Killer Shark - The Undersea Horror Arcade Game in JAWS

KIller Shark promo material


Just a year after video games made their debut in arcades, SEGA unveiled the first coin-op cabinet to star the most terrifying aquatic creature, the Killer Shark. While this light gun arcade shooter gained considerable notoriety from its cameo in Steven Spielberg's classic monster shark movie JAWS, it turned out that Killer Shark was actually not a video game at all, but a mechanical achievement in coin-op animation.

The Basics

  • Publisher/Developer: SEGA
  • Release Date: 1972
  • Genre:First Person Shooter - Lightgun
  • Type: Coin-Op Upright Arcade Game (Mechanical)

At a glance, the first arcade game to feature one of the ocean's deadliest predators looks like one of the most advanced video arcade machines of its time. The cabinet is shaped just like a traditional light gun coin-op arcade unit and the game's first-person graphics are spot on, showing a toothy shark swimming towards the player in attack. The animation was so advanced that while it looked, felt and contained all of the elements of an FPS video game, Killer Shark was SEGAs final mechanical game.

The History of Amusement Arcades

Arcades existed long before the advent of the video game, dating back to the 19th century with penny arcades and midways that featured all sorts of coin-operated amusement devices including shooting galleries and nickelodeons. In the 30s, pinball gained rapid success and soon games were the primary draw to the arcade.

In 1971, the very first coin-operated video game cabinets hit arcades, pizza places, and coffee shops; Computer Space and ​​Galaxy Game. This new form of gaming was an instant hit. By the next year, video games — mostly​ Pong and Pong clones — started popping up, with players lining up to take a turn at this new technology. The demand for new games was extremely high, but manufacturers couldn't design, program and manufacture them quickly enough.

Killer Shark: The First Mechanical Game

To try and keep the coins flowing, SEGA — at the time, a manufacturer of mechanical arcade games — took a video arcade cabinet and built out a light gun shooter with on-screen animation that appeared to be a super-advanced video game, but was all done mechanically with lights, mirrors, and moving parts.

The game was called Killer Shark and released to moderate success, but three years later (1974) its name was sealed in infamy with an appearance in the historic horror flick JAWS. Approximately 54 min into the film, a gamer is seen playing Killer Shark at a local beachside arcade in the community of Amity Island. The use of the game is shown as a juxtaposition of the local government's disregard of a shark warning by local sheriff Martin Brody (Roy Scheider). This bit of levity left a major impression on audiences and made Killer Shark the first, and most famous shark arcade game ever.

The same year they released Killer Shark, SEGA shipped a near-identical game titled Sea Devil. The only difference between the two is that the deadly underwater threat was a manta ray.

The secret behind the on-screen shark animation is similar to the ancient zoetrope animation wheels. A series of shark illustrations were printed onto slides and placed sequentially on a circular disk. Light was then projected onto the disk, projecting the shark slides onto a mirror. The mirror reflected the shark image onto a frosted glass cabinet screen. The space between the slides created a flickering effect similar to a film projector. When the player's eye absorbs the light from one frame just as the next appears, it created the appearance of a moving image.


Players took the role of an underwater diver and shark hunter who used their harpoon gun (a mechanical light gun) to shoot at oncoming sharks. If they successfully hit it, the image is switched out with a bleeding and flailing shark.


  • SEGA was founded in 1940 as a mechanical coin-operated amusement game company, but once video arcade games hit the scene they quickly switched over to the new medium.
  • Killer Shark and Sea Devil ended up being SEGA's final mechanical games. In 1973 they fully switched over to video games and never looked back.