Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.
Neither of us has ever been close to a shark in person, outside of an aquarium. But we remain terrified of them. That’s because of the movies. Movies were made for sharks. You’re hearing the music in your head right now just thinking about it, right? Here’s our look at the scariest movie sharks. (And we promise to revise these rankings if Tommy Wiseau’s Big Shark turns out to be any good. Just kidding: We know it won’t.)
This so-melodramatic-ya-gotta-love-it thriller starred Blake Lively as a med student mourning the death of her mom while spending some time in Baja. But soon, she realizes that her relaxing vacation is going to be threatened by a shark once she gets trapped on a reef far from land. (This is just one reason we never go surfing alone.)
Director Jaume Collet-Serra ratchets up the tension shamelessly, partly by making Lively’s nemesis the meanest, jerkiest shark of all time. No points for guessing that this great white is a tortured metaphor for the character’s need to fight her grief and reconnect with the living. But you wouldn’t expect subtlety from a film that names its bird character Steven Seagull.
Unfortunately, The Meg is not the self-aware, giddily ridiculous schlock-fest that the trailers made you think it was: Sharknado this isn’t. But if you’re into a prehistoric shark that returns from its frozen depths to attack a bunch of unsuspecting beachgoers, you’ll get that… but you’ll have to wait longer than you probably thought. Jason Statham keeps you interested: eventually, he does get to punch a damn shark.
Deep Blue Sea
First off, these aren’t just massive, genetically modified supersharks. They are genius massive, genetically modified supersharks. The fun of this still-sort-of-underrated, ridiculous thriller is that the one advantage we usually have over sharks — our brains — is no longer the case: they have those teeth and that bloodlust and they also can outmaneuver and outwit us. They also, as the infamous Samuel L. Jackson clip perpetually reminds us, have crack comic timing.
Writer-director Chris Kentis raised the stakes in the shark cinematic universe by utilizing real sharks for this tale of a couple (Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis) who get left behind during a scuba expedition. (“We thought we would have to swim with two or three sharks,” Travis later said. “But when we showed up for filming there were about 45 or 50 of them.”)
Open Water is a tale of survival but also a drama about a relationship in peril — both literally and figuratively. Maybe it was little more than a gimmick, but the live sharks added to the tension. Every time a fin swims by, you shudder.
Aficionados of Steven Spielberg’s first blockbuster know the story of how the shark got his name: Bruce was an affectionate nod to the young director’s lawyer, Bruce Raynor. And, right, the mechanical sharks wouldn’t work, forcing Spielberg to improvise and, fortuitously, delay the big reveal of the great white until later in the film. All that did was build anticipation in the audience’s mind: just how big was this terrifying death machine laying waste to swimmers around Amity Island?
Decades later, not only do we associate sharks with Jaws, but John Williams’ chillingly simple score continues to be our aural manifestation of their power, mystery, and terror. As a result, sharks were demonized for years after, causing their population to radically drop. Such was the impact of this movie’s scares: we came to view them as a worldwide menace, just waiting to sink their teeth into us.