Big muscles. Big budget. A comically big shark. The Meg – where Jason Statham goes to war with a prehistoric shark the size of a battleship - is likely to be both one of the biggest films of the year and also one of the most conveniently overlooked when the summer gives way to winter and the Oscar bait start angling for awards.
Coming soon in Your Universe, our film correspondent Shaun Alexander will be giving you the full rundown of the career of The Meg star Statham. But first, I’m gonna get you in the mood for ocean-set cinema with a recap of some of the best-known…if not always the best…seafaring adventures of the last few decades.
Still one of the most successful films ever made (but no longer anywhere near the most expensive), writer-director James Cameron’s iconic real-life disaster film perfectly captures the emotional tragedy of the infamous 1912 voyage. Unfortunately, it did so by belittling or even vilifying some real life heroes from that night. It also bizarrely chooses to focus on a completely fictional love triangle when there were plenty of human stories on the ship that history could have told. If you can live with all of that, the music still soars, the 1990s special effects have aged quite well, Kate Winslet glows, and the DiCaprio/Zane rivalry is never dull to watch.
The Abyss (1989)
Eight years before Titanic and a whopping 20 years before Avatar, James Cameron preceded both of those hits with this sadly less successful (but no less entertaining) fantasy about friendly marine aliens. The making of this film has to be read about to be believed: the confrontational director reduced macho star Ed Harris to tears, one frustrated crew member went on a car-smashing rampage in the parking lot and when a studio exec visited the set to find out if the horror stories were true, he ended up being dangled over the water tank by Cameron himself - who quickly changed his mind and decided not to soak the mogul after all.
Another accident-prone sci-fi production that ended up costing more than recent blockbusters Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park added together. Forever burdened by a flop tag that it doesn’t deserve, Waterworld is neither as bad as audiences dreaded nor as unsuccessful as is sometimes made out. The story of Kevin Costner’s emotionally detached merman rediscovering his place in post-apocalyptic humanity is a touching one that owes a lot to Mad Max. Unfortunately, Mad Max is better, cheaper and came out first.
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
You could forgive Hollywood for never making a pirate movie again after 1995’s Cutthroat Island, which failed so badly it bankrupted its studio. You could also be forgiven for laughing in a business meeting when someone suggested the source material for this toxic genre would be a Disneyland ride. Yet thanks to the chemistry between Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, a rare Oscar-nominated comedic performance courtesy of Johnny Depp and a Hans Zimmer soundtrack that can only be described as ‘Gladiator on waves’, Pirates of the Caribbean became a career-defining hit for nearly everyone involved. Now, 15 years and multiple sequels later, it’s still easily the best of its series. Much like the last film on our list…
It isn’t just The Meg that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Jaws. The original summer blockbuster, released in 1975, changed Hollywood’s economic model forever and resulted in every other film on this list – as well as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, modern superhero movies and so much more. The story of a hydrophobic police chief (Roy Scheider) confronting his fear of the ocean to protect his community has been rightly criticised by environmentalists; its glamorisation of shark hunting would make this a hugely irresponsible film to release today. But looking back now, it’s clear the real villain isn’t the shark but the town’s Mayor, whose greedy insistence on keeping the beaches open (to the frustration of the police chief) is the only reason the death toll ever rises above 1.
The 1978 sequel is somewhat underrated. But don’t bother with 3 or 4!
The Meg is based on a novel by Steve Alten and will be released on Friday 10 August.