This summer, the movie Jaws and the summer blockbuster phenomenon it launched turn 40 years old. It may be hard to remember or believe, but there was a time when summer was a movie wasteland. The big studios put out their second rate material then and saved the good stuff for fall and winter, hoping to score Oscars in the new year. While the more serious award contenders do still tend to launch after the kids are back in school, summer is hardly the cinematic malaise it used to be. That all changed June 20, 1975 when the film adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws hit theaters.
It was supposed to be a flop. “Bruce,” the mechanical shark, never worked properly, and director Steven Spielberg lived daily in fear of being fired as the schedule and budget ballooned. When production wrapped, the movie cost three times what studio execs had allotted and took three times longer to film than they had expected, although producer David Brown admits, “The release of the film was deliberately delayed till people were in the water off the summer beach resorts.”
Jaws was an instant success with critics and audiences alike, spending fourteen weeks at number one and earning 470 million dollars worldwide (more than a billion when adjusted for inflation). It spawned three progressively absurd sequels and inaugurated the summer season of big budget, high action movies. Star Wars (1977), E.T. (1982), Top Gun (1986), Jurassic Park (1993), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Avengers (2012) all owe their summer release dates to the success of Jaws.
Oh, and did I mention that some of these movies have thrilling film scores? Join me for “Reel Music: Summer Blockbusters,” Friday, July 31, 9pm on 89.9 and WDAV.org. In the meantime, enjoy this deliciously hokey original trailer: “It is as if God created the devil and gave him … JAWS!”