Jaws is available to rent, buy and stream.
In 1975, Steven Spielberg unleashed a new terror that remains one of the best movies ever made and the most enduring of all creature horrors. However, was Jaws really about the shark? Or was Jaws about the nature of human fear? Over the years, many have dissected Jaws, looking for the answers to these questions. Some have argued that Spielberg’s film is laced with discussions of masculinity in crisis, while others have pointed to themes of humans versus nature and our desperate need to control our natural world.
Jaws would transform the classic B-Movie monster horror of the 1950s into something far more terrifying by adopting a serial killer template. But this serial killer wasn’t human. Here the clues of its work were the scattered limbs or chunks of flesh washed up on a beach, for this serial killer was a silent predator who stalked its prey along the shores of Amity Island. Spielberg would take the fun and pleasure of a summer swim or a leisurely boat journey and subvert it into a sun-drenched nightmare as he played with our sense of security and made the whole world question the joy of a summer beach and inflatable lilo. However, the role Jaws played in giving birth to the summer blockbuster is less discussed.
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Before Jaws, opening a film in the middle of summer was considered box office suicide. After all, why would people spend time in a dark cinema when they could be in the sun? Steven Spielberg and Universal were about to change the summer release forever by making the sun, the beach and the water a terrifying place and the movie theatre a sanctuary.
The monster-sized campaign for Jaws was unprecedented. After all, Peter Benchley’s novel had taken bookshops by storm in 1974, and expectations were high for a film version of his biting tale of a Great White gone rogue. As a result, Universal would set the template for film promotion with a marketing blitz and wide distribution to earn the maximum box office takings. On its opening night, Jaws played on 464 screens in the United States, an unheard-of scale in the mid-70s. But it was the front-loaded merchandise and promotions that made Jaws the template for everything to come and inspired George Lucas in his promotion of Star Wars two years later.
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Jaws would embrace TV advertising, using slogans such as “You’ll never go in the water again!” and “The most terrifying movie of the year“. Meanwhile, a few trims took the rating from R to PG, warning that Jaws “may prove too intense for some children.” This only increased the desire of many kids to see it as they nagged their parents for a seat.
Jaws was made for around $9 million but went on to take over $482 million globally. At the box office, Spielberg’s shark would dwarf Shampoo, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Dog Day Afternoon and pave the way for the massive tentpole features that now dominate the summer season. Jaws would change Hollywood forever and usher in a new era of blockbusters that encouraged us to leave the beach for the cinema.