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Jaws is an 1975 American thriller film, based upon a 1974 bestselling novel by Peter Benchley, which itself was inspired loosely on the terrifying true story of the Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916. In the story, a resort town's chief tries to protect beachgoers from the predations of a 25 foot long great white shark by closing the beach, only to be overruled by the town council. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton. The screenplay is credited to both Benchley, who wrote the first drafts, and actor-writer Carl Gottlieb, who rewrote the script during principal photography.

Shot mostly on location on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, the film had a troubled production, going over budget and past schedule. As the art department's mechanical sharks suffered many malfunctions, Spielberg decided to mostly suggest the animal's presence, employing an ominous, minimalistic theme created by composer John Williams to indicate the shark's impending appearances. Spielberg and others have compared this suggestive approach to that of classic thriller director Alfred Hitchcock. Universal Pictures gave the film what was then an exceptionally wide release for a major studio picture, over 450 screens, accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign with a heavy emphasis on television spots and tie-in merchandise.

Generally well received by critics, Jaws became the highest-grossing film in history at the time, a distinction it held until the release of Star Wars. It won several awards for its soundtrack and editing and is often cited as one of the greatest films of all time. Along with Star Wars, Jaws was pivotal in establishing the modern Hollywood business model, which revolves around blockbuster action and adventure pictures with simple "high-concept" premises that are released during the summer in thousands of theaters and supported by heavy advertising. It was followed by three sequels, none with the participation of Spielberg or Benchley, and many imitative thrillers. In 2001, Jaws was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

A young woman named Chrissie Watkins leaves an evening beach party on New England's Amity Island to go skinny dipping, only to be dragged back and forth and then pulled under the water by an unseen force. Amity's police chief, Martin Brody, is notified that Chrissie is missing, and Deputy Hendricks finds her remains on the beach. The medical examiner informs Brody that she was killed by a shark. Brody plans to close the beaches but is overruled by Mayor Larry Vaughn, who fears that reports of a shark attack will ruin the summer tourist season, the town's primary source of income and notes that the town has never had shark problems. The medical examiner consequently attributes the death to a boating accident. Brody reluctantly goes along with the explanation.

A short time later, a young boy named Alex Kintner is killed by a shark at the beach. The boy's mother Mrs. Kintner places a bounty on the shark, sparking an amateur shark-hunting frenzy and prompting local professional shark hunter Quint to offer his services for an even higher fee. At night, Brody is looking at library books about sharks. His wife Ellen is catching a buzz and informs him that their son Michael is enjoying his birthday present, a small sailboat that he's sitting in it. Brody shouts to get out immediately. Ellen sees an illustration of a shark tearing through a boat of sailors and demands Michael out. On the other side, two fishermen named Denherder and Charlie head to the dock in a boat, hellbent on getting the shark first and collecting the Bounty. The duo's unorthodox plan consisting of Charlie's wife's holiday roast, a large hook, a metal chain, and an inner-tube. The dock is ripped in half with Charlie on the forward section. The forward section turns and targets Charlie, as he swims and then tries to fumble himself onto the pier. Charlie makes his way onto the dock. The next day, Marine biologist Matt Hooper examines Chrissie's remains and determines that she was unquestionably killed by a shark.

A large tiger shark is caught by fishermen, leading the townspeople to believe the problem is solved, but Hooper is unconvinced and asks to examine its stomach contents. Vaughn refuses to make the autopsy public, so Brody and Hooper return after dark and discover the dead shark does not contain human remains. They come across the half-sunken wreckage of a boat belonging to local fisherman Ben Gardner. Hooper explores the vessel underwater and discovers a sizable shark's tooth protruding from the damaged hull before he is startled by Gardner's remains and drops the tooth. Due to lack of evidence, Vaughn refuses to close the beaches, and on the Fourth of July many tourists arrive. A practical joke by kids causes panic at the main beach while the shark enters a nearby estuary, killing a man; Brody's son, who witnesses the attack, goes into shock. Brody persuades Vaughn to hire Quint, who reluctantly allows Hooper to join the hunt along with Brody. The three set out to catch and kill the shark aboard Quint's vessel, the Orca.

Brody is given the task of laying a chum line while Quint uses fishing tackle to try to hook the shark. An enormous great white shark looms up behind the boat, and the trio watch it circle the Orca. Quint estimates the shark to be 25 feet (7.6 meters) in length and harpoons it with a line attached to a flotation barrel, but the shark pulls the barrel under and disappears.

By nightfall, the men retire to the boat's cabin, where Quint relates his experience with sharks as a survivor of the sinking of the warship USS Indianapolis during the War in the Pacific in 1945. The shark reappears, damaging the boat's hull before slipping away. In the morning, Brody attempts to call the Coast Guard, but Quint destroys the radio. After a long chase, Quint harpoons another barrel to the shark. The men tie it to the stern, but the shark drags the boat backward, forcing water onto the deck and flooding the engine. Quint heads toward shore, hoping to draw his quarry into shallow waters and suffocate it, but overtaxes and stalls the Orca's damaged engines.

With the boat immobilized, the trio attempt a desperate approach: Hooper dons scuba gear and enters the ocean inside a shark proof cage, attempting to stab the shark with a hypodermic spear filled with strychnine. However, the shark takes him by surprise, and Hooper drops his spear but manages to escape and hide on the seabed. As Quint and Brody raise the mangled cage, the shark leaps onto the boat, crushing the transom. Quint slips down the deck into the shark's mouth and is devoured. When the shark attacks Brody, he shoves a pressurized scuba tank into its mouth, then takes Quint's rifle and climbs the sinking Orca '​s mast. Brody shoots at the scuba tank, blowing it and the shark to pieces which sinks to the bottom of the sea. Hooper emerges, and the two make rafts out of the Orca '​s remains to paddle back to the shores of Amity Island.



"You're gonna need a bigger boat."
Martin Brody

Production history

The film was produced by Richard Zanuck and David Brown, who had purchased the film rights to Peter Benchley's novel in 1974. 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. They signed Spielberg to direct in the same year, prior to release of his first theatrical film, The Sugarland Express (also a Zanuck / Brown production). Despite his lack of feature film experience, Spielberg had proved adept at suspense material with the 1971 telemovie Duel.

Peter Benchley wrote the first draft of the screenplay, with a subsequent draft prepared by Howard Sackler. Carl Gottlieb (who also appears in a supporting acting role in the film) was brought in to add humour and more depth to the characters. Gottlieb rewrote many scenes during principal photography, and John Milius contributed some dialogue polishes. Spielberg has claimed that he prepared his own draft, although it is unclear if any of 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, with dispute as to who deserves the most credit for the speech. Spielberg tactfully describes it as a collaboration between John Milius, Howard Sackler and Robert Shaw. Gottlieb gives primary credit to Shaw, downplaying Milius' contribution.

Location shooting occurred at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. The film had a troubled shoot and went considerably over budget. The logistical problems of shooting at sea led to many delays, and the mechanical shark frequently malfunctioned. The three mechanical sharks were collectively nicknamed "Bruce" by the production team after Spielberg's lawyer, a piece of trivia that has been cited in a number of shark-related stories (such as the appearance of the shark in 2003's Finding Nemo). Spielberg referred to the mechanical shark as "the turd" on a British programme about famous horror scenes and confessed that they had even less flattering names for it throughout filming.

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 many 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 many scenes, giving it a Hitchcockian tone. The film was given the nickname "Flaws" by many of the dispassionate crew members.

Footage of real sharks was shot by Ron and Valerie Taylor in waters off South Australia, although only a handful of these shots were used in the finished film.

John Williams contributed the acclaimed film score. The main theme became a classic piece of suspense music, synonymous with approaching danger, and has echoes of the start of the fourth movement of Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 - a possible influence. When the piece was first played for the director, Steven Spielberg, he was noted to have laughed at John Williams, thinking that it was a joke.


  • This was the last film Universal produced by itself before becoming a distributor to films by other production companies, namely Amblin Entertainment.

Impact and significance

Upon its release, the film rocketed past the then-$85 million gross of the reigning box-office champion, The Godfather, becoming the first movie to reach more than $100 million in box-office receipts. This feat was not matched until Star Wars, two years later in 1977. 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. The wide national release pattern would become standard practice for high profile movies in the late 1970s and after.

Jaws is also often cited as indicating a shift in the type of movies made by Hollywood studios. Along with The Exorcist and Star Wars, it is an example of a high-budget movie in what had previously been considered a disreputable or low-budget genre (in this case, suspense/horror). The runaway success of these films led to an increased shift in production towards such genres by studios in the following decades.

Though a horror classic (voted to have the scariest scenes ever by a Bravo Halloween TV special), the film is widely recognized to be responsible for many fearsome and inaccurate stereotypes about sharks and their behavior. Benchley is quoted as saying that he never would have written the original novel had he known what sharks are really like in the wild.

Jaws was followed by three sequels, generally regarded as increasingly poor in quality as compared to the original: Jaws 2 (1978), Jaws 3-D (1983) and Jaws: The Revenge (1987).

A video game based around the premise of a great white shark attacking humans, called Jaws: Unleashed, is due to be released on March 28, 2007. The twist is that the player controls the shark, and must defend their underwater habitat from polluting humans.

This was the last movie Universal released by itself, before becoming a distributor with other production companies, starting with Amblin Entertainment.

30th anniversary

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the film's release, JawsFest, a festival held in Martha's Vineyard, took place in October 2005. The film has also been re-released on DVD, featuring the full two hour documentary directed by Laurent Bouzereau, which originally featured on the LaserDisc release. A one hour version of this documentary had been included on an earlier, 2001 DVD release.


It won Academy Awards for Best Film Editing, Best Music (Original Score) and Best Sound. It was also nominated for Best Picture. The film is consistently on the Internet Movie Database's list of top 250 films and was #48 on American Film Institute's 100 Years, 100 Movies and #2 on its 100 Years, 100 Thrills. The shark was also 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.


External links

The Jaws films
Jaws (1975) | Jaws 2 (1978) | Jaws 3-D (1983) | Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
See also: Orca (1977) | Great White (1980) | Deep Blue Sea (1999) | Open Water (2003)
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