8 "Awesome" Rip-Offs of the Movie Jaws

Categories: Film and TV

When Jaws blew the record for movie attendance sky high in 1975, it did more than usher in the era of the summer blockbuster. It also fueled a stampede of killer shark copy cat films, with creators who were dreaming of some sweet easy money.

Spielberg's film still holds up today, and acted as a template for blockbuster films for decades. It's actually an improvement on the Peter Benchley novel the movie was based on, and earned $7 million during its opening weekend - an enormous amount of money for the time. For the next several years the world went crazy over sharks, and needless to say, there were low rent imitators eager to shake out a few bucks with their own coattail-riding rip off films.

And there were a lot of them. In fact, I have actively sought out obscure horror and exploitation films for decades, and I still occasionally run across an old, low budget imitator of Jaws that I didn't know about. Filmmakers all over the world were gleefully churning out these water-based monster tales, sometimes using a shark (or sharks) as the baddies, and others substituting a different fish or mutated sea beast in the role of "People Eater Número Uno." There were also plenty of films that borrowed the basic formula and plot, but transferred the action onto dry land. Some of those are fun also.

With the Discovery Channel's annual Shark Week almost upon us it seems fitting to take a closer look at a few of these films, and to bask in the cheap thrills and sheer awfulness of some of them.

8. Tentacles (1977)

Tentacles was a jointly produced American-Italian film, during a time period when such collaborations usually resulted in some gloriously terrible horror and exploitation films. Unsurprisingly, this Jaws rip off uses a monstrous octopus that's using a seaside resort as its all you can eat human buffet. Of course, there's a marine expert and investigative reporter who discover that a morally bankrupt company has been zapping the water with high levels of radio waves, inciting the huge cephalopod into his murderous feeding frenzy.

What is surprising are the generally decent production qualities. Tentacles is a bad movie, but it doesn't look as horrible as one might expect. Somehow this film also managed to snare respected actors too. Both John Huston and Henry Fonda (yes, Fonda, I had to double check to make sure it wasn't "Fondu" the first time I saw the name scroll by) are in this flick. They must have needed some quick money for a car payment or something.

7. Great White (1981)

The Italians were responsible for this shameless plagiarism of Jaws and Jaws 2, which managed to earn a respectful $18 million during its brief theatrical run in the United States. It may have done even bigger business here, had it not been successfully sued by Universal Pictures, and pulled from theaters. B movie regular Vic Morrow stars in this one, which stole the basic plot of Jaws, as well as entire scenes from both it and Jaws 2. Long only available as a bootleg, it's worth digging up if you can find it, if for no other reason to enjoy just how shameless Italian exploitation film makers were when it came to "borrowing" ideas from successful films.

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My only memory of Orca was that it was the first movie with Bo Derek.  She had a small part, but she was stunning back then.


Both "Piranha" and "Alligator" were written/co-written by the short-story/novelist John Sayles, and were INTENDED as parodies. Sayles used his paycheck from "Piranha" to finance production/post-production of his acclaimed indy film "Return of the Secaucus Seven," self-scripted and self-directed (1979), the start of an interesting career as a maverick filmmaker.

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