look at our guide to classic horror movies for more thrills.
10. Shark Night (2011)
The ratio of “alpha” to “minnow” when it comes to shark movies is lopsided towards the negative, which means movies like Shark Night squeak onto the list for general competency. Vacationers in the Louisiana gulf are attacked by backwoods maniacs who take their Shark Week obsession to the max by attaching cameras to ferocious sharks. It’s ridiculous — like, a Great White jumps out of the water and decapitates a dude on a WaveRunner. The original theatrical billing as “Shark Night 3D” spells the early 2010s horror vibe it’s going for (translation: popcorn entertainment), which the film achieves. Credit the late David R. Ellis for this “better with booze” bite of jawesomeness, even if it’s not the shiniest lure in the tackle box.
Read our review of Shark Night.
9. Jaws 2 (1978)
Jaws 2 does not earn the distinction of being a sequel that’s better than the original, but competition is thin around these parts. Roy Scheider is back, protecting Amity Island from another Great White shark that starts devouring water skiers and beachgoers. It’s a bit more action-heavy — which cost original director John D. Hancock his position because he wasn’t the right director for such sequences — and gets back to work with a familiar storytelling continuation. It’s got problems, but also exploding boats and more underwater carnage with enough execution chops. If it ain’t broke, why not turn it into a franchise?
8. Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020)
Yes, there are two Deep Blue Sea sequels. Deep Blue Sea 3 significantly rebounds after the franchise blemish that is Deep Blue Sea 2, returning to the original’s sharky goodness. Scientists trying to protect Great White sharks on the artificial island of Little Happy encounter mercenaries and bull sharks who threaten their safety — yeah, it’s a full-on B Movie. What unfolds includes martyrdom explosions, action brawls with aerial Bull Shark tag-team action, comical memes turned into character deaths, and one of the most unexpected fin flick victories in recent memory. Kudos to the cast and crew of Deep Blue Sea 3 because this aquatic horror version of playing God delivers well above expectations of not only direct-to-video sequels, but absurd shark cinema that understands its entertainment value.
7. The Meg (2018)
Jason Statham versus a 75-foot-long shark from the Mariana Trench? I wish The Meg wasn’t dulled to PG-13 and shed some storytelling fat, but as a blockbuster aquatic horror spectacle, The Meg delivers on its 23 million-year-old premise. There’s danger afloat as massive Megalodon chompers attempt to shatter enforced dive cages or underwater research facilities, all while Statham tries to use his expert diving skills to thwart a not-so-extinct predator. A stacked cast including Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, and Cliff Curtis attempt to stop a Megalodon from devouring beachgoers like hors-d’œuvres — some better than others — as the film’s scope blends Kaiju Lite tropes with oddly endearing soap opera dramatics. What’s sold on the package is all there, and for that, The Meg makes a grand enough splash.
Read our review of The Meg.
6. Open Water (2003)
Where Jaws used a mechanical shark and countless other films opted for computer-generated beasts, Open Water strives for authenticity by going with real sharks. Filmmaker Chris Kentis and wife slash producer Laura Lau are avid scuba divers and wanted to generate as much natural behavior in the film as possible. That means they also serve as cinematographers, relying on their scuba obsession to ensure what’s shot is by their standards. It looks and feels different from more kooky entertainment-focused examples on this list, as an American couple finds themselves miles from shore in shark-infested waters when their boat accidentally leaves them stranded. Not the most action-packed choice, but suspenseful and harrowing for days.
5. Bait (2012)
Before Crawl trapped family members in a flooded crawl space with alligators during a category 5 hurricane, Bait trapped patrons and workers inside a supermarket with agitated Great White sharks during a freak tsunami. Credit Australia with one of the better recent fin flicks, as survivors rig diving gear from shopping carts and parking lots with people stuck in cars become hunting grounds. There’s a proper blend of effects that keep aquatic thrills tense and bloody as the action hits full force. Did I mention the tsunami interrupts a robbery, so criminals and clerks must work together against swimming killers? It’s as good as Crawl, sitting in a strange subgenre of “When Animals Attack in Trapped Locations During Freak Weather Incidents.”
4. 47 Meters Down (2017)
The ticking clock element of 47 Meters Down adds panic to an already frantic underwater escape scene. Mandy Moore and Claire Holt play sisters trapped on the ocean’s floor after a disastrous shark diving expedition, unable to maneuver without attracting finned attention. There’s so much accomplished by using a landscape of aquatic nothingness as two sisters are engulfed by pitch-black waters, hiding sharks that lunge into frame. It’s nervy and white-knuckled, down to multiple scares that may reuse methods but highlight the heightened frights of proper shark cinema.
3. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
You know your movie is good when there’s an LL Cool J song about it. “Deepest, bluest, my hat is like a shark’s fin” encapsulates the 90s outrageousness of Deep Blue Sea, a movie about genetically enhanced Mako sharks and greedy pharmaceutical failures. A loaded cast fights to escape what their characters created, but not even Samuel L. Jackson can avoid becoming another soggy snack. There’s some dodgy animation due to the late 90s release, but also plenty of practical sharks floating down hallways or in flooded kitchens. Deep Blue Sea emphasizes creature-feature “nonsense” in the best ways, making the most of karma’s razor-sharp teeth.
2. The Shallows (2016)
Blake Lively goes toe to toe with an imposing finned foe in The Shallows. Jaume Collet-Serra proves he’s one of the most mindful blockbuster filmmakers in the contemporary game, taking only a few locations (rock formation, water, buoy) and elevating the heck out of tension. Factor in Lively’s tremendous work against a CG shark that still looks damn terrifying, and The Shallows ages like fine yacht wine. There’s no gristle left on the bone. Collet-Serra dives right into an unfathomably hopeless scenario and gets right to the intensity, only for the better.
Read our review of The Shallows.
1. Jaws (1975)
Steven Spielberg forever changed the summer blockbuster landscape with the still reigning champ of sharky cinema. Whatever struggles Spielberg faced using his animatronic Great White that didn’t always want to cooperate were well worth the outcome, some $476.5 million later in box office returns. Jaws is a lesson in holding your cards until the perfect moment, except in this case, Spielberg’s ace in the hole is a people-eater named Bruce. This New England tale about summertime madness shows what happens when mayors care more about their 4th of July tourist influxes than beachgoer safety, scary enough to keep viewers from waterfronts with the memory of Alex Kintner still terrifyingly fresh. There’s no argument — Jaws is still the best shark movie of all time decades later.
Looking for more horror movies with teeth? Take a look at our guide to the best vampire movies of all time next.
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The 10 Best Shark Movies of All Time – IGN
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