Besides the Oscars or the Super Bowl, is there a TV event as long-standing and beloved as Discovery Channel’s Shark Week? Running every summer since 1988, the shark-based programming phenomenon has lost no steam: the 2020 edition (running August 9-16) still attracts talent such as Will Smith, Adam Devine, Mike Tyson, Shaquille O’Neal, and even Snoop Dogg.
But if a week’s worth of dynamic TV isn’t enough for you, there is plenty—maybe even too much!—shark-centered cinema. We assume you’re already a fan of the Samuel L. Jackson scene in Deep Blue Sea, so here are some more unconventional shark movies that might help you discover your own underwater path.
Pro-tip: Watch The Shark Menace, a nostalgic Australian newsreel from 1955 warning of sharks in the Sydney Harbor before any of the below picks to set the movie-house mood.
Decades before shark hunters took to the waters in Jaws, actual U.S. Navy scientists were waging a different kind of war on the creatures—by developing the first known shark repellent. The Sharkfighters is based on that invention. The risky, open-water trials will make you grit your teeth (also—how did they shoot these shark scenes in 1956?!), but the juiciest tension is out of the water: in the bickering between a Lt. Commander who wants to get the product to market ASAP, and a scientist standing his ground.
Although the world wasted no time ripping off 1975’s Jaws—Orca, Piranha, Barracuda, and even Claws are all deeply indebted to Spielberg’s smash—it wasn’t until 1982 that someone ended up in court for plagiarism. After The Last Shark (called Great White stateside) successfully debuted in Italy, and then played in American theaters for nearly a month, a U.S. judge agreed with Universal’s complaint that the movie was just too damn similar to theirs. And, since it does chronicle the invasion of an idyllic beach town’s shores by killer sharks, we see their point.
Many killer shark movies include some skinny-dipping here, canoodling there … but none dish them out quite as generously as this soft porn cult classic. The spirit of sexual freedom is palpable in this 1977 feature as two playboys in a Mexican resort town make love to vacationing women. Only if it weren’t for the tiger shark stalking their hookup yacht …
That Quentin Tarantino has a print of the film in his private collection seals the deal, doesn’t it?
Whether you choose the 2012 thriller or the 1950 documentary of the same name, one thing is for sure: the six-man crew of the real-life Kon-Tiki expedition had more than a few close encounters with sharks. In the documentary, shot aboard the 30’x15’ wooden raft during voyage, 16mm cameras get frighteningly close to caught sharks thrashing about on deck. And in the gorgeous Norwegian feature, the creatures relentlessly stalk the raft as it journeys for 97 days across the Pacific.
Fun fact: The Academy loves Kon-Tiki. The 1950 version won Best Documentary at the Oscars, and was later restored by the Academy Film Archive; and the 2012 feature was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.
Note: While you can catch the thriller on Netflix and the other platforms mentioned above, find the doc with Amazon Prime.
His 2006 documentary, Sharkwater, exposed the cruelty of the shark finning industry and soon led to policy change that banned the practice on a nearly global scale. But over a decade later, environmental activist Rob Stewart discovers that the cruelty continues, with illicit poaching. This man loves sharks (you can tell from the way he swims with them), and in Extinction, he again confronts governments and industries that refuse to leave them alone. That Stewart died in a diving accident while filming makes the movie that much more passionate and personal.