Piranha (1978) - Rotten Tomatoes


Piranha (1978)




Critic Consensus: Performed with a wink and directed with wry self-awareness, Piranha is an unabashed B-movie with satirical bite.

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Movie Info

The sophomore effort for director Joe Dante, a future protégé of Steven Spielberg, this low-budget, high-camp horror spoof of Jaws (1977) features several chiller stars of yesteryear. Insurance investigator Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) is dispatched to find two missing teenage hikers near Lost River Lake. She hires surly backwoods drunkard Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) to serve as her guide. Searching the area, they find an abandoned military facility. The only resident is Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy), former head of a top-secret project to breed piranha for use in the Vietnam War. The project was closed down years ago, but Hoak has continued raising a deadly strain of the flesh-eating fish. When Hoak is knocked unconscious, Maggie and Paul accidentally release the piranha into a local river, which leads to the lake where a children's summer camp and a newly opened tourist resort will provide plenty of fish food for the hungry predators. Maggie and Paul race to warn the locals, but their pleas fall on skeptical ears, such as those of resort owner Buck Gardner (Dick Miller) -- until the piranha reach the swimmers. Piranha (1978) was co-written by John Sayles, making his motion picture debut. ~ Karl Williams, Rovi

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Bradford Dillman
as Paul Grogan
Heather Menzies
as Maggie McKeown
Kevin McCarthy
as Dr. Robert Hoak
Dick Miller
as Buck Gardner
Barbara Steele
as Dr. Mengers
Bruce Gordon
as Col. Waxman
Barry Brown
as Trooper
Shawn Nelson
as Whitney
Janie Squire
as Barbara
Guich Koock
as Pitchman
Jack Pauleson
as In Canoe
Eric Henshaw
as Father in Canoe
Hill Farnsworth
as Water Skier
Bruce Barbour
as Man in Boat
Robyn Ray
as Screaming Woman
John Sayles
as Tom, sentry guarding tent
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News & Interviews for Piranha

Critic Reviews for Piranha

All Critics (26) | Top Critics (2)

Of all the late '70s-early '80s Jaws knockoffs, none balanced tongue-in-cheek humor with out-and-out gore as deftly as Joe Dante's Piranha.

January 10, 2006 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…

Even Jaws director Steven Spielberg counts himself among the film's fans.

October 26, 2021 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

The actual attack sequences are fairly convincing, using rapid cuts, panicked thrashing, inserts of toothy fish picking at flesh, lots of blood, and frenzied sound effects.

August 30, 2020 | Rating: 5/10 | Full Review…

Fans of the recent retreads should check this out to cover their grounds.

June 4, 2012 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Essentially, Piranha is the best example of how to do a B-movie knockoff.

January 9, 2011 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Extremely gory Jaws rip-off is too much for kids.

August 24, 2010 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Piranha


Despite showing early signs of Dante's peculiar sense of humor (the ululating sound made by the piranhas is a hilarious example), this spoof of Jaws (or as Roger Corman put it, his "homage" to that classic) did not resist well the effect of time, looking pretty trashy and silly today.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

This obvious rip-off of the original "Jaws" was one of the biggest cult films to come out of the exploitative genre, and it's even memorable enough to have been remade in 2010. Unlike the remake it's actually got a fairly interesting plot, as these mutant piranhas are let into a stream by a good intentioned investigator (Menzies) and a drunk fisherman (Dillman). They attack everyone from camp counselors to kids, to a beach of people, all to the chagrin of the two who are trying to warn everybody about the advancement of these beasts. The story is a little lame because we're just watching these two trying to tell everybody that there are piranhas and no one listens to them, and therefore the piranhas attack and hurt everyone. The army knows about it but they don't seem to understand basic science, so they kind of let it happen. There's a very open ending and it trails off near the end, so it's not the best story, but then again, you're not watching for that, are you?

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer


Feeling like a replica of Jaws at times, Piranha takes all the fun out of suspense horrors, but having terrible actors at their disposal and a script that anyone could have written. The kill setups are atrocious and the piranha attacks are filmed very unevenly, but it can be fun to watch at times. Once the iconic massacre scene happens, the movie picks up a bit of steam, but overall, it is a very poorly put together film. I feel that it is meant to be a bad film, spoofing these types of movies, but that didn't help the fact that I laughed during ever death. This film had too much going for it, for what it turned out to be. "Piranha" is one film that I will never forget, but for all the wrong reasons. Joe Dante hit a speed bump in his career with this film. Everything about this movie screams bad, but I think that is what they intended, so I will cut it some slack. It's a fun watch one time around, but that is all!

KJ Proulx
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer

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