Across her diverse filmography, Blake Lively has hung tough against the menaces of gun-toting criminals (The Town, Hick, Savages), mean rich teens (Gossip Girl), aging (The Age of Adaline), moving away from your friends (the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants films), and being in Green Lantern (Green Lantern). Yet her latest project — the watery survival flick The Shallows — will pit the actress against her deadliest foe yet. After a surfing incident strands the starlet on a solitary outcropping of rock, a hungry shark encircles her as the tide rises. Teen soap opera alumna vs. the ocean’s most lethal predator – the eternal battle continues to rage.
But while the shark remains cinema’s most iconic natural killer, the rest of the wild and woolly animal kingdom has enjoyed their respective moments in the bloodstained spotlight. And as in nature, the animal kingdom follows an immutable pecking order in the cinema. We’ve laid out a highly scientific taxonomy of murderous animals, from frog to fowl.
Spotted in: The Revenant, The Edge, Grizzly
Most gruesome attack: A defensive mama Grizzly mauls trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) to within an inch of his life in The Revenant — and while rumors of ursine rape turned out to be greatly exaggerated, director Alejando Gonzalez Iñarritu holds nothing back in the total brutalization of his movie’s fur-trapper hero. Then just when Glass and the audience think the entire ordeal has finally ended, the bear clomps back for seconds and tears his back muscles to ribbons. (To think, there wasn’t even a pic-a-nic basket involved.)
Danger Factor: Because Movie Law dictates that all chase scenes set in forests must include at least one character tripping over a tree root, the odds do not look good for anyone going hand-to-paw against nature’s war tank.
Overall rating: 6
Spotted in: The Shallows, Open Water, Jaws, the five dozen ripoffs that mimicked Jaws‘ formula
Most gruesome attack: Jaws is to animal-attack cinema what “Stairway to Heaven” is to rock & roll, and the scene that finally reveals the chomping, animatronic head of the villainous fish is its celestial guitar solo. The buggy pneumatic shark robbed the production of time and money with its malfunctions (some crew members jokingly referred to the shoot as Flaws), but the total absence of life in the prop’s eyes actually works in the blockbuster’s favor. It’s devoid of all feeling — a literal machine with an unthinking brain set permanently to “EAT.”
Danger Factor: As amply shown in Finding Nemo, once a shark gets even the slightest whiff of Type O in the water, they become a jonesing addict. Their bloodlust has made them avatars of death in the semiotic dictionary of cinema, whether as the lackeys of Bond villains or debris spewed from a Z-grade tornado. It doesn’t matter that America sees a grand total of one shark-related fatality every two years. Ever since Steven Spielberg invented the modern blockbuster, we’ve been afraid to go back in the water.
Overall rating: 9
Spotted in: Anaconda, Snakes on a Plane, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Slither
Most gruesome attack: It’s not particularly graphic, but no serpent scene is as memorable as Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s run-in. Why’d it have to be snakes, he asks? Well, because pop culture has always cast these slithering reptiles as untrustworthy, malicious types, starting with the slippery trickster that conned Eve into throwing away her perfect setup back in Eden. Indiana Jones worked with big, immediate iconography, and no critter sends viewers back to their childhood like a tightly-coiled snake.
Danger Factor: Herpetologists have driven themselves to the brink of insanity with their endless refrain that #NotAllSnakes are venomous, but the movies have no use for the garden-variety garden snakes. The unpredictability in their erratic slither and creepy lithe bodies was enough to drive Sam Jackson to the end of his rope during a red-eye.
Overall rating: 8
Spotted in: Eight-Legged Freaks, Kingdom of the Spiders, Tarantula, Arachnophobia
Most gruesome attack: Lucio Fulci’s cult horror masterwork The Beyond threw a heaping helping of arachnids into its gore-buffet during one scene that joins a librarian just before he topples off a ladder and passes out on the floor. Naturally, a plague of tarantulas materialize in the room and slowly eat the flesh from the poor guy’s bones, with Day-Glo corn syrup spurting by the bucket. It’s not about the blood, though — it’s the discomfiting sensation of many tiny legs crawling on your bare arm that stays with you.
Danger Factor: This one’s tricky: some spider-movies accept the tiny monsters as they are; others consider superpowered behemoth spiders to pose a greater threat. Regular spiders rank as a five, lethal en masse but individually nothing a rolled-up copy of Rolling Stone can’t handle. Megaspiders would be a seven, however, capable of doing plenty of harm but lacking the usual creepy-crawly stealth.
Overall Rating: 6
Spotted in: The Swarm, Them!, The Fly
Most gruesome attack: The scene most accurately capturing the extreme displeasure of infestation would have to be the infamous Creepshow segement “They’re Creeping Up on You, in which E.G. Marshall’s pest-phobic citydweller must confront a horde of roaches in his luxury apartment. In the end, the little bastards overwhelm him, giving him a fatal heart attack. The sequence then ends with … we can’t even write it. Let’s just say he makes a great host.
Danger Factor: Creature features send in the bugs by the swarmload, positing the inescapability of a furious flying cloud as a self-evident terror. But a well-placed bite from a single agent can be just as chilling for its nonchalance, so pick your poison.
Overall Rating: 5
Spotted in: Pet Sematary, Roar, Life of Pi
Most gruesome attack: The cult item Roar contains so many astonishing instances of bona fide feline violence that choosing any one over the other would be a disservice. In 1981, spouses Tippi Hedren and Noel Marshall packed up the rest of the family (including daughter Melanie Griffith) to shoot a family-friendly flick about the importance of wildlife conservation, using their lives on a lion preservation as a basis for the story. Over the 11-year production process, a lion nearly scalped Hedren, another gave Griffith 50 stitches to the face, and Marshall took so many wounds that he eventually developed gangrene. Over 70 members of the cast and crew sustained injuries from their feline costars, most of which remain in the unbelievable final cut. That this film exists at all qualifies as a minor miracle.
Danger Factor: Congratulations, Disney, your cutesy pro-lion propaganda worked. Even when movies frame apex predators as the primary antagonist of a story, the hero can always access a tender humanity deep inside by tenderly placing a hand on a panther’s giant face or making meaningful eye contact with a grunting tiger. There’s a lot of bluster in their roars, but these big cats end up as softies (so long as humans are writing the script – see above).
Overall Rating: 4
Spotted in: Frogs, Croaked, Magnolia, Hell Comes to Frogtown
Most gruesome attack: After amphibious abominations of Hell Comes to Frogtown capture a rebel band of human survivors, this campy dystopia’s water-dwelling freaks shock Rowdy Roddy Piper’s genitals using an electrified codpiece attached to him earlier in the film. (Don’t worry about it.) The scene’s hard to watch, but only partially out of secondhand twinges of pain. Mostly, it’s just embarrassment on the behalf of everyone tied up in the best worst apocalyptic-frog-sex-comedy ever made.
Danger Factor: Sure, frogs are dangerous when unnatural forces mutate them into mammoth sizes, but what isn’t? A giant freakish Corgi could probably destroy Tokyo; it doesn’t make it a ferocious hunter. The canon of frog-based horror never caught on in the mainstream for good reason, which is that these creatures tend to live mellow, unobtrusive lives. Even the poisonous frogs aren’t particularly aggressive, passively hopping around until someone dumb enough to eat them wanders along. Come back, Kermit, all is forgiven.
Overall Rating: 1
Spotted in: Alligator, Lake Placid, Eaten Alive
Most gruesome attack: Like the Jaws of croc-schlock with a welcome dash of knowing comedy, Lake Placid pitted the denizens of sleepy Black Lake, Maine against a pair of gigantic crocodiles. The most ambitious attempt to lure the behemoths out inflates fishing to comically oversized proportions, using a copter to dangle a cow above the lake like bait. This doesn’t go so hot for the crafty humans, as the croc snaps its jaws onto the cow and then proceeds to drag the copter down into the lake with it. Hooking a catch is easy, but reeling it in can be perilous work.
Danger Factor: The classic gator attack – a quick, unanticipated lunge from the water at some poor creature slurping at the shoreline – amounts to nature’s equivalent of a jump scare, and once those teeth have clamped onto a victim, the game’s over. Gators and croc habitats are specific enough that projects set in the American south, parts of the Amazon, the Nile and central Africa, or India use them as set-dressing. Underutilized, sure, but still capable of tearing an unlucky redneck clean in half.
Overall Rating: 8
Spotted in: The Birds, Birdemic, The Vulture
Most gruesome attack: Hitchcock could make anything at all into a totem of fear, from glasses of milk to shower drains. The Birds, certainly the high-water mark of avian horror, rendered the winged assassins like a force of nature bringing death from the sky, as omnipresent as air pollution. The onslaught of pecking that closes out the film ranks among the master’s finest sequences, as birds programmed to search and destroy divebomb through Tippi Hedren’s puny insulation and stream into her house with the force of a flood. They’re flying and they’re everywhere.
Danger Factor: Even though birds look gawky and harmless up close, a sharp beak nipping at exposed skin while whipping around a helpless victim can do serious damage. It’s important to note, however, that whether a bird is evil or friendly depends almost entirely upon its breed. There’s a weirdly arbitrary but well-founded precedent for this, characterizing vultures, crows, and most hawks as killers (the whole “birds of prey” rep may have something to do with it), and doves, owls, and pigeons as harmless, if not pure of heart.
Overall Rating: 6
Spotted in: White God, Cujo, D is for Dogfight
Most gruesome attack: No dog has a higher kill count than Stephen King’s canine hellion Cujo. A bite from a rabid bat drives the Trenton clan’s darling St. Bernard insane with insatiable rage, and the most chilling sequence looses him on the town sheriff, called to put the bad dog down. There’s a terrible grace in the single movement with which Cujo leaps at him, takes the lawman off his feet, and immediately goes to work on the man’s viscera. Director Lewis Teague shoots the scene with immodest close-ups that linger on the flying guts, but the viewer’s focus remains on the real star, that bloodthirsty hound.
Danger Factor: Man’s best friend can also be his worst enemy, but characters can dispatch dogs without too much hassle. No animal has been as thoroughly anthropomorphized as the cherished pooch, and so many films reflect audiences’ gut rejection of violence towards them. This makes the small but hardy contingent of dog-terror doubly affecting, adding a layer of sullied sentimental attachment to the present dangers of a Rottweiler pounce.
Overall Rating: 5