How Jaws Created -- and Killed -- an Entire Subgenre


Is there a film series that has seen a faster fall from grace than Jaws?

The Meg is poised to open in cinemas this weekend while the sixth Sharknado premieres on Syfy the weekend after. It's a good time to be a fan of underwater monster movies, but as oddly specific as that horror subgenre sounds, it took over movie theaters in the '70s and '80s. And it all started and ended with one franchise: Jaws.

An adaptation of the Peter Benchley novel of the same name, the film followed a New England town that finds its beach-goers under siege from the eponymous great white shark. After an attack during Independence Day weekend, the town's sheriff, an oceanographer and a shark hunter set out to track down and kill the beast.

RELATED: MoviePass Won’t Sell Tickets for ‘Christopher Robin,’ ‘The Meg’

With its creeping sense of dread and iconic Academy Award-winning score by John Williams, the film was a hit with audiences and critics. Jaws was nominated for Best Picture and became the highest grossing movie of all time until it was surpassed by Star Wars two years later. Spielberg became the most sought after director in the world, while an entire horror film subgenre of underwater monster movies surfaced.

Cheap knockoffs were produced with grindhouse efficiency as B-movies such as 1977's Orca, 1978's Barracuda and 1981's Great White were rushed into production to capitalize on Jaws' success. 1978's Piranha launched Joe Dante's career; its 1981 sequel launched James Cameron's. Ridley Scott's Alien was pitched as "Jaws in space." Studios scheduled their biggest films to open during the summer after seeing the 1975 film's box office, thus creating the concept of a summer blockbuster.

Universal moved forward with their own sequel, though production encountered problems behind-the-scenes. Spielberg had no interest in helming a sequel, feeling the project was cheap and exploitative, instead focusing on writing and directing 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. John D. Hancock was hired to replace him.

RELATED: Todd McFarlane Says His Spawn Movie is Inspired by Jaws

Hancock's Jaws 2 had Amity Island turned into a ghost town, with tourists scared off by events of the first film. Ignoring Brody's warnings, a developer attempts to launch a summer resort only for a new great white shark to surface. The producers and studio execs felt audiences would be put off by the darker tones and more deliberate pacing, and, a month into filming, Hancock was fired and replaced by Jeannot Szwarc.

1 2
Crisis on Infinite Earths: Pariah's Origin, Explained

More in CBR Exclusives