Happy 40th Birthday Jaws

June 22, 2015

On 20 June 1975, the film Jaws hit the big screen and probably scared a generation of teenagers, who would think twice before simply diving into the ocean. And who doesn’t remember John Williams’ famous two-note introductory theme tune. The opening sequence, featuring a young woman swimming in the moonlight, which ended in screams and horror, sets the tone for a movie about an invisible force hidden deep in the water. Only half-way through the movie is the audience confronted with the enormous shark that haunts Amity Island’s summer coastline. Against all odds, three brave men decide to act; and chase the terrifying creature across the ocean to protect friends, family and the community.

Jaws was not only an on-screen phenomenon, but also a film of historical importance outside the movie theaters. For the first time ever, it was a film launched simultaneously in hundreds of theaters across the USA – something that was previously unheard of, because until then, movies always came out in a selected few theaters before being rolled out more broadly a few weeks later. Jaws was also one of the first movies that was heavily promoted through trailers on primetime network slots before its actual release date. But arguably the most important step was to move the film from the traditional winter release to a summer release date. For a 2015 audience, a film like Jaws is probably seen as a run of-the-mill summer blockbuster, but in 1975, a summer thriller was a totally new experience. Traditionally, important releases only came out during the Christmas period, just in time for the Award season. Summer was seen as a dead-in-the-water (pun intended) moment for films. Jaws was the exception to this rule. And to make it even more topical, one of the movie’s most memorable tag-lines was “See it before you go swimming!”

All of these steps may have been perceived as a bit of a gamble at the time, but in the end combined to create a phenomenon that resulted in a worldwide box-office taking of US $470,653,000: the highest-grossing film of all-time until Star Wars surpassed that record 2 years later. At the same time, Jaws launched the careers of director Steven Spielberg and actor Richard Dreyfuss, whom Spielberg always referred as his alter ego. The following years saw an increased number of references to Jaws across the board in the world of film; and projects were increasingly pitched as the “new Jaws” – the movie Alien even going as far as to pitch itself as “Jaws in space.”

Throughout Europe, the film made headlines for its realism and special effects. In France and Germany the movie sold 6 million tickets, the greatest success of 1975. Even in smaller countries like Hungary and Sweden, the admissions were beating expectations with 1,5 million tickets sold.

40 years ago, Jaws made history and created a trend that has remained the main attraction for millions of film enthusiasts across the world for years to come: the summer blockbuster.

Happy Birthday Jaws! We’ll still think twice about going back in the water, though. And for those based in the US who dare to relive the terrifying masterpiece, Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment invite you to celebrate the 40th Anniversary with Jaws returning to select cinemas for a special on Wednesday, June 24. More info here www.fathomevents.com/event/jaws.