Jaws (film)

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Theatrical poster
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by David Brown
Richard D. Zanuck
Written by Novel:
Peter Benchley
Peter Benchley
Carl Gottlieb
Howard Sackler (uncredited)
Starring Roy Scheider,
Robert Shaw,
Richard Dreyfuss,
Lorraine Gary
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Bill Butler
Editing by Verna Fields
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) June 20, 1975
Running time 124 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7,000,000
Followed by Jaws 2
All Movie Guide profile
IMDb profile

Jaws is a 1975 horror– thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg, based on Peter Benchley's best-selling novel of the same name. The novel was inspired by the Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916. In the film, the police chief of Amity Island, a summer resort town, tries to protect beachgoers from the predations of a huge great white shark by closing the beach, only to be overruled by the money-grubbing town council. After several attacks, the police chief proceeds to enlist the help of a marine biologist and later a professional shark hunter to kill the shark. The film stars Roy Scheider as police chief Martin Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as marine biologist Matt Hooper, Robert Shaw as the shark hunter Quint, Lorraine Gary as Brody's wife Ellen, and Murray Hamilton as the greedy Mayor Vaughn.

Jaws is regarded as a watershed film in motion picture history, as it is the father of the summer blockbuster movie. Due to the film's success in advanced screenings, studio executives decided to distribute it in a much wider release than ever before. The Omen followed suit a year later in the summer of 1976, and then Star Wars one year later in 1977, cementing the notion for movie studios to distribute their big-release action and adventure pictures (commonly referred to as tentpole pictures) during the summer season. It is thought to be the first film that advanced Steven Spielberg's directorial career. The film was followed by three sequels, generally regarded as declining in quality with each successive entry and greatly inferior to the original: Jaws 2 ( 1978), Jaws 3-D ( 1983) and Jaws: The Revenge ( 1987).


The film begins at a late night beach party on Amity Island. A young woman named Chrissy Watkins (Susan Backlinie) leaves the party to go for a swim in the ocean; while in the water, she is suddenly jerked around by an unseen force and then pulled under. The next morning, Chief of Police Martin Brody (Scheider) is notified that the woman is missing, and heads out to the beach. Brody and his deputy find the girl's mangled remains, and Brody comes to the conclusion that it was a shark attack. Before he can close the beaches he is intercepted and overruled by the town's mayor, Larry Vaughn (Hamilton), who tells Brody that the girl was killed by a boat propeller. Vaughn is concerned about the incident hurting the summer tourist season, especially the upcoming 4 July celebration, as it is the town's major source of income. After the town medical examiner backs up the mayor's story, Brody reluctantly goes along with him.

A few days later, a young boy is killed by a shark while swimming at the beach, and his mother places a $3,000 bounty on the animal. The bounty sparks an amateur shark hunting frenzy, but it also attracts the local Quint (Shaw), a professional shark hunter. Quint interrupts a town meeting to offer his services, but is rejected because of his high price and general attitude. Marine biologist Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss) then arrives at the town harbour amidst the shark hunting frenzy and introduces himself to Brody. Hooper conducts an autopsy of the first victim, where he quickly concludes that she was killed by a shark. However, a large tiger shark is caught by a group of novice fishermen, leading the townspeople to believe that the killer is dead. Hooper is unconvinced, and asks to examine the contents of the fish's stomach to determine if it is the correct shark. Vaughn refuses to make a public spectacle of the "operation", so Brody and Hooper return after dark. They learn that the captured shark does not have human remains inside it, so they venture out in Hooper's state-of-the-art boat to scout around for the real killer. They come across a half-sunken wreckage of a local fishing vessel, and after donning scuba gear to check the hull, Hooper discovers another victim. Nevertheless, Vaughn refuses to close the beaches.

On the Fourth of July, the beaches are mobbed, and surrounded by a cordon of police boats. While a prank triggers a false alarm and draws off the authorities' attention, the real shark enters an estuary and kills another man, nearly getting one of Brody's sons as well. Brody forces the stunned mayor to close the beaches and hire Quint. Brody and Hooper join the hunter on his boat, the Orca, and the trio set out to track down the man-eater.

Out at sea, Chief Brody is given the task of chumming, or shoveling a mixture of fish parts and blood into the sea to attract the shark. While Brody is engaged in the task, the enormous shark suddenly looms up behind the boat; watching it circle the Orca, Quint and Hooper estimate the beast is at least 25 feet (8 m) long. Quint manages to harpoon it with a line attached to a flotation barrel, designed to simultaneously weigh the fish down and track it on the surface, but the shark swims away and disappears. Night falls without another sighting and the men retire to the boat's cabin, where they compare scars and Quint tells of his experience with sharks as a survivor of the World War II sinking of the USS Indianapolis. The shark reappears, damages the boat, and slips away before the men can harm it. In the morning, the men make repairs to the engine, and Quint destroys the radio to keep Brody from calling the Coast Guard for help. The shark attacks again, and after a long chase Quint harpoons it with two more barrels. The men tie the barrels to the stern, but the shark tows the ship backwards through the water, overflooding the engine and finally ripping free.

With the Orca dead in the water, the trio try a desperate new approach. Hooper dons his scuba gear and enters the ocean inside a shark proof cage: he intends to stab the shark inside the mouth with a hypodermic needle filled with a powerful poison. The monster shark instead destroys the cage, and Hooper flees to the seabed. As Quint and Brody raise the remnants of the cage, the shark throws itself onto the boat, crushing the stern. Quint slides into its mouth, slashing at it in vain with a machete before being pulled under and devoured. Brody retreats to the boat's cabin, now partly submerged, and throws a pressurized air tank into the shark's mouth when the killer rams its way inside. Brody takes Quint's rifle and climbs the mast of the rapidly-listing boat, where he temporarily fends off the attacker with a harpoon. The shark circles around and charges one last time at Brody, who starts firing the rifle at the tank still jammed in the shark's mouth. He finally scores a hit, blowing the shark's head to pieces and sending the rest of its body to the bottom of the ocean in a cloud of blood. Hooper bobs to the surface alive and reunites with Brody, and the two survivors swim to shore using the flotation barrels as a raft.

Production history

The film was produced by Richard Zanuck and David Brown, who had purchased the film rights to Peter Benchley's novel in 1973 for approximately $250,000. His novel was loosely based on a real-life event in the summer of 1916 when a series of shark attacks killed four people along the New Jersey coast and triggered a media frenzy. Though he was not their first choice as a director, the producers signed Spielberg to direct prior to the release of his first theatrical film, The Sugarland Express (also a Zanuck/Brown production).

Part of the deal that Benchley struck with the producers when they purchased the rights to his novel guaranteed that the author would get to write the first draft of the screenplay. All in all, Benchley wrote three drafts before deciding to bow out of the project. Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Howard Sackler happened to be in Los Angeles when the filmmakers began looking for another writer and offered to do an uncredited rewrite, and since the producers and Spielberg were unhappy with Benchley's drafts they quickly accepted his offer. Spielberg sent the script to Carl Gottlieb (who appears in a supporting acting role in the film as Meadows, the politically connected reporter), asking for advice. Gottlieb rewrote most scenes during principal photography, and John Milius contributed dialogue polishes. Spielberg has claimed that he prepared his own draft, although it is unclear if the other screenwriters drew on his material. The authorship of Quint's monologue about the fate of the cruiser USS Indianapolis has caused substantial controversy as to who deserves the most credit for the speech. Spielberg tactfully describes it as a collaboration among John Milius, Howard Sackler and actor Robert Shaw. Gottlieb gives primary credit to Shaw, downplaying Milius' contribution.

Three mechanical sharks were made for the production: a full model, for underwater shots; one that turned from left to right, with the left side completely exposed to the internal machinery; and a similar right to left model, with the right side exposed. Their construction was supervised by production designer Joe Alves and special effects artist Bob Mattey. After the sharks were completed, they were shipped to the shooting location, but unfortunately they had not been tested in water, and when placed in the ocean the full model sank straight to the ocean floor. A team of divers was sent to retrieve it.

Location shooting occurred on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, chosen because the ocean had a sandy bottom while 12 miles out at sea. This helped the mechanical sharks to operate smoothly and still provide a realistic location. Still, the film had a troubled shoot and went considerably over budget. Shooting at sea led to many delays: unwanted sailboats drifted into frame, cameras were soaked, and even The Orca began to sink with the actors onboard. The mechanical shark frequently malfunctioned, due to the hydraulic innards being corroded by salt water. The three mechanical sharks were collectively nicknamed "Bruce" by the production team after Spielberg's lawyer, and Spielberg called one of the sharks "the Great White turd". Disgruntled crew members gave the film the nickname "Flaws".

To some degree, the delays in the production proved serendipitous. The script was refined during production, and the unreliable mechanical sharks forced Spielberg to shoot most of the scenes with the shark only hinted at. For example, for much of the shark hunt its location is represented by floating yellow barrels that have been tied to it during the hunt. This enforced restraint is widely thought to have increased the suspense of these scenes, giving it a Hitchcockian tone.

The scene where Hooper discovers a body in the hull of the wrecked boat was added after an initial screening of the film. Spielberg mentions that after he saw everyone's reaction, he got so greedy for "one more scream" that he financed this addition with $3,000 of his own money after he was denied funding from Universal Studios. Their thought was that there was nothing wrong with the film the way it was and that it should be left alone. Ironically, this added scene could be considered a continuity error; Brody later tries to convince the mayor to close the beaches but never thinks of mentioning a confirmed kill to bolster his argument.

Footage of real sharks was shot by Ron and Valerie Taylor in the waters off Australia, with a short-statured actor in a miniature shark cage to create the illusion that the sharks were incredibly enormous. Originally, the script had the shark killing Hooper in the shark cage, but while filming, one of the sharks became trapped in the girdle of the cage, and proceeded to tear the cage apart. Luckily, the cage was empty at the time, so the script was changed to allow Matt Hooper to live and the cage to be empty. Despite this rare footage of violent great white sharks, only a handful of these shots were used in the finished film.

The role of Quint was originally offered to actors Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden, both of whom passed. Producers Zanuck and Brown had just finished working with Robert Shaw on The Sting, and suggested him to Spielberg as a possible Quint. Roy Scheider became interested in the project after overhearing a screenwriter and Spielberg at a party talking about having the shark jump up onto a boat. Richard Dreyfuss initially passed on the role of Matt Hooper, but after seeing a screening of a film he had just done called The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, he thought his performance in that film was awful. He immediately called Spielberg back and accepted the Matt Hooper role (fearing that no one would want to hire him once Kravitz was released.) The first person actually cast for the film was Lorraine Gary.


Box office performance

When Jaws was released on June 20, 1975, it had a limited release and opened at 409 theaters. It got a wider release on July 25, 1975 at 675 theaters. On its first weekend it managed to gross over $7 million, and was the top grosser for the following five weeks. During its run in theaters, the film beat the then-$85 million domestic rentals of the reigning box-office champion, The Godfather, becoming the first film to reach more than $100 million in theatrical rentals, the money paid to the studio distributors out of the total box office gross. Eventually, Jaws would go on to gross over $470 million worldwide and become the highest grossing box-office hit for two years, securing Steven Spielberg's spot in cinema history. This feat was not surpassed until Star Wars debuted two years later, in 1977.

Awards and critical reception

Jaws won Academy Awards for Film Editing, Music (Original Score) and Sound. It was also nominated for Best Picture, although Steven Spielberg was not nominated for Best Director. The film is consistently on the Internet Movie Database's list of top 250 films. Jaws was #48 on American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies, a list of the greatest American films of all time, and #2 on a similar list for thrillers, 100 Years... 100 Thrills. It was #1 in the Bravo network's five-hour miniseries The 100 Scariest Movie Moments (2004). The shark was anointed #18 on AFI's 100 Years, 100 Heroes and Villains, opposite Robin Hood. In 2001 the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. In 2005, the American Film Institute voted Roy Scheider's line "You're gonna need a bigger boat" as number 35 on its list of the top 100 movie quotes. John Williams's score was ranked at #7 on AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores.

The film received mostly positive reviews. In his original review, Roger Ebert called it "a sensationally effective action picture, a scary thriller that works all the better because it's populated with characters that have been developed into human beings". Variety's A.D. Murphy praised Spielberg's directorial skills, and called Robert Shaw's performance "absolutely magnificent". Pauline Kael called it "the most cheerfully perverse scare movie ever made... [with] more zest than an early Woody Allen picture, a lot more electricity, [and] it's funny in a Woody Allen sort of way".

Nevertheless, the film was not without its detractors. Vincent Canby, of The New York Times, said "It's a measure of how the film operates that not once do we feel particular sympathy for any of the shark's victims...In the best films, characters are revealed in terms of the action. In movies like Jaws, characters are simply functions of the action. They're at its service. Characters are like stage hands who move props around and deliver information when it's necessary.." but also noted that "It's the sort of nonsense that can be a good deal of fun". Los Angeles Times critic Charles Champlin disagreed with the film's PG rating, saying that "Jaws is too gruesome for children, and likely to turn the stomach of the impressionable at any age." He goes on to say: "It is a coarse-grained and exploitive work which depends on excess for its impact. Ashore it is a bore, awkwardly staged and lumpily written". The only widespread criticism of the film is the artificiality of the mechanical shark, although it is only seen in the final moments of the film, and is often brushed over by reviewers.

Inspirations and influences

Jaws bears similarities to several literary and artistic works, most notably Moby Dick by Herman Melville. The character of Quint strongly resembles Captain Ahab, the insane captain of the Pequod who devotes his life to hunting a great white whale. Quint's monologue reveals his similar vendetta against sharks, and even his boat, The Orca, is named after the only natural enemy of sharks. In the novel and original screenplay, Quint dies after being dragged under the ocean by a harpoon tied to his leg, similar to Ahab's death in Melville's novel. A direct reference to these similarities may be found in the original screenplay, which introduced Quint by showing him watching the film version of Moby Dick. His laughter throughout makes people get up and leave the theatre (it should be noted that Wesley Strick's screenplay for Cape Fear features a similar scene). However, Moby Dick could not be licensed from Gregory Peck, the rights' owner. The final scenes of the film, in which the men chase the shark and try to harpoon it with flotation barrels, parallel the chase for Moby Dick in the novel.

The first half of the film, where Brody tries and fails to convince the townspeople of the appearance of a great white shark off their beaches, resembles Henrik Ibsen's 1882 play, An Enemy of the People. In the play, an ordinary citizen tries to stop a small coastal town from visiting a new set of medicinal baths. He has discovered that the baths have become contaminated, but he is met with scathing anger and rejection after presenting his findings. Some have also noticed the influences of two 1950s horror films, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Monster That Challenged the World.

Jaws was a key film in establishing the benefits of a wide national release backed by heavy media advertising, rather than a progressive release that let a film slowly enter new markets and build support over a period of time. Rather than let the film gain notice by word-of-mouth, Hollywood launched a successful television marketing campaign for the film, which added another $700,000 to the cost. The wide national release pattern would become standard practice for high-profile movies in the late 1970s and afterwards.

The film conjured up so many scares that beach attendance was down in the summer of 1975 due to its profound impact. Though a horror classic (its opening sequence was voted the scariest scene ever by a Bravo Halloween TV special), the film is widely recognized as being responsible for fearsome and inaccurate stereotypes about sharks and their behaviour. Benchley has said that he never would have written the original novel had he known what sharks are really like in the wild. He later wrote Shark Trouble, a non-fiction book about shark behaviour and Shark Life, another non-fiction book describing his dives with sharks. Conservation groups have bemoaned the fact that the film has made it considerably harder to convince the public that sharks (who, as macro-predators, constitute an important part of the ocean's ecosystem) should be protected.

Jaws has been spoofed and referred to in other films, such as in the opening sequence of 1941, directed by Spielberg himself. Other references are to be found in Meatballs (1979), Airplane! (1980), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Clerks (1994), Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), Caddyshack (1980) and Shark Tale (2004). In Back to the Future Part II (executive produced by Steven Spielberg), a movie theatre sports an animated holographic shark over a marquee that reads "Jaws 19: This time it's really really personal" and "Directed by Max Spielberg". The film has been adapted into a video game called Jaws Unleashed and two musicals; "JAWS The Musical!", which premiered in the summer of 2004 at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and "Giant Killer Shark: The Musical", which premiered in the summer of 2006 at the Toronto Fringe Festival and will be re-mounted in Toronto in May, 2007.


John Williams contributed the Academy-Award winning film score, which was ranked #7 on AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores. The main "shark" theme, a simple alternating pattern of two notes, F and F sharp, became a classic piece of suspense music, synonymous with approaching danger. The soundtrack piece was performed by tuba player Tommy Johnson. When asked by Johnson why the melody was written in such a high register and not played by the more appropriate french horn, Williams responded that he wanted it to sound a little more threatening. When the piece was first played for Spielberg, he was said to have laughed at John Williams, thinking that it was a joke. Spielberg later said that without Williams' score, the film would have been only half as successful, and Williams acknowledges that the score jumpstarted his career. He had previously scored Spielberg's feature film debut The Sugarland Express, and went on to collaborate with him on almost all of his films.

The score contains echoes of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, particularly the opening of "The Adoration of the Earth". Another influence may have been Ed Plumb's score for Walt Disney's Bambi, which uses a low, repeating musical motif to suggest imminent danger from the off-screen threat of Man. The music has drawn comparisons to Bernard Herrman's score for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, in which the music enhances the presence of an unseen terror, in this case the shark.

There are various interpretations on the meaning and effectiveness of the theme. Some have thought the two-note expression is intended to mimic the shark's heartbeat, beginning slow and controlled as the killer hunts, and rising to a frenzied, shrieking climax as it approaches its prey. One critic believes the true strength of the score is its ability to create a "harsh silence", abruptly cutting away from the music right before it climaxes. Also, it has been noted that the audience is conditioned to associate the shark with its theme, since the score is never used as a red herring; it only plays when the real shark appears. This is later exploited when the shark suddenly appears with no musical introduction. Regardless of the meaning behind it, the theme is widely acknowledged as one of the most recognized scores of all time.


The original soundtrack for Jaws was released by MCA in 1975, and as a CD in 1992, including roughly a half hour of music that John Williams redid for the album. In 2000, the score underwent two rushed soundtrack releases: one in a re-recording of the entire Jaws score performed by the Royal Scottish Orchestra and conducted by Joel McNeely; and another to coincide with the release of the 25th anniversary DVD by Decca/Universal, featuring the entire 51 min. of the original score. Fans prefer the Decca release over the Varèse Sarabande re-recording. The latter version has been criticized for changing the original tempo and instrumentation, although it is complimented for its improved sound quality.

30th anniversary and DVD release

Jaws was first released on DVD as an anniversary collector's edition in 2000 for the film's 25th anniversary. It featured a 50 min. documentary on the making of the film, with interviews from Steven Spielberg, Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and various other cast and crew members. Other extras included deleted scenes, outtakes, production photos, and storyboards.

In June 2005, on the 30th anniversary of the film's release, a festival named JawsFest was held in Martha's Vineyard. Jaws was then re-released on DVD, this time including the full two-hour documentary produced by Laurent Bouzereau for the LaserDisc. As well as containing the same bonus features the previous DVD contained, it included a previously unavailable interview with Spielberg conducted on the set of Jaws in 1975.

Differences from the novel

The film remains quite faithful to the book, with the only significant change being the absence of an affair between Ellen and Matt Hooper. In the novel, Brody is a native of Amity while his wife, Ellen, was previously a member of the wealthy New York summer holiday set before she married him. Ellen's despair with her life in Amity leads to a short sexual encounter between her and Hooper. In the film, Brody moved to Amity Island from New York with his family to take up the position of the chief of police, and the relationship between Ellen and Hooper is removed.

There are several other minor differences as well:

  • The film shows that Brody has two sons, eleven-year-old Michael and four-year-old Sean. In the novel, the children were: Billy (aged 13), Martin Jr (aged 11) and Sean (aged 10).
  • The novel notes the fatal attack on Chrissie as occurring in mid-June. But in the film, when her death certificate is being typed, the date of death is July 1.
  • In the novel, Hooper is killed by the shark during the dive to examine it, with the intention of killing it with a bangstick, but he survives in the film.
  • In the novel, the real reason for Larry Vaughn keeping the beaches open is because of his Mafia ties, not the welfare of the town.
  • All events in the final reel of the film aboard the boat occur in one unbroken trip at sea, while in the novel the men safely return to Amity's harbour several times.
  • Quint's monologue about the USS Indianapolis is absent from the novel and the original screenplay.
  • In the novel, the shark dies as a result of being attached to the sinking boat and is thus unable to continue swimming, which when a shark is prevented from continuously swimming, water and therefore oxygen does not flow through its gills and it dies. For the film, something with more visual impact was deemed necessary. Benchley was not happy with this change, claiming that the airtank explosion was unbelievable.
  • While Quint is eaten by the shark in the film, in the novel he drowns after being dragged underwater while attached to the boat along with the shark.


Jaws spawned three sequels, each of which failed to match the success of the original. Spielberg declined the offer to do a sequel, and went on to make Close Encounters of the Third Kind with Richard Dreyfuss. Jaws 2 was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, and had Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton reprise their roles from the original film. The next film, Jaws 3-D, was released in the then-popular 3-D format, although the effect does not transfer to television or home video, where it was renamed to Jaws 3. Dennis Quaid as Michael Brody and Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr starred in the movie. Jaws: The Revenge, directed by Joseph Sargent, featured the return of Lorraine Gary, and is considered one of the worst movies ever made, with a rank in the worst 50 on the Internet Movie Database's Bottom 100. While all three sequels made a profit at the box office (Jaws 2 and Jaws 3-D are among the top 20 highest-grossing films of their respective years), critics and audiences were generally dissatisfied with the films. Also, a movie called Cruel Jaws was released in 1995 and called itself Jaws V.

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