Sharks get all the glory! Yes, Jaws is a bonafide masterpiece, and the salt-water killing machines are almost tailor-made to be action and horror movie antagonists, but large reptiles have been around just as long and can be just as deadly. Sure, crocs, snakes and their cold-blooded brethren are somewhat sluggish, but that hasn't stopped plenty of filmmakers from trying to make them scary. Case in point: Alexandre Aja's just-released Crawl, a lean, mean little thriller about a college student trying to rescue her father from the jaws of ravenous Florida alligators during a hurricane. Unfortunately for fans of the film, big reptile movies are historically terrible, with a few gems glinting among so much muck like the eyes of a lurking maneater in a midnight swamp. Still, as genre lovers know, "bad" can be lots of fun, and below are ten films to watch if you find yourself with a hankering for more thrills of the scaly variety.
10 Lake Placid (1999 )
Tasked with looking into the mysterious and violent death of a man in a Maine Lake, game warden Jack Wells (Bill Pullman) teams up with a paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) and local Sheriff Hank Keough to figure out the cause. Examining a tooth leads them to a cocodile-like monster ready and primed to consume everything in its path. As directed by Friday the 13th series stalwart Steve Miner, Lake Placid is a gory, pithy, tongue-in-cheek late 90s creature feature cut from the same cloth as the monster movies of the 50s golden era.
9 Rogue (2007)
This croc adventure stars Alias’ Michael Vartan as an Amerian travel journalist on a river cruise with a bunch of fellow tourists that goes disastrously wrong when the boat’s guide (Radha Mitchell) tries to rescue locate a missing vessel. From the director of infamous Aussie shocker Wolf Creek, Rogue takes its time, setting up a bevy of solid characters and soaking in its location photography before unleashing watery, toothy, thrashy terror upon the small vessel.
Vartan shows why he was a celeb for the noughties only, but Mitchell is a likable and badass lead, and Sam Worthington shows up for a short but impactful supporting turn as her skeezy former beau.
8 Eaten Alive (1976)
Tobe Hooper’s follow-up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre tells the story of a psychotic veteran named Judd (Neville Brand) who owns a sleazy, ramshackle motel in the Louisana bayou, and has a nasty habit of impaling his guests with a pitchfork and feeding them to his pet gator. A truly strange little chiller that deftly bestrides the killer hillbilly/animal attack subgenres, Hooper’s film has a stage-bound feel (plenty of fog and lurid lighting) that makes it an acquired taste, but never less than intriguing. Keep your eyes peeled for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Robert Englund as a patron of the local whorehouse in the film’s opening minutes.
7 Alligator (1980)
When a baby alligator is flushed down a toilet, it survives by munching on irresponsibly discarded medical waste in the form of growth hormone packed lab rats. When a world-weary Chicago detective (Robert Forster) is tasked with investigating the deaths of sewer workers, he’ll have to stop the gigantic reptile before it can take its reign of terror to the city’s streets. Obviously taking inspiration from the urban legend about gators in the NYC sewers, Alligator is one of the best Jaws knock-offs, and was penned by John Sayles who also write Piranha, the gold-standard for that type of derivative film. Much like that movie, it strikes just the right tone between goofy and terrifying for an all-around good time.
6 Killer Crocodile (1989)
After being exposed to huge amounts of toxic chemicals, an abnormally large crocodile picks off a group of friends investigating the environmentally unsound practices of a local operation. Italian filmmakers of the 1980s made ripping off American properties an art form, and Killer Crocodile is especially notable as a ripoff of a ripoff, coming a comically tardy fifteen years after Jaws chomped through cinemas and almost a decade after Alligator. Exciting and typically graphic gore scenes are underscored by a typically excellent Riz Ortolani score and bolstered by that oh-so-Italian restless camera work. A true-blue guilty pleasure that will make you wonder why Spaghetti Animal Attack isn’t a subgenre unto itself.
5 Primeval (2007)
Spurred by the recent death of a woman investigating a mass grave, veteran reporter Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell) heads to the African country of Burundi to track down "the most prolific serial killer in history": A gigantic crocodile responsible for the deaths of hundreds of humans over the decades. Not only must Tim go toe-to-toe with the bloodthirsty beast, but there's the small issue of a warlord complicating matters.
Michael Katleman's mess of a film pulled an infamous bait-and-switch for those hoping to witness some serial killer action and instead got a 25-foot-crocodile, though dishonesty is the least of this flick's problems. With a subplot about Civil War in Africa that totally lacks in anything resembling specificity, it's all too obvious that this was padded beyond measure when the croc stuff only took up about twenty minutes of the overall runtime. Still, for killer croc fans, it doesn't pay to be choosy.
4 The Giant Gila Monster (1959)
When the bodies of two supposed runaway teens are located in a nearby creek, a small Texas town discovers that there’s a massive lizard roaming the desert nearby. A dyed in the wool of example of everything delightful and ridiculous about the 1950s giant monster crazy, The Giant Gila Monster offers corny action, hot rod races, and a more-cuddly-than-scary giant beast for fun Sunday afternoon viewing. It was also the subject of an episode of the always wonderful MST3K!
3 Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus (2010)
In this sequel to the already ludicrous Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, the monstrous prehistoric shark that audiences previously witnessed doing battle with a giant cephalopod now must face off against a towering African crocodile. A SyFy channel style schlocker with effects to match, Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus is nevertheless more palatable than the ironic-minded recent output of that channel as it at least pretends at earnestness. Giving viewers exactly what it promises in the title, Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus is bottom of the barrel entertainment that wears that distinction proudly.
2 Sssssss (1973)
Strapped for cash, college student David Blake (Dirk Benedict) becomes a lab assistant to snake expert Dr. Carl Stoner (Strother Martin), who starts giving David a series of antibiotics to protect him against potential snakebites. At the start, he thinks this is merely a precaution, but he and Stoner’s daughter soon start noticing bizarre physical changes in his body. Taking the “big reptile” idea in an entirely different and freakish direction, Sssssss combines Frankenstein/mad science tropes with the monster movie for a wholly unique and eerie time at the cinema. And what a great and instructive tagline: “Don’t say it, Hiss it!”
1 Anaconda (1997)
Filmmaker Terri Fores and her camera crew are searching the Amazon jungle to locate a long-lost tribe. They come across a stranger named Paul (Jon Voight) stranded on a riverbank who promises to help them locate the tribe if they help him. But all too quickly, Paul’s strange behavior tips them off to the fact that he’s using the expedition to find and catch a legendary and deadly anaconda. This fairly braindead Clinton Era actioner has aged into itself despite the quickly degrading special effects. Though it’s all played straight, everything from the ugly-as-sin snake to Voight’s off-color performance as a South American man with a wandering accent makes Anaconda a camptastic jungle romp.