"Jaws", an American thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, premiered on June 20, 1975. In the film, a man-eating great white shark attacks beachgoers at a summer resort town, prompting police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) to hunt it with the help of a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a professional shark hunter (Robert Shaw). Murray Hamilton plays the mayor, and Lorraine Gary portrays Brody's wife. The screenplay is credited to Benchley, who wrote the first drafts, and actor-writer Carl Gottlieb, who rewrote the script during principal photography.
Shot mostly on location on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, Jaws was the first major motion picture to be shot on the ocean, and consequently had a troubled production, going over budget and past schedule. As the art department's mechanical sharks often malfunctioned, Spielberg decided mostly to suggest the shark's presence, employing an ominous and minimalist theme created by composer John Williams to indicate its impending appearances. Spielberg and others have compared this suggestive approach to that of director Alfred Hitchcock. Universal Pictures' release of the film to over 450 screens was an exceptionally wide release for a major studio picture at the time, and it was accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign with a heavy emphasis on television spots and tie-in merchandise. Here is the original theatrical trailer:
Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, producers at Universal Pictures, independently heard about Peter Benchley's novel Jaws. Brown came across it in the literature section of lifestyle magazine Cosmopolitan, then edited by his wife, Helen Gurley Brown. A small card written by the magazine's book editor gave a detailed description of the plot, concluding with the comment "might make a good movie". The producers each read the book over the course of a single night and agreed the next morning that it was "the most exciting thing that they had ever read" and that they wanted to produce a film version, although they were unsure how it would be accomplished. They purchased the film rights in 1973, before the book's publication, for approximately $175,000 (equivalent to $990,000 today). Brown claimed that had they read the book twice, they would never have made the film because they would have realized how difficult it would be to execute certain sequences.
To direct, Zanuck and Brown first considered veteran filmmaker John Sturges—whose résumé included another maritime adventure, The Old Man and the Sea—before offering the job to Dick Richards, whose directorial debut, "The Culpepper Cattle Co." had come out the previous year. They soon grew irritated by Richards's habit of describing the shark as a whale and dropped him from the project. Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg very much wanted the job. The 26-year-old had just directed his first theatrical film, "The Sugarland Express", for Zanuck and Brown. At the end of a meeting in their office, Spielberg noticed their copy of the still-unpublished Benchley novel, and after reading it was immediately captivated. He later observed that it was similar to his 1971 television film Duel in that both deal with "these leviathans targeting everymen". He also revealed in "The Making of Jaws" documentary on the 2012 DVD release that he directly referenced Duel by repurposing the sound of the truck being destroyed as the death roar of the shark. After Richards's departure, the producers signed Spielberg to direct in June 1973, before the release of "The Sugarland Express".
Before production began, Spielberg grew reluctant to continue with Jaws, in fear of becoming typecast as the "truck and shark director". He wanted to move over to 20th Century Fox's Lucky Lady instead, but Universal exercised its right under its contract with the director to veto his departure. Brown helped convince Spielberg to stick with the project, saying that "after [Jaws], you can make all the films you want". The film was given an estimated budget of $3.5 million and a shooting schedule of 55 days. Principal photography was set to begin in May 1974. Universal wanted the shoot to finish by the end of June, when the major studios' contract with the Screen Actors Guild was due to expire, to avoid any disruptions due to a potential strike. Here is Steven Spielberg on The Dick Cavett Show, explaining the production difficulties with the mechanical shark:
Universal spent $1.8 million marketing Jaws, including an unprecedented $700,000 on national television spot advertising. The media blitz included about two dozen 30-second advertisements airing each night on prime-time network TV between June 18, 1975, and the film's opening two days later. Beyond that, in the description of film industry scholar Searle Kochberg, Universal "devised and co-ordinated a highly innovative plan" for the picture's marketing. As early as October 1974, Zanuck, Brown, and Benchley hit the television and radio talk show circuit to promote the paperback edition of the novel and the forthcoming film. The studio and publisher Bantam agreed on a title logo that would appear on both the paperback and in all of the advertising for the film. The centerpieces of the joint marketing strategy were John Williams's theme and the poster image featuring the shark approaching a lone female swimmer. The poster was based on the paperback's cover, and had the same artist, Bantam employee Roger Kastel. The Seiniger Advertising agency spent six months designing the poster; principal Tony Seiniger explained that "no matter what we did, it didn't look scary enough". Seiniger ultimately decided that "you had to actually go underneath the shark so you could see his teeth."
More merchandise was created to take advantage of the film's release. In 1999, Graeme Turner wrote that Jaws was accompanied by what was "probably the most elaborate array of tie-ins" including "a sound-track album, T-shirts, plastic tumblers, a book about the making of the movie, the book the movie was based on, beach towels, blankets, shark costumes, toy sharks, hobby kits, iron-on transfers, games, posters, shark's tooth necklaces, sleepwear, water pistols, and more." The Ideal Toy Company, for instance, produced a game in which the player had to use a hook to fish out items from the shark's mouth before the jaws closed. Here is a newsclip after the initial release and the pop culture phenomenon that followed:
The glowing audience response to a rough cut of the film at two test screenings in Dallas on March 26, 1975, and one in Long Beach, on March 28, along with the success of Benchley's novel and the early stages of Universal's marketing campaign, generated great interest among theater owners, facilitating the studio's plan to debut Jaws at hundreds of cinemas simultaneously. A third and final preview screening, of a cut incorporating changes inspired by the previous presentations, was held in Hollywood on April 24. After Universal chairman Lew Wasserman attended one of the screenings, he ordered the film's initial release—planned for a massive total of as many as 900 theaters—to be cut down, declaring, "I want this picture to run all summer long. I don't want people in Palm Springs to see the picture in Palm Springs. I want them to have to get in their cars and drive to see it in Hollywood." Nonetheless, the several hundred theaters that were still booked for the opening represented what was then an unusually wide release. At the time, wide openings were associated with movies of doubtful quality; not uncommon on the grindhouse and exploitation side of the industry, they were customarily employed to diminish the effect of negative reviews and word of mouth.
On June 20, Jaws opened across North America on 464 screens - 409 in the United States, the remainder in Canada. The coupling of this broad distribution pattern with the movie's then even rarer national television marketing campaign yielded a release method virtually unheard-of at the time. Building on the film's success, the release was subsequently expanded on July 25 to nearly 700 theaters, and on August 15 to more than 950. Overseas distribution followed the same pattern, with intensive television campaigns and wide releases—in Great Britain, for instance, Jaws opened in December at more than 100 theaters.
Jaws opened with a record $7 million weekend and grossed a record $21,116,354 in its first 10 days recouping its production costs. It grossed $100 million in its first 59 days from 954 playdates. In just 78 days, it overtook The Godfather as the highest-grossing film at the North American box office, sailing past that picture's earnings of $86 million and became the first film to earn $100 million in US theatrical rentals. Its initial release ultimately brought in $123.1 million in rentals. Theatrical re-releases in 1976 and Summer 1979 brought its total rentals to $133.4 million.
Across all of its releases Jaws has grossed $472 million worldwide; adjusted for inflation, it has earned almost $2 billion at 2011 prices and is the second-most successful franchise film after Star Wars. In the United States and Canada it has grossed $261 million, equivalent to $1.2 billion at 2020 prices (based on an estimated 128,078,800 tickets sold), making it the seventh-highest-grossing movie of all time adjusted for ticket price inflation.
Jaws won three Academy Awards, those being for Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Sound (Robert Hoyt, Roger Heman, Earl Madery, and John Carter). It was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Spielberg greatly resented the fact that he was not nominated for Best Director. Along with the Oscar, John Williams's score won the Grammy Award. Here is an interview with Steven Spielberg and John Williams on the influence of the music score on the film;
Jaws was key in establishing the benefits of a wide national release backed by heavy television advertising, rather than the traditional progressive release in which a film slowly entered new markets and built support over time. Saturation booking, in which a film opens simultaneously at thousands of theaters, and massive media buys are now commonplace for the major Hollywood studios.
In the years since its release, Jaws has frequently been cited by film critics and industry professionals as one of the greatest movies of all time. It was number 48 on American Film Institute's 100 Years ... 100 Movies, a list of the greatest American films of all time compiled in 1998.
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