You’re underwater in your best friend’s pool, retrieving a neon dive stick and praying you won’t get eaten. Having just watched Jaws for the first time, you look toward the deep end and can practically see the great white emerging, jagged teeth splayed wide. You swim for the surface, hoist yourself from the water, and scoot back from the edge. Wrapped securely in a towel, you go inside and do the only thing that makes sense: watch another shark movie.
Why is this your instinct?
From the safety of the sofa, you need to feel that rush again, those final seconds when your toes were still underwater, when you weren’t one-hundred-percent sure you’d make it out whole. When did you last feel so alive? Chumming your own mental waters, you select a shark film. You press play. Your flesh tingles in anticipation. The ocean appears on screen, a big shadow gliding beneath the surface, suggesting watery mayhem. Then you catch sight of it: that first view of the dorsal fin…
You’ve soon watched every shark movie available, until you have a list of your favorites swimming circles in your mind. The following is the result of this endeavor, ranked from the shark films with no bite to those that sink their teeth into the torso of your thoughts and never let go.
11: 3-Headed Shark Attack (2015)
This one has it all: gratuitous nudity, absurd violence, unrequited love, and the raw terror of a three-headed shark attacking a research station. The characters demonstrate an astonishing willingness to “swim for it” in shark-infested waters before trying any other options. Your hope in humanity is, however, revived when Danny Trejo comes to the rescue with machine guns and a deftly wielded machete.
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10. Shark Night (2011)
You’re never expecting to get eaten by sharks when you’re a sexy person vacationing with your sexy friends, but sometimes that’s what happens. In a classic man-versus-shark-versus-hot-college-students setup, Shark Night rises to the occasion with an entertaining, if implausible, exploration of what could maybe happen if you piss off the wrong shark or wrong person on the wrong day. Don’t miss the music video, “Shark Bite!", featuring Katharine McPhee, at the end. This is the second-best shark rap accompanying a film on this list.
9. Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020)
Set on a small island town near South Africa that is slowly being inundated by rising ocean waters, Deep Blue Sea 3 follows scientists who are studying the effects of climate change on great whites. Genetically modified bull sharks soon terrorize the waters, making the local sharks appear saintly by comparison. The film incorporates surprise explosives as well as creative use of a trash compactor machine.
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8. The Meg (2018)
A deep-sea exploration inadvertently opens a doorway for the prehistoric Megalodon, the mother-of-all-big-ass-sharks, to swim through. Turns out the Meg is big, yes, but Jason Statham’s muscles are bigger. With a series of so-absurd-they’re-great encounters, Statham’s character and crew attempt to salvage their underwater research station and subdue the shark, making for lots of shark attack fun. Is a supposedly strong polycarbonate shark cage with a flimsy looking bottom a good idea? No. Will we watch a scientist lower herself into it in a misguided attempt to place a shark tracker? One million times, yes.
7. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Scientists trying to develop an Alzheimer’s treatment use genetically modified sharks for their experiment. This goes awry when the underwater research station (Yes, another one!) is attacked by the frenzied sharks and begins flooding. If you thought you were afraid of GMOs in your tomatoes, you wouldn’t want to find yourself amongst these sharkish beasts. A dramatic monologue from Samuel L. Jackson and a perilous encounter between LL Cool J, a talking parrot, and a shark in a flooded kitchen solidify Deep Blue Sea as a classic of the genre. LL Cool J’s shark rap song, “Deepest Bluest”, is certainly the best shark rap to accompany any film on this list.
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6. Open Water (2003)
You were already feeling a bit hesitant to vacation with your significant other and Open Water really makes you think twice. A couple inadvertently left behind on a snorkeling trip drifts in shark-infested waters. Oh, and the sharks are Thanksgiving-hungry with a major craving for torsos and toes.
5. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)
The daughter of an archaeologist steals her father’s scuba gear to explore an ancient cave with friends, encountering blind sharks that are surprisingly agile and hungry. The teens must escape amidst collapsing underwater caves and whirlpool currents—all while being hunted by sharks and running out of oxygen. A wild series of twists addresses everything that could possibly go wrong in a shark-infested cave-dive situation. The dramatic ending makes you scream and cheer and laugh and cry—and press play on another shark movie.
4. The Reef (2010)
A capsized boat sends a group of people floating in open water, hoping an ocean current moves them in the direction of an island they saw a while back. Luckily one of the dudes knows how to use his watch as a compass. What could go wrong, right? Sharks begin circling the terrified swimmers. Lessons learned? Don’t go in the ocean, don’t bleed, and don’t do those two things at the same time, ever.
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3. The Shallows (2016)
You’ve long assumed wearing jewelry while swimming is impractical, but this movie proves you wrong—very wrong. After suturing a shark bite with her earrings, a surfer named Nancy (played by Blake Lively) struggles to survive a circling shark from her perch on a rock in the ocean. Her athleticism and ingenuity are fascinating in this story that never lets up and offers a surprising finale that swallows your dream of one day relaxing on a rock in the sea.
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2. 47 Meters Down (2017)
A preternatural instinct tells you a rickety shark cage is a bad idea, but you excitedly watch sisters, played by Mandy Moore and Claire Holt, get into one anyway. When a broken line sends their cage hurtling 47 meters down to the ocean floor, you look on with horror and fascination. The stakes keep getting raised as the situation gets remarkably worse, with the women running out of oxygen while trying to escape hungry sharks that won’t stop circling.
1. Jaws (1975)
The glittering jewel of the shark film genre, Jaws manages to entertain over and over again, offering something new each time you watch. With the perfect balance of character development, steadily mounting tension, social commentary, and horror, this one makes for a truly terrifying experience. Open water will never feel the same again.