10 Horror Movies That Ripped Off ‘Jaws’, Ranked From Worst to Best

Orca, Piranha and Mak jaws ripoff collage
Everett Collection

It’s Shark Week, and what a good time it is to go back in time and look at some of the best and worst shark movies of the past. But for this occasion, we decided to look back at the films about forces of nature running amok that were inspired by Jaws. Much like how Alien and Gremlins ignited their own swarms of copycats, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws scared people from going into the water so much that other filmmakers and studios took notice and decided to cash in on the underwater horror phenomenon. But it wasn’t all shark movies either — some filmmakers basically took the Jaws formula and swapped one toothy beast for another, switched up the environments, and cooked up their own lead character with a Captain Ahab/Chief Brody complex. This recipe produced some “jawful” results for some, and “jawesome” results for others. So, in honor of Shark Week, here are the Jaws rip-offs from the ‘70s and ‘80s, ranked from worst to best.


Released three years after Jaws, deep sea menaces were all the rage, so director Ovidio G. Assonitis decided to cash in on that craze with Tentacles, an aquatic horror flick about a giant mutant octopus that wreaks havoc along the shores of Oceanside, California. Of course, there’s a marine biologist and an investigative reporter who get to the bottom of things and learn that some corrupt company has poisoned the environment resulting in the creation of the hulking eight-legged menace. The film gets off to a shocking start when the tentacled beast actually kills a baby, but after that, it’s really all downhill from there. To call the film slow and unengaging is an understatement and, somehow, this incredibly lazy and lackluster script attracted the talents of  Henry Fonda, John Huston, and Shelly Winters — who must’ve really been desperate for the paycheck.


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Blood Beach

If Jaws made people afraid to go into the water, then Blood Beach aimed to make people afraid of the sand — only, it utterly fails to do so. Set in Venice Beach, California, this cheesy B-movie is about a mysterious worm-like creatures that’s gobbling up beachgoers. When the phallic monster is finally revealed near the film’s climax, it’s laughably bad and just not scary at all. A shame too, because Blood Beach actually has a criminally wasted cast including faces like John Saxon, Marianna Hill, and Burt Young.


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The Last Shark

Of all the copycats on this list, The Last Shark (aka Great White) is probably one of the biggest blatant Jaws clones of all.  The very familiar plot involves a 35-foot great white shark that, much to the dismay of a corrupt mayor, terrorizes a coastal community during a big windsurfing competition. The mayor’s refusal to deal with the shark problem puts him at odds with the film’s two lead heroes, prompting a vengeful hunt by the locals. It was such a shameless retelling of Jaws that Universal accused the filmmakers of plagiarism and successfully had it pulled from the U.S. market.


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Tintorera is a strange little shark film. In fact, there’s not much shark action at all, at least until the big finale. A bulk of the film devotes its running time to a love triangle between a Mexican businessman, a British tourist, and a hunky swimming instructor. One of the big selling points of the film was that it used footage of real sharks, which is true, but when it becomes obvious that it’s just stock footage featuring a five-foot-long shark and all trick photography, it’s just not very menacing at all and takes you right out of the movie.


In the frenzy of underwater horror films that followed Jaws, we had films about killer whales and piranhas, so it was only a matter of time before someone picked out another razor-toothed deep sea creature, so barracudas became the titular baddies in 1978’s Barracuda.  The film’s premise is rather simple: polluted waters cause schools of barracuda to become vicious and super hungry. So, of course, they terrorize the residents of a seaside town. Despite a few shocking scenes (including a surprise ending), the film is ultimately forgettable with mediocre acting and special effects. It’s no wonder almost nobody has ever heard of it.


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Released just two years after Jaws, Orca attempted to make great white sharks seem like wimps by making the killer whale its titular beast. There’s even a scene where the killer whale takes out a great white to demonstrate just how supreme the beast is. Orca is about a vengeful killer whale that terrorizes a fishing village after its mate and calf are killed by a local fisherman. And it’s up to Captain Nolan (the great Richard Harris!) to stop the leviathan, which results in a thrilling final showdown that’s easily the best part of this mediocre B movie. The film also sports a memorable and eerie score produced by Ennio Morricone (The Thing).


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Mako: The Jaws of Death

1976 was a big year for Jaws rip-offs and this revenge flick is one of the most bizarre that earns from extra points for some attempts at originality. Mako: The Jaws of Death is about a Vietnam vet who has a strange telepathic connection with sharks. He sees himself as one of them and vows to protect them from shark hunters at all costs. Using a magic medallion, he’s able to control a school of Mako sharks and uses them to exact revenge on his enemies. We kid you not, that is the plot — but overall, it’s a wacky sharksploitation flick that’s certainly not boring. At least it’s trying to do something original, even if it is bonkers.


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Directed by William Girdler, Grizzly is about a 18-foot-tall bear that terrorizes a state park. It was the first Jaws riff to hit U.S. theaters on May 16, 1976.  Off the bat, it’s not the most obvious Jaws wannabe, but when you take a close look at the plot, all the essential ingredients are there with the national forest serving as the ocean and the man-eating grizzly bear being the unstoppable force of nature. Of course, there’s a park ranger (Christopher George) who mirrors the Chief Brody character and he teams up with two others to hunt down the bear during the film’s final act. Overall, it’s a satisfying horror flick with some rather gruesome practical effects. There are some kill scenes that are certainly not for the squeamish. 


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Released three years after Jaws, Joe Dante (Gremlins) directed this aquatic horror flick about flesh-eating piranhas that are accidentally released into the peaceful waters of summer resort river. Soon, the water runs red as hotel guests become the next meal for the vicious underwater invaders who seem to have an endless, insatiable hunger. Considering it’s ultra low budget, Piranha has some pretty gnarly special effects brought to life by effects wizard Rob Bottin (this was his first gig!). Suspenseful, briskly paced, filled with the right dose of humor, Piranha is one of the most entertaining Jaws riffs out there. 


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If you have to think of the top two scariest underwater predators, sharks probably come first, but alligators and crocodiles are probably a close second. Channeling that Jaws formula, riffing on the urban myths about alligators in the sewers, and taking shots as Big Pharma are the three things writer John Sayles (Piranha) probably had in mind when he wrote Alligator, a satirical creature feature about a baby gator that is flushed down the toilet, only to end up in a sewer where dead lab animals doped up with growth hormones are dumped by a research lab in secret. Of course, it mutates into a man-eating apex predator and terrorizes a Chicago neighborhood. The practical effects are a bit dated, but there are some great shots of the reptilian menace in action that will give you the heebie-jeebies. There’s even a scene involving a swimming pool that will forever be etched in your brain. Of all the horror films about murky-water menaces that followed Jaws, Alligator is certainly one of the best.


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