20 facts you might not know about Jaws
Universal Studios

20 facts you might not know about Jaws

Why are people afraid of sharks? There are a few potential reasons, but “Jaws” is probably high on that list. Steven Spielberg’s breakout film found critical acclaim and also a ton of commercial success. If you have only seen “Jaws” once or dozens of times – or perhaps never seen it before but just know it from its reputation – here are 20 facts that might educate you on the shark that made you afraid to get in the water.

 
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“Jaws” was inspired by a best-selling book inspired by real events

“Jaws” was inspired by a best-selling book inspired by real events
Universal

“Jaws” began life as a novel by the author Peter Benchley, one of the credited screenwriters on the movie as well. The book was inspired by a lifelong interest in sharks, especially a 1964 story about a fisherman named Frank Mundus who caught a two-ton great white shark off the shore of Montauk, New York. The book was on the bestseller list for 44 weeks, making it an obvious choice for a movie adaptation.

 
2 of 20

One of the screenwriters had a history in sitcom writing (and acting)

One of the screenwriters had a history in sitcom writing (and acting)
Universal

Benchley was joined by Carl Gottlieb to write the script. After winning an Emmy for his work on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” Gottlieb also wrote for “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Odd Couple.” As an actor, Gottlieb appeared in movies like “The Jerk” and “Clueless.” He’s also in “Jaws,” playing Harry Meadows.

 
3 of 20

Steven Spielberg was not the first choice to direct

Steven Spielberg was not the first choice to direct
Universal

Spielberg may be one of the biggest directors ever now, but back when the production for “Jaws” began he only had one feature to his name, “The Sugarland Express.” Producers initially wanted John Sturges, and Rick Richards was actually offered the job first. However, for some weird reason Richards kept calling the shark in the movie a “whale,” and producers dropped him and replaced him with Spielberg.

 
4 of 20

Spielberg was only 26 when he began directing “Jaws”

Spielberg was only 26 when he began directing “Jaws”
Universal

We mentioned that “Spielberg” had one feature to his name when he got the “Jaws” job. However, he had already worked in television, including directing 1971’s “Duel,” which got him a lot of attention and critical acclaim. Of course, he was already having an impressive career given his age. When Spielberg got the “Jaws” gig he was all of 26.

 
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Robert Shaw almost didn’t act in the movie because he didn’t like the book

Robert Shaw almost didn’t act in the movie because he didn’t like the book
Universal

Can you imagine anybody but Shaw playing Quint? Well we almost had to do without him. When he was offered the role of the grizzled captain of the Orca, he didn’t really want the role. His problem? He thought Benchley’s novel wasn’t very good. However, his wife Midge Ure and his secretary suggested he take the role, and Shaw listened to them. The rest is film history.

 
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Hooper is quite different in the book (and also doesn’t survive)

Hooper is quite different in the book (and also doesn’t survive)
Universal

Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is a little annoying but mostly likeable. In the novel, though, he’s more odious. In particular, he has an affair with Chief Brody’s wife Ellen. Of course, in a way Hooper then gets his cosmic comeuppance. In the novel, when Hooper goes down in the shark cage he gets eaten. That was actually originally going to happen in the movie as well, but the storyline was altered during the filming.

 
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Richard Dreyfuss was suggested to Spielberg by George Lucas

Richard Dreyfuss was suggested to Spielberg by George Lucas
Universal

Spielberg and Lucas are good buddies and often helped each other out. When Spielberg was looking for an actor to play Hooper, Lucas recommended he go with Dreyfuss. The actor had been in Lucas’ breakout film “American Graffiti,” and obviously made a good impression on the talented director. 

 
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We were supposed to see way more of the shark

We were supposed to see way more of the shark
Universal

Multiple mechanical sharks were built for the making of the movie. However, they proved entirely unreliable. Spielberg had to maneuver around these problems and a lot of planned shots of the shark were instead filmed without the shark on screen. This actually proved to be quite suspenseful, and arguably made the movie even better.

 
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“Jaws” had a nickname during production

“Jaws” had a nickname during production
Universal

The three full-sized mechanical sharks from the movie? The ones that didn’t work as expected? They were all given a nickname on set. The faux great whites were called Bruce in “honor” of Bruce Ramer, Spielberg’s lawyer.

 
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“Jaws” was actually shot on the ocean, a Hollywood first

“Jaws” was actually shot on the ocean, a Hollywood first
Universal

The movie is set on the fictional island of Amity, but was shot around Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Martha’s Vineyard sits adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, and Spielberg decided to shoot some of the film on location. “Jaws” was actually the first major movie to be filmed on the ocean, which certainly didn’t make production any easier.

 
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“Jaws” basically invented the summer blockbuster

“Jaws” basically invented the summer blockbuster
Universal

Back in the day, movies were often released in a slow rollout. Films basically went on a road trip, opening in different areas across the country, staying there for a few weeks, and then moving on. “Jaws,” meanwhile, was released in 464 screens on June 20, the beginning of summer and quickly expanded to 700 screens by the end of July based on audience buzz. The idea of studios releasing their big blockbusters in summer? That effectively began with “Jaws.”

 
12 of 20

The film won three Oscars

The film won three Oscars
Universal

In addition to being a commercial smash, “Jaws” was nominated for several Academy Awards. While it didn’t win Best Picture, and Spielberg was annoyed he wasn’t even nominated for Best Director, it did win three Oscars including Best Film Editing, Best Original Sound, and Best Original Dramatic Score, which went to the legendary John Williams.

 
13 of 20

“Jaws” spawned a ton of imitators

“Jaws” spawned a ton of imitators
United Artists

A hit like “Jaws” is bound to spawn imitators. Perhaps the most infamous of those was “Piranha.” However, there were many more, including “Orca,” “Barracuda,” and “Mako: The Jaws of Death.” In fact, even “Alien” was pitched as “Jaws in Space.” Sadly none of the knock-offs could match "Jaws" place in movie history. 

 
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The actress who played Chrissie spoofed herself in another Spielberg movie

The actress who played Chrissie spoofed herself in another Spielberg movie
Universal

Poor Chrissie didn’t stand a chance. All she wanted to do was get drunk and go skinny dipping, but instead ends up as the first victim in “Jaws,” an unsettling scene that sets the pace for the film. The actress, Susan Backline, would parody that opening in Spielberg’s “1941.” This time, instead of getting attacked by a shark, she ends up atop a submarine.

 
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“You’re gonna need a bigger boat” was an adlib

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat” was an adlib
Universal

You know Brody’s iconic line “You’re gonna need a bigger boat?” You likely do. After all, it finished 33th on AFI’s top 100 movie quotes list. Well it wasn’t in the script. Roy Scheider adlibbed the line, making film history in the process.

 
16 of 20

The sharks were fake, but the slaps from Mrs. Kitner were real

The sharks were fake, but the slaps from Mrs. Kitner were real
Universal

Poor Mrs. Kitner loses her son because the beaches are opened in spite of the fact a great white was known to be in the premises. She takes her grief out on Brody, slapping him in the face. Unfortunately for Scheider, actress Lee Fierro couldn’t really fake a slap, so she actually hit Scheider on every take. He said in an interview it took 17 takes, and Fierro admitted that she once slapped him so hard his glasses flew off.

 
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One line sparked the name of a production company

One line sparked the name of a production company
Universal

Chief Brody tells an elderly smoker teasing him “That’s some bad hat, Harry.” This line inspired the name of Bad Hat Harry Productions, which produced “House” and most of the “X-Men” films to date. 

 
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“Mythbusters” put “Jaws” to the test

“Mythbusters” put “Jaws” to the test
Universal

The beloved Discovery show “Mythbusters” tested many movie myths and spent a lot of time on “Jaws” due to Discovery's connection with “Shark Week”. Some of the myths tested include if an oxygen tank would explode if shot and if a great white could actually punch a hole in the side of a wooden boat.

 
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Shooting went a little longer than anticipated

Shooting went a little longer than anticipated
Universal

When Spielberg was given the go ahead to direct “Jaws,” he was allotted 55 days of shooting. In the end, it took Spielberg 159 days to wrap up production. In an interview with “The Roanoke Times” to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film, Spielberg said he thought his career would be over because of how long over schedule he went. Fortunately for everybody, that wasn’t the case.

 
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“Jaws” is an Oscar winner with a Razzie-winning sequel

“Jaws” is an Oscar winner with a Razzie-winning sequel
Universal

As we said, “Jaws” won three Oscars. It’s considered one of the best movies ever. "Jaws" related sequels -- not so much. The fourth film in the series, “Jaws: The Revenge” is considered one of the worst movies ever. It was nominated for seven Razzies, but luckily only won for Worst Visual Effects. 

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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