This might make you feel ancient, but Jaws is forty years old.
Steven Spielberg’s iconic film was released on June 20th, 1975, forever changing the summer movie and ushering in a new era of the summer blockbuster.
In honour of the movie’s 40th birthday, here are 20 facts about Jaws.
1. The film was based on a blockbuster novel by Peter Benchley, published in 1974. The book was a huge success but reviews were mixed. One critic wrote, “Jaws has rubber teeth for a plot. It’s boring, pointless, listless; if there’s a trite turn to make, Jaws will make that turn.”
2. Benchley didn’t think the book would be a hit, and sold the film rights before the novel was published. “I knew that Jaws couldn’t possibly be successful. It was a first novel, and nobody reads first novels. It was a first novel about a fish, so who cares?”
3. The film omitted many of the novel’s subplots (including an affair between Ellen Brody and Matt Hooper) and focused instead on the threat of – and hunt for – the shark. Benchley wrote three drafts of the screenplay before it was turned over to Carl Gottlieb (a comedy writer who was brought in by Spielberg to give the film some humour).
4. Benchley has a small role in the film as a reporter.
5. The film’s budget was $4 million, but the production ran into many problems – most famously because the mechanical shark did not work – and eventually cost $9 million.
6. On its release, it became the highest-grossing movie of all time (until Star Wars came along). To date it has earned almost $500 million.
7. Steven Spielberg was not the first choice to direct the movie. The producers had first offered it to John Sturges and Dirk Richards. Spielberg convinced the studio he was right for the project because he compared the film’s concept to his TV movie Duel, in that they were both about “these Leviathans that target everymen.”
8. The role of Chief Brody was originally offered to Robert Duvall. He turned it down because he wanted to play Quint. Charlton Heston was also considered for the lead, but Spielberg thought he was just too much of a hero to play an everyman and someone who is afraid of the water.
9. Both Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden turned down the part of Quint. Robert Shaw initially said ‘no’ but later changed his mind after both his wife, actress Mary Ure, and his secretary urged him to take the part. Shaw later said “The last time they were that enthusiastic was From Russia with Love. And they were right.”
10. Richard Dreyfuss only got the part of Hooper after Jon Voight, Jeff Bridges, and others had refused.
11. The shoot took place in the summer of 1974 in Martha’s Vineyard. Many of the supporting players in the film were island residents and not professional actors.
12. The production was famously troubled. The actors were often seasick. Shaw was frequently drunk and grew resentful of Richard Dreyfuss (who was getting very good reviews for his performance in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz).
13. Spielberg’s use of a reverse zoom in the film became so well-known that the effect is often referred to as a “Jaws shot”.
14. The film’s most famous line – “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” – was an ad-lib by Roy Scheider.
15. Director Bryan Singer’s Bad Hat Harry Productions is named after a famous line in the film.
16. Robert Shaw’s famous monologue about surviving the sinking of the USS Indianapolis was the result of collaboration between Shaw, screenwriter John Milius, and playwright Howard Sackler.
17. During filming, the prop shark (nicknamed Bruce, after Spielberg’s lawyer) didn’t work in the saltwater, forcing Spielberg to improvise with the schedule and with his approach to the story, deciding on a “less is more” approach to the shark. “The shark not working was a godsend. It made me become more like Alfred Hitchcock than like Ray Harryhausen.”
18. John Williams won the Oscar for the film’s score. The composer described the famous “shark theme” as “grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable.”
19. The film was mostly well-received. Frank Rich wrote, “Spielberg is blessed with a talent that is absurdly absent from most American filmmakers these days: this man actually knows how to tell a story on screen. … It speaks well of this director’s gifts that some of the most frightening sequences in Jaws are those where we don’t even see the shark.”
20. The terrifying opening sequence – featuring actress and stuntwoman Susan Backlinie – took three days to film. Backlinie’s frightened reaction to being pulled underwater was genuine: Spielberg didn’t tell her when the diver underneath her would grab her leg.