Movie Feature

Movies with teeth: Sharks vs. Piranhas

By Cinema OnlineMovies - 12 June 2012 4:03 PM

Movies with teeth: Sharks vs. Piranhas

Who’s the meanest, baddest fish in the water?

Since the release of ’Jaws’ in 1975, it’s never really been safe to go back into the water. Horror movies of the deep have continued to capture some of our worst fears (and wet fantasies), like going skinny-dipping in an abandoned pool. The thrill of frolicking freely naked is coupled with the fear of what may lurk in the crevasses at the bottom of the pool.  

Besides venturing into unknown waters, watching people getting ripped to shreds by ferocious flesh-eating fish is another feature of water horror that delights fans. And when nasty piranha nips share the screen with decapitating shark bites, it becomes a bloody contest over which fish emerges the biggest killer. To see where things stand, we dive into the deadly waters of the movie world to evaluate which of these two classic fish predators come up on top in a five round fight.


Round 1: Who’s Meaner?

Although sharks were movieland’s first marine mean machine, thanks to Steven Spielberg’s ’Jaws’, not all sharks that have appeared on the big-screen have been blood-seeking torpedoes.

Lenny the vegetarian shark (voiced by Jack Black) from ’Shark Tales’ is one perfect example of a shark that was not made to be a man-eater. Also, the mantra of Bruce the Great White Shark from ’Finding Nemo’—a chant that goes ‘Fish are friends, not food’—reinforces this notion that sharks in movies have perhaps been unduly typecast as bloodthirsty killers.

On the other hand, piranhas in movies have always been nothing but carnivores. The only problem for them was getting out of the gate. The movies ’Piranha’ (1978), ’Piranha 2’ (1981), and the most recent ’Piranha 3D’ (2010) started with piranhas being trapped in some kind of secret enclosure, until something broke loose, along with all hell. Once let out, piranhas just chewed up any flesh in their way.

Winner: Piranhas, because they’d bite anybody’s face off without having second thoughts.

Round 2: Who Devours the Box Office?

While fishermen weigh their fishes in pounds, movie execs weigh their catch in the amount of the ‘ka-ching’ they bring home from the box office.

Piranhas may have reached deep into moviegoers’ pockets with ’Piranha 3D’ grossing over US $83 million in 2010, but they have a lot of catching up to do with shark movies, which have been swimming in cash for a long time.

Although ‘Piranha 3D’ made breakfast out of its most recent competitor, ‘Shark Night 3D’ that only grossed US $40 million worldwide by the end of its run, it came nowhere close to beating the grandfather of marine killers, ’Jaws’, which grossed over US $470 million by the time it was done, and that was back in 1975!

The ’Jaws’ franchise continued to rake in big profits with ’Jaws 2’ (US $208 million), but finally plunged with the dismal performance of ‘Jaws 3’ (US $87 million) and ‘Jaws 4’ (US $71 million). Other top-selling shark movies were Renny Harlin’s ‘Deep Blue Sea’ (US $165 million) and the true-story adaptation ‘Open Water’ (US $54 million).

Winner: Sharks,because the money that came out of piranhas was just shark bait.


Round 3: And the award goes to …

Almost equally as important as box office victories, is industry recognition for a good kill. Movie careers have been built on shark and piranha slayings, notably those of two beloved directors; Steven Spielberg and James Cameron.

Some might not know that Cameron’s real debut film was a piranha flick, ‘Piranha 2: The Spawning’, that paved the way for his blockbuster ‘Terminator’ even though ‘Piranha 2’ itself faded away into obscurity. 

‘Jaws’ took home several awards at the 1976 Oscars: ‘Best Editing’, ‘Best Sound’ and ‘Best Soundtrack’ which comprised some of the most recognizable tunes by Spielberg’s longtime composer John Williams.

While ‘Jaws’ went out to be well-received by critics and is still hailed as one of the director’s classics, Cameron’s ‘Piranha 2’ became so overshadowed by ‘Terminator’ that Cameron himself would tout the latter as his first feature film.

Winner: Sharks, because they rose to the surface in the sea of awards, while piranhas sank to the bottom of the ocean waiting.


Round 4: Who is more highly evolved?   

Evolution has played a big part in shark and piranha movies. In some movies it meant sharks growing big enough to swallow their victims whole, while in others it has meant some forgotten pre-historic monster emerging as an almost un-kill-able freak of nature.

But sharks were quite highly evolved to begin with. They have been such efficient killers that there was really no need to fine tune them further (although ‘Seefood’ attempted to by giving sharks amphibious legs). ‘Megalodon’ (2002) took a different turn and went primal, unearthing a pre-historic whale-sized ancestor of sharks that had lain trapped in a parallel ocean universe until an oil rig drill broke its seal.

Meanwhile piranhas have embraced natural selection and have burst out of the water to take to the skies. Yes, you read that right. Piranhas can fly! At least in ‘Piranha 2: The Spawning’ they could. Genetically bred with flying fish, the piranha hybrid in that movie made both getting out of as well as into the water a treacherous thing.

Winner: Piranhas, because they adapted best to survive.

Final Round: Who reigns in 3D?

What is better than a shark or piranha movie? A shark or piranha movie in 3D! If there is one way to enhance the experience of seeing people getting chewed to bits, it is to witness this in 3-dimensional glory, blood spurting in your face and all.

Using 3D technology to shoot shark and piranha movies isn’t new. In fact, it is older than you think. Long before 3D became a buzzword of the 21st century and ‘Piranha 3D’ and ‘Shark Night 3D’ were made, there was already a ‘Jaws 3D’ from 1983. This second sequel to the original ‘Jaws’ was actually one of the earliest predecessors of 3D movies, but as 3D was not mainstream back then, the movie flopped. (It was not directed by Spielberg.)

Piranhas are now upping the 3D ante with ‘Piranha 3DD’. The second D is TriDelta (we know some of you were hoping it was cup-size), a 3D shooting system from Paradise FX. This system allows a movie to be fully shot in 3D, rather than be converted to 3D post shoot, like 3D movies typically are.

The sharks need to catch up here. Maybe they think 3D stands for Delicious Delicate Diver.

Winner: Piranhas, who are more devious in the third dimension


Overall winner: Piranhas

It was a close fight, but we have crowned piranhas the deadlier, meaner, more vicious and bloodthirsty of the two. These small crazy predators out-kill sharks anytime, who may be bigger and heavier but who also have a soft side to them.


'Piranha 3DD' opens in theatres 14 June