Piranha (1978) Movie Poster Image

Piranha (1978)



Extremely gory Jaws rip-off is too much for kids.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 1978
  • Running Time: 92 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Message is anti-establishment: The US military, politicians, and businessmen are in a corrupt alliance to create, then cover up, the nasty piranhas as potential eco-weapons.

Positive role models

Lead characters, a nervy girl investigator and a semi-hermit single dad, are a little less savory traditional goody-goody types, even though they perform heroically against the piranha-mongers. There are stereotypical evil-businessman types and evil-Army-officer types (and evil-businessman-Army-officer types).


Gory violence is mainly blood and ill-focused body parts floating in water, though there are some grisly out-of-water scenes of corpses, bite-ridden torsos, mutilated faces, and exposed bones. There's a car wreck, and two characters beat each other up.


Toplessness, as the sexually-profligate heroine flashes her bare breasts to distract a guard. A girl and her boyfriend go skinny-dipping. Hint that the leads have had premarital sex. Comical wondering if a minor character is gay. Bikinis and swimsuits in the big piranha-attack finale.


"Ass," the s-word, "hell," "balls," "dammit," "a-hole," "Jesus Christ."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Whiskey drinking by the good guys (a habit the good guy cultivated after his divorce) and much dialogue about alcoholic spirits and drinking problems. A drunken old man is killed by the piranhas. A sheriff smokes (near a "NO SMOKING" sign).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that gore and violence are this movie's primary reason to exist, with extensive (if chaotic) underwater shots of people bloodily devoured by small, sharp-toothed fish, sometimes right down to exposed skeletons and severed limbs. Child characters as well as grownups get chewed (though the lens mainly dwells on adult casualties). There is some profanity and a fair amount of drinking (hints that the hero is an alcoholic). There's also female nudity and skinny-dipping. Questionable behavior includes trespassing, bad driving, and stealing police property. US government, military, cops, mayors, and authority figures right up to camp counselors are portrayed as unsavory and untrustworthy. This is not to be confused with a deluxe Piranha 3D remake from 2010.

What's the story?

In rural Texas Maggie (Heather Menzies), a brash missing-persons tracer, teams up with Paul (Bradford Dillman), a hard-drinking backwoods single dad, to find some campers, whom viewers already know were killed while swimming -- eaten by something lurking in a mysterious fenced-off reservoir. Paul drains the perilous pool, accidentally releasing into a local river network the movie's menace, a school of US military genetically-engineered piranha fish -- not giant-sized but extra vicious and super-resilient, designed as bio-weapons in Vietnam-style jungle wars. Paul and Maggie try to warn the neighboring river-edge community (and save Paul's little daughter, at a swim-oriented summer camp) but find themselves stonewalled by shady cops, a general, and businessmen covering up the impending bloodbath.

Is it any good?


Part of the entertainment factor of Piranha is that it has no pretensions of being anything but brisk schlock-horror killfest, intended for drive-ins and grindhouses and nothing more. Word is that Steven Spielberg himself endorsed PIRANHA as the only one of the many, many Jaws rip-offs that had any redeeming value. Despite much bloodletting, the barely-shown-and-better-for-it piranhas aren't exceptionally scary or awe-inspiring, but one appreciates the clever economy in doing lots of vague little water monsters instead of one big, painfully fake one. Still, this one is way too gory for kids, so it is best appreciated by adult film buffs.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the entertainment value of scary movies. What's the appeal of watching piranhas eat people? Does the humorous and social commentary here help?

  • Do scary movies always have to feature gore? Are gory movies always scary?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 3, 1978
DVD/Streaming release date:November 19, 1999
Cast:Barbara Steele, Bradford Dillman, Dick Miller, Heather Menzies, Keenan Wynn, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Bartel
Director:Joe Dante
Genre:Science Fiction
Run time:92 minutes
MPAA rating:R

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Kid, 9 years old August 5, 2011

It sucks jaws is better

jaws is way better
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Kid, 10 years old December 11, 2010

Just As Bad As Piranha 3D

What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 16 years old Written byRebecca Amsden April 27, 2013

Piranah 3DD

This movie is very good, but you should be aware that there is some drinking, a lot of nudity, sex, and PLENTY of language.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking