“This is a movie where everyone’s in on the joke, except the actors in the movie.” That is how actor Ian Ziering described his latest TV film, Sharknado 5 :Global Swarming, the fifth installment in the Sharknado series. The movie was released on the SyFy channel on August 6.

In the Sharknado films, directed by Anthony C Ferrante, sharks rain down from the skies and devour humans each year. The first Sharknado came in 2013, and since then, the SyFy channel has produced a sequel each year, thanks to the inexplicable popularity of the movies.

Sharknado was conceived as one of many low-budget, quickly shot, over-the-top genre films with such titles as Big Ass Spider!, Christmas Icetastrophe and Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus that SyFy commissions and telecasts regularly. The name was in place (SyFy movies are planned title-first) and screenwriters got to work to bring together tornadoes and sharks and create the ultimate disaster movie. In film after film, tornadoes appear out of nowhere in American cities, with sharks of all shapes and sizes embedded in them. The sharks go on a rampage till they are brought down every single time by the series’s hero Fin Shepard (Ziering) and his extended family.

Sharknado (2013).

Obvious questions, such as how the sharks can survive on land for long periods of time, are never addressed. But these are not films that try to appear reasonable like A-list productions. The Sharknado films have featured innumerable forgotten actors, has-beens and B-list and C-list actors, including cameos by the wrestlers Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, blogger Perez Hilton, conservative commentator Ann Coulter, television host Jerry Springer, and even Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin.

Regular cast members include Baywatch icon David Hasselhoff, who plays Fin’s father in two films, while American Pie’s breakthrough star Tara Reid plays the female lead, Fin’s ex-wife April.

George R R Martin in Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015).

The first movie’s cult appeal began right after its release in 2013. Several celebrities, including screenwriter Damon Lindelof (Lost, Cowboys & Aliens), stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt and actress Olivia Wilde, began discussing the film on Twitter. Glee actor Cory Monteith’s last tweet before his death in 2013 was about Sharknado (“what the crap is Sharknado” “oh. IT’S A SHARK TORNADO.”).

The hype propelled viewership from 1.37 million on the day of its first airing to 2.1 million on the date of its third airing two weeks later.

Among the movie’s biggest fans was Donald Trump, who was almost cast as the American president in the third film Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!. The casting did not work out, and Trump missed out on playing a president saving the White House from sharks with a shotgun and mouthing the lines “No one attacks my house” and “This is for America, baby.”

The films have changed in tone over the years. The first one did not embrace the idiocy of the concept, and, instead, operated like a grim disaster movie. The screenplay was hardly funny (after a bloodbath with the sharks, a character says, “Looks like it’s that time of the month.”) and was lacking in self-aware humour that should have come naturally.

With Sharknado 2: The Second One, the screenwriters (and thus, the characters) lightened up and subtly added gags, in-jokes and references to the earlier film. A recurring character suffers from “post traumatic shark disorder”. When April loses her hand trying to fight a shark, Fin gravely suggests her to not be so literal while trying to lend a hand. After Fin jumps over sharks in a scene, the writers appear to acknowledge the staleness of the Sharknado films as another character says, “You jumped the shark.”

Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! Image credit: SyFy Films.

The action set-ups also got loonier. For example, Fin and his partner try to end a sharknado by slingshoting explosives into it. When the plan doesn’t work, Fin’s partner says, “You are making this up as you go along”. Fin replies, “Let’s keep that our secret.”

The makers, indeed, have continued to make it up as they go along. If the heights of insanity in the first film were crossed by Fin rescuing another character from inside a shark’s belly by ripping out of it with a chainsaw, the sequels top them in the strangest ways.

In part two, Fin shoots sharks in the sky with a handgun held by the impaled arm of April. In part three, Fin and company destroy the sharknadoes by beaming them from outside Earth in a space shuttle. In the fourth film, the sharknado develops into a sand-nado (because it travels to the deserts beyond Las Vegas), a boulder-nado, then an oil-nado, a fire-nado, a nuclear-nado, and even, a cow-nado when the sharknado picks up grazing cows from rural Kansas – the names of the various “nados” are coined by sharknado experts solemnly gathered in newsrooms.

While the first four films are set in American cities (Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC and Las Vegas, in that order), Sharknado 5: Global Swarming involves the world and has been shot on location in London, Rome, Tokyo and Sydney, among others. This is hinted at the end of the fourth part, when the Eiffel Tower flies off and lands near the Niagara Falls. Over the years, the numbers have begun to fall as far as viewership is concerned. But its makers seem to have no plans of stopping. As Ian Ziering said in a Reddit AMA in 2013, comparing the series to the James Bond films, “Sharknado has the same sort of popularity, but certainly not the budget. I think these will go on long after I’m done playing Fin.”

Sharknado 5: Global Swarming.