Shark! Pop Culture's Five Best Sharksploitation Experiences

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Sharks are awesome. They're the scariest real-world monsters out there — even for people like us, who live in a landlocked state. Thanks to their charming personalities and dashing good looks —all teeth and soulless eyes and hunger — sharks make for great movie and TV stars, a truth apparent to even casual fans of the sharksploitation genre. The good people of the Denver Film Society clearly understand that, as evidenced by the fact that they're featuring SyFy masterpiece Sharknado in their Films on Tap program this Friday, August 14 at the Sie FilmCenter. Before you get three sheets to the wind while watching sharks in the wind, please join us a for a reflection — nay, a celebration — of our bitey friends' best moments in pop culture.

5) Jaws
Let's start with the obvious: Jaws is not only one of the very first notable sharksploitation films, it's also inarguably the best. We all know the plot — shark terrorizes tiny town, police chief and pals go after shark, boat gets bitten in half, etc. — and we know a lot of the lore about how it launched the summer blockbuster and Stephen Spielberg's career and so on and so forth. What gets forgotten in all that is the genuine, visceral terror that movie commands the first time you see it. If you can watch it and then go swimming in the ocean after dark, you're a braver soul than I am — or perhaps just one more hellbent on getting eaten by a giant fucking shark. The original is a genuinely great movie, but the sequels get progressively more ridiculous and fitting of the sharksploitation tag, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on how you like your killer shark movies. (Pro tip: You should like them cheesy, because nearly all of them are pure cheddar.)

4) Shark Attack 3: Megalodon
Let us now pivot from one of the finest shark movies ever made to one of the most ludicrous. Conceived in what must have been a fit of insanity, or perhaps an epic cocaine and tequila bender, and executed with all the skill of a first-year film student who's destined to drop out and switch his major to business, Shark Attack 3: Megalodon should be an unwatchable mess. Okay, it actually is a mess of epic proportions, but an amazingly entertaining one. The plot is ... well, there's a really big shark. And it eats people, so some people try to kill it. That's about it. This is executed with a mix of incoherent dialogue, bad acting and CGI special effects that are just too stupid to be believed, even once you've seen them. It's the kind of movie that makes you laugh out loud at how fucked up the whole thing is, but somehow demands a second viewing basically the moment it's over. Plus, it stars John Barrowman, aka Captain Jack Harkness from Torchwood

3) Shark Week
For the past 28 years, the Discovery Channel has single-handedly justified its existence as a network by programming a week's worth of shark docs and specials every summer. Turns out, real sharks are just as terrifying as fictional sharks, if not more so, as you'll be well aware after binge-watching shark videos all week. For lovers of nature's best killers, this is must-see-TV, plus you can tell people it's educational, because technically it is, even if it's hard to use that knowledge in your day-to-day life.

2) Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus
The current era of shoddy sharksploitation madness was kicked off by the one-and-only Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. Without this film, and more specifically without its massive popularity, there would be no Sharknado, no Dinoshark, no Ghost Shark or any other SyFy shark stupidity. Depending on your point of view, this could be either a very good or a very bad thing, but from my sharksploitation-loving vantage point, that would be a genuine tragedy. Plus, this is a movie that is not afraid to say, "Yes, I am a terrible fucking movie, but goddamn it, I'm going to be the best goddamn terrible movie I can be!" — and boy, does it ever deliver. There's a mega shark! I mean, like, mega, as in, it can bite the Golden Gate Bridge in half. Also, an octopus of similar stature. They fight! What else do you need to know? Oh, it stars former teen pop sensation Debbie Gibson (billed here as Deborah Gibson, indicating she is all grown-up and serious) as a scientist, and has one of the best/worst "doing science" sequences ever committed to film/video.

1) Deep Blue Sea
In the shadowy middle ground between the utter cheese and trashiness of the Mega Sharks of the world and the respectability and esteem of Jaws, you will find the one and only Deep Blue Sea. Here you have a bunch of semi-respectable actors — Thomas Jane, Samuel L. Jackson and Stellan Skarsgard, to name a few — in a movie about smart sharks. Smart. Sharks. They got that way through some sketchy, perhaps even mad, science, and boy are they pissed. And hungry. And smart! I did mention smart, right? Well, they are definitely smarter than a fifth-grader, and a lot more likely to bite you in half, as a high percentage of that cast finds out. Directed by the one-and-only Renny Harlin before he was demoted to directing direct-to-video horror movies and episodes of Burn Notice, this is second only to Jaws in terms of cinematic achievements of the shark variety, and an absolute can't-miss film, for everything from one of the great cinematic inspirational speeches/death scenes to LL Cool J chasing a bird around an underwater base. All that and smart sharks! 

Sharknado shows at 10 p.m. Friday, August 14 at the Sie FilmCenter; find out more on the Sie website.

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