The great white shark is a much-maligned animal, and it has to be said that a massive, massive reason for this is how it’s portrayed on the silver screen.
One movie is more responsible for this unearned reputation (and we’ll get to that, but you all know which movie we’re talking about already), but the truth is that most movies involving great white sharks play up the ‘killer shark’ angle. That’s just Hollywood, baby – action and drama at the expense of accuracy.
That said, it’s possible to acknowledge that great whites are demonized by movies while also switching off for a couple of hours and enjoying said movies in a fun watch.
So with the skeptical part of our brains firmly disengaged, let’s take a look at the greatest-ever movies about great white sharks.
47 Meters Down Uncaged (2017) is Set in the Sunken Ruins of a Mayan City
47 Meters Down is a cautionary tale about the unethical practice of cage diving that revolves around two sisters who, on a trip to Mexico, decide to take a cage-diving trip to check out some great whites.
The dive operators, naturally, chum the deep water to attract the sharks, and soon there are more sharks than can physically be handled. (Perhaps they should have opted for heavy metal music like the shark diving company in Australia did!)
Inevitably, carnage ensues, and the sisters’ cage is sent plummeting into the deep blue water at the bottom of the ocean (no prizes for guessing how many meters down that is). This happens to be the main hunting grounds for the sharks they’ve come to see.
The sisters are left to contend with a dwindling air supply 47 meters down, the circling sharks, the possibility of decompression sickness if they ascend too fast, and the existential realization that hell is
other people a relentless pack of hungry great whites.
The Shallows (2016)
Blake Lively – AKA Mrs. Ryan Reynolds – plays Nancy, a student on vacation in Mexico following the traumatic death of her mother.
During her vacation, Blake Lively goes surfing on a secluded beach on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where she discovers the carcass of a humpback whale.
If amateur shark enthusiasts know anything, it’s that great whites love them some whale carcass, and Nancy is subsequently attacked by a giant shark that inexplicably prefers bony humans to blubber-rich whale flesh.
The Shallows is surprisingly good, with a tight focus on Nancy’s ordeal as she tries to figure out a way back to the shoreline that seems so very close but is so very far away.
It’s a movie packed with suspense, shark attacks, and heart-racing action and is widely considered by many to be one of the best shark movies of modern times.
Great White (1981)
What do you get when you shamelessly rip off the most famous shark movie (and one of the biggest movies, period) of all time? You get this 1981 Italian ‘homage’ by Enzo G. Castellari (who also directed the 1978 WW2 movie ‘Inglorious Bastards’ – no, not that one).
Great White tells the totally original story of a small seaside town called Port Harbor that’s suddenly menaced by a man-eating great white shark.
The governor decides to keep the beaches open despite the danger because he doesn’t want to lose the upcoming election, and the movie climaxes with the shark getting blown up.
Did we mention it’s 100% original and not inspired by any other shark movie whatsoever?
The Reef (2010) Is a True Tale of Shark-Infested Waters
Not many other shark movies that used the hoary phrase ‘inspired by a true story’ live up to that claim, but The Reef is one of the shark flicks that do.
It takes inspiration from an actual event that happened off the coast of Australia, where three friends were menaced by a tiger shark after their boat capsizes – two of whom were eaten by the shark.
The Reef mixes things up by switching the tiger shark out for that other, scarier shark but otherwise follows the true story relatively faithfully. A chilling movie that’s better than it has any right to be.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
OK, so we’re kind of cheating by adding Deep Blue Sea to this list of great white shark movies. The sharks in Renny Harlin’s 1999 OTT action movie of Deep Blue Sea are not actually great whites but genetically engineered mako sharks. But it’s such a classic shark movie that it was impossible not to include it anyway.
Deep Blue Sea echoes through eternity pretty much because of one scene – the part where Samuel L. Jackson, whose character name is utterly unimportant, is snatched by a shark mid-monologue.
It’s so sudden, unexpected, and irreverent that it sets the tone for the tongue-in-cheek schlockiness that defines the movie throughout.
This is further bolstered by the scene where the brainy marine biologist strips down to her underwear to electrocute a shark (don’t ask).
It might be tacky and tongue-in-cheek, but Deep Blue Sea became a cult classic over the years and has earned a place on the list of (not great white) shark movies ever made!
Also, who can forget the cameo of LL Cool J in this great movie?
Open Water (2003) Used Real Sharks to Retell The Harrowing Tale of an Abandoned Scuba Diving Group
One of the most prominent shark attack movies of all time is arguably Open Water. Why? Because the production team insisted on using real sharks rather than CGI!
The Shark Night classic was a box office hit and is equally suitable for fans of horror movies and follows the story of two tourists on a coral reef diving trip who find themselves left behind in the open ocean full of sharks.
The Open Water film was based on the tale of Tom and Eileen Lonergan. In 1998, the couple went on a scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef only to find themselves left behind due to a poorly carried-out headcount on the boat.
The movie was made by a low-budget production company, and when using real sharks during the production, the actors in the water wore chainmail-style armor underneath their wetsuits.
Although the movie only cost around $120,000 to make, it successfully managed to make $55.5 million at the box office.
Great White (2021) Redefines the Term White Death
A title that’s so great it had to be used twice, this 2021 thriller lifts its name from a movie that lifted its entire plot from a much better shark movie. But how does it stack up to either of those two movies?
Great White is one of those movies that relies upon everybody being incredibly stupid. The protagonist, a seaplane pilot who happens to also be a marine biologist, flies a rich family out to a secluded island paradise.
They find a body partially consumed by a shark, decide to fly out to look for other survivors because of reasons, and then end up stranded at sea while a hungry great white hunts them.
Actually not as bad as we’ve made it sound, with some good CGI work and a few thrilling set-pieces. But it’s still not as good as the last entry on our list…
Jaws (1975) is the Most Well-Known Shark Movie Ever Made
Does this movie need any introduction? It may be a shark movie, but it’s a shark movie second and a survival thriller first. It’s also one of the finest works of Steven Spielberg.
It’s also one of the most seminal movies ever made and frequently jostles for the top spot on a hundred ‘greatest movie ever made’ lists. Finally, it singlehandedly invented the very concept of the summer blockbuster.
Jaws’ plot is so well-known that we don’t even have to recount it – you can just read the recap of the plot of Great White (1981) above.
It’s in the strong performances of leads Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw that the heart of the film lies, with Dreyfuss’ fiery marine biologist clashing wonderfully with Shaw’s gruff shark hunter.
It doesn’t hurt that it has some of the most iconic scenes in cinema history, too, from the opening shark attack to the jump-scare reveal of one unfortunate victim’s head – and the sparing use of the shark itself throughout.
There were many spin-offs and Jaws sequels, such as Jaws The Revenge, but the original Jaws is an absolute classic, and there are few visual thrills that can compare to what has since become known as one of the best shark movies of all time.
It’s Time For Shark Night!
The article on the many shark attack films that are considered to be the best shark movies around is a tongue-in-cheek guide to films that are worth watching if you’re prepared to leave your skeptical hat at the door.
Sharks, and great whites in particular, are some of the most misunderstood creatures of the open ocean. But real-life accuracy isn’t the order of the day with these pop culture flicks; entertainment is.
Now, we’re keen to know what your favorite shark movie or scene is and whether we’ve missed out on any film worth watching from this list. Either way, drop a comment below and let us know!