The new Blake Lively shark film
opens in New Zealand this week following a modest degree of box office success in America earlier this year.
The commercial success of the film is encouraging, as it's just the kind of movie that Hollywood seems less and less interesting in making these days: mid-sized, glossy thrillers with few intentions beyond providing well-crafted tension.
It's the latest in a string of similarly effective efforts from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop, Orphan), an underrated filmmaker who repeatedly re-affirms his status as Hollywood's finest purveyor of contemporary thrillers.
One of these days he should make a
, he seems like the perfect man for the job.
Despite the high-concept innovations of The Shallows, just like every other shark movie, many critics dismissed it as yet another Jaws rip-off. Which seems a bit harsh.
Steven Spielberg's 1974 classic Jaws, irrefutably the best shark movie ever made, and arguably the best film ever made, surely doesn't own the concept of shark movies.
With that in mind, and to celebrate the modest triumph that is The Shallows, here I will cite the five best shark movies that aren't Jaws.
N.B. While films like Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach, Licence to Kill (1989), The Perfect Storm (2000), The Beach (2000), Into The Blue (2005), Unbroken (2014) and Jurassic World (2015) all feature great shark scenes, here I am only citing movies which exist primarily to provide shark-centric thrills.
Also, I am excluding
from this list because it is brand new, but it would be at number one if it was present. It's pretty much perfect popcorn pulp.
5. Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002)
Infamously terrible to the point of heightened entertainment value, this hilariously awful low-budget thriller about a gargantuan prehistoric shark wreaking havoc in modern times was something of an antecedent to Sharknado, and is a lot more fun for lacking the latter film's wink-wink, nudge-nudge self-awareness.
A 'serious' exploration of the same idea, adapted from Steve Alten's 1997 novel Meg, is apparently currently shooting in New Zealand. It stars the great Jason Statham (Crank, Ghosts of Mars), Ruby Rose (Orange Is The New Black), Fan Bingbing (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Jessica McNamee (Packed To The Rafters).
4. Shark Night (2011)
Not a classic from any perspective, ironic or otherwise, there remains a purity to the pulpy ambitions of this unashamed B-movie-with-a-B+-budget. It's about a bunch of pretty college kids getting eaten by sharks that have been let loose in a lake by rednecks.
Director David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2), who sadly died in 2013, always displayed a knack for inventively-staged thriller set-pieces, and that skill elevates Shark Night to the status of fine cheese.
3. Jaws 2 (1978)
Although it isn't a particularly well-regarded sequel, Jaws 2 remains an entertaining and effective watch, plus it stands head and shoulders above subsequent entries Jaws III and Jaws: The Revenge.
Turning the focus to a bunch of randy teenagers helps set it apart from its iconic forebear, and there are plenty of properly unnerving set-pieces. Also, as the previous entries in this list have no doubt suggested, the shark movie subgenre isn't exactly overflowing with quality, which renders Jaws 2 a worthier effort than the debacle it's often perceived to be.
2. Open Water (2003)
Steven Spielberg famously attributed the expertly-crafted tension in Jaws to his inability to show the constantly malfunctioning mechanical shark, which forced him to rely more heavily on Hitchcockian suggestion.
Subtlety is all well and good, but pretty every shark movie made since then has indulged the audience's desire to see fake sharks doing their thing. This stellar low-budget thriller about two divers left stranded in the middle of the ocean is a notable exception.
Artfully incorporating actual shark footage into the narrative, Open Water stands another strong argument for the effectiveness of suggestion and character in generating shark-centric terror.
1. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Suggestion and character are not at the top of Deep Blue Sea's list of priorities, but that's okay because it's a hugely entertaining shark thriller with a great grasp of what makes sharks so cinematically appealing.
It concerns a floating research platform where scientists have made some Mako sharks extra smart in the name of Alzheimer's research. LL Cool J plays a cook. It is great. Although not a flop, the film's inability to set the box office on fire is rumoured to have stalled development on a fifth Jaws movie.
But with Shark Week, the Sharknado films and the whole Left Shark thing, sharks are hotter than ever.
If the aforementioned Meg is a hit, it will surely ensure a Jaws reboot/sequel in the not-to-distant future.