Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Director: Steven Spielberg
ALSO! Check out where it ranked on our list of the Best Horror Movies.
Based on the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, “Jaws” hit the theaters in 1975 and instantly became a sensation. Screaming audiences kept coming back for more as the film became the highest-grossing film ever at the time. Steven Spielberg was already a hot young director at the age of 26 when he made “Jaws,” but this film turned him into a superstar.
Filmed on Martha’s Vineyard, the shooting dragged on for seven months due to technical problems with the mechanical shark. In fact, Spielberg explained that the making of “Jaws” was extremely difficult and that his decision to take on the movie involved a “combination of courage and stupidity.” He persevered, however, and created a masterpiece.
The story tracks an enormous great white shark that terrorizes the seaside community of Amity Island. After a string of attacks, Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) sets out to kill the shark with the help of a young scientist, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and a crusty, old shark hunter, Quint (Robert Shaw). The interaction between these three very different characters anchored the film and made the suspense and action sequences all the more enjoyable (and terrifying). One of the most riveting scenes of the film had Quint telling Brody and Hooper about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during WWII as he and thousands of sailors had to fight off shark attacks for days until being rescued.
Central to the story was the reluctance of the Amity mayor (brilliantly played by the late Murray Hamilton) to admit the presence of the shark off of Amity’s beaches. Summer season means tourist dollars to Amity, and he and the business community resist closing the beaches. Naturally, this leads to disaster and sets up the quest to kill the shark in the final act.
It’s impossible to discuss “Jaws” without acknowledging the original score by John Williams. The simple yet menacing music always signaled the arrival of the shark and added immensely to the suspense Spielberg was able to create. Spielberg was adamant that the film was twice as good due to the score, and it’s hard to argue that point.
I remember seeing this film for the first time in the theaters as a young teenager. It’s by far the scariest movie I ever saw and have seen since. I remember the entire theater screaming like crazy and then going nuts when the shark gets blown up at the end. The rest, of course, is history. “Jaws,” and then “Star Wars,” helped create the summer blockbuster, and Spielberg has been riding that wave ever since.