You would be hard pressed to have missed the incredibly subtle advertising campaign for the latest shark movie – The Meg. This star-studded feature is anything but understated and yet this may be because The Meg comes from a long history of outrageous shark movies that capture the public imagination – from the sublime, to the ridiculous to the downright bonkers. But recently there have been some attempts to pacify the image of the shark as a man-eating monster… whilst films like The Meg suggest we prefer sharks when they have us screaming into our popcorn. So, we’re going to look at the rep of sharks in some of the most prolific shark movies to date…
Undoubtedly the most iconic shark movie of all time, Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller Jaws kick-started the cinematic obsession with man-eating Great White’s. Following the escapades of this forever-hungry shark terrorizing the holiday makers of Amity Island, Spielberg’s classic was a hard slog, riddled with difficulties running over time and over budget. And yet rather than being doomed to failure, Jaws became the highest grossing film of all time for a period and is still considered as one of the greatest films ever made.
The influence of Jaws in future shark films is palpable. Whereas shark’s rarely swim with their dorsal fin out of the water, Jaws utilised the fleshy grey fin to strike fear into the viewer through suggestion – an image that has been adopted by many shark films since. Whether it’s the shark suddenly dragging an innocent victim underwater, the creepy camera below-surface sweeping past swimmers’ legs or the gormless holiday makers sprinting badly out of the sea, Jaws solidified a number of shark-film tropes that would frequent the genre in the future. Plus, it has one of the best bits of suspense music in cinematic history, that would also make us terrified to go into anything bigger than a paddling pool for years to come.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
What do you get when you take a group of genius scientists trying to regenerate brain cells to cure Alzheimer’s and some fishy subjects? Mega-intelligent mutant sharks of course. After Jaws, more and more film makers realized that sharks were the new heroes of horror and – whereas Jaws simply had a larger-then-usual great white shark – Deep Blue Sea decided to take it a step further with a trio of genetically modified super-huge, super-smart mako sharks.
Working together to pick off the team one by one, these sharks complete impossible feats for their kind – including swimming backwards, using a human on a stretcher as a pick axe and plotting an escape plan using the scientists as their pawns. But whilst this all sounds a bit ridiculous, the tension and jump-scares made Deep Blue Sea an amazing, no-way-out shark movie. And it conveyed a strong anti-animal testing message too!
Finding Nemo (2003)
The animated powerhouse that was Finding Nemo gave us not only an insight into a bright and colourful underwater world with a plethora of definable characters – but also a new cinematic version of sharks. In their adventure, heroes Marlin and Dory meet affectionately-named Australian shark Bruce and his friends Anchor and Chum – reformed sharks who have given up their fish-diet to try and revive the reputation of their kind. ‘fish are friends not food!’
Although an animated film, Finding Nemo demonstrates a self-awareness of the reputation of sharks in cinema – as this likeable group strive to change the status of the shark and redefine themselves as harmless vegetarians. Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely successful as the scent of Dory’s blood causes Bruce to give in to his killer instinct – but at least they tried to prove not all sharks are cold-blooded killers after all… at least not intentionally.
Shark Tale (2004)
A year after Finding Nemo, Shark Tale presented us with another veggie shark in the form of lovable Lenny. Soft-hearted Lenny doesn’t fit into his family of aggressive great white sharks and they, in turn, are very embarrassed by Lenny’s lack of bloodthirsty inclinations. Despite their best efforts, he just can’t seem to find it in his heart to be bad and – as he is voiced by Jack Black – it’s hard for us not to root for him either.
Lenny’s adventures lead him to troublesome fish Oscar and he goes through an interesting coming-of-age period where he ends up squatting in Oscar’s house and cross-dresses as a dolphin called Sebastian. In a slightly sickly Hollywood ending, it is the fish, Oscar, who reconciles Lenny with his father stating there is nothing wrong with having a son who is a vegetarian and likes to dress like a dolphin. Shark Tale was sending a clear message through the use of the stereotyped villain of the shark that you can never judge a book by its cover… and we should accept our children, no matter how bizarre their drag act.
Urgh – any work done by Shark Tale and Finding Nemo to make sharks seem a bit cuter and cuddlier was undone by the trash-triumph that is Sharknado. Sure, we have had unbelievable shark B-movies like Two-Headed Shark, Sharktopus and Ghost Shark – but none have quite met the brazen brilliance of Sharknado. Sharknado is about sharks leaving the confines of the water and crashing through cities with the help of a very strong whirlwind of water. Well how else were the shark’s going to start eating people in LA?
Does this premise make sense? No. But if you’re looking for any source of realism you hopefully would have put Sharknado down the moment you heard the title. Somewhere amidst the sharks pulling the roofs off cars, latching onto helicopters and a brilliant finale moment where the film’s protagonist Fin is swallowed whole and chainsaws his way out of a shark – Sharknado stumbles across the Holy Grail of B-movies:‘it’s so bad it’s good’. Although Fin’s ex-wife kissing him after he has been inside a shark is, quite frankly, a little bit implausible..
So what have been your most iconic shark movies? Do you think sharks are best when their mindlessly bloodthirsty or misunderstood softies? Let us know in the comments below.