There are tons of great horror subgenres that rise and fall in popularity, but aquatic horror is evergreen. There’s just something about slimy beasts from the deepest reaches that speaks to the primal fear of the unknown in all of us.
Updated on December 7th, 2020 by Mark Birrell: With the messy Hollywood release schedule of 2020 being suboptimal at best for a lot of movies, the entertaining aquatic sci-fi horror thriller Underwater so easily could have been lost to the depths. Yet, the movie has developed a consistent stream of interest since its release and got more and more movie fans wondering what else there is out there that’s similar. For those searching for such stories, we’ve increased the size of this list to better shine a light on Underwater and earlier movies like it.
15 Underwater (2020)
Kristen Stewart shins as her own kind of sci-fi action star in this aquatic creature feature that may look and feel like every Alien movie crammed into ninety minutes but still mixes the subgenre’s quirks around to create its own modern spin on the high-concept horror B-movie.
A team of survivors trapped in a mining facility on the ocean floor have to scramble and salvage what they can to find some kind of understanding as to how they can survive, why their facility has been destroyed, and what kind of demonic monstrosities are stalking them.
14 Jaws (1975)
Really the granddaddy of them all when it comes to aquatic horror movies that audiences see being released today, Steven Spielberg’s game-changing shark movie is flawlessly gripping and more than capable of producing a good jump even in this day and age.
On the hunt for a killer great white, a town falls to hysteria and three men embark on a foolhardy mission to kill it, evoking many classic stories and Hollywood techniques, showcasing the power of the less-is-more approach–debatably–better than any other movie in history.
13 Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
The only movie that can be argued to be more significant than Jaws in the development of the aquatically-them horror movie is, of course, Jack Arnold’s iconic Universal monster movie from 1954.
Creature from the Black Lagoon began a love affair between movie fans and one of the most famous monsters of all time, one that is more than worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Boris Karloff’s monster from Frankenstein or Bela Lugosi’s take on Count Dracula.
12 The Shallows (2016)
Blake Lively stars in this smartly simple take on the shark thriller as a woman trapped not more than a few hundred meters from the shoreline in a rocky outcrop, a hungry shark constantly circling her and waiting for her to try and make it back to land.
Whilst still by no means being in any about realism, The Shallows is a much more down-to-earth interpretation of aquatic horror than a movie like Underwater, but no less slick.
11 DeepStar Six (1989)
One of a number 0f deep-sea horror movies from the 80s and 90s that Underwater clearly draws inspiration from, DeepStar Six is a through B-movie romp set in a similarly futuristic underwater research facility that unwittingly unearths an onslaught of grotesque monsters.
Fans of Underwater‘s tech and creature designs will surely get at the very least a retro kick out of DeepStar Six and its shamelessly schlocky sensibilties.
10 Piranha (1978)
In Joe Dante’s (Gremlins) aquatic horror-comedy, thousands of military-grade piranhas escape into a river frequented by the guests at a holiday camp.
Dante’s sophomore feature already displays the anarchic humor that would characterize his best-known movies and is one of the only Jaws ripoffs (of which there were many) to be considered something of a classic in its own right. Alexandre Aja’s ludicrous 2010 remake, Piranha 3-D is also worth a look.
9 Leviathan (1989)
When the CEO of a major corporation (Meg Foster) hires geologist, Steven Beck (Peter Weller) to oversee an underwater mining operation, he heads to the ocean’s depth with his crew. At the bottom of the sea, the crew stumbles upon and investigates a sunken ship, only to bring a malefic lifeform back to their own. As the creature slaughters crew members and causes them to grotesquely mutate, Beck must save who he can and get back to the surface before the vessel is overtaken.
Shamelessly cribbing elements from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and Alien (1979), Leviathan is dumb, gross-out fun as infectious as its central squishy beast.
8 The Abyss (1989)
Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio star as divorced petroleum engineers drafted to help a Navy SEAL (Michael Biehn) recover a nuclear sub from the ocean’s deepest point.
From pop entertainment maven James Cameron, The Abyss is a fine-tuned, claustrophobic thriller bathed in Oscar-winning special effects.
7 Deep Rising (1998)
When a brand new cruise ship shoves off, the passengers are unaware of the danger ahead. Not only is a world-class thief (Famke Janssen) attempting to rob everyone aboard blind, but when a monstrous tentacled sea creature collides with the ship and leaves it dead in the water, panic sets in. And that’s before the bloodshed starts.
Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) wrote and directed this late-90s popcorn flick, which proved to be a major critical and commercial failure upon release. However, the few who saw Deep Rising fell hard for it, and it’s achieved cult classic status over the past couple of decades.
6 Sphere (1998)
Having provided the U.S. government with a detailed report on how best to theoretically handle extraterrestrial life, psychologist Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman) is surprised that his plans are being put into action to investigate an alien spacecraft at the bottom of the Pacific. With the help of a biochemist (Sharon Stone) and astrophysicist (Liev Schrieber) among others, it’s up to Goodman to discover the secrets of a ship that may, in fact, hail from the far distant future.
Also featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Queen Latifah, and directed by Barry Levinson (Wag the Dog), Sphere brings top tier talent to a waterlogged project with mixed results.
5 Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) experiments on the brain tissue of genetically altered Mako sharks at a remote research station. When an executive backer (Samuel L. Jackson) comes to tour the facility, something goes wrong and the mutated sharks begin attacking the scientists. Outnumbered by hyperintelligent sharks, McAlester and the crew find themselves in a desperate battle to prevent them from escaping into the open sea and overwhelming the planet.
This patently ridiculous Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2) joint is the kind of goofy, high-concept creature feature that has, sadly, gone out of style.
4 Dagon (2001)
After Paul Marsh (Ezra Godden) and his friends find themselves shipwrecked, Paul heads to a mysterious seaside village for help. He initially thinks that the locals’ strange behavior is harmless enough, but when he learns that they’re connected to frightening, scaled sea people that bubble up periodically, Marsh realizes that he may be in over his head.
A seahorse of a different color, the late Stuart Gordon’s Dagon is a highly effective Lovecraftian freakshow.
3 Below (2002)
After the mysterious death of his captain, Lt. Richard Brice (Bruce Greenwood) is determined to steer the U.S.S. Manta and its crew back to safer water. But when the submarine stops to rescue three shipwrecked survivors, crew members start going missing, and only Ensign Douglas O’Dell (Matthew Davis) can solve the puzzle before it’s too late.
A war story, ghostly mystery, and aquatic thriller all in one, Below is a tense exercise in genre-bending.
2 The Bay (2012)
Barry Levinson’s second appearance on this list tells the story of a seaside community in Maryland that becomes inundated with waterborne parasites created by exposure to toxic waste.
Levinson’s mock-documentary successfully melds found-footage and eco-terror into one effectively distressing feature.
1 Cold Skin (2017)
A young man named Friend (David Oakes), arrives to assume the post of a weather observer on the edge of the Antarctic circle, but soon discovers that the man he’s been sent to relieve has perished. Though the official explanation seems to be typhus, Friend soon discovers that the previous weather observer was killed by creatures from the sea, and it’s only a matter of time before they return.
Cold Skin is another Lovecraftian battle between man and nature buoyed by a strong visual style and some killer makeup effects.
NEXT: 10 Best H.P. Lovecraft Adaptations, Ranked According To IMDb
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