The best shark movies and other aquatic horror for Shark Week
Shark Week, the annual weeklong block of shark-based television hosted by the Discovery Channel since 1988, is upon us once again. What at first began as a novelty marketing tactic designed to lure viewers in to watch television during the summer months morphed into a full-on cultural phenomenon in 2006 with Tracy Morgan’s iconic “Live every week like it’s Shark Week” line on 30 Rock, spawning a frenzy of imitators and a plethora of outlandish movies alike that channel the exploitative terror of fanged underwater predators first conjured and perfected by Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and transforming it into guilty-pleasure horror fodder for the whole family.
There’s as many underwater horror films as there are schools of fish in the ocean, and finding just the right one to sink your teeth into can be a difficult choice. In recognition of the 35th annual Shark Week, we’ve plumbed the depths in search of our favorite shark and shark-adjacent horror movies to stream and rent.
From classics like Spielberg’s aforementioned thriller and modern classics like The Meg and Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows to the eldritch horror of William Eubank’s Underwater starring Kristen Stewart and Humanoids From the Deep, here are the 12 best underwater horror movies to stream this Shark Week.
The original movie blockbuster remains one of Steven Spielberg’s best, and is just as much a thrilling creature feature as it is an unnerving study of the ways in which leaders will abandon the people they serve in the pursuit of capital. With how our world currently responds to mass crises, it’s as relevant as ever. —Pete Volk
Jaws is available to stream on Tubi.
After years of making action thrillers with Liam Neeson, Spanish American director Jaume Collet-Serra has made it to the big leagues, directing the upcoming Black Adam for Warner Bros. and the recent Jungle Cruise for Disney. But one of his very best movies is this “woman stranded in the water is pursued by a shark” thriller starring Blake Lively.
It’s a simple and well-tested setup, but it works because of Lively and Collet-Serra. It’s one of the richer roles Lively’s played post-Gossip Girl, and Collet-Serra is game for the thrills the shark genre requires. The Shallows is also remarkable in the ways it depicts text conversations as a part of its narrative on screen. —PV
The Shallows is available to stream on Peacock.
Deep Blue Sea
Virtually every shark movie since Jaws has been more camp than classic, but Renny Harlin’s 1999 exploitation thriller Deep Blue Sea is one of the few that’s authentically tense even as it leans hard into the camp. Over-the-top as only a movie starring Thomas Jane and Samuel L. Jackson can be, the film centers on one of the most ludicrous science projects in the “you earned your fate by playing God” pantheon: an effort to make sharks much, much smarter. (There are well-meaning reasons involved, but c’mon, it’s like a project to make wasps breed faster, live longer, and hate humans more.) Obviously, the project goes wrong, and obviously, it leads to a scenario where a selection of edible-looking humans (Saffron Burrows, Michael Rapaport, LL Cool J, and Stellan Skarsgård among them) wind up in the water among great whites that can plan and coordinate as well as devour. It’s a ridiculous scenario that everyone treats like it’s Shakespeare, but the blend of grim life-or-death stakes and entirely straight-faced, unwinking hilarity makes Deep Blue Sea a standout among fans of trashy, slick creature features. —TR
Deep Blue Sea is available to stream on HBO Max.
If we’re positing that aquatic horrors are among the greatest pleasures capital-C Cinema can offer (we are), then The Meg is among the bigger names on our list. I mean this not only factually — though megalodons are among the largest fish to ever exist, if you hadn’t heard — but in terms of the splash it can make in your life, were you to welcome it into your heart. After a crew of researchers in the Pacific (featuring a cast far too unwieldy and noteworthy to list here) dives deeper than ever before into the Marianas Trench, they find themselves up against a fearsome creature that our modern world is in no way prepared for. The Meg is a film best enjoyed for the hammy pleasures it can offer you, rather than the ones it can’t. Though there are twists and turns, and Jason Statham doing his best as a gruff rescue diver, the film is trying to surf between “full-blown ludicrous” (your Sharknados) and “grounded and fulfilling politics piece” (Jaws, the GOAT). Does it always succeed? Maybe, maybe not. But there are worse ways to spend a night than screeching as the Meg makes another bombastic appearance and puts the whole crew in peril. —Zosha Millman
The Meg is available to stream on Fubo or for digital rental or purchase on VOD platforms.
Jaws: The Revenge
Make no mistake: Jaws: The Revenge is a ridiculous movie. It’s not, however, one of the worst sequels ever made, as its reputation suggests. (It’s not even the worst Jaws sequel; the tepid Jaws 3-D takes that crown.) Get on its funky wavelength and there’s a film here that belongs in the so-bad-it’s-good canon. The fourth Jaws installment brings back Lorraine Gary as Ellen Brody, who goes to stay with her son Michael in the Bahamas after her other son, Sean, is killed by a shark off Amity Island. The shark follows her to the Caribbean, where it tries to systematically pick off the rest of her family. Also, she has a psychic link with the shark that gives her a kind of Spidey-sense for its attacks. That’s absurd! But the movie seems to know it’s absurd. The Revenge takes plenty of big, bizarre swings in service of its galaxy-brained plot. It’s a Christmas movie, for some reason. There’s a ton of weird, frank sex talk in front of multiple generations of family. Michael Caine plays a wisecracking pilot named Hoagie. Mario Van Peebles is here, with dreadlocks and a broad, inexplicable patois. At one point, he knowingly sings the John Williams theme, which apparently exists in the world of the film. This could all come off as too clever by half, but The Revenge mostly knows exactly how dumb to be. It deserves a second look. —Brad Sanders
Jaws: The Revenge is available to watch for free with ads on Tubi.
47 Meters Down
If you’re anything like me, you like your survival tales with a twist. I’m less interested in watching characters plumb the reasons for persisting (who isn’t these days) and more inclined to watch something that somehow twists the formula, either through genre or grander philosophical aims. If 47 Meters Down accomplishes this at all for you, it’s through the former, with generic titillation that makes the world of cage-diving with sharks more visceral than it had to be for a movie of this caliber. Sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are plunged to the titular depth after their cable breaks and leaves them stranded far below the surface. With both visibility and oxygen levels low, and sharks circling the dark, murky water around them, the pair’s efforts to stay alive clock in at a tight 85 minutes. And so 47 Meters Down breathes some rare air on this list: perfectly calibrated between the thrills these films subsist on and the ocean madness they need to really stand out. —ZM
47 Meters Down is available to stream on Hulu.
In between Charlie’s Angels, Happiest Season, her Oscar-nominated role in Spencer, and the David Cronenberg body horror movie Crimes of the Future, Kristen Stewart delivered another leading role that gets less attention than it should. In William Eubank’s Underwater, Stewart is Norah Price, a mechanical engineer on board a drilling vessel at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. When an earthquake strikes, disaster follows, as well as some… surprise guests. It’s a thrilling 95 minutes of good genre fare, with strong performances by Stewart, Jessica Henwick, Vincent Cassel, John Gallagher Jr., and Mamoudou Athie. —PV
Underwater is available to stream on Fubo or for digital rental or purchase on VOD platforms.
This tightly contained hurricane thriller slithered under the radar in 2019, but it’s one of the more efficient horror releases of recent years. Kaya Scodelario is a collegiate swimmer who returns home to try and evacuate her father (Barry Pepper) from his house before a huge hurricane is set to hit. While looking for him, she is ambushed by a group of alligators who trap her in the house’s crawl space. A thrilling 87 minutes of creature feature thrills, the movie is aided by strong central performances and tight direction by Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D). —PV
Crawl is available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.
Piranha (1978) isn’t exactly a good movie, but the film Steven Spielberg reportedly called “the best of the Jaws rip-offs” has become a cult hit, thanks to self-aware direction from Gremlins’ Joe Dante and a slyly winking script co-written by indie-movie maestro John Sayles. Like so many other Roger Corman productions, it feels like the remit was clearly “Make sure there’s gore and a couple of women are topless,” and otherwise the filmmakers were given the freedom to do whatever they wanted. In this case, they wanted to throw in some humor and make sure, without mocking the audience, that everyone understood this was a campy project.
Piranha hits some of the same subversive marks as Jaws — the authorities are selfish and shortsighted, and the public is oblivious — so the themes have some heft, but Dante and Sayles are both smart enough to know the whole project is a little ridiculous, and they remind the audience every chance they get of how contrived and conceptually silly a killer-fish movie has to be, given that most people have the option to just stay out of the water. —Tasha Robinson
Piranha is available to stream on Plex for free, and on Peacock, Tubi, Pluto TV, and Freevee with ads.
There’s no denying that Orca is a self-serious knockoff of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, but that’s actually a selling point for me — Michael Anderson’s 1977 film is a fascinating exercise in brinksmanship. After the success of Jaws, Dino De Laurentiis tasked fellow producer Luciano Vincenzoni with finding an aquatic creature that poses an even greater threat than a great white shark, as if size was what really made Spielberg’s film so terrifying. The melodramatic promotional materials proudly claimed that, aside from humans, killer whales are the only animals that kill for revenge, thumbing a nose at the unthinking killing machine from Spielberg’s movie. Orca even opens with the eponymous killer whale taking out a great white shark (an extra bit of trivia: the boat in Jaws is named Orca). But the plot was ultimately quite straightforward, with Captain Nolan (Richard Harris) playing an increasingly histrionic game of cat-and-mouse against the orca whose mate he killed in the first act. Naturally, the final product is nowhere near as thrilling or rich with allegory as Spielberg’s work — at its best, Orca is more “Moby-Dick as a B-movie,” which is fitting, given that Jaws turned out to be Vincenzoni et al.’s white whale. —Danette Chavez
Orca is available to rent for $3.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.
The seemingly unkillable sea monster in 1989’s Dead Calm isn’t a shark — it’s Billy Zane. Based on a Charles Williams novel that Orson Welles tried and failed to adapt as The Deep, Phillip Noyce’s film pits Zane’s Hughie Warriner against John and Rae Ingram (Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman) in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Warriner rows a dinghy to the Ingrams’ yacht and claims food poisoning killed his crewmates, but his odd behavior arouses John’s suspicion, and he rows out to the capsizing ship to investigate. John finds the bodies, Warriner commandeers the yacht, and Noyce doesn’t let his foot off the gas for the rest of the film, maintaining a high-wire, nervy intensity as Warriner comes unglued and the separated Ingrams find the resolve to reunite and bring him down. All three performances are excellent, but Zane gives a career-best turn as the unhinged Warriner, infusing him with both genuine menace and an off-putting, childlike demeanor. Dead Calm may be more psychological thriller than traditional aquatic horror, but the Jaws homage in the final shot proves its bona fides are in order. Smile, you son-of-a. —BS
Dead Calm is available to stream on Kanopy with a library card and available to rent for $2.99 on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.
Humanoids From the Deep
Barbara Peeters was a New World Pictures vet when Roger Corman hired her to helm 1980’s Humanoids From the Deep, having already directed Bury Me an Angel and Summer School Teachers for the cult studio. Humanoids was her final feature before moving on to a career in television, and its go-for-broke verve made it one of New World’s best. Set in a California fishing village during its annual salmon festival, Peeters’ film adds harrowing feminist subtext to the post-Jaws subgenre by introducing an aquatic menace that’s bent on procreation with human women. When a school of ancient coelacanths is exposed to a growth hormone meant for salmon, they undergo millions of years of evolution overnight, and the resulting Creature From the Black Lagoon-like humanoids come to shore looking for mates. It’s a lurid premise, and Peeters doesn’t flinch from its ugliest implications, shooting fish-on-human assaults and an Alien-inspired birthing scene with gripping confidence. (A scientist played by Ann Turkel may be Peeters’ surrogate here; she’s not taken seriously by the town’s macho fishermen even though she’s the only person who understands what’s going on.) The humanoids’ climactic attack on the boardwalk is a virtuosic set-piece of no-budget violence that suggests what would have happened if Chief Brody hadn’t been able to close the beaches. —BS
Humanoids from the Deep is available to stream on Shudder, Tubi, and Plex.
The definition of aquatic horror is as slippery as an eel. Justin Dix’s WWII-set Blood Vessel is probably best described as a vampire movie that takes place at sea, but it does just enough to remind viewers of its watery setting to earn the aquatic tag. The opening long shot of a lifeboat adrift in a vast, empty ocean sets the tone. This movie weaponizes the fear of being alone on open water, far beyond the reach of rescue. The lifeboat and its ragtag crew soon find a seemingly abandoned Nazi warship, but it isn’t long before things get vampiric. In what feels like an homage to both Raiders of the Lost Ark and Hellboy, Blood Vessel’s batlike vampires are on deck because of the Third Reich’s meddling in the occult. Those aren’t the only nods to other films; shades of Aliens, The Dirty Dozen, and Jaws dot the script as well. Dix’s direction is canny enough to transcend the game of spot-the-reference that he indulges in. He keeps things tight, emphasizing the enclosed terror of being trapped on a ship with a bunch of bloodthirsty ghouls. The film’s final bite confirms what aquatic horror directors have known since the dawn of time: A plume of blood blooming underwater looks amazing on film. —BS
Blood Vessel is available to stream on Vudu and Tubi with ads.
https://www.polygon.com/what-to-watch/23277870/aquatic-horror-movies-jaws-the-meg-shark-week The best shark movies and other aquatic horror for Shark Week