Many moviegoers will be disappointed by The Meg. The adaptation of Steve Alten’s 1997 novel “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror” is not faithfully a movie of deep terror. It’s also not really a B movie of the sort advertised in the trailers. The Meg is not as silly or as gory as expected. It’s not so much a monster movie as an emotionally driven drama involving a deep-sea science expedition, a giant prehistoric shark, and a budding romance between Jason Statham and Li Bingbing, the last of which seems to be what the film is most interested in.
The Meg isn’t bad, and I was actually relieved it wasn’t just another intentionally corny creature feature. Sharknado and the Mega Shark franchise from The Asylum and numerous other cheapies have taken the idea to the extreme. Whether you like or dislike The Meg, whether it was or wasn’t what you wanted it to be, I have compiled a list of 10 movies to watch next, some great and some far from even good, yet all worth seeing for comparison and for historical sake. Only two of them are about killer sharks.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
Irwin Allen would have made a great adaptation of “Meg.” The master of disaster movies is most famous for producing such hits as The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure, the latter set at sea, but he was also a filmmaker with great interest in the evolution of Earth’s species and a particular fondness for prehistoric life and oceanic creatures. He made his directorial debut with the Oscar-winning 1953 documentary The Sea Around Us, based on Rachel L. Carson’s bestselling book — a film that looks at ocean life and is notable for its early address of climate change.
Allen later directed fiction movies, including a 1960 version of The Lost World, which was followed by Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, a little-remembered precursor to cheesy modern disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow, The Core, and Geostorm. The film involves a mission by a nuclear submarine to fire a missile from the deepest point of the ocean, at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, to save the world from being engulfed by a burning Van Allen radiation belt — again, a scenario dealing with severe global warming. Among the things it shares with The Meg is a giant squid attacking a sub, an expensive project being visited by the people who paid for it, and a dog, which is an Allen trademark that has become a genre staple.
The War of the Gargantuas (1966)
Jon Turteltaub’s favorite old monster movie, as noted in an interview with Slashfilm, this sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World is another kaiju feature from Godzilla director Ishirō Honda and has been a big influence on many other filmmakers, including Guillermo del Toro. How The War of the Gargantuas may have inspired Turteltaub on his latest effort is in the opening sequence where a giant octopus attacks a fishing boat, whose sole crew member is saved by the appearance of a larger creature, Gaira, which kills the octopus. In The Meg, a sub is similarly attacked by a giant squid but is saved by a Megalodon, in turn, attacking the squid.
Blue Water, White Death (1971)
Before Jaws, and said to be an inspiration on both Peter Benchley’s book and Steven Spielberg’s movie, there was the documentary Blue Water, White Death. If you’re a fan of Shark Week and other nonfiction programs focused on treating sharks like fearsome monsters, this is one of their major antecedents. The film’s main appeal was its underwater footage of deadly great white sharks — the first seen, really — from the safety of submerged cages.
Of course, before this doc there was oceanography legend and shark-cage pioneer Jacques Cousteau and his classic film The Silent World, but Blue Water, White Death showcases advancements in cages designed by director Peter Gimbel and diving icon Rodney Fox still used today. Nothing like Ruby Rose’s plastic cage in The Meg, though.
If you’re bothering to see something like The Meg without ever seeing Jaws first, consider yourself an embarrassment to moviegoerkind. Not just because Jaws is the best shark movie of all time by great measure, but also one of the best movies of all time, period. It’s also, obviously, an influence on The Meg. More than you’d expect, even as it’s a given that any new deadly shark movies owe a lot to Spielberg’s groundbreaking summer blockbuster.
Turteltaub admitted to The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet at the premiere of The Meg that “Jaws was everything to me. It changed my life.” He’s slipped in a number of nods to Jaws, including having the dog in The Meg be named Pippin (in Jaws the dog is called Pippet, which is often misheard as Pippin). He also told Slashfilm of his intention to go back to the seriousness of Jaws:
“It’s definitely not ‘Sharknado.’ I mean, that was the inspiration, to not do ‘Sharknado.’ Right, because that [was] silly. Right? That was doing that. And I wanted to make a legit shark movie. The problem with using ‘Jaws’ as inspiration is that it’s so iconic and so perfect. You have to learn from it, but not copy it. ‘Cause everyone’s gonna know you’re copying it.”
Spielberg’s other classic “monster” movie, Jurassic Park, is also an easy title to link to The Meg. And Turteltaub acknowledged the inspiration there in his red-carpet THR interview, stating:
“A lot of people compare the movie to ‘Jaws’ and ‘Jurassic Park,’ yet no one has ever compared me to Steven Spielberg, so I have no idea what this means… ‘Jurassic Park’ was so interesting because it’s a time-travel movie where the people don’t travel through time, the monster does, and that’s the same story here.”
DeepStar Six (1989)
Despite the benefit of being the first released to theaters, this entry in the “underwater Alien” movie trend of 1989 (also including Leviathan and The Abyss) made the least amount of money and had the worst reviews of the bunch. Yeah, it’s not that good. Greg Evigan is not movie star material — however, if you ever want to see Miguel Ferrer as fit and suited to be an action hero as he could have been… DeepStar Six is worth looking at for its very similar premise of a prehistoric creature being unleashed from a blocked-off section of the ocean and killing a bunch of people. Similar to The Meg, too, is the way multiple deaths aren’t caused by the “monster.”
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Before Sharknado (and really still, in spite of Sharknado), Deep Blue Sea was the ultimate killer shark B movie. It’s what moviegoers likely want out of something like The Meg, too. But movies like Deep Blue Sea aren’t as good when they’re intended to be ridiculous. They become cult classics for cheesy elements meant to be genuine entertainment. The writing and the special effects are bad because they’re bad, not because they’re planned to be. Samuel L. Jackson, who has the financier role in this movie that’s the same as Rainn Wilson’s part in The Meg, had previously been in the truly competent Jurassic Park and then this earnest but incompetent effort and then the purposefully bad Snakes on a Plane, completing an arc of where this genre has gone.
Finding Nemo (2003)
“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” If it’s good enough for Jason Statham’s tough-guy hero from The Meg, then it’s good enough for you. And Pixar’s animated hit has bigger laughs involving sharks than any silly B-level shark movie.
Incident at Loch Ness (2004)
Oh good, another great movie on this list. Incident at Loch Ness is a mockumentary made by superhero movie screenwriter Zak Penn and cinema icon Werner Herzog. The movie also stars Penn and Herzog as fictional versions of themselves during the making of a slightly exaggerated Herzogian documentary about the famed Loch Ness Monster, believed to be a prehistoric creature living in a Scottish lake. Anyone unfamiliar with Herzog will be a bit lost on the joke, so do yourself a favor and first watch all of the filmmaker’s nonfiction works. Also see Les Blank’s films about Herzog, including the Fitzcarraldo making-of doc Burden of Dreams, and Orson Welles’ comparable F for Fake while you’re at it. I’m off track, I know, but for good cause.
Piranha 3D (2010)
Firstly, I’d like to point out that I despise this movie and filmmaker Alexandre Aja’s brand of horror. As a reminder, these Movies to Watch lists aren’t all about recommending classics and personal favorites. I also recognize that a lot of other people do like this movie and were hoping The Meg would be more like it, with tongue-in-cheek humor and tons of blood. But The Meg did remind me of Piranha 3D in another way.
A remake of Joe Dante’s classic Roger Corman-produced and John Sayles-scripted B movie about killer fish, Piranha 3D takes delight in trauma rather than scares. For me, if a movie goes beyond the thrill of quick frights and extends the horror so there’s lots of suffering and screaming and crying, that’s gruesome drama rather than fun horror comedy. Turteltaub avoids showing a massacre at a Chinese beach (it’s more implied that a lot of people are eaten by the Megalodon), but he does treat most of the deaths in The Meg with empathy, with characters being emotionally affected in a way we don’t see much in these kinds of films. He should have climaxed with a bloodfest as teased just so he could have taken what Piranha 3D does somewhat accidentally and actually acknowledge it as a harrowing experience.
Deepsea Challenge 3D (2014)
I can’t make a list of movies linked to a film centered around oceanography without mentioning James Cameron. The guy who directed the original Piranha sequel and later The Abyss has made a number of underwater documentaries. They started out as Titanic-inspired expeditions of sunken ships (Expedition: Bismarck, Ghosts of the Abyss) and then sealife explorations (Aliens of the Deep) and led to Deepsea Challenge 3D, a film produced by and starring Cameron documenting the filmmaker’s personal goal of reaching the deepest point in the ocean at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Fortunately, he didn’t have to do so to save the world, and thankfully he didn’t awaken any prehistoric beasts while he was there.