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The granddaddy of all shark movies and the origin of the summer blockbuster. Even if you’ve never seen Jaws, it’s such a part of pop culture that you know that you’re going to need a bigger boat, that Harry has a real bad hat, and that mayors cannot be trusted with public safety.

This review includes spoilers and discusses the ending!

What hasn’t already been said about this movie? Its troubled production is almost as well known as the plot. Its troubled production is directly responsible for so much that makes this movie great. Everyone knows that the mechanical sharks almost never worked, forcing the 26-year old Spielberg to get creative in how he showed its presence on screen. The yellow barrels are simply iconic.

The music is beyond iconic. Everyone knows the dunnnnn dun theme song, but I forgot the other instruments that join in. I forgot that the music is more than just that one beat. And man, it’s effective. It’s incredible at building tension and anxiety, especially when the shark is slipping in and out of view. If there was ever a case for divine, creative inspiration, this is it.

The acting is also phenomenal across the board. Everyone mentions the USS Indianapolis monologue, and it’s for a reason. Robert Shaw absolutely kills it. It’s a mesmerizing moment that completely shifts the mood of the scene from lighthearted to quietly horrifying. The fact that he’s describing a real event just makes it that much better.

And, of course, you have Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair. There are very few that can match him when he’s firing on all cylinders. My favorite part is how he lingered on his actors’ faces before showing us what they were actually reacting to. It’s just another trick to help raise tension and apprehension.

Unfortunately, I don’t know if Jaws has aged well from an entertainment standpoint. I would put it in the same category as The Exorcist, where I’m sure that they were terrifying at the time but are nowadays a little boring. And maybe part of this stems from the fact that I first saw Jaws as a college student and I had to watch it on my tiny laptop screen for one of my film classes. It’s a very different environment than watching it in an audience on the big screen.

Also, at this point, I have seen many, many shark movies (and non-shark movies!) that have copied and parodied and maybe even enhanced all of the major moments in Jaws. There’s nothing new or shocking here. Don’t get me wrong! These moments are all done incredibly well. The opening scene with the poor swimmer getting dragged under the water and screaming for help is still a masterpiece. But I’ve seen it before elsewhere, and that lessens the impact.

And then there is the shark itself. For most of the movie, the shark looks great. When it swims by and underneath the boat, it’s gorgeous. You have a very real sense of the heft and sheer power of the animal. That’s the benefit of a physical prop. The waves of water and ripples as it swam by were real. But whenever the shark’s head left the water, it jolted me. I can’t be too harsh. For a practical effect that is almost fifty years old, it holds up far better than most. But I kept thinking how fake it looked while Quint died, and that’s not great.

I’ve always found the underlying class tensions to be the most interesting part. Amity Island was purposefully meant to look more working-class to sell the idea that shutting down the beaches for their busiest weekend would really harm the town.

Quint, Hooper, and Brody are three very distinct men who represent three very distinct ways of life. Quint is very primal. There’s something about him that sets him apart from the other island residents, something harsher. His introduction with the nails on the chalkboard immediately paints him as something discordant. He almost seems to exist outside of society where our normal rules don’t quite apply, where they’re dismissed not because they’re quaint but because they’re simply equipped to deal with what he considers to be the real world.

Hooper, of course, is the exact opposite. The youngest of our trio, he’s also the most educated. He’s a Scientist, capital ‘S.’ All of his faith is placed in his technology, and it feeds into his arrogance. Quint’s experience is dismissed as lesser, even though the scene where they compare scars shows just how little (and how different) practical experience Hooper has in comparison. The actions of Amity’s residents are scolded as ignorant and naive. Hooper is a very modern man and appears to have very little patience for anyone not willing to embrace that to the same degree that he does.

And then you have Brody, our everyman hero who is caught somewhere in the middle. Even though he holds a position of authority as police chief, he’s never really in charge. His decisions on land are always overruled, whether it’s by the mayor or even by his own son. It’s even worse on the water, where Brody is completely inexperienced and outright uncomfortable. But Brody is a fundamentally good man who wants to do the right thing. He wants to protect the people in his care, even though he gets stymied at nearly every turn.

Yes, this is a movie about a killer shark. But it’s also very much about these three men and how their strengths and weaknesses get flipped on their head while they’re on the Orca.

In the climax, Quint and Hooper’s steadfast worldviews both lead to their downfall. Quint dies because he refuses to relent. He will scuttle his boat if it means that he can kill the shark. It’s incredibly Captain Ahab of him, and just like Ahab, he’s doomed by the combination of rope and the very monster he tried to kill. (Side note: the shot of bright, bright red blood spurting from his mouth as the shark chomps down on him is an incredibly vivid image seared into my mind to this day.)

While Hooper doesn’t die, he arguably contributes far less to killing the shark than Quint does. His trust in his fancy shark cage and poisoned dart (something more cerebral than a good, old-fashioned gun) leads him to directly placing himself in harm’s way. In the book, it kills him. I kind of wished that it also killed him here. All of his technology does nothing. It fails at the worst moment possible.

You know what doesn’t fail?


Brody finally manages to assert authority and exercises it through the all American power of guns and explosions. Shark goes boom. Well, temporarily. The second movie isn’t that bad. It’s nowhere near as good at the original, but compared to what follows it? Yeah, it’s not that bad.

But I have already written over a thousand words here, so I shall finally wrap this review up!

Random Thoughts

Continuing our movie poster discussion, is there one that is more parodied than this one?

There is a fabulous documentary called The Shark is Still Working that goes in-depth into the production and has a ton of interviews with seemingly everyone involved. Highly recommend for anyone who is interested in that kind of stuff.

Hooper was supposed to die, but was saved thanks to an actual great white shark. There are moments where real sharks are used, with short divers making them look massive in comparison. During filming, one of the sharks had that very dramatic moment where it gets on top of the shark cage, thrashes and rolls around, and sinks it. The cage was empty at the time, so Spielberg reworked the script for Hooper to escape it as opposed to being eaten. This let him use that awesome footage.

I have read the book. I was surprised at how different it was, but I like all of the changes that the movie made. We didn’t need mafia ties or Ellen Brody potentially having an affair with Hooper. Worth a read, though.

Favorite character moment is how Brody just used a normal glass for the wine that Hooper brought over.

One of my favorite childhood memories involves going on the Jaws ride at Universal Studios Orlando when I was around five years old. At that age, you really don’t get the concept of real versus fantasy, and I thought that a shark was really attacking the tour boat that we were on. As a whole, it’s one of the best examples of tension and catharsis that you can get in a theme park ride. They’ve since replaced it with the Diagon Alley area. I miss it.

An Honest Fangirl loves video games, horror movies, and superheroes, and occasionally manages to put words together in a coherent and pleasing manner.


  1. Thanks for a wonderful review, Fangirl.

    I grew up in a small island resort town near Atlantic City, and all of our movie theaters were on the boardwalk. When Jaws came out, that's where I saw it -- a block from the ocean in a town very like the one in the movie. There really hadn't been movies like it before. It had an effect. :)

    1. I had an incredibly similar experience. I was in a very small, working class beach town in Delaware. The only theater in town was showing this movie so we all went. The next day, very few people were in the ocean and those who were kept close to shore. It took a while to recover from all the shocks.

      Great review, ANF! You captured the feel of the movie perfectly.

  2. I watched this movie for the first time when I was about 9 or 10, on cable. I loved it!

    Back then (early 90s), I really hadn't seen that many sharks. I mean, we didn't have YouTube, or Shark Week. I'd been to an aquarium, but they didn't have great whites. I'll bet that I totally thought the shark was real, because I didn't have much frame of reference.

    In fact, looking at your screencap, my first thought was "that's what a shark really looks like." I"m always surprised by how various actual sharks look.

  3. I love reading about these experiences, because it's so different than how I grew up. I've always watched Shark Week (and the now far superior Shark Fest on NatGeo) since I was a small child. Our family vacation to the shore always just happened to fall on Shark Week, which was always fun. And if it wasn't on the TV, it was in educational picture books that my brothers or I had. I've always just seen a lot of sharks, and it had always been in a very environmentalist and conservationist context. In every review I've done for this Shark Summer, I've had to restrain myself from mentioning that sharks don't actually act like this. It's just a very different world.

  4. I actually hated this movie as a kid, since I was very young at the time, and that poster freaked 5-6 year old me out. But as I got older I could appreciate the movie more, so love your review, Fangirl! I even got a Jaws toy/game as a gift later on, and that helped me deal with that anxiety, where you used a plastic hook to pull various items out of the shark's rubber band held mouth, and hoped it wouldn't snap shut on your turn. That one is long lost though.

    A thrash metal band with a name that feels a bit unfortunate considering current events (Wehrmacht), has a song called 'Shark Attack' that starts off with that classic Jaws music line before speeding it way up and jumping into it full blast, works really well.

    I've not seen the sequels, and honestly even if 2 is decent, I know some like Revenge are downright hated for good reason, and some movies really should not get a sequel, and this is one of them. It had a great end that felt so satisfying.

  5. I read the book, too. I really didn't like it, which surprised me considering the movie is among some of my favorites. The worst part of the book was the anti-climactic ending.
    I'm also glad you liked the Jaws ride at Universal. I was a skipper at that ride for 6 years. It was one of the best jobs of my life. It's weird to think I may have been the skipper on your boat, depending on when you went!


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