We’ve all been there. Sitting in a dark cinema, chomping down on popcorn, holding our breath, waiting to see who the giant shark is going to attack next…
Da dum, da dum, da dum …
But how realistic are these portrayals of shark attacks really? How much of what we see is fact and how much is fiction? On this list are 10 movies with shark attack scenes reviewed by shark scientists:
Melissa Cristina Marquez – marine biologist, shark scientist, science communicator, tv presenter and author. She received her BS in Marine Ecology and Conservation from New College of Florida, where her senior thesis focused on Sex Specific Differences in Habitat use and Migratory behavior shown in great white sharks in South Africa. She then went on to receive her MA in Marine Biology and PHD in Environment and Agriculture.
Apryl Boyle – speaker and educator on shark advocacy and marine/environmental sciences. As a trusted marine and shark researcher, she is regularly called upon to give press interviews. With Masters in Epidemiology, Biostatistics, Pharmacology and Biochemistry, she is one smart lady!
10 Jaws (1975)
“I looooove the iconic Jaws music. The build-up of the music amazing. You’re just sitting there waiting, when’s it going to happen, when’s it going to happen …. Aaaawww, there’s the big boy!” enthuses Marquez.
The first thing she points out in the shark attack scene above is Bruce’s perfect counter camouflage, referring to the coloring of Great White sharks: darker on top and lighter on the bottom. Looking at a shark from above, the darker color blends in with the dark water, while looking at the shark from below looks like sunlight trickling down. This camouflage is perfect for the shark’s stealth approach when it comes to hunting.
While sharks sometimes do ram cages, especially if the bait is pulled too close to the cage, Marquez insists they hardly do it intentionally. Sharks cannot swim backwards so once they are in motion and confronted by a cage, they often don’t have any other option. While she is not all that impressed by the animatronics used to create Bruce, Marquez does agree that the cage is spot on. Even now in 2020, the structure of these cages has not changed much.
Interestingly, Peter Benchley apparently regrets writing Jaws and spent many years working in shark conservation to right the wrong.
9 Baywatch (1989)
“They definitely had a lot of fun filming this! The entire thing is a homage to Jaws,” comments Boyle.
“I can’t imagine a life guard getting into the water when the boat is right there and can get to them so much faster,” she continues.
First responders are trained not to endanger themselves in the process of saving someone else. It’s hard to imagine any situation where the life guard would jump into the water and try to drag someone away from a shark, rather than getting into the boat and safely steering away from it.
“This movie is a giant love letter to Jaws. Over-the-top absurd, probably a really fun shoot to do,” she concludes.
8 Deep Blue Sea (1999)
“If anything is going to be unrealistic about this movie, it’s going to be the scientific results coming out that quickly,” says Marquez.
But while they may not be as fancy, high-tech and under water as depicted in the movie, there are quite a few shark labs around the world. They are mostly used for medical research (blood, hemoglobin and skin tissues are harvested to study the shark’s immune system for example) and bio inspiration (using what scientists find in nature in other parts of life such as wet suits and plane wings). But as this list is about shark attacks, let’s get back to the blood and guts.
In the clip above, one of the scientists loses his arm when the shark jumps up at him from within the tank. Although appreciative of the realistic-looking shark prop used to film the movie, Marquez points out the that the shark would need a lot more space to propel itself out of the water like that. In such a tight enclosure, it’s very unlikely that it would be able to build up enough thrust.
7 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003)
“You probably have a better chance of contracting an infection than you have of attracting a shark,” remarks Marquez, referring to Lara cutting herself in order to lure a shark with the scent of her blood in the water.
Also, sharks don’t make noises. Except for Dog Sharks that make a barking sound when taken out of the water. “That sounded more cat-like than shark-like,” Marquez laughs.
Punching the shark could actually be a great way to deter them, but if you’ve ever tried punching something or someone under water, you will know from experience that being under water causes some drag. It probably also isn’t that wise to punch it on the nose either. It just increases your chances of ending up with your arm down its throat. Should you ever need to punch a shark, Marquez suggests aiming for an eye, or even better, the gills. Much like sucker punching someone in the lungs, this will take the shark’s breath away and encourage it to leave you alone.
“Just as well she’s wearing gloves,” Marquez wraps up. Sharkskin is very similar to sand paper and rubbing up against it would definitely leave Lara suffering from shark burn.
6 Finding Nemo (2003)
“Fish are friends, not food… I can’t tell you how many kids have said that to me,” says Boyle.
By showing a slightly softer, more “humanized” version of sharks, Boyle believes that Finding Nemo has given many kids a less scary introduction to these predators. She feels that this has gone a long way toward encouraging modern day conservational efforts.
And sharks do indeed have fish friends. Specifically, Pilot and Remora fish have very symbiotic relationships with sharks. But as far as the trickle of blood sending Bruce (another nod to Jaws, perhaps?) into a feeding frenzy, Boyle once again points out that this simply is not realistic. While it’s true that sharks can indeed pick up a few drops of blood in an Olympic-size swimming pool, most sharks are picky eaters. “Imagine how easy my research would be if this were true!” she concludes.
5 Open Water (2003)
“I am literally getting chills.”
According to Boyle, Open Water is the scariest shark movie out there. It is based on the true story of two divers getting left behind on a dive and speculates on what they must have gone through as they were never found. “Being left behind is literally the worst thing that could happen to any diver. That is the most frightening part of this movie,” Boyle says.
The second scariest, she continues, is the fact that the little shark bite is actually very realistic and highly feasible. Boyle herself has witnessed sharks taking a nibble of something and, realizing that it’s not their food, swimming away.
“This is totally realistic and very, very frightening.”
4 Couples Retreat (2009)
“Why are people always surprised that there are sharks in the ocean? … You’re throwing dead animals into the ocean. What did you think was going to happen?” muses Marquez.
Chumming, the use of fish blood and guts to attract sharks, is often employed by scientists in order to study these mysterious creatures. It should never be used for recreational purposes though, because, guess what, you’re probably going to get bitten by a shark.
While Marquez questions Marcel’s identification of the sharks as Lemon Sharks, she does agree with his advice. Keep calm. Don’t panic. Slowly swim away from the chum.
3 The Shallows (2016)
“The shark depicted in this movie is supposed to be a Great White shark. They are very picky eaters. I have witnessed myself some of them taking a bite of something and spitting it out,” remarks Boyle. “And so, the notion that it would fight so hard for a morsel that is not their usual calorie-dense food, is rather far-fetched.”
For sharks in the wild, survival is all about eating calorie-dense food such as seals and sea lions. These animals, unlike humans, have blubber that is far more calorie-dense than human fat. The energy expended in this scene by the shark jumping out of the water, out on the rocks and hurting itself, is just not worth the pay-off it would get from eating poor, slender Blake.
2 The Meg (2018)
“Megalodon is a very, very, very extinct shark …” laughs Marquez.
This giant shark that a lot of people have likened to a Great White, has not been in our oceans for many years. Understandably, though, there is still a giant fascination with this creature. “I promise you though, there is no shark big enough to get such a massive anchor stuck to itself and pull such a big boat with that many people,” Marquez says.
Referring to the utter chaos and panic that ensues in the beach attack scene above, Marquez shares some safety tips should you ever find yourself in shark-infested waters:
1. Always swim with a buddy who can help keep an eye out for sharks.
2. Also make sure you don’t draw more attention to yourself by splashing in the water like a wounded animal.
3. And remember, it’s not the shark you see that’s the problem. It’s the one you don’t see!
The biggest shark recorded in modern history is the whale shark. They tend to grow to a length of about 40 feet, or 12 meters. But even these bad boys are unlikely to approach that many people. Most shark species are quite shy and tend to conserve their energy for prey with more blubber.
1 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)
“While there are some freshwater shark species, they definitely don’t look like this,” says Marquez, referring to the cut and paste, Frankenstein-zombie-looking creature in the clip above. It doesn’t look like any shark species she knows. It also seems to be blind which she has not encountered often. At least it has 5 gill slits which, according to Marquez, is anatomically correct.
Even though it may seem unrealistic that there would be so many sharks in a cave, who knows? A couple of years ago a shark was discovered in an erupted volcano so it could be possible. In the movie the sharks are shown circling the trapped divers in the cave, just like sharks in real life would do. They do this to check out potential prey, sizing it up and deciding whether it’s a meal or not. But as these sharks are blind, what the heck are they doing?