Jaws is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month, giving us a chance to remember a classic film that helped usher in the age of the summer blockbuster. Thankfully, we also get to celebrate 40 years of other, crappier movies ripping off Steven Spielberg’s classic within an inch of its life.
There was a point in the late ’70s when you couldn’t throw a stick without hitting a movie about an evil salmon or a bloodthirsty crab. If you had a cheap rubber suit and a camera, you were probably going to get a green light. Some of these films ended up being good, in their own way. (Alien was actually first pitched as “Jaws in Space.”) But most of these copycats have returned to the murky depths from whence they came. Here are a few of our favorites.
10. Grizzly (1976)
One of the first rip-offs to be released in the wake of Jaws, the filmmakers here had a brilliant idea: What if, instead of a shark, it was a bear??? The producers weren’t shy about aping what worked from the Spielberg classic. Just look at the tagline they went with: “The most dangerous jaws in the land.” It worked, as this movie became an unlikely hit.
9. Orca (1977)
The producers here didn’t bother taking their killer out of the ocean, not when there was already a whale with “killer” right in its name. That’s why they named their movie…Orca? Okay, “Killer Whale” might have worked better, but that hasn’t stopped this odd entry from becoming a cult classic. Making it personal long before Jaw: The Revenge had the chance, the film follows Richard Harris and his crew trying to outrun a killer whale hellbent on payback. Between an aborted orca fetus, Bo Derek getting her leg chomped off, and the killer whale sort of being the good guy, this odd movie is surprisingly entertaining.
8. Claws (1977)
You can’t get much more blatant than this rip-off, which rhymes its title with Jaws and steals its killer from Grizzly. It’s a rip-off of a rip-off, and is about as entertaining as that sounds. The audience was so anemic for this cash grab that they changed the title, without permission, to Grizzly 2 overseas.
7. Tentacles (1977)
Tentacles could have been fun. It had an all-star cast fronted by John Huston, Henry Fonda AND a giant squid. Frankly, what more do you need? But the director, Ovidio G. Assonitis, didn’t know if he was making high art or high camp. The goofy sequences keep getting interrupted by long, dull character work that falls exceedingly flat. Spielberg found a perfect balance in his blockbuster that eludes the director here. Rule number one — a movie with killer, rubber tentacles should never be referred to as “boring.”
6. Piranha (1978)
Straight from the Roger Corman film factory, this movie had the saving grace of being written by John Sayles and directed by Joe Dante. Wisely, they chose to focus on over-the-top gore and campy satire, which helped turn this no-budget film into a modest hit.
5. The Swarm (1978)
Irwin Allen, the king of the disaster pic, wasn’t going to be left out of this craze. He assembled an all-star cast, including future Jaws: The Revenge paycheck casher Michael Caine, to fight off a swarm of killer bees from south of the border. The Sunday Times referred to it as “simply the worst film ever made.”
4. Alligator (1980)
Another cheap knockoff written by John Sayles, it tries to retain the knowing satire and over the top camp of Piranha, with mixed results. While fans loved its ability to laugh at itself, Roger Ebert suggested the filmmakers “flush this movie down the toilet to see if it also grows into something big and fearsome.”
3. Blood Beach (1980)
Running out of animals to exploit, this film just shrugged its shoulders and decided to have the beach itself start attacking young, nubile actors. And just in case the audience missed the Jaws connection, its tagline was “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… you can’t get to it!”
2. Tintoera: Killer Shark (1977)
This very ’70s Mexican/British production followed an oceanographer chasing a 19ft shark. But mostly it was a vehicle for teenage boys to catch a glimpse of Susan George of Straw Dogs fame and a pre-Three’s Company Priscilla Barnes nude.
1. Great White (1981)
The Italian movie Great White was such a rip-off of Jaws, Universal successfully sued to have it pulled from theaters. The plot features a seaside town terrorized by a killer shark, a politician refusing to believe it, and a tough as nails shark hunter who blows the creature up. So, how is that similar?