27 Killer Facts You Didn’t Know About Jaws
Jaws (1975) is the classic film that nearly turned you off beach holidays forever! Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss (the three R’s), Jaws quickly became America’s highest-grossing movie of all time.
But fans of the movie might not realise just how much crazy stuff happened behind the scenes, so we’ve put together a handy article with 27 things you (probably) didn’t know about Jaws. Enjoy!
27. Producers wanted to train a real great white shark
The film’s producers originally wanted to defy the laws of nature and train up a real great white shark for use in the film. Luckily for them, they soon realised it’s impossible to train a shark to perform tricks, so they had to put their heads together and come up with a different, more practical solution.
Director Steven Spielberg eventually decided that they would have to build three giant robotic sharks for the film. These were built at considerable expense, with a whopping $250,000 price tag apiece. Spielberg famously decided to nickname the sharks ‘Bruce’ after his lawyer.
26. Original director Dick Richards was fired from the movie after he kept referring to the shark as a whale
Originally, Jaws was set to be directed by Dick Richards (Farewell, My Lovely), but he was fired after a meeting with producers and studio executives. As he explained his vision for the film, Richards kept referring to the shark as a whale, and it soon became apparent that he didn’t understand the difference between the two mighty sea animals.
Studio executives told Richards they weren’t making Moby Dick, and showed him the door. This resulted in an offer going out to Steven Spielberg, a promising up-and-comer who had not long since directed Goldie Hawn in The Sugarland Express. Cinema history might have looked very different indeed if Dick Richards knew more about oceanic wildlife.
25. Spielberg hated the robotic sharks and cut them from most of the movie
Once those expensive robotic sharks arrived on the Jaws set, Spielberg was very unhappy. Not only did they look fake, they also proved extremely unreliable when put in the water; a significant issue, given much of the film is set at sea. For this reason, the director had to significantly rethink his approach to showing the shark in the film.
Spielberg wound up minimising the amount of time the shark is seen on camera, using a variety of tricks to suggest the creature’s presence for much of the film. Curiously, this wound up working to the film’s advantage, as the fleeting glimpses of the shark build a far greater feeling of suspense than might have been if we’d seen the creature from the opening minutes.
24. One of the film’s most famous lines was completely ad-libbed
Jaws has plenty of famous speeches throughout the course of the movie. But far and away one of the most famous quotes from the film is when Martin tells Quint: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”. Did you know that this wasn’t in the original script at all?! Apparently Roy Scheider ad-libbed the line on the day of the filming. And according to rumours from the set, this isn’t the only line that was improvised when the cameras were rolling.
Shaw ad-libbed his line stating “Here lies the body of Mary Lee” after Spielberg told the actor to give Martin’s wife – who was waiting on the dock – a hard time. Shaw was later asked where he got the line from, in case it would require licensing to be used in the movie. However, the actor said that he found it on an old grave marker in Ireland, so licensing definitely wouldn’t be an issue.
23. The first shark killed in the movie was a real specimen caught in Florida
Early in the movie, the townsfolk believe they have killed the man-eating shark and haul it up on the dock for everyone to see. The shark in question looks so real on camera because, well, it was; the scene features the carcass of a genuine tiger shark, which had recently been caught and killed off the coast of Florida.
You might be able to guess the challenge this posed to the filmmakers: dead things tend to rot. By the time the tiger shark arrived on set, it had already started to decompose, so after a few days working with the carcass it became hugely unpleasant for the cast and crew to be around.
22. Spielberg pulled a prank on George Lucas which went badly wrong
Spielberg decided to have some fun on the set of Jaws – but it ended up backfiring. During pre-production for the movie, Spielberg went with his friends Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and John Milius to the effects shop where Bruce was being made. Naturally they wanted to have a good look around at how things were progressing on the fake sharks.
Lucas decided to stick his head in the open shark mouth to see how it worked, and as a joke, Milius and Spielberg snuck over to the controls and clamped the jaws shut. Unfortunately, this backfired when the shark head malfunctioned and Lucas remained stuck in the mouth! Eventually they managed to get him free but afterwards they were worried that they had done some serious damage to the prop.
21. Robert Shaw’s alcoholism caused problems on set
Quint actor Robert Shaw struggled with alcoholism for most of his lifetime, and this became a genuine problem during filming of Jaws. Shaw would often swig alcohol between takes and even ruined scenes with his drinking. This prompted tension on set, particularly with Shaw’s most frequent co-stars Roy Schieder and Richard Dreyfuss.
This tension came to a head whilst shooting the celebrated USS Indianapolis monologue. The characters were meant to be drinking at the time, but Shaw took things too far, being so genuinely drunk he couldn’t get through the scene. Feeling ashamed, the next day Shaw apologised to Spielberg and asked if he could give the scene one more try, resulting in the electrifying rendition that made the final film.
20. Charlton Heston refused to ever work with Spielberg after being snubbed for Chief Brody
Screen legend Charlton Heston was in contention for the role of Amity Island Police Chief Martin Brody, but he lost out on the part to the comparatively unknown Roy Scheider. Heston didn’t react at all well when he found out the news, publicly criticising Spielberg and vowing never to work with him.
Spielberg explained that Heston had just starred in two films which saw him saving a passenger jet and rescuing people from a collapsing building, so the audience just wouldn’t buy that the actor could be so scared of a shark. Heston didn’t agree, and stayed true to his word on never to working with Spielberg; he turned down the director’s offer of a role in 1941.
19. Mass hysteria about sharks took over after the film was released
Nobody really wants to go swimming in the sea after the first time they see Jaws. When the movie was released in cinemas in 1975, a bizarre mass hysteria took hold and hundreds of incidents involving sharks occurred across America. Scores of sharks were killed by overzealous members of the public.
People were so jumpy that sharks weren’t the only sea creatures suffering. A beach in Southern California had to be completely cleared by lifeguards due to ‘sharks’ being spotted in the water – which turned out to be a pod of dolphins. Another ugly incident occurred in Florida, when a young pygmy sperm whale beached itself and was beaten to death by onlookers who were convinced it was a shark.
18. The plot of Jaws basically occurred in real life in Egypt
- Credit: Marc Ryckaert/Wikimedia
Jaws isn’t a very realistic portrayal of typical shark behaviour, yet some eerily similar incidents have happened. In 2010, the Egyptian holiday resort of Sharm El Sheikh suffered a string of fatal shark attacks. Unfortunately, local authorities were similarly ineffectual as those in the movie, initially denying the problem and refusing to close any beaches.
Just like in Jaws, they even killed the wrong shark and re-opened the beaches to plenty of publicity, only for the killer shark to strike once again. Unlike the movie, though, the shark in question was not hunted down and destroyed; eventually it simply swam off to a new hunting ground.
17. Spielberg’s dog appears in the film
Remember the Brody family’s cute little dog? You can clearly see a sweet cocker spaniel sat on the sofa when Ellen asks Martin if he wants to get drunk with her and fool around. It turns out this little pooch has a very famous owner: none other than Steven Spielberg himself! In reality, the dog was named Elmer and Spielberg has featured him in lots of different films.
As well as an appearance in Jaws, Elmer has also starred in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941 and The Sugarland Express. Thankfully Spielberg didn’t cast Elmer in the role of Pippet, the black Labrador who mysteriously ‘disappears’ near the Amity Island shoreline – that would have been a distressing scene for the director to shoot!
16. Two cast members later had a very bizarre reunion
First-time screen actress Lee Fierro gives a memorable performance as Mrs. Kintner, the mother of the poor kid eaten by the shark whilst paddle boarding. Many, many years after Jaws was released in 1975, Fierro walked into a seafood restaurant at Martha’s Vineyard. She soon noticed an item on the menu called the ‘Alex Kintner Sandwich’.
Fierro commented to the restaurant staff that she had actually played Alex’s mother in the blockbuster, and upon hearing this, the restaurant owner ran out of his kitchen to meet her. It was none other than Jeffrey Voorhees, the actor who played her son Alex! The pair hadn’t seen each other since filming their Jaws scenes together years earlier.
15. Spielberg laughed out loud the first time he heard John Williams’ theme tune
The Jaws theme tune from veteran composer John Williams is one of the most recognisable film scores in history. However, while it seems like an iconic two-note masterpiece nowadays, when Steven Spielberg first heard the track he laughed out loud! The director then said “That’s funny, John, really; but what did you really have in mind for the theme?”
Despite finding it hilarious at first, the director admitted that Williams’ composition was key to Jaws’ success. Funnily enough, Williams was responsible for conducting the orchestra during the 1976 Academy Awards. This meant that when he won the Oscar for Best Score, he had to run up to the podium to accept his prize and then quickly leave the stage to continue conducting the orchestra!
14. Much of the film was nearly destroyed in a boat accident
The infamous ‘Orca’ actually sunk during filming one day. When they were trying to make it look as though the Orca was being tossed about by a 25-foot shark, the boat was ‘gunned’ from side to side at full speed, causing the actors on board to fall over. All of that gunning broke a hole open in the Orca’s hull, causing the boat to fill with water and begin sinking.
Spielberg screamed over the bullhorn for the safety boats to come and rescue the actors. Sound engineer John R. Carter was already up to his knees in water and reportedly shouted “F*** the actors, save the sound department!” The camera was entirely submerged, and the crew assumed it was completely ruined. Happily, the film was flown to a New York lab and they didn’t lose a single shot.
13. Roy Scheider had to put up with being slapped over seventeen times
Before Lee Fierro gives her emotional monologue to Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody, she slaps him in the face for not closing the beaches when he knew there was a shark out there. This proved to be a rather rough experience for Scheider, because Fierro’s lack of acting experience meant she didn’t know how to do fake slaps.
This meant that every single one of the slaps that were filmed actually hit Scheider full in the face, and they shot over 17 takes! Scheider later said those takes were some of the “most painful” of his entire career, which is hardly surprising. Fierro also revealed afterwards that in one of the takes, Scheider’s glasses accidentally fell off.
12. Hooper only survived in the film because of an encounter with a real-life shark
Hooper is a fan favourite and at the end of the film, we see him paddling back to shore with Brody. However, did you know that he was originally supposed to die in the movie? Dreyfuss’ character was only saved by some real-life underwater footage which featured an actual great white attacking a cage.
When Ron and Valerie Taylor (who were filming in Australia with an actual great white) shot the underwater scenes, the shark became tangled in some rope and got so agitated that it smashed the cage to bits. Spielberg liked the footage so much that he decided to change the plot so that audiences saw Hooper dramatically escape the cage’s destruction.
11. Swimming girl Susan Backlinie had a difficult time during filming
Actress and stunt performer Susan Backlinie played Chrissie Watkins, the young skinny dipper at the start of the film who proves to be the shark’s first victim. This was a gruelling experience for Watkins, who had to be repeatedly pulled underwater and dragged around by an unseen force beneath the surface.
In order to get the right ‘tugging’ motion, the effects team attached two three hundred pound weights to her waist. These weights were then pulled right and left by two different groups on the shore. The whole sequence took three days to film, and people have since said that the genuine look of pain on Backlinie’s face was due to the heavy weights digging into her ribs constantly.
10. Tax dodger Robert Shaw had to flee the country once his scenes were completed
Robert Shaw was at the centre of plenty of controversies during his time filming Jaws. The actor was in trouble with the IRS who were investigating him for tax evasion, and to avoid this Shaw ended up having to flee the country each time his scenes were completed for that particular shooting schedule.
During the investigation he was only allowed to spend a certain amount of time in America, otherwise he would face a tax liability. In order to get around the problem, the actor kept flying off to Canada on his days off. In the end Shaw had to give all of his Jaws salary to the IRS to avoid jail time.
9. One particularly gruesome scene was deleted from the movie
Jaws is full of scary shark attack scenes, but one didn’t make the final cut because it was too much for the film’s preferred PG rating. The scene in question features Brody’s son swimming in the ‘shallow area’ – he is frozen in terror as the shark approaches him, but just at the last minute a man pushes him out of the way and takes the brunt of the creature instead.
Spielberg included a single shot of the man’s upper torso being dragged along by the shark before it disappears under the waves. The scene was left out after Spielberg decided it was too bloody. You can see the sequence in full on the Making of Jaws documentary, just in case you’re interested.
8. Richard Dreyfuss really didn’t enjoy being bullied by Shaw on set
Dreyfuss didn’t have many complaints about his time on the set of Jaws. However, the actor once confessed that the one thing he couldn’t stand while filming on location was the bullying he received from Robert Shaw. Apparently, while Shaw was very nice to him in private, Shaw seemed to enjoy berating Dreyfuss in front of the other cast and crew members.
After teasing Dreyfuss about being a coward, Shaw dared him to climb to the top of the Orca’s mast (which measured 75 feet) and jump off into the ocean. Shaw offered to pay him over $1,000. Eventually Spielberg had to intervene and told Dreyfuss: “I don’t care how much money he offers you, you’re not jumping off the mast, not in my movie.”
7. Spielberg has admitted that many of the production problems were down to his inexperience
Spielberg really made a name for himself with Jaws. The now-veteran director has admitted that the experience was a real learning curve for him and he has attributed many of the production’s issues to his own perfectionism and inexperience. This became particularly apparent with Spielberg’s insistence on shooting at sea with an actual life-sized shark.
The director later stated, “I could have shot the movie in the tank or even in a protected lake somewhere, but it would not have looked the same… I was naive about the ocean, basically.” Years later, Spielberg advised Waterworld director Kevin Reynolds (without avail) against repeating his mistake of shooting at sea.
6. Spielberg fled the final day of filming to avoid getting pranked
It wasn’t just Robert Shaw who had to flee the set of Jaws. Spielberg decided to sneak out and leave secretly while the final scene was being shot – because he wanted to escape the wrath of his crew members! On the last day of shooting, Spielberg overheard rumours that his crew was planning on dunking him under water as revenge for the chaos of production.
Instead, the director snook off on a plane to Boston while the final shot of the shark exploding was being filmed. He never got to see the epic explosion in action because he was so paranoid about the rumoured dunking. Dreyfuss was on the same flight and asked Spielberg how the final scene had gone down – Spielberg replied “They’re shooting it now” and Dreyfuss started laughing hysterically.
5. The climactic blowing up of the shark required an explosives expert to come in
The shark blowing up is the climactic end of the movie. And in order to get it exactly right, the filmmakers needed to hire an explosives expert with a blasting permit. Richard S. Edwards was drafted in – he had a history of working with the US Navy on explosives and agreed to place the dynamite for the final shot. It was no easy thing for Edwards to place the explosives into the shark though.
He couldn’t get past the teeth of the shark mock-up and had to try and crawl past them into the back of the device. Edwards hurt himself on sharp fiberglass and had to wrap his knees with towels and wear heavy gloves to get far enough into the prop. He carried the dynamite in his mouth then placed it carefully in the head of the shark.
4. Hooper was supposed to have an affair with Brody’s wife
Brody and his wife have an electric chemistry in the film. Which makes it even weirder to think about the fact that originally, Ellen was supposed to have a steamy affair with none other than Matt Hooper! In Peter Benchley’s original novel, the action surrounding the shark is accompanied by an illicit affair between Ellen and Matt.
Of course, in the movie this entire aspect of the original story is completely removed from the film, and for good reason. The affair was only included by Benchley to ‘sex up’ the plot of his novel. The filmmakers agreed that it was completely irrelevant. Instead they kept the focus on an interesting dynamic between Brody and his wife Ellen.
3. The USS Indianapolis massacre actually occurred in real life
Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech (written by uncredited screenwriter John Milius) was actually based on a real historical event. In Jaws, it almost sounds too terrifying to be real, but Quint’s speech is a fictionalised account of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during the final days of World War II.
The ship was sunk off the coast of the Philippines by two Japanese torpedoes, and of the 1,196 crew members onboard, only 316 survived. 300 died during the sinking, while 579 men died from heat exposure, dehydration, drinking salt water and – of course – shark attacks. Many of the survivors recalled seeing sharks circling and dragging off bodies into the deep.
2. There’s a sneaky reference to James Bond hidden in the film
Spielberg made no secret of the fact that he always wanted to direct a James Bond movie. The young filmmaker decided to include a Bond Easter Egg to pay tribute to the famous franchise. When the car’s licence plate is pulled up from the wreckage, it reads 007 981 – a cheeky nod to the British secret agent’s famous code number.
Although the Bond producers never hired Spielberg, they did name henchman Jaws after the director’s hit movie. Also, many years later that very same 007 981 licence plate would make a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in another shark-based blockbuster, director Renny Harlin’s 1999 movie Deep Blue Sea.
1. Spielberg learned that you can only have one major ‘scare’ during a movie
Thanks to Ben Gardner’s severed head, Spielberg learned that films can only have one big ‘scare moment’. The scene where Hooper is shocked by Gardner’s head rolling into view was not in the original script. Spielberg admitted that he ‘got greedy’ after seeing the preview audience’s horrified reaction to the moment when the shark jumps out from behind Brody’s head.
Spielberg then went back and put the shot with Gardner’s head in before the shark appears. The preview audiences reacted in horror but the director noted that the shark’s appearance then only received half the reaction it used to. Spielberg realised that the audience will always be on guard for the rest of the film after a major shock moment.