Sharksploitation is a legitimate subgenre of films that burst into prominence after the success of the Steven Spielberg-directed “Jaws,” which extracts the horror of shark-themed dangers from the plot, from the realistic to the patently ridiculous. Because “Jaws” managed to tap into the primal fear of the unknown, this subgenre of films became popular enough that the aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes ranks the shark movies that have been released so far. Though Rotten Tomatoes has become the most misunderstood website, where the aggregation of the movie’s criticism represents a fresh or rotten verdict rather than an actual representation of the criticism, this list is worth checking out for horror, exploitation, and shark movie fans.
10. Open Water (2003)
This 2003 American survivor horror film follows a couple who go scuba diving on vacation. During that group dive, they become separated and find themselves stranded on the shore in shark-infested waters after an incorrect head count makes the boat depart.
Currently at an RT score of 72%, the website’s consensus reads “A low-budget thriller with some intense moments,” with praise being given to its minimalist filmmaking and the intensity originating as a result of the low budget. It is perhaps scarier because the movie is based on a real-life incident, which further lends credence to how Sharksploitation is utilized. Critics pointed out how the movie was effective in weaponizing the audience’s dread of the movie-watching experience.
9. Sharknado (2013)
A gloriously made B-movie, Sharknado is a sci-fi comedy disaster film that talks about a waterspout managing to lift man-eating sharks out of the ocean and depositing them in Los Angeles. Bar owner and surfer Fin now has to embark on a treacherous journey with his friends to rescue his teenage daughter and estranged wife from shark-infested waters.
Currently at an RT score of 74%, the website’s consensus reads, “Proudly, shamelessly, and gloriously brainless, Sharknado redefines “so bad it’s good” for a new generation.” Critics emphasize how the plot holes and ludicrousness of the plot mechanics are the whole point—a movie to be watched ideally as a communal experience. It still manages to be serious enough and not devolve into a complete farce like the sequels would inevitably fall into.
8. Sharks 3D (2004)
A documentary short that follows Oceanographer Jean-Michael Costeau as he documents his meeting with the hammerhead, whale, and great white sharks in his underwater voyage, shot in 3D for an immersive experience.
Currently, at an RT score of 75%, Sharks 3D at 42 minutes works very well as an entertaining look at the world beneath the ocean, remarkable because of the gorgeous camera work. However, the 3D effect being utilized in this film makes it a much more divisive one as a movie-watching experience, as it becomes more disruptive than immersive.
7. The Reef (2010)
This Andrew Traucki directorial debut is an Australian horror film that follows a group of friends who capsize while sailing to Indonesia and now have to swim to a nearby island. Unfortunately, they are stalked by a Great White Shark, adding to the horror in this survival thriller.
Currently at an RT score of 80%, the critics’ consensus states it: “A gripping example of less-is-more horror, The Reef is the rare shark attack movie that isn’t content to merely tread water.” Emphasis is given to how the tension is maintained throughout the 94-minute runtime or how the movie manages to imbibe realism and efficiency in a “sharksploitation” movie, evoking Jaws more than its sequels.
6. Sharkwater Extinction (2018)
Follow filmmaker and activist Rob Stewart as he embarks on a dangerous quest to stop the extinction of sharks and the adverse effects that occur as a result on the ecosystem. This leads him to investigate the pirate-fishing industry and the business of illegal fin trade, exploring how this multi-billion-dollar industry is actively responsible for some of the largest wildlife massacres and how we have tacitly enabled this to continue.
Currently at an RT score of 100%, the website’s consensus reads, “Beautiful yet gut-wrenching, Sharkwater Extinction offers an eye-opening condemnation of an illegal trade and a poignant farewell to a talented filmmaker.” Sharkwater Extinction is made all the more impactful because of the unfortunate passing of the filmmaker in a diving accident. Emphasis is given to how the movie is successful at not only evoking outrage but also melancholy and guilt, elevated by stunning underwater photography and a gorgeous Jerry Goldsmith score.
5. The Shallows (2016)
Medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) travels to a beach for solace and solitude to recover from the loss of her mother. Planning to hit the waves and surf alone, Nancy is suddenly attacked by a Great White Shark, which forces her to swim to a giant rock, thus leaving her stranded 200 yards from the shore while the shark circles in his feeding radius. This forces her to use her wit and determination to survive.
Currently at an RT score of 78%, the website’s consensus reads, “Lean and solidly crafted, The Shallows transcends tired shark-attack tropes with nasty thrills and a powerful performance from Blake Lively.” Even though the film might be silly in its premise, what makes Jaume Collet Serra’s directorial debut exciting is how it provides a depth of characterization, becoming more than a shark vs. humanity movie through the protagonist’s reckoning with her loneliness through survival instincts. Critical appreciation also extends to the lean and compact runtime, which makes the film not overstay its welcome.
4. Sharkwater (2006)
Unlike his last film, Rob Stewart’s Sharkwater as a documentary is more involved with him researching and debunking popular bloodthirsty myths and media depictions of sharks, instead revealing the importance of sharks in the ecosystem and their importance in natural evolution. It finally becomes an impassioned plea for understanding the plight of these creatures as Stewart joins hands with conservationist Paul Watson to combat the indiscriminate hunting of sharks for their fins and their meat.
Currently at an RT score of 79%, the website’s consensus reads, “In addition to its breathtaking underwater photography, Sharkwater has a convincing, impassioned argument of how the plight of sharks affects everyone.” Critics point out and emphasize how Stewart’s passion helps hammer home his worries and awareness about the endangerment of sharks without resorting to narrative subtlety or running the risk of being presented as egotistical.
3. Kon-Tiki (2012)
This is the true story of the legendary explorer Thor Hyeradahl. To prove his theory that South Americans colonized the South Sea Islands, Hyerdahl sets out with his companions from Peru in 1947, foregoing his fear of water and ability to swim on a balsa wood raft and with a radio as the only modern tool.
Currently at an RT score of 81%, the website’s consensus reads, “A well-crafted retelling of an epic true story, Kon Tiki is a throwback to old-school adventure filmmaking that’s exciting and entertaining despite its by-the-book plotting.” Critical emphasis is focused on how the tension is maintained throughout the runtime, and while it is exciting in terms of its plotting, the movie soars in the character interactions.
2. Playing with Sharks (2021)
The documentary by Sally Aitken follows Valerie Taylor, a shark fanatic, Australian icon, fearless diver, documentarian filmmaker, and most importantly, the person who was responsible for the filming of the shark sequences in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. The documentary explored how her actions and bravery (filming the Jaws sequences by using herself as bait) enabled Taylor to show and expand the conception of sharks within the collective consciousness and become an advocate for these misunderstood creatures.
Currently at an RT score of 96%, the website’s consensus reads, “A fascinating tribute to a pioneer as well as an engrossing act of environmental advocacy, Playing with Sharks makes up in enjoyment what it lacks in depth.” The critical reaction emphasized both the danger and the arresting beauty of the creatures. Moreover, the tireless commitment and steely determination of the human protagonist advocating and enlightening efforts for the conservation and protection of these creatures is lauded.
1. Jaws (1975)
Steven Spielberg’s 1975 summer blockbuster follows police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), who teams up with Oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and grizzled shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt and destroy a great white shark when the shark begins to terrorize the beachside town of Amity Island. Jaws is the definition of “shark” movies, the genesis of “the sharksploitation” genre, and the progenitor of the summer blockbuster, but most importantly, it is an engrossing adventure thriller.
Currently at an RT score of 97%, the website’s consensus reads, “Compelling, well-crafted storytelling and a judicious sense of terror ensure Steven Spielberg’s Jaws has remained a benchmark in the art of delivering modern blockbuster thrills.” The potency of storytelling, mixed with short and impactful dialogues, became indelible in pop culture and elevated by Spielberg’s own filmmaking instincts. Jaws is truly a cinematic masterpiece that should be seen to be believed, and experienced.
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