Steven Spielberg’s monster fish tale became an instant classic following its 1975 release—and the story of its creation is just as interesting as the film itself. Savor Jaws even more knowing these 15 fascinating tidbits.
1. The film is adapted from author Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel of the same name.
Benchley based his thriller on a series of shark attacks that occurred off the coast New Jersey in 1916 and after an incident where a New York fisherman named Frank Mundus caught a 4,500-lb. shark off the coast of Montauk in 1964. Other title ideas Benchley had before settling on Jaws were The Stillness in the Water, The Silence of the Deep, Leviathan Rising, and The Jaws of Death.
2. Benchley himself makes a cameo in the film.
He plays the news reporter who addresses the camera on the beach. Benchley had previously worked as a news reporter for the Washington Post before penning Jaws.
3. The shark doesn’t fully appear in a shot until 1 hour and 21 minutes into the 2-hour film.
While the lack of shark appearances works to heighten the film’s tension, the real reason it isn’t shown is because the mechanical shark that was built rarely worked during filming. Director Steven Spielberg had to create inventive ways (like Quint’s yellow barrels) to shoot around the non-functional shark.
4. To create the fictional town of Amity, the film shot on location in Edgartown and Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Strict land ordinances kept the production from building anywhere — Quint’s shack was the one and only set built for the movie, and the defaced Amity Island billboard had to be constructed, have the scenes around it shot, and taken down all in one day.
5. Spielberg nicknamed the shark “Bruce,” after his lawyer, Bruce Ramer.
Ramer also represents Demi Moore, Ben Stiller, and Clint Eastwood.
6. The opening sequence took three days to film.
To achieve the jolting motions of the shark attacking the swimmer, a harness with cables was attached to actress Susan Backlinie’s legs and was pulled by crewmembers back and forth along the shoreline. Spielberg didn’t alert Backlinie as to when she would be “attacked,” so her terrified reaction is genuine.
7. Richard Dreyfuss wasn’t Spielberg’s first choice to play oceanographer Matt Hooper.
Spielberg initially approached Jon Voight, Timothy Bottoms, and Jeff Bridges for the role. When none of them could commit, Spielberg’s friend George Lucas suggested Richard Dreyfuss, whom Lucas has directed in his film American Graffiti.
8. Roy Scheider was cast after eavesdropping on Spielberg at a party.
Scheider over-heard Spielberg talking to a friend at a Hollywood party about the scene where the shark leaps out of the water and onto Quint’s boat. Scheider was instantly enthralled, and asked Spielberg if he could be in the film. Spielberg loved Scheider from his role in the Academy Award winning film The French Connection, and later offered the actor the leading part of Chief Martin Brody.
9. Shaw’s performance was based on a real guy.
Shaw modeled Quint on Martha’s Vineyard native and fisherman Craig Kingsbury, a non-actor who appears as Ben Gardner in the film. Kingsbury helped Shaw with his accent and allegedly told Shaw old sea stories that the actor incorporated into his improvised dialogue as Quint.
10. Brody’s famous “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” line wasn’t in the script.
It was entirely improvised by Roy Scheider.
11. The film almost included a love triangle.
Early scripts included an affair between Hooper and Chief Brody’s wife.
12. Jaws was initially rated R by the MPAA.
After selected gruesome frames of the shot showing the severed leg of the man attacked by the shark in the estuary were trimmed down, the film was given a PG rating (the PG-13 rating wasn’t created until Spielberg’s own film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, nine years later).
13. The film’s iconic poster image was designed by artist Roger Kastel for the paperback edition of Benchley’s book.
Kastel modeled the image of the massive shark emerging from the bottom of the frame after a great white shark diorama at the American Museum of Natural History. The female swimmer at the top was actually a model that Kastel was sketching at his studio for an ad in Good Housekeeping. He asked her to stay a half-hour longer and had her pose for the image by lying on a stool and pretending to swim.
14. The sole music notes played for composer John Williams’ Jaws theme are E and F.
Jaws marked the second time Williams worked with Spielberg after his film The Sugarland Express, and Williams would go on to compose the music for every Spielberg movie up to the present.
15. Steven Spielberg didn’t direct the shot of the shark exploding.
In fact, he had already returned to Los Angeles after the film’s grueling shooting schedule to begin post-production on the film and left the shot up to the production’s second unit.