Tales From The Deep: The Best Scary Movies with Fish


Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Let’s dive into the greatest scary fish horror movies. What is true, and what’s false, about sharks, piranhas, and other fish?

A while ago, I had a visit to Aquazoo Düsseldorf, a museum and zoo with a variety of fish, mammals, reptiles, and other small animals. In one of the aquariums, I saw a group of piranha fish. This, naturally, made me think about horror movies.

As I have already written in my post about The Last of Us and zombie cockroaches, I am a huge horror fan. As a kid in the early 1990s, I used to watch lots of horror movies. Some of the most memorable movies involved animals: Shakma (1990) the baboon, Jaws (1975), and Piranha (1978). Back then, these movies were not only fun to watch (as they still are today) but actually scared me (now, it’s a bit more difficult).

So, what made them so awesome?

Greatest Fish in Horror Movies

The underlying fears in horror movies are varied. Abandoned places, stranger danger, monsters and predators, and so on. As Caroll L. Fry analyses in her book “Primal Roots of Horror Cinema”, these topics tap into some of the most relevant dangers for us as humans, or at least those we faced in our evolutionary past.

These naturally scary topics, combined with some great filmmaking skills, created one of the best scary movies, Jaws. Here is an explanation from a moviemaker perspective.

Piranha, though not as critically acclaimed as Jaws, was still a good fun horror. Years later, by the way, came Piranha 3D (2010). I still haven’t watched it, though.

Horror Movies vs. Reality

Horror movies, like movies and TV in general, can shape our perception of different topics, such as the nature of wild animals. Fun aside, it’s important to remember that sharks, piranhas, or any other animal, are not bloodthirsty and aggressive as seen on the screen. So, here are some fish facts.


Here is a beautiful shark I saw while visiting the Underwater observatory in Eilat, Israel. If I remember correctly, it was a reef shark. We’ll talk about the great white shark, though.

sharks in horror movies

The great white shark is a large shark found in the coasts of all major oceans, with high concentrations in the United States, South Africa, Japan, Oceania, Chile, and the Mediterranean. Great whites are not a purely coastal species, though, and they inhabit the deep blue sea as well.  On average, male sharks measure 3.4 to 4.0 m (11 to 13 ft), and females measure 4.6 to 4.9 m (15 to 16 ft). Males reach sexual maturity at around the age of 25 and females after the age of 30. They are apex predators; only the orca, in really rare cases, can predate on great white sharks.

And let’s not forget about the role of humans, of course. Great white sharks are listed as a vulnerable species and are protected by several national governments.

Learn about Animals, Nature, and Photography

Jaws – first the novel, then the film – portrayed the great white shark as a vicious man eater. But in fact, their diet is based on fish, seals, turtles, otters, seabirds, and not humans. True, sharks – in particular great whites – do attack, and sometimes kill, people, but those cases are rare and mostly non-fatal. From 1990 to 2011 there have been 139 unprovoked great white shark bite incidents, 29 of which were fatal.

When you see the size and teeth on that fish, you might wonder, how come these attacks are not fatal more often? Some researchers suggested that sharks dislike the taste of the human flesh. Humans have too many bones, not enough protein and fat (compare them to seals, for example). This is a challenge to the shark’s slow digestive system, so it breaks off contact after the first taste-bite. Another possibility is that humans, unlike other prey, are just more able to escape after the first attack. This is true in particular when they don’t swim alone and can get help from others.

If regular sharks are not fascinating and horrifying enough for you, the cinema made some extra-sharks for your entertainment: intelligent sharks (like Deep Blue See, 1999), huge prehistoric sharks (The Meg, 2018), and, yes, flying storm sharks (Sharknado, 2013).

I prefer the more realistic horror, such as depicted in movies like Open Water (2004) and 47 Meters Down (2017). The terror there is so easy to relate to, it is truly terrifying.

Now, let’s talk about a way smaller fish but equally vicious, at least according to horror cinema: the piranha.


Unlike sharks, piranha are tiny fish: most piranhas grow to between 12 and 35 cm (5–14 in) long. They are freshwater fish, inhabiting South American rivers, floodplains, lakes, and reservoirs. Like other fish, they can group in schools or shoals as protection from predators, such as large birds, caimans, and dolphins.

Here’s how a school of piranhas looks like, according to my imagination and the AI tool Midjourney.

Piranhas in horror movies

Piranhas are actually omnivorous, not purely carnivores, and eat both fish and plants. They can attack humans, but their attacks are rarely fatal. Attacks are more likely to occur when the fish are stressed (for instance, due to overcrowding and lack of food in the dry season), when there’s a commotion, splashing, or an already injured victim in the water. You can read more about it here.

What Are The Best Scary Movies?

The deep blue sea (or the Amazon, for that matter) has many scary creatures apart from sharks and piranhas. Here are some additional splashy horror movies, involving fish and other water dwellers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, what do you think are the greatest animal horror movies?


Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top