Shark Week is one of my favorite summertime traditions! I know other networks and organizations like National Geographic have started their own version, but Discovery's O.G. Shark Week will always be my favorite. Since 1988, Discovery has broadcast this week-long T.V. programming block all about sharks. Originally devoted to conservation efforts and correcting misconceptions about sharks—thanks, Jaws—Shark Week has become a phenomenon of its own. Broadcast in over 72 countries, Shark Week is the longest-running cable television programming event in history.
In honor of Shark Week, I've rounded up 10 films all about these apex predators. Whether you're looking for stunning documentaries or campy B-grade gorefests, I've got you covered! Shark Week 2021 returns today, July 11th, and wraps Sunday, July 18th—eight days of glorious sharky goodness.
Are you a fan of Shark Week? Let me know! What programming are you looking forward to this year?
The Sharkfighters (1956)
Director: Jerry Hopper
Starring: Victor Mature, Karen Steele, James Olson, Philip Coolidge, Claude Akins, Rafael Campos & George Neise
Where to Watch: Prime Video
Navy pilot Ben Staves (Mature) arrives at a research facility on a small Caribbean island to help develop a shark repellent for use by sailors and downed airmen. Partnered with scientists Leonard Evans (Coolidge) and Harold Duncan (Olson), Staves provides valuable information about his own time stranded in the ocean. But his impatient desire to finish the project quickly conflicts with the researchers' methodical precision, with potentially deadly results.
Widely considered the first true shark-centric film, The Sharkfighters is partially based on the tragic sinking of the USS Indianapolis during WWII and the U.S. Navy's subsequent work to develop shark repellant. While this film offers a sensationalized version of the worst shark attack in history and its fallout, director Jerry Hopper was the first major filmmaker to use actual underwater footage of sharks—in this case, tiger sharks—instead of the customary "rubber shark" footage used in Hollywood at the time.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Murray Hamilton, Lorraine Gary & Carl Gottlieb
When a shark kills a young woman while skinny-dipping near the New England tourist town of Amity Island, police chief Martin Brody (Scheider) wants to close the beaches, but mayor Larry Vaughn (Hamilton) overrules him, fearing that the loss of tourist revenue will cripple the town. Ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss) and grizzled ship captain Quint (Shaw) offer to help Brody capture the killer beast, and the trio engages in an epic battle of man vs. nature.
Would a list about shark movies really be complete without Jaws? Credited with sparking the shark-themed creature feature subgenre, Jaws was undeniably groundbreaking in its time. While its many disappointing sequels and spinoffs belong in a chum bucket, Spielberg's original Jaws is a thrilling creature feature and an absolute classic. In fact, it's one of the few films of this genre to be recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, earning three Academy Awards and a nomination for Best Picture. While Bruce the Shark may seem outdated to a 21st-century audience accustomed to CGI sharks in recent films like Shark Night (2011), Bait (2012), and 47 Meters Down (2017), Jaws is a can't-miss movie on this list.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Director: Renny Harlin
Starring: Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, Samuel L. Jackson, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michael Rapaport, Stellan Skarsgård & LL Cool J
On an island research facility, Dr. Susan McAlester (Burrows) is harvesting the brain tissue of DNA-altered sharks as a possible cure for Alzheimer's disease. When the facility's backers send an executive (Jackson) to investigate the experiments, a routine procedure goes awry, and a shark starts attacking the researchers. Now, with sharks outnumbering their human captors, McAlester and her team must figure out how to stop them from escaping to the ocean and breeding.
Like Jaws, Deep Blue Sea sparked a renewed interest in shark-focused creature features. Unfortunately, it also sparked a spike in awful replicas and sequels. Still, the original Deep Blue Sea is a good attempt at updating the sharks-seeks-revenge premise. While the idea of genetically mutated super sharks is utterly bonkers, it does up the ante in terms of thrills and dangers, especially in comparison to Jaws' Bruce, who is seen more like a mindless killing machine. Also similar to Bruce, the early CGI is pretty cheesy but reasonably decent for 1999. Like most movies on this list, Deep Blue Sea is an excellent film for jump scares, gore, and rows and rows of teeth.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Angelica Houston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon & Bud Cort
Renowned oceanographer Steve Zissou (Murray) has sworn vengeance upon the rare shark that devoured a member of his crew. In addition to his regular team, he is joined on his boat by Ned (Wilson), a man who believes Zissou to be his father, and Jane (Blanchett), a journalist pregnant by a married man. They travel the sea, all too often running into pirates and, perhaps more traumatically, various figures from Zissou's past, including his estranged wife, Eleanor (Huston).
Considering how messy Jacques Cousteau's personal life was, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a fitting parody and homage to the pioneering explorer and filmmaker. And, while The Life Aquatic is more about the film's Steve Zissou and its flanking ensemble cast than actual sharks, it is an entertaining look at underwater filmmaking. The underwater scenes are charming, and the finale with the jaguar shark is poignantly beautiful. Obviously, this movie is entirely out of left field, especially considering the other films and documentaries on this list. Still, if you're a fan of Wes Anderson, The Life Aquatic is more than worth the watch (or rewatch).
Galápagos: Realm of Giant Sharks (2012)
Director: Thomas Lucas
This extraordinary production follows a group of researchers to the remote reaches of the Galápagos archipelago. Their goal is to understand one of the most sensational migrations on Planet Earth: the passage of hundreds of giant pregnant female whale sharks along a narrow reef. Find out what the scientists learn from these dinosaurs of the sea as they brave dangerous currents off Darwin Island.
Out of the more than 400 shark species, whale sharks are one of my favorites, so I had to include Galápagos: Realm of Giant Sharks on this list. Compared to many "shockumentaries" out there that focus on the bloody, chompy sharks, Galápagos is beautifully shot and understated, focusing more on the educational value than cheap entertainment.
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, John Heard, Cassie Scerbo, Jaason Simmons, Aubrey Peeples & Chuck Hittinger
Where to Watch: Prime Video
Nature's deadliest killer takes to the skies in the ultimate gill-ty pleasure when a freak hurricane swamps Los Angeles. As thousands of sharks rule the sea, land, and air terrorize the waterlogged populace, a group of friends tries to save the Santa Monica coast from shark-infested tornadoes.
Sharknado simply defies logic. It defies the laws of physics. It's so bad it's good. If you're looking for a cheesy movie to zone out to (or laugh your tailfin off), Sharknado is for you. And, with six films in the franchise, there's plenty of cheesy gore to go around; you'd be surprised by how far they go to top each installment. But be forewarned: with every viewing, you may lose a few brain cells.
Shark Girl (2014)
Director: Gisela Kaufmann
Featuring: Madison Stewart
Where to Watch: Prime Video
For 20-year-old Madison Stewart, nothing feels safer or more natural than diving straight into shark-infested waters. Since childhood, growing up by the Great Barrier Reef, she's treated these predators as family. But they're vanishing from existence, and because of their bad reputation, few people seem to care. Follow Madison on her mission to protect our sharks, a battle that began when she put her studies on hold, grabbed a camera, and set out to save these incredible, misunderstood creatures.
While Madison Stewart has continued to work in activism, shark conservation, and filmmaking—including a few Shark Week specials—Shark Girl was my first introduction to Stewart and her work. At 14-years-old, Stewart dropped out of school in favor of homeschooling to devote her time to shark conservation and advocacy through filmmaking. This documentary footage shot in Australia, Mexico, Palau, and the Bahamas features Stewart free diving with tiger sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, and silky sharks. Shark Girl also does a great job explaining how sharks are a keystone species in our oceans. Protecting these apex predators ensures the overall health of our oceans, and finding alternatives to commercial shark fishing protects our ecosystems and communities. Shark Girl strikes the perfect balance between ecological documentary and human-interest story.
Of Shark and Man (2015)
Dir.: David Diley
Featuring: David Diley, Rusiate Balenagasau, Manasa Bulivou, Alfie Christofferson & Nanise Ledua
A thirty-two-year-old man, trapped in a dead-end job in England's industrial north, with his life seemingly going nowhere, gambles everything to tell an inspiring untold story, a story which finds him in the middle of a feeding frenzy with sixty of the world's most dangerous sharks.
Of Shark and Man is as much of a human-interest feature as it is a shark documentary. Following David Diley's journey from England to Fiji's Shark Reef, the film focuses on returning bull sharks to the area, one of the greatest marine conservation successes in history, and Diley's quest to dive as close as possible to them. Now a National Marine Park in Fiji, the return of sharks to the reef has led to widespread marine preservation and economic success, with the local economy shifting away from overfishing to ecological tourism. Like Shark Girl, Of Shark and Man doesn't aim to shock viewers but does have a healthy respect for these massive and notoriously aggressive bull sharks.
The Shallows (2016)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada & Angelo Josue Lozano Corzo
Still reeling from the loss of her mother, medical student Nancy Adams (Lively) travels to a secluded beach for some much-needed solace. Despite the danger of surfing alone, Nancy decides to soak up the sun and hit the waves. Suddenly, a great white shark attacks, forcing her to swim to a giant rock for safety. Left injured and stranded 200 yards from shore, the frightened young woman must fight for her life as the deadly predator circles her in its feeding ground.
Unlike other shark-themed films, The Shallows is a more psychologically suspenseful drama than your typical jump-scare gorefest. Injured, stranded, and growing increasingly desperate against the elements, Blake Lively's Nancy struggles to survive against a great white protecting its food source: a humpback whale carcass. Like most shark movies, the premise is highly improbable. Still, Lively's performance alone is worth a watch. Its excellent visual effects also make The Shallows one of the better shark movies in recent years.
The Meg (2018)
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao & Cliff Curtis
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 (Statham) to save the crew and the sea itself from an unimaginable threat—a 75-foot-long prehistoric shark known as the Megalodon.
The latest entry in the shark-crazed creature-feature frenzy, The Meg, gives audiences what they've been looking for: an even bigger predator. Despite the Megalodon's extinction, that won't stop Warner Brothers from reviving this terrifying threat to Summer Breakers everywhere. Based on Steven Alten's book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror (1997), The Meg is the ultimate guilty pleasure: Jason Statham (in his action-packed element), improbable pseudoscience, an egotistical multimillionaire, and extra-hungry mammoth sharks. If you can't get enough of The Meg, don't worry, a sequel titled Meg 2: The Trench is currently in development, with filming slated to begin in January 2022.