On This Day: ‘Jaws’ Hits Theaters in 1975

by Craig Garrett

Jaws, the Steven Spielberg-directed blockbuster that terrified generations of beach goers, hit theaters 47 years ago today. Jaws has a staggering 98% Rotten Tomatoes score and ranks 56 on the AFI, “100 Years…100 Movies” list. The film follows a police chief (Roy Scheider) hunting a killer great white shark. Chief Brody is aided by a young marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a grizzled shark hunter (Robert Shaw). Expert editing, direction, and score augment this terrific cast, leading to near cinematic perfection. The film was followed by three sequels and an impossible amount of copycats. It has been a basic cable television mainstay for decades, leaving boomers to zoomers afraid to go in the water.

The blueprint for the modern blockbuster, Jaws grossed over 260 million dollars domestically (topped by Star Wars 2 years later). On a budget of only 7 million, this was a mammoth success. Though many accolades for then-newcomer Spielberg followed the film’s success, the director is quick to credit a collaborator. “Of course, without the iconic score of composer John Williams, the film just wouldn’t be the same,” Steven Spielberg said in the notes to the original Jaws LP. “In doing the score for Jaws…John Williams has really outdone himself. The soundtrack is a stunning symphonic achievement and a great leap ahead in the revitalization of film music as a foreground component for the total motion picture experience…He has made our movie music more adventurous, gripping and phobic than I ever thought possible.”

Jaws was treacherous waters for those behind the scenes, too

Though Jaws was a smash success, it was no cakewalk for director Steven Spielberg. The studio wanted the director back for a sequel, but he passed. “[I didn’t come back for sequels] because making the first movie was a nightmare. There were endless problems with the shark, and it was an impossible shoot. I thought my career was over because no one had ever taken a movie 100 days over schedule. It was successful, but I never wanted to go near the water again,” he told Total Film in 2004. Despite this, the director went on to unparalleled success. To date, Spielberg has been nominated for Academy Awards 19 times. He won best director for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.

Of course, Jaws is not without its critics. Many believe the film unfairly vilified sharks. Even Peter Benchley, the author of the novel the film is based on, later regretted writing it. “What I now know, which wasn’t known when I wrote Jaws, is that there is no such thing as a rogue shark which develops a taste for human flesh.” Benchley told The Animal Attack Files back in 2000. Still, Benchley sometimes found it difficult to gain sympathy for sharks. “It’s hard to rally people behind sharks. Unlike whales or dolphins, they are hard to anthropomorphize – and they occasionally eat people,” he concluded. Benchley passed away in 2006.

The legacy of Jaws is still felt today. Jurassic World: Dominion, topped the box office this past weekend. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, the action-adventure film features killer animals. Sound familiar?