Animals. I love them and you probably love them too. They’re pure creatures who are better than humans in many ways. We share the planet with them but sometimes they get sick of us and take matters into their own hands. Whether it’s sharks who’ve been genetically altered, snakes who need something to do on a flight, or birds just deciding they hate us, watching animals go wild and give us nasty humans what’s coming to us is one of the simplest pleasures cinema can provide us. In honor of Cocaine Bear‘s release, here are the best animal attack movies..
10. Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Director: David R. Ellis
Snakes on a Plane is the type of movie where the title tells you everything you need to know about it. There will be snakes on a plane, it will be stupid and you’re either on board for that type of ridiculous stupidity or you won’t be. If you are on board then Snakes on a Plane gives you exactly what you want it to.
The plot is ludicrous. Following an FBI agent played by Samuel L. Jackson who escorts a surfer who witnessed a murder on a flight to L.A. to testify. Unfortunately, the murderer got a bunch of venomous snakes on board in a bid to either kill the surfer by a snake bite or getting the plane to crash from all the chaos. It’s one of the dumbest plots of all time but it doesn’t matter because you get to watch Samuel L. Jackson get pissed off and swear at snakes that are on his plane.
9. Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
Director: Ellory Elkayem
Starring David Arquette and a young Scarlett Johansson, Eight Legged Freaks is a 2002 B-movie made as an homage to all the giant creature B-movies of the 1950s. With a plot about spiders that become giants after being exposed to radiation, this is a very dumb movie but it’s dumb in a good way. Just as all those cheesy 50s movies are idiotic, look cheap, and make you question the definition of the word actor, so too does Eight Legged Freaks. The difference is here it’s all done knowingly.
This is a very goofy movie with ridiculous characters and a dumb plot, and so earnest in its affection for the B-movies it’s parodying that it’s impossible not to be charmed. The spiders themselves all look pretty good too and have distinct personalities, which is a nice touch. It’s got solid creature effects, a fun cast of characters, and a great vibe. Provided you aren’t afraid of spiders, this is a good time.
8. Anaconda (1997)
Director: Luis Llosa
Anaconda is a really cheesy movie. From the late 90s CGI and mediocre animatronic work, to the ridiculous dialogue, this is as cheesy a movie can get. Unlike a lot of movies on this list, it wasn’t exactly trying to be. This is a film that takes itself seriously even when the material suggests otherwise. Despite that, it’s still a rollicking good time, just not of the tense and frightful variety that it clearly wanted to be.
Featuring an all-star cast including Jon Voight, Jennifer Lopez, Danny Trejo, Owen Wilson, and some ridiculously entertaining kills by the titular snake, this film is a riot from start to finish. It’s all completely nonsensical and nothing is based in reality, but none of that matters when you’re watching a film with scenes like Jon Voight winking at J-Lo after he gets regurgitated by a giant snake.
7. Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Director: Renny Harlin
What happens when a bunch of scientists in an underwater base make genetically altered smart sharks? Those sharks escape and you get the movie Deep Blue Sea. Equal parts goofy and tense, this is a film that is incredibly sure of itself. Its premise is inherently ridiculous and it knows that. The film never acts like it is above the actual material. Despite that inherent silliness, there’s still tension in the sense that the sharks could attack anywhere at any time, and the film knows that as well.
From the infamous moment when Samuel L. Jackson gets devoured mid-motivational speech, you know there’s never a moment where anyone is safe from being shark food. The kills are brutal, it keeps you on the edge of your seat, and it maintains the right amount of absurdity. It’s everything you want out of a shark movie and everything you want out of a B-movie made with a Hollywood budget.
6. Them! (1954)
Director: Gordon Douglas
Them! Is a lot smarter than any 1950s movie about giant radioactive ants has any right to be. Not content with just being a cheap movie about giant ants attacking, Them! actually contains some thought-provoking critiques of the dangers of the Atomic Age. You might go into this film expecting it to be a silly B-movie about giant bugs, and it is but it also offers a lot more depth.
It’s well-acted, and it has a decent plot with real characters that don’t just exist to be ant food. While similar movies, especially ones of that time period, are primarily just about the actual rampage, this movie is primarily about us, our role in nature, and our responsibility with the technology we create. There’s a surprising amount of substance here that makes Them! stand out from the pack.
5. Crawl (2019)
Director: Alexandre Aja
A lot of animal attack movies feature some lightheartedness to them. The premises are just unrealistic enough that some fun can be had. Crawl isn’t one of those movies. It’s just downright scary from beginning to end. The film follows a father and daughter as they try to survive after a hurricane floods their town and a pack of alligators takes up residence. Unfortunately for our protagonists, those gators are hungry.
Crawl is a tense and claustrophobic film. Most of it takes place in tight spaces filled with water as the characters try to find their way to safety. This is a horror film through and through. The tension also never lets up. We get jump scares, people who are graphically devoured, and all this feels scarier given how plausible its premise is. Towns get flooded by hurricanes every year and there are enough alligators out there to make this premise just plausible enough to be terrifying.
4. Cujo (1983)
Director: Lewis Teague
The most unsettling part of Cujo is how the titular dog was a good boy until he stuck his head in the wrong hole. Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, the film follows a mother and her son as they are trapped in their car as the rabies-infected Cujo violently tries to get to them. Cujo is a big dog and his vicious foam-filled jaw is absolutely terrifying – a stark contrast to the giant teddy bear he used to be.
Dee Wallace’s performance as the mother in peril sells the whole thing. Trapped in an increasingly hot car with no way to escape, her desperation to escape and keep her son safe keeps the tension sky-high throughout. Elevating the premise from a simple animal attack film to a terrifying horror is just how plausible it is. Animals get rabies all the time, including dogs and so it’s entirely possible that our once best friend could become a ravenous monster dead set on taking a chomp out of us.
3. The Grey (2011)
Director: Joe Carnahan
Coming out at the height of Liam Neeson’s transformation into an action star, The Grey might disappoint people looking for a full-on action film but it’s an outstanding survival film. After their plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, a group of men must survive as they’re stalked by a pack of wolves.
The film is an intense adventure as the wolves begin to pick the men off one by one. It’s incredibly suspenseful as the wolves hunt from the trees and shadows. We know they’re there but just like the characters, don’t see them until it’s too late. Excellent acting from Neeson as well as the supporting cast gets you invested in each man’s survival which makes it that much more harrowing as their numbers dwindle.
2. The Birds (1963)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Birds are not scary. Mildly irritating but not scary, until you watch The Birds that is. Alfred Hitchcock is known as the “Master of Suspense” for a reason and with The Birds, he makes these simple creatures we see everywhere as a frightening menace. With a plot focusing on birds who start to attack humans for no apparent reason, Hitchcock crafts a film that will make you afraid to go outside.
The true terror of the film isn’t the sight of large numbers of birds all descending to attack, although that is mighty terrifying. No, the true terror of The Birds is that we never learn exactly why the birds decide to attack in the first place. There’s nothing scarier than the unknown and it’s in that unknown The Birds becomes truly terrifying. Without it revealing to us the “why”, all we’re left with is the “what if”.
1. Jaws (1975)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Jaws is masterful in how it balances the thrills of both the horror and fun variety. Instilling fear in the viewer with just the sound of John Williams’ legendary theme, you don’t even have to see the shark to be frightened. All you need is the knowledge that it’s on its way and you immediately fear for whatever poor soul it has its sights set on.
All the suspense and tension of Jaws is brilliantly paid off in the third act when the hunter finally becomes the hunted. Watching Hopper, Brody, and Quint take on the previously unseen threat shifts the film from summer horror to thrilling nautical adventure without losing any of the tension. It speaks to Steven Spielberg’s talent that he’s able to maintain that balance. Jaws is the perfect animal attack movie. It has horror, it has adventure, it has thrills and it has kills. Everything you want from this type of film is here in Jaws – it doesn’t get better than this.
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