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SYFY WIRE sharks

The 8 best shark attack movies, ranked

47 Meters Down is cinema.

By James Grebey
47 Meters Down (2017); Jaws (1975); Sharknado (2013)

Shark attacks are, statistically, incredibly rare. In the United States, your odds of being bitten by a shark are something like 1 in 11 million. The drive to the beach is unquestionably more dangerous. And yet… it’s hard to go into the water and not worry, in some primal recess of your mind, that there could be a fin headed straight for you. Movies probably have a lot to do with this, as the “shark attack creature feature” is a classic genre. 

It almost feels as though you’re more likely to see a shark attack movie on a theater’s marquee than actually get bit by a shark, that’s how many films about sharks there have been. One recent surprise hit, 47 Meters Down, turns five years old today. To celebrate the occasion, SYFY WIRE is ranking the eight best shark attack movies. Please note that we’re being pretty specific when it comes to this. Documentaries don’t count, nor do animated movies or films with sharks as characters. These are just movies where a shark is attacking one or more people — typically in the ocean, but in one case, as we’ll see, via a tornado. 

8. The Meg

There’s a lot to love about this movie where Jason Statham fights a giant shark. Although not nearly as absurd (or gory!) as the book it’s based on, The Meg is a thrilling blockbuster with an oversized beast at the center. The only thing holding it back on this list is, perhaps, the very thing that makes it so fun. The shark sequences are a hoot, but a shark fighting a submarine is a little different than a shark stalking a beachgoer. And, these attack scenes are secondary to the real action, which is Statham going mano a sharko with the oversized beast.

7. Deep Blue Sea

Another ridiculous movie, Deep Blue Sea is corny fun for most of its runtime. (Giant genetically modified sharks on the loose in a sinking research station? Don’t mind if I do!) However, there is one scene that is high art: Samuel L. Jackson, seemingly one of the only characters who understands the gravity of the situation and one of the ostensible protagonists, is in the midst of a stirring speech when he is suddenly obliterated by a giant shark mid-sentence. 

6. Sharknado

You can’t get more ridiculous than Sharknado… except for the many sequels to SYFY’s beloved so-bad-it’s-amazing film franchise. While some of the later movies were too in on their own joke, the original is a wonderful mash-up of two stupid ideas that knows exactly how straight to play itself. 

5. The Reef

The first three movies on this list are wonderfully over-the-top, knowingly, but the next couple have much more intense stakes — and a mean streak that could make even the most ferocious great white look like a little kitty. The Reef, an Australian film about a group of sailors who need to make a dangerous swim to a nearby island after their yacht sinks, is a resourceful and brutal film. 

4. Open Water

Open Water is, perhaps, too upsetting. It’s one of the best films on this list — and almost certainly the most realistic — but the absolute despair is crushing, making it not quite as fun to watch as more popcorn-friendly shark attack movies. Still, the story of two scuba divers who were accidentally left behind in, you guessed it, open water, is extremely effective. The most horrifying thing might be that these two people are obviously doomed to die before you even get to the sharks circling below them. 

3. The Shallows

The evil genius of The Shallows is its simplicity. Blake Lively is stuck on a rock. She can see the shore. It’s really not all that far away! Unfortunately for her, there is one small problem: A big great white shark. The Shallows is a straightforward “woman vs. shark” story, and there is never any doubt that she is the underdog in this fight, which only makes it more thrilling when she goes for it. 

2. 47 Meters Down

Many of the best shark attack movies know that the sharks are only part of what makes the situation so scary — a big part, to be sure, but not everything. Sharks live in the water. Humans don’t. The environment is inherently dangerous to landlubbers like us, and 47 Meters Down takes this premise and submerges it… 47 meters below the surface. Mandy Moore and Claire Holt are trapped on the seafloor when the chain holding up their shark cage snaps, and although they’re relatively safe from the circling sharks inside, they’re running out of air. But, if they leave the cage, they can’t just make a break for the surface because ascending too fast will give them the bends, a potentially fatal condition scuba divers can suffer from. It’s a killer premise, a lower-budget Gravity in the sea instead of space, and with deadly sharks instead of a debris swarm. 

1. Jaws

Every other movie on this list is a good shark attack movie. Jaws, the movie that made Steven Spielberg Steven Spielberg, is one of the best movies ever made. It’s not even a fair comparison, that’s how good Jaws is. Based on the best-selling Peter Benchley book, Jaws is a nuanced look at a marriage, being an outsider in a small town, the economic pressures of tourism, and class. It is also about a giant shark who eats people and sinks a boat, all set to John Williams’ iconic and hair-raising score. Jaws gets credit for inventing the summer blockbuster, but it’s loads better than pretty much everything that would come after it. With Jaws, Spielberg took a Bruce-sized bite — and not only could he chew it, but he swallowed it whole like a hapless beachgoer.