In films, animals are usually featured as pet side characters, portrayed as cute and lovable. But in the horror and thriller genres, they come across as the opposite: predators who are out to get the main characters.
While murderers may have evil motives that drive them to perform wicked acts covered in shadows, wild beasts are different—they have no higher intelligence and they merely act on natural instincts.
Such animals could be "real" animals that are provoked, or they could be genetically enhanced organisms that are unnatural, but the end is always the same: they find themselves preying on humans. And, in some ways, these movies can be even scarier than ghosts and murderers.
From land to sea, here are my picks for the best movies about man against animal(s) and what they must do to survive.
17. Lake Placid (1999)
Directed by Steve Miner
Starring Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt
Action, Comedy, Horror (1h 22m)
Written by David Kelly and directed by Steve Miner, Lake Placid is a cult classic 1999 film about a group of people hunting for a 30-foot-long saltwater crocodile that's terrorizing the fictional town of Black Lake.
Lake Placid was produced by Fox 2000 Pictures with Stan Winston Studios, a well-known special effects creator who worked on predators.
The jump scare elements are perfectly befitting the animal's behavior, as crocodiles normally hunt using surprise attacks. If you're not observant enough, you might never know that a predator is right next to you.
16. The Breed (2006)
Directed by Nicholas Mastandrea
Starring Michelle Rodriguez, Oliver Hudson, Taryn Manning
Action, Comedy, Horror (1h 31m)
The Breed is a 2006 horror film directed by Nicholas Mastandrea, featuring a group of friends who visit an island that two of them inherited from their uncle. The island, however, turns out to be an experimental training ground for genetically enhanced dogs.
Dogs are known to be man's best friend, but in this movie, they're vicious to the point of being one's worst nightmare. Without any other means of survival except to get off the island, the group needs to find their way off before the killer dogs waiting outside get them.
15. Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Directed by David R. Ellis
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies, Nathan Phillips
Action, Adventure, Crime (1h 45m)
Snakes? On a plane? Doesn't sound like much of a threat if they just stay in their cages and chill in the cargo bay. But, of course, things don't always run smoothly in the world of make-believe.
Snakes on a Plane is a 2006 American film directed by David Ellis that centers on an assassination mission that aims to kill a high-profile target by bringing down an entire plane. In a cramped space with no way out, surrounded by snakes, how will the passengers survive?
The movie garnered mixed reviews on release and it only brought in $25 million at the box office, but it later became an internet sensation that spawned all kinds of parodies and fan-made videos.
14. Crawl (2019)
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Starring Kaya Scodelario, Barry Pepper, Morfydd Clark
Action, Adventure, Horror (1h 27m)
Crawl is a 2019 film written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, directed by Alexandre Aja, and produced by Sam Raimi.
The film revolves around the challenges of a daughter and her father together with their dog, who are trapped in their home during a Category 5 hurricane. The deadly hurricane isn't the worst of it—there's also a monster lurking in the water: an alligator.
Crawl got positive reviews for its cinematography, including the CGI-based antagonist, which is undeniably visually appealing.
13. Piranha 3D (2010)
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Starring Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O'Connell, Richard Dreyfuss
Comedy, Horror (1h 28m)
If you think the only things to be afraid of underwater are large beasts, you better think again! Piranhas might be small fish with small bites, but they travel in schools—and a school of them can chew up and devour the flesh of anything that wanders into their territory.
The horror-comedy film Piranha 3D by Alexandre Aja (who also directed Crawl) explores this carnivorous species with a very bloody premise. Yes, it's a remake of the 1978 film Piranha, but it features a modern twist without losing any of the gore from the original film.
In Piranha 3D, a school of killer fish ends up being released from a hidden lake that opened up after an earthquake. Now, these fish are in a feeding frenzy with the people swimming in the lake.
12. Burning Bright (2010)
Directed by Carlos Brooks
Starring Briana Evigan, Charlie Tahan, Garret Dillahunt
Drama, Horror, Thriller (1h 26m)
Burning Bright follows the story of a college girl named Kelly (played by Briana Evigan) and her autistic brother (played by Charlie Tahan) who get trapped inside their house during a hurricane with no way out.
To make matters worse, there's a hungry, striped beast in the house with them. That's right: the premise of Burning Bright is almost identical to the aforementioned Crawl, but instead of an alligator, it's a tiger.
However, this time, their situation isn't caused by a natural disaster but actually a sinister plan meant to get rid of them.
11. The Shallows (2016)
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Angelo Josue Lozano Corzo
Action, Drama, Horror (1h 26m)
The Shallows is a 2016 survival film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by Anthony Jaswinski. This intense movie is about a woman surfer (played by Blake Lively) who's stranded 180 meters from shore while trying to survive a Great White Shark that roams underwater.
This is one of the better shark movies because of its action-packed and dramatic storyline that doesn't compromise on either horror or plot. Unlike other shark movies, The Shallows has minimal screams, which actually heightens the thrills and suspense.
10. The Meg (2018)
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Starring Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson
Action, Horror, Sci-Fi (1h 53m)
The Meg is a 2018 film directed by Jon Turteltaub and starring Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, and Cliff Curtis. It's based on Steve Alten's book, Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror.
The film revolves around the findings of a group of scientists, who discover the 75-foot-long megalodon shark—the largest species of shark to ever exist, which they thought had been long extinct.
If you thought a man-eating Great White Shark was deadly, just imagine how much scarier it would be to encounter this gigantic sea monster that can swallow more than one person in a single gulp.
9. Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)
Directed by Dwight H. Little
Starring Morris Chestnut, KaDee Strickland, Eugene Byrd
Action, Adventure, Horror (1h 37m)
The Anaconda films feature giant anacondas that far exceed what's been recorded in Guinness World Records.
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid is the second installment of the series, but it's a standalone film that's worth watching even if you haven't seen any of the other Anaconda films.
It centers on a group of scientists who go out on a journey to Borneo for the mythical Blood Orchid, which is known to give humans long life. But there's a larger-than-life anaconda that won't make it easy for them.
8. The Swarm (2020)
Directed by Just Philippot
Starring Suliane Brahim, Sofian Khammes, Marie Narbonne
Drama, Horror (1h 41m)
The Swarm is a French horror-drama film about a widow (played by Suliane Brahim) who raises locusts to sell as protein.
When she accidentally discovers that her locusts like blood and flesh—which causes them to become overactive and reproduce rapidly—she greedily exploits it to increase how many locusts she can sell.
These locusts, which are now bloodthirsty, can't kill people and animals on their own—but when they swarm, there's no escaping them.
7. Jaws (1975)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Adventure, Mystery, Thriller (2h 4m)
Does Jaws really need an introduction? This 1975 film directed by Steven Spielberg is one of the most famous movies in the world.
It follows a police chief (played by Roy Scheider), a marine biologist (played by Richard Dreyfuss), and a professional shark hunter (played by Robert Shaw), who are all trying to hunt down a man-eating Great White Shark that's attacking swimmers at a summer resort town.
Jaws was the first major motion picture to be shot on the ocean, and it's still regarded by many as the best film ever made about sharks. It was, unsurprisingly, selected in 2001 by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
This was the film that popularized the survival horror genre with sharks in open waters, and it inspired dozens of other shark films with different approaches and twists—but the original still stands tall.
6. Jurassic Park (1993)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi (2h 7m)
Scientifically speaking, yes, dinosaurs are animals. They once existed and roamed the world millions of years ago, so they definitely count.
In Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, the now-extinct creatures are brought back to the modern world through cloning and genetic manipulation. These cloned dinosaurs are placed in a theme park named Jurassic Park, where people from all over the world can come, see, and tour.
However, a breach in security protocols results in these wild beasts escaping their enclosures, running wild, and threatening the few people remaining on the park's island.
Jurassic Park is based on the novel of the same name, written by Michael Crichton. The success of the film eventually led to the Jurassic World film franchise, but the original is still in a class of its own.
5. Open Water (2003)
Directed by Chris Kentis
Starring Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein
Adventure, Drama, Horror (1h 19m)
Open Water centers on a couple (played by Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) who are left behind by their group on a scuba diving trip. Now they're stranded in the open sea with no signs of help coming.
Of course, being stranded is just one of their problems. They also have sharks waiting beneath the surface, ready to take bites out of them.
As ridiculous as it sounds, this movie is inspired by the real-life story of a couple who were left out at sea. The resulting search-and-rescue operation found their belongings, but not their bodies.
Open Water is one of those films that evokes thalassophobia, so beware if you have any ounce of fear for the ocean and the creatures therein.
4. The Grey (2011)
Directed by Joe Carnahan
Starring Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo
Action, Adventure, Drama (1h 57m)
Dogs might be man's best friend, but they descended from wolves—and wolves are still extremely dangerous. Wolves are one of the greatest apex predators in the wild, and they're especially frightening because they hunt in packs headed by their alpha.
In Joe Carnahan's survival film The Grey, grey wolves are the main problem for John Ottway (played by Liam Neeson) and his group after their plane crash-lands in the frozen Canadian wilderness.
Not only do they have to survive the harsh winter landscape and trek across the frigid terrain, they have to stay alert for the wolves who stalk them, ready to take them down one by one.
All of that would be thrilling enough on its own, but The Grey is further elevated by the internal conflicts between the survivors. How far will you go when your life is at stake and you're backed into a corner?
3. White God (2014)
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó
Starring Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Lili Horvát
Adventure, Drama, Thriller (2h 1m)
With White God, we have yet another film about man's best friend. But unlike other films, which usually involve dogs gone wild from rabies or some other issue, the dogs here are abandoned and mistreated.
Due to their brutal mistreatment at the hands of people, the main dog named Hagen starts an uprising with other dogs, forming a huge army that swarms the streets and causes all kinds of chaos and havoc.
This Hungarian film goes somewhere unique in its tackling of animal brutality, including dog cage fights. We should really treat our pets right, otherwise they may form their own army against us.
2. Backcountry (2014)
Directed by Adam MacDonald
Starring Jeff Roop, Missy Peregrym, Nicholas Campbell
Adventure, Drama, Horror (1h 32m)
The Canadian film Backcountry tells the story of a couple—Alex (played by Jeff Roop) and Jenn (played by Missy Peregrym)—who go hiking for the weekend, but their days together are ruined because they didn't bring a map and they find themselves lost in the wilderness.
What awaits them in the dense forest is a bear who hunts and eats anything in its path, including deer meat and human flesh. It's only a matter of time before it tracks them down.
Alex ignores the red flags and relies too much on his own wits, putting them in grave danger and escalating the tension to unbearable heights.
1. In the Heart of the Sea (2015)
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson
Action, Adventure, Biography (2h 2m)
In the Heart of the Sea is an adventure-drama film directed by Ron Howard that's based on a nonfiction book of the same name by Nathaniel Philbrick. It features the sinking of a whaling ship named Essex in 1820 and the story of its survivors.
After their first action-packed-yet-successful catch of a sperm whale, they travel to farther seas in hopes of catching more. Unfortunately, a large sperm whale—whom some sailors call the "White Devil"—appears and destroys the Essex and kills most of its crew.
The focus of the film is about the remaining crew's survival in the open seas, with limited supplies and no land in sight.