In 1975, Steven Spielberg became a household name, “summer blockbusters” were born, and the water became paralyzingly terrifying for millions of people all because of Jaws. Since its release over 40 years ago, it has become a timeless classic. The movie, based on the Peter Benchley novel, follows an enormous shark terrorizing a beach community on the 4th of July, but I’m sure you know that. Spielberg and Jaws did the seemingly impossible; he took a B-movie and made it into one of the most exciting and unforgettable movies of all time.
The record setting box office success made Jaws ripe for other filmmakers to try and take a bite out of it and get a taste of the sweet success. While some of these movies are actually better than the sequels that Jaws would produce, they still lack the heart, technique, and quality of Spielberg’s classic. These “homage” movies may not be considered “good,” but they still offer a lot of fun. Movies like Piranha, celebrating its 40th anniversary, are still revered by fans, proving that they don’t need to be Jaws to be loved. The best of these movies take what worked in the 1975 blockbuster, and make them their own. Let’s dive into five Jaws-inspired films that flooded theaters .
The best of these Jaws rip-offs, Piranha benefits from the talents of Director Joe Dante and Producer Roger Corman. It’s the Jaws homage that you’d expect from Corman. Filled with gore, oddly placed nudity, and unimportant moments (what the hell is that claymation fish monster!?!), the movie centers on a summer camp along a river being terrorized by military grade piranhas. 40 years later, Piranha has grown its own fanbase and has also spawned a sequel and remake.
The Jaws Connection: An officer of the law (a skiptrace), a grizzled man, and a scientist team up to stop the killer beast(s). A man a charge chooses to keep the water festivities going to disastrous results.
Orca takes elements of Jaws to make for one of the weirdest entries on the list. The movie is set around the killer whale seeking revenge after its mate was killed by…Richard Harris. Killing anyone who gets between it and Captain Nolan (Harris), some of Orca’s silliest images make for a pretty fun, albeit odd, movie. Unlike most entries on this list, the bloodthirsty monster is somewhat sympathetic.
The Jaws Connection: A giant “monster” is hunting a captain and his crew on the open sea after the community is terrorized. Similar visuals include the beast’s fin chasing the old fishing boat, and the killer leaping out of the water onto the surface to get its prey.
Grizzly, one of the earliest rip-off of Jaws, replaced the shark with an 18-foot bear. Everything else about this movie feels very familiar for those who know the Spielberg classic. Unlike the other movies on this list, it’s refreshing to get out of the water. The beast being a bear makes for some creative situations that we haven’t seen before, but that’s not enough to separate this movie from its inspiration.
The Jaws Connection: The tagline “the most dangerous jaws on the land” banks on the audience’s familiarity with the “jaws”. The first victims are women gone astray, a group of drunken hunters go after the beast, they foolishly keep the park open resulting in more death, and the beast eventually gets blown up.
Tintorera: Killer Shark (1977)
Instead of a 25-foot great white, Tintorera: Killer Shark features a 17-foot tiger shark. A lot of the beats in the last act are similar to Jaws, but most of the film takes a sleazy approach where our protagonist chases girls. Any heart or connection to the characters is sorely missing from Tintorera, making it one of the worst offenders on the list.
The Jaws Connection: An oversized shark is hunted by a fisherman, a type of law enforcement (the coast guard), and an unlikely hero after an attack. One of the heroes has a grudge against sharks. The use of a tiger shark (although in Jaws the tiger shark was mistakenly accused). The shark explodes.
Great White (The Last Shark) (1981)
The most fascinating movie on this list, Great White takes so much from Jaws, that Universal successfully sued to have the film pulled from theaters. It’s interesting to think about how Jaws would look in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, and Great White is that vision. The films manages to combine most of the major elements of Jaws, pieces of Jaws 2 (1978), the original Peter Benchley novel, and some truly baffling additions. A 35-foot great white attacks a local town, and after the mayor accepts that the shark is a problem, a group of men set out to hunt and kill it. Oh, the shark also has the ability to explode the water! The movie is so shameless, that in foreign countries, it was marketed as a sequel to Jaws.
The Jaws Connection: Everything! This entire movie is a form of Jaws and its sequel. It would be easier to mention the differences. Imagine Jaws, but the shark can make explosions in the water and ends up attacking a helicopter, which is something similar to what we’ll see in 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge.