In the decades since Jaws landed in theaters, horror movies have attempted to exploit sharks in a number of ways, with almost every year seeing a new adventure emerge which aims to replicate the success of the Steven Spielberg film. While some of these films find success, none have come even close to capturing the public's attention as effectively as the film based on Peter Benchley's novel, forcing studios to try even harder to concoct crazy concepts to misrepresent the fish. Despite some of these films managing to sneak some actual facts about sharks into their narratives, nearly all of them misrepresent the creatures in a number of ways.
For more than two decades, director Jeff Kurr has been delivering Discovery Channel fans some of the most compelling specials depicting the realities of the animals, including Diary of a Shark Man, Great White Serial Killer, and Legend of Deep Blue. Of all of his projects, none are more famous than the groundbreaking Air Jaws series, in which Kurr captured footage of giant great whites launching completely out of the water in hopes of capturing seals, delivering fans some of the most awe-inspiring footage of the fish ever recorded.
In honor of Shark Week kicking off this Sunday, August 9th at 8 p.m. ET with Air Jaws: Ultimate Breach Off, ComicBook.com collaborated with Kurr to break down the myths seen in a number of contemporary shark films. Given that an entire MythBusters episode broke down the details of Jaws, we took a look at more modern films in the annals of sharksploitation.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
The Movie: A group of researchers aims to cure Alzheimer's Disease but inadvertently create super-smart sharks, who wreak havoc on the research facility.
The Myth: Sharks were chosen as research subjects because their brain activity never reduces with age and they are impervious to cancer.
The Reality: "I've done some filming with Mote Marine Lab in Florida, and Dr. Carl Luer was studying whether or not sharks actually get cancer. I believe that's actually a myth," Kurr confirmed. "I think that sharks do get cancer, although it's extremely rare."
While they might not be quite as immune as the film claims, Kurr noted that they do heal faster than other animals.
"They have, obviously, being around for the millions of years that they have been, they have very robust immune systems, and they're very resistant to diseases. They heal up incredibly fast," the director detailed. "I've seen sharks that were, for whatever reason, maybe mating scars, were completely chewed up and torn up. And a couple of weeks later they were completely healed. So I know there are incidents of sharks that have been seen with tumors, and occasionally get cancer, but it's extremely, extremely rare."
He added, "As far as brain function, I'm not too well versed in that, but I do know that white sharks actually have relatively small brains for their giant size, yet they have incredible sensory organs that are driven by the brain. Sight, smell, lateral line, all these incredible things. Maybe they can't reason, but they definitely can do what they need to do extremely efficiently. And they're amazing at hunting and killing things."
The Verdict: Inaccurateprevnext
Open Water (2003)
The Movie: A pair of scuba divers are accidentally left in the open ocean during a diving trip, with one dying from shark wounds and the other drowning. The couple's camera is discovered in the stomach of a shark.
The Myth: Sharks are garbage disposals of the ocean and will eat anything, including electronics.
The Reality: "Most sharks actually have pretty strict diets, and they're not the swimming garbage cans that they've been portrayed as in the media," Kurr claims. "I do know that a tiger shark seems to have a more varied diet. They'll eat birds, they'll eat dolphins. In fact, we did a necropsy on a tiger shark in South Africa. One tiger shark had a dolphin, I believe it was a pelican, a seal, and a bunch of fish in its gut when we opened him up. He was already dead. We didn't kill him for the sake of doing that. So that just shows you the incredible variety, but that's just one species. The tiger shark, which is definitely a scavenger."
Despite being one of the biggest shark species, the same strict diet is followed by great whites.
"White sharks are extremely picky. And what's interesting to me is that certain times of the year, they have absolutely turned their noses up at a cape fur seal. They don't want to eat the seals," the director explained. "They switch to fish, and stingrays, and other things like that. You could have seals swimming all around them and they won't touch them. And there's been times where we've been out on location, we've had these beautiful, fresh tuna baits to bring in the white sharks. You absolutely have to have bait to film a white shark, because otherwise they want nothing to do with you. And they reject the baits. If the baits get a little bit old and they sit in the sun and get a little past their expiration date, the white sharks will actually turn their nose up. So that's a really great example of how picky these animals are when it comes to what they eat, and how their diet is very specific based on where they're at, and the time of year. And sometimes they're just not hungry."
He added, "I could not see one eating, even the tiger shark, eating a camera. I find that pretty implausible."
The Verdict: Inaccurateprevnext
The Shallows (2016)
The Movie: A surfer gets stranded on a rock near the corpse of a dead whale, with a great white refusing to leave the area and eating multiple other surfers it encounters just off the shore.
The Myth: Sharks will stick to one area where they know has food and eat anything in their path.
The Reality: "I know from personal experience that whale is like catnip to white sharks," Kurr explained. "Whenever there's a whale that dies, especially off the Pacific coast of California, it seems like there's four or five white sharks that are gorging themselves on the blubber. And that just actually happened a few weeks ago. There was a dead whale off Southern California, and there were white sharks all over it. So they definitely love whale meat. And they will have a tendency to hang around an area where they've had success in feeding."
While the concept of a shark sticking close to one area where there's a food they love is plausible, the filmmaker noted that sharks experience "food comas" just like the rest of us, likely slowing down their desire to eat more food that just happens to be nearby.
"Now I can imagine in the movie, The Shallows, after a shark had gorged on a whale, he might be so full that he might slow down the hunting mode," Kurr admitted. "And we also witnessed that in South Africa, when we had a dead whale, we had 27 sharks eating this whale, and they were all stuffed. They basically ate the whole whale in 48 hours. It was, I think, a 20-ton whale that was completely devoured. And the sharks, when they eat that much, we saw them turning on their backs, almost in a stupor. They were bouncing against the boat, acting really strange, like a food coma, basically. So I would imagine, if The Shallows was more realistic, the shark that was eating the whale would have gone into a food coma and probably had no interest in scrawny, bony little people at that point, but of course, that's not a very interesting film if he eats the whale and he leaves. So the whale will definitely attract him, just after he gorged on a whale he's not going to eat Blake Lively."
The Verdict: Partially accurateprevnext
The Meg (2018)
The Movie: Thinking the species went extinct millions of years ago, a megalodon emerges and begins attacking anything in its path.
The Myth: A 60-foot shark could stay hidden in the depths of the ocean for millions of years with no one having proved its existence until now.
The Reality: "I would say that there's a 0% chance that there's a Meg out there, only because we would have encountered one, we would have seen it," the filmmaker expressed. "There's a lot of really cool stories and rumors, especially with the Japanese fishing trawler, somewhere in the North Japan sea, that supposedly they have encountered this 60-foot shark and it ate all their nets, and their traps, and everything. You hear a lot of stories out there circulating around, but it's like UFOs. There's a lot of great stories, but how come there's no really solid evidence? I really want to see that video where the UFO lands on the White House lawn. I've never seen that except for in the '50s in those old sci-fi movies. And I've never seen the Meg footage. And there's just so many boats out there and people with cameras."
Clearly Kurr highly doubts such a fish could remain hidden for millions of years, but he did walk back his remarks slightly as to allow for even the most unlikely event to occur.
"Now, maybe I should say 99.9% chance that there's no megalodons, because who knows," Kurr clarified. "The ocean's a big place. They discover new species all the time. And there's new shark species discovered every day, but a 60-foot megalodon is pretty hard to hide."
The Verdict: 99.9% Inaccurateprevnext
47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)
The Movie: While exploring underwater Mayan ruins, a group of divers accidentally unleash a great white that has been living in caves with no light for so many years that it has adapted to have lost its vision, using its other senses to hunt.
The Myth: A species that is millions of years old could adapt drastically in a matter of thousands of years.
The Reality: "I'm not an evolutionary biologist by any means, but I would say that it's highly unlikely that a white shark would, first of all, be in [an isolated pool of water] like that in that situation," the filmmaker revealed. "What's he going to eat? How did he get there? And so on and so forth. But the fact that they've evolved in just a couple thousand years, just whatever they see in the dark, or hunt blindly, or whatever that is, that's an evolution that takes millions of years, I'm sure, and not a couple of thousands of years, but for a good story, what the heck? It is Hollywood. And maybe people were entertained by that. I didn't see that particular movie, but now you've piqued my interest. I'm going to have to go check that out."
He added, "That's probably the most far fetched of all of them."
The Verdict: Inaccurateprevnext
While Kurr claimed that 47 Meters Down: Uncaged seemed like the most unbelievable manipulation of facts, he also noted that the original film, 47 Meters Down, featured some absurd details about diving. In that film, two sisters go cage diving and when the cage malfunctions, it plunges them 47 meters to the bottom of the ocean, with a group of sharks swimming between them and the surface.
"The first 47 Meters was also pretty far fetched, just because, if you're a diver, how can they stay down there that long?" Kurr pondered. "That's pretty deep without being completely bent and embolizing, and all the stuff that happened in that movie. I think they need a shark consultant, or at least a diving consultant on some of these movies."
Kurr also pointed out that, while the events of Jaws are absolutely exaggerated, it does borrow elements of truth, confirming its status as the best shark movie of all time.
"You look at, as far fetched as the first Jaws was, it was actually based on true stories," the filmmaker pointed out. "The Quint character is based on a real guy that I did a show on named Frank Mundus. The multiple attacks were based on the 1916 shark attacks off the coast of New Jersey. I think what makes Jaws so effective, compared to these other movies, is it's based in truth. Now, no sharks that I know of has ever sunk a boat like Jaws did, but there's a lot of realistic stuff in that movie."
Despite it seeming unbelievable, you can catch astonishing footage of breaching great whites when Shark Week kicks off this Sunday, August 9th at 8 p.m. ET with Air Jaws: Ultimate Breach Off.prev