ByEmily Browne, writer at
Twitter: @emrbrowne
Emily Browne

Today marks the 41st birthday of the biggest, baddest set of teeth in ocean. 41 years ago, Jaws was released upon on US audiences, and its impact on cinema can not be understated.

It Was The Movie That Made Steven Spielberg

Rookie director Steven Spielberg was just 26 years old when he went after the director's chair for Jaws. The producers, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, originally proposed veteran filmmaker John Sturges (The Great Escape) thanks to his experience shooting in the ocean for The Old Man and the Sea. They also offered the gig to up-and-coming director Dick Richards, before dropping him in favor of Spielberg after he showed great enthusiasm for the 1974 Peter Benchley novel the movie is based on.

Spielberg often described shooting Jaws as his "personal crucible," as it was nearly shut down multiple times due to delays and overspending. But the budding director persisted and finished the movie — which consequently made him a household name, earned him three Academy Awards, set a box office record and made him one of the youngest multi-millionaires in the United States. Not bad.

It also gave him a great deal of autonomy for future projects, so without Jaws, perhaps E.T., Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones or Schindler's List may not have happened.

Jaws Helped Create The Modern Summer Blockbuster

Jaws set the the box office at a whopping $470 million — a phenomenal amount of money for a movie to make during the 1970s. It opened in 409 theaters nationwide and coupled with the release of Star Wars two years later, marked the birth of the big summer blockbuster.

Another big reason for its success was the movie's marketing. In the run-up to June 20, 1975, 23 popular TV shows including Happy Days, The Waltons and Rockford Files aired a 30-second long TV spot for the movie. Thanks to word of mouth, Jaws spread to 954 theaters by Day 59 of its release, when it hit the $100 million milestone. The movie marked the birth of the franchise, spawning sequels, merchandise and "Jawsmania."

The whole movie cost $9 million to produce ($5 million over budget), which is earned back in just three weeks.

Meet Bruce — The Big Animatronic Shark

I kinda miss the days of animatronics, and as much as CGI has come along leaps and bounds in the last forty years, nothing quite beats a tangible, terrifying, moving beast. Because such CGI did not yet exist, three full-sized sharks were produced for the movie, nicknamed Bruce by the crew.

Their construction involved a team of over 40 people, supervised by mechanical effects supervisor Bob Mattey, who worked on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mary Poppins. Another 14 people were needed to control all the moving parts, but sadly, the mechanical sharks proved unreliable, causing set backs and headaches for cast and crew. One even capsized and sank, and had to be rescued by divers.

A refined script meant that during many scenes the shark was only hinted at, or just the fin was shown stalking the water, adding to the suspense and overall success of the film.

That Iconic Theme Tune

Iconic movie composer John Williams won an Academy Award for his efforts in creating the Jaws theme. The genius was in its simplicity, two notes which are now synonymous with suspense and impending doom.

Speaking to Lester Friedman's Citizen Spielberg, Williams described the theme as:

grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable.

Post-Jaws, Williams went on to score the biggest movies ever made, including all the Star Wars movies, three Harry Potter films, Jurassic Park, Superman, Saving Private Ryan and has been nominated for 50 Academy Awards over the last 50 years.

The True Legacy Of Jaws

Jaws is classic, iconic and has helped lead cinema into a new age. These days summer blockbusters make upwards of a billion dollars, but in 1975 a little-known horror-thriller about a giant shark terrorizing a small town broke all the rules, taking a chunk out of the burgeoning box office and set the president for what cinema could be.

Although Jaws's Bruce was an evil and cantankerous shark, they're not all bad! Check out five of the friendliest sharks in the biz over here, and also don't forget to read about five times Marvel superheroes kicked shark butt.

What is your favorite thing about Jaws?

Source: Variety, The Atlantic, Wikipedia


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