Jaws – The Movie
Written by Cavan O’Grady
In 1975, the classic movie Jaws was released. It was a breakthrough film in several ways. Among them, it is largely considered the first summer blockbuster, it changed Steven Spielberg from a little known director to a very in-demand one, it led to three sequels and numerous similarly themed films, and it unfortunately has turned sharks into a much more feared fish than they deserve to be.
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Below are some fun (and not-so-fun) facts about the hugely popular 1970s film.
1. Jaws was supposed to be released during the holiday season of 1974, a traditionally strong time of the year for the biggest movies to come out. But its numerous delays forced it to be released on June 20th, 1975, a very appropriate day given its subject matter, but the start of a season when the worst movies had historically come out. It was assumed that people simply wanted to be outdoors for recreation and not in a theater. But the success of Jaws completely changed that industry thinking.
2. Steven Spielberg wasn’t well known and wasn’t the first choice to direct Jaws. The first person offered the directing position had a meeting with Universal Pictures producers and studio executives and kept referring to the aquatic villain as a whale, even after being corrected. So meeting-goers decided to go in another direction. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown had worked with Spielberg 1974 film The Sugarland Express and were impressed with the young director. And since Spielberg had directed Duel, a film about an evil trucker terrorizing a mild-mannered commuter, the producers felt that movie was similar in theme to Jaws, making Spielberg a fine fit.
3. The screenplay was written by Peter Benchley, whose novel the movie is based on. There was some tension between Benchley and Spielberg when the director wanted changes made in pre-production, but once filming began the two became fast friends over regular poker games and cocktails at Spielberg’s rented beach house. The poker games were probably a good night time distraction for Spielberg, as he spent many sleepless nights worrying about the rumors that he would be fired due to the film’s numerous delays and budgetary problems.
4. There were three 1.2 ton mechanical versions of the shark. They were all named Bruce after director Spielberg’s agent, Bruce Ramer. The Bruces were meant to appear in much more of the film, but due to many problems with them, the shark doesn’t appear onscreen until about an hour and twenty minutes into the two hour movie. Though the troubles with the Bruces were no doubt a nightmare during production, many feel that the shark not being seen allowed for the build-up and mystery that helped make the movie the classic that it has become.
5. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” was actually a frequently uttered line the crew said to stingy producers about needing more space for equipment while they were shooting in the Atlantic. It became a catch-all for when things were going wrong, which was pretty much always. Roy Scheider (who played Chief Brody) knew exactly when it would work perfectly in the movie, ad-libbed it, and it became one of the most famous lines in movie history..
6. Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper) and Robert Shaw (Quint) had a contentious relationship during filming. Scheider believed it was Dreyfuss’s arrogance that led to the conflicts between them: ” (Shaw) really thought Dreyfuss needed a slapping down… (he thought he was a) young punk with no stage…” Dreyfuss has admitted there was conflict between them that reflected their characters’ relationship, but has said Shaw was kinder to him in private, and has downplayed the tension as the years have progressed. Shaw tragically died in Ireland at the age of 51, just a few years after Jaws was released.
7. Quint’s (Shaw) speech about the USS Indianapolis is based on a harrowing true story during WWII. The actual ship was on a secret mission and torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1945; it sank within 12 minutes. Of the 1,195 crew aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remaining crew faced exposure, dehydration and saltwater poisoning in the open sea. The mission was so secret that the Navy only learned of the sinking four days later, when the 316 survivors were spotted during a routine patrol. The big exaggeration in Quint’s speech though was the role the sharks played. They actually stuck to feeding on the deceased, and the few living crew that they made contact with were probably by accident. Sharks generally avoid risk and prefer meals that won’t fight back.
8. Spielberg didn’t immediately recognize the effectiveness of John Williams’ score and actually thought it was a joke, but later admitted that the simple alternating pattern of two notes — “E and F” or “F or F sharp”– was responsible for “at least half of Jaws’ success.”
Jaws – Not A Cakewalk
9. The shoot was so troubled that Spielberg thought it would be the end of his career, but Jaws went on to become the highest grossing film of all-time up until that point. Over 67 million people in the U.S. went to see it when it was initially released in 1975, it remained the #1 film for 14 weeks, and made $123.1 million in U.S. theater rentals (the box office gross less the exhibitor’s cut). It is commonly considered the first “blockbuster,” summer or otherwise.
10. Both Benchley and Spielberg later regretted how Jaws affected the reputation of sharks. Shark hunting greatly increased after the film came out (with the notion of them being “man-killers” partly used as a reason) and the shark population along the eastern seaboard of North America greatly decreased as a result. Benchley later said, “Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today… Sharks don’t target human beings, and they certainly don’t hold grudges.” Benchley’s regret and guilt led him to become a shark conservationist.
Jaws: Bonus Fact
And as a bonus fun fact, in 2014 Dreyfuss was in Ireland for a special screening of Jaws, and he was interviewed on the popular Irish talk/chat show “”The Late Late Show.” Robert Shaw’s 14-year-old granddaughter, Maeve Shaw, had arranged to meet him beforehand and was in the audience. When asked by host Ryan Tubridy why he had been so emotional in meeting her, Dreyfuss said (as camera shots cut away to Maeve several times, with both continuing to be very emotional), “When I met her, it was like closure. That was the first word I thought of. You have no idea how grand and large he was. It was like he was alive again; he died far too soon. I was thrilled to meet her.”
Written by Cavan O’Grady