The Last Shark (Italian: L'Ultimo squalo; given a brief theatrical release in the United States under the title Great White) is a 1980 movie directed by Enzo G. Castellari. It was given a PG rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. Although The Last Shark is an Italian production and was filmed on location in Malta, the movie was given an American setting in order to give it greater international box office appeal. The American actors James Franciscus and Vic Morrow star as Peter Benton and Ron Hammer.
The film was clearly made to cash in on the popularity of Jaws and its plot follows that of the 1975 movie closely. A small coastal town is preparing to hold an event which is expected to attract a lot of visitors. When rumors start to circulate that there is a man-eating shark in the area, the mayor wants the news covered up and insists that the event go ahead as planned. The mayor's plan backfires when the shark claims another victim during the event. Concerned local citizen Peter Benton and his friend Ron Hammer, an experienced shark hunter, (who looks almost identical to the character of Quint from Jaws) go out in search of the beast. Peter eventually saves the town by blowing up the monstrous fish. The Last Shark differs from Jaws in that its central character Peter Benton, unlike Martin Brody, his equivalent character in Jaws, is a writer and not the chief of police, therefore, he is not personally responsible for the safety of the entire town. Another difference is that Mayor William Wells is a much more sympathetic character than Larry Vaughan, his equivalent in Jaws. Although William Wells wants news of the shark kept quiet to avoid panic, he takes appropriate safety precautions as soon as possible and eventually bravely goes out in pursuit of the shark himself.
The Last Shark also has some similarities to Jaws 2, released shortly before the film was made, in that a lot of screen time is devoted to the local teenagers, minor characters find themselves cast adrift and the shark attacks a helicopter.
When the film was released in the United States, Universal Pictures sued its makers for plagiarism of Jaws. Universal won the case and the movie was promprly pulled from theaters. It has not been legally shown in movie theaters in North America since 1981, it has never been shown on North American television and has never been legally released on home video in North America, although it has been in several other countries.
The Last Shark was released in Spain as Tiburón 3, which literally means "Shark 3" but, since Jaws and Jaws 2 were released in Spain as Tiburón and Tiburón 2 respectively, the film's Spanish distributors were clearly trying to pass it off as the third official movie in the "Jaws" franchise. The movie was released in Japan as Jaws Returns.
Shark footage used in The Last Shark was used again in another Jaws rip-off movie, the 1995 film Cruel Jaws.
The action takes place in the summer in a small seaside town on the east coast of the United States. The town is preparing to mark its bicentenary with celebrations which Mayor William Wells hopes will increase his chances of being elected state governor in November. The celebrations are due to begin with a windsurfing competition, for which local teenager Mike Patterson has been practising day and night. One morning, two days before the competition, Mike suddenly disappears. Teenager Jenny Benton asks her father Peter to go out on his boat to look for her friend.
Peter Benton and his friend Ron Hammer find no trace of Mike but they find a chunk of his surfboard with marks left by enormous teeth in it. Hammer, an experienced shark hunter, suspects that there is a Great White in the waters. He contacts the Coast Guard and asks them to look for Mike. The Coast Guard find no sign of Mike but they bring an abandoned boat into the harbor. The boat is recognized as belonging to a local fisherman. When the craft is inspected, all that is found of the fisherman is one bloodied arm.
Mayor William Wells is informed about the Great White. To avoid causing panic amongst the townspeople, Wells wants news of the shark to be kept quiet. He refuses to cancel the windsurfing competition but takes appropriate safety precautions. The area where the competition takes place is surrounded by shark proof nets. However, due to the creature's size, the protection proves inadequate and it enters the competition area. All of the competitors manage to escape but the small boat carrying the referee is attacked and the man is eaten.
Local TV reporter Bob Martin and his cameraman, who have been covering William Wells' election campaign, see the shark as their ticket to the big time. Martin gleefully watches footage of the shark eating the referee.
Peter Benton and Ron Hammer go off in search of the shark. They attempt to electrocute it but are unable to harm the beast.
An advisor tells William Wells that, to make up for mistakenly allowing the windsurfing competition to go ahead, he has to do something about the shark problem immediately. Wells' teenage son Billy Joe overhears the conversation and decides to solve the problem himself. He takes his father's boat and, along with Jenny and a few other friends, goes off in search of the man-eating fish. As the shark approaches the boat, Jenny falls overboard. She survives but loses a leg. When she comes to in a hospital, Jenny begs her father Peter to kill the creature.
Now seeking personal revenge, Peter Benton sets out again in search of the shark, accompanied by Ron Hammer. Pointing out that they only have one dynamite belt, Ron Hammer insists that he, as the more experienced shark hunter, must be the one that dives into the water to seek out and kill the fish. Peter reluctantly agrees.
William Wells goes in search of the shark in his helicopter, armed with a rifle. He falls into the water and is eaten. When the helicopter pilot descends to try to save Wells, the shark attacks the helicopter and the pilot is eaten too.
Reporter Bob Martin and his cameraman attempt to stage the shark's death. They attach a line with some bait on it to the end of a wooden pier and hire a rifle man to shoot the shark when it comes near. The plan goes wrong. When the shark tugs at the line, part of the pier breaks off and is dragged out to sea with the rifle man (who drops his rifle into the ocean), the cameraman and others still standing on it. Both the rifle man and the cameraman are eaten.
Peter Benton is able to rescue the remaining people standing on the portion of the pier. His boat is then knocked by the shark and he finds himself on the remnant of the pier. Peter finds Ron Hammer's dead body. He is able to remove the detonator from Hammer's dynamite belt before the shark eats the corpse. He detonates the dynamite and the shark is killed.
On shore, reporter Bob Martin is eagerly waiting to speak to Peter Benton, the hero who has saved the town. When Martin asks the man for a comment, Peter punches the reporter in the face, knocking him to the ground, before walking away silently.