Look no further than this weekend’s megaplex to see the long, fish-shaped shadow “Jaws” has cast since its original release in 1975. “The Meg,” starring Jason Statham as an underwater adventurer and a giant prehistoric shark in place of a great white, clearly apes the adventure-meets-horror vibe of Steven Spielberg’s original, as well as its emphasis on the ocean as a place of both great wonder and terror.
But just because it’s unoriginal doesn’t mean it’s bad.
And there have been plenty of movies in the wake of “Jaws” that carved a perfect little niche for themselves, both paying homage and doing things quite differently. So here is our humble list of the ten best “Jaws” rip-offs throughout the years. Did your favorite make the cut? Let us know in the comments below!
1. The ‘Sharknado’ Films (2013 – 2018)
It makes a weird kind of sense that some of the most satisfying shark-related shlock, clearly indebted to “Jaws” on a nearly molecular level, would come in the form of grade-Z made-for-TV movies. After all, Spielberg, before he took on “Jaws,” cut his teeth on episodes of “Night Gallery” and made a name for himself with a low budget made-for-TV thriller called “Duel.”
The original 2013 film was an instant so-bad-it’s-good classic and subsequent films have included varying degrees of campy fun (including some of the most cringe-worthy cameos around). The whole franchise culminates in the sixth (and final, God willing) installment later this month with “The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time.” We’ll be watching.
2. ‘Tentacles’ (1977)
At the very least, the Italian-American co-production “Tentacles” was one of the fastest “Jaws” cash-ins, opening less than two years (to the day) than its much better predecessor. Instead of a great white shark, the hapless humans of “Tentacles” (that, somewhat astoundingly, includes John Huston, Shelley Winters, and Henry Fonda) were menaced by a giant octopus. (Original “Jaws” author Peter Benchley would set his sites on giant squid with the guilty pleasure novel “Beast” in 1991.)
There are some thrills to be had in “Tentacles” and a memorable octopus-versus-killer-whale showdown but is still far from a classic.
3. ‘Blood Beach’ (1981)
“Blood Beach” cut out the middleman but not even allowing its nubile teenagers to get in the ocean. (The oh-so-memorable tagline was “"Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water... you can't get to it!") In this openly exploitative B-movie, there’s something lurking under the sands of Santa Monica Beach (and you thought paying for parking was a nightmare!)
There’s a good deal of enjoyment to be had in watching hapless beach babes get gobbled up by some unseen creature, although when said creature is finally revealed (it looks like the psycho-sexual nightmare version of the plant from “Little Shop of Horrors”), any pretense of scariness evaporates completely.
4. ‘Orca’ (1977)
Maybe the classiest “Jaws” rip-off in its immediate wake, “Orca” has, after a fairly harsh critical drubbing and disastrous box office showing, become something of a cult classic, beloved for the same faults that it had previously been roasted for.
There’s a lot going for “Orca,” including the fine cast (including Richard Harris, Bo Derek, Robert Carradine, and a young Charlotte Rampling), moody Ennio Morricone score (look it up) and a script that featured uncredited work by Robert Towne (!).
The Dino De Laurentiis-produced creature feature has some pacing issues and sometimes gets bogged down in the overly complicated psychology of the titular killer whale, but it’s still a total blast.
5. ‘Deep Blue Sea’ (1999)
In many ways, Renny Harlin’s “Deep Blue Sea” set the template for this weekend’s “The Meg,” with its underwater research facility, shadowy benefactor, and oversized shark carnage.
But “Deep Blue Sea” is a more satisfying, more tactile romp, with a terrific, diverse cast that brings to mind the disaster movie heyday of the 1970s (including LL Cool J, Thomas Jane, and a scene-stealing Samuel L. Jackson). Harlin, dipping into his action movie expertise as well as his background as a horror movie filmmaker, crafts thrilling set pieces punctuated with just the right amount of voluminous gore. While the CGI sharks haven’t aged terribly well, it remains a thoroughly gripping exercise in waterlogged terror.
6. ‘Open Water’ (2003)
Essentially “Jaws” but updated for the YouTube generation, “Open Water” was a sensation in early film festival screenings but failed to gain much mainstream traction. This is a shame because the movie is really, really good and oftentimes incredibly scary.
The set-up is even more streamlined than “Jaws” -- a couple (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) goes on a scuba trip and are mistakenly left behind. Soon enough, the sharks start to swarm (do sharks swarm?) and the tension ratchets up considerably.
The filmmaking is sleek and unflinching and, perhaps scariest of all, it was inspired by an actual incident that took place just a few years earlier. Yikes.
7. ‘The Shallows’ (2016)
One of the best, most contained thrillers in recent memory, “The Shallows” is what would happen if “Jaws” was whittled down to a standoff between a young girl (Blake Lively) and a hungry great white shark, just a few hundred feet off the coast. It is gripping.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra knows how to construct a tense moment, and “The Shallows” is pretty much filled, front to back, with these moments. With a running time of less than 90 minutes, it is smart, efficient storytelling, full of wonderful character beats and welcome humor (especially with Lively’s interaction with a sympathetic seagull). Sharks -- they’re still scary!
8. ‘The Edge’ (1997)
It’s weird to think of a David Mamet-scripted psychological thriller starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin as a “Jaws” rip-off but the movie is a total creature feature and was heavily marketed as, I kid you not, “Jaws with claws.” (Woof.)
What makes the movie so thrilling isn’t just the giant grizzly that is hunting Baldwin and Hopkins after a violent plane crash, but the psychological underpinnings of it all --Baldwin has had an affair with Hopkins’ wife, Hopkins is suspicious. (Drama!) “The Edge” poses the question: what if you were stuck in the middle of nowhere, with a monster on your trail, and you kind of wanted to kill the only person who could potentially help you survive?
9. ‘Alligator’ (1980)
Undoubtedly “Alligator” is the only post-“Jaws” rip-off where the lead character (Robert Forster) discusses the believability of his hair plugs. Brilliant. John Sayles’ borderline genius screenplay cannily weaves urban legends about baby alligators flushed down the toilet, with urban realism and a winking knowingness.
Way sharper and funnier than anybody gave it credit for at the time, “Alligator” is a rare cult classic where it wholly deserves its following. (Tarantino is an acolyte and cast Forster in “Jackie Brown” because of his performance here, going as far as to craft that bail bondsman character around his “Alligator” character.) If you’ve never seen it, correct that mistake.
10. ‘Piranha’ (1978) / ‘Piranha 3D’ (2012)
Here’s how close “Piranha” was to “Jaws” (and, please note, it was released the same summer as “Jaws 2”) -- Universal tried to shut down Roger Corman’s distribution of the film. What saved the film was Spielberg himself, who saw the film and liked it, going as far as to call it the best of the “Jaws” rip-offs and hiring “Piranha’s” director, Joe Dante, to direct a spoofy “Jaws” sequel. (You can read more about that fiasco here.) And there’s a reason Spielberg was a fan -- “Piranha” is really, really awesome.
The story of a batch of militarized killer fish that gets loose and heads to a regional water park, “Piranha” is smart, funny, scary, and, with its air of post-Watergate unease, surprisingly political. It was also the breakthrough film for a number of genuine Hollywood heavyweights, including screenwriter John Sayles (who went on to write “Alligator”), director Dante, and visual effects technicians Rob Bottin and Phil Tippett. In 2012, it was remade as “Piranha 3D” and remains one of the rare remakes that is just as good, if not better, than its predecessor.
Directed by Frenchman Alexandre Aja, who ups the gore and nudity, “Piranha 3D” also served as pointed commentary about American excess and features a cameo by Richard Dreyfuss, essentially playing his “Jaws” role (he gets gobbled up, of course). Both movies are a total blast, tweaking the formula set by “Jaws” to serve their own, twisted needs. Plagiarism is witlessly copying something without adding anything. Both “Piranhas” add plenty.
Previously thought to be extinct, a massive creature attacks a deep-sea submersible, leaving it disabled and trapping the crew at the bottom of the Pacific. With time running out, a visionary oceanographer recruits rescue diver Jonas Taylor to save the crew and the sea itself from an unimaginable threat -- a 75-foot-long prehistoric shark known as the Megalodon. Read More