Lakes. Rivers. Ponds. Oceans. Shallows. Seas. No matter the body of water, our cultural obsession with what lies beneath has spawned some of the most frightening cinematic scenarios. Jaws set the tone in 1975 for the water-based creature feature, and in subsequent decades, other filmmakers have sought to ruin any remaining sense of comfort for swimmers, surfers, boaters, and floaters.
The films on this list will make you think twice about taking that quick dip. Hold your breath and dive in, if you dare.
A salvage company in the Bering Sea stumbles upon a vessel lost 40 years prior under mysterious circumstances. After finding gold worth millions aboard the SS Antonia Graza, the convoy sets its sights on claiming the treasure. Their efforts are thwarted by a series of supernatural events. Staged like a classic ghost story set on the high seas, 2002's Ghost Ship uses slaying, seduction, and betrayal to advance its narrative.
Gabriel Byrne and Desmond Harrington bring their signature devilish charm to their roles as members of the salvage crew. Excess carnage and special effects make the visual elements of the movie the most memorable.
Joe Dante's 1978 Piranha sired an entire genre of campy horror films where screaming college kids are ravaged in the water by various known and unknown forces. There is no fish too small, and no body of water too shallow. Tight bikinis and bloodied bodies dot the landscape in this movie, where militarized piranha designed as tools of combat during the Vietnam conflict wreak havoc on local rivers and lakes as they make their way to the ocean. These little flesh-eating fish work together to speedily strip their targets to the bone. Can they be stopped before they spread all over the world?
Piranha's cult status persists to this day. Sequels and remakes abound, and the piranha's reputation has been forever tainted.
What's the worst thing that could happen when an underwater mining crew discovers a sunken Soviet ship during an expedition? Turns out that would be spreading a mutagen mixed in with a bottle of vodka, a mutagen that transforms the crew into vile sea creatures intent upon infecting or destroying everything in sight. This is the plot of Leviathan, another deep-sea narrative about the negative consequences of scientific manipulation.
With a cast including Peter Weller and Ernie Hudson, a screenplay co-authored by Blade Runner's David Peoples, and creature effects managed by Oscar-winner Stan Winston, Leviathan has all the elements to achieve true terror. The slasher movie pacing, culminating with a final monster reveal, matches the mental and physical deterioration of the crew as they cope with their submerged crisis.
Dagon is Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon's 2001 take on an H.P. Lovecraft short story about an ancient Semitic god affiliated with fertility. Ezra Godden plays a stockbroker hounded by dreams of a mermaid with razor teeth. He comes face-to-face with this creature while vacationing with his girlfriend in Spain. Filled with cavernous depths, slimy beasts, and cult worship, Dagon questions our assumptions about what the ocean contains with a metaphysical fervor.
The film exists in the margins between reality and fantasy. Its characters are forced to plunge head-first into intense, wet reverie.