It wouldn’t be Shark Week without a look back at the definitive shark movie: Jaws. The four Jaws films range from some of the (undisputedly) greatest stuff that cinema has to offer, to, arguably, some of the worst. Ranked from the bottom-feeders to the king of the ocean, let’s take a look back at the Top 4 Jaws Movies of All-Time.
4. Jaws 3 (1983)
Ask anyone who’s seen all four Jaws movies and they’ll confirm it for you: Jaws 3 (or Jaws 3-D, if they saw it in theaters) is the worst of the bunch – mostly because of the 3D component. Jaws 3 was released during the second wave of 3D movie mania, particularly in the world of horror films such as Friday the 13th Part III and Amityville 3D. As a result, this film features many shots created to be particularly exciting when viewed through those special glasses – for example, an enormous shark breaking through an aquarium, disembodied arms floating towards the camera, and a shot in the opening credits where a fish head floats toward theater-goers. Watching it in 3D is intense, but rare; modern viewers can watch the film in HD, but are treated to lingering, gruesome shots in boring old 2D.
3D aside, it’s possible that filmgoers in 1983 only had room in their hearts for one franchise: Return of the Jedi was released two months prior but was still going strong in July when Jaws 3-D came out, eventually becoming the top film of the year. Beyond that, viewers preferred stories a bit more down to earth – Terms of Endearment, Flashdance and Trading Places rounded out that years’ Top 5.
To make matters worse, this is the only film of the three Jaws sequels to feature no actors from the original film. Roy Scheider, who played Police Chief Brody in the first two had no interest in a third Jaws, saying “Mephistopheles … couldn’t talk me into doing [it].” Instead, Jaws 3 stars Dennis Quaid as Brody’s grown-up son. Emblematic of wider issues in 1980s Hollywood, Quaid revealed that he was on cocaine in “every frame” of this film. As a result, Mike Brody is frenetic, paranoid, and for the most part, does his best to avoid any kind of conflict with the sharks, resulting in an underwhelming lead character. Ultimately, Jaws 3 was a mess. (But it still turned a profit, so get ready for…)
3. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
…Jaws: The Revenge, the last of the Jaws Saga! This film is notable for the speed with which it was produced: From the script process to the end of production, an average film takes about two years to make, but this one went from conception to completion in just eight months.
This film features the return of an original cast member, Lorraine Gary, as a newly widowed Ellen Brody. The cast also features a surprising new member, Michael Caine, as airplane pilot Hoagie Newcombe. Jaws: The Revenge tells the story of a shark that appears to be targeting members of the Brody family, Ellen developing psychic abilities, and an inexplicable ending. In short: it’s better than Jaws 3-D, but not by a lot.
The production of Jaws: The Revenge also reflects the changing world of Hollywood during this time, which recognized the international market’s importance. When released in theaters in America, the movie ended with a dramatic showdown: Ellen Brody thinks back to her husband fighting the shark from the original Jaws and rams the boat’s bow through the beast. The shark thrashes, destroying the vessel, and survivors jump and swim to safety. When American audiences reacted poorly to this ending, it was reshot for the international market and home video release. Instead, the boat rams the shark, activating a bomb planted there by the last human he ate. The shark explodes (shown from five different angles), and the survivors regroup in the ocean – including the bomb planting guy whom the shark ate earlier. The new ending was happier, but also nonsensical.
It seems that in 1987, viewers were looking for a little levity: 7 of the top ten box office draws were comedies, such as Three Men and a Baby, Beverly Hills Cop II, and The Secret of My Success. Even the dramas and action films of 1987 were a bit more comedic (like Robin Williams-led Good Morning Vietnam and the original Lethal Weapon). Twelve years after the franchise’s first appearance on the silver screen, audiences wanted something lighter than a beachy bloodbath.
A fun fact: Michael Caine was unable to collect his Academy Award for Hannah and Her Sisters because he was filming the Jaws reshoots. In the ultimate witty dismissal, he said, “I have never seen it, but by all accounts, it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific!”
2. Jaws 2 (1978)
In October 1975,Steven Spielberg told a film festival audience that “making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick.” But when the first Jaws movie broke box office records, its fate was sealed: Jaws 2 was coming to theaters very soon.
Spielberg would obviously later soften his views on sequels (see Indiana Jones), but he chose not to participate in Jaws sequel – as did actors Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw. However, a number of actors from the first movie rejoined.
The filmmakers followed the plot of the original film, then changed it just enough: A new shark attacks Amity; the mayor refuses to believe it, Brody goes to stop it and saves his teenage kids by electrocuting the shark. Jaws 2 is considered to be the best of the sequels, perhaps because it sticks to the formula of the original. (That being said, it can’t hold a candle to the source).
Despite Spielberg’s aversion to sequels, his story became one of the first Hollywood franchises that continue to dominate cinemas today. Jaws 2 was a trendsetter as that year seven other movies that would also spawn franchises of their own were released – including Superman, Grease, National Lampoon’s Animal House, and Halloween.
Honorable Mention: Jaws 3, People 0
Instead of the 3-D travesty that was eventually made, Universal briefly considered a spoof written by John Hughes and Todd Carroll of the National Lampoon called “Jaws 3, People 0” as the third in the series. Production didn’t go further than a script – but if was half as funny as its title, we truly missed out.
1. Jaws (1975)
Character moments, suspense, a John Williams score, and more to created Jaws – “the very first blockbuster summer movie.” Its success even changed the way films were released: Initially, movies released in just a few theaters to build word of mouth, then widened out to a general release. Jaws opened on 464 screens (!) and lasted in theaters for more than a year. In many ways, Jaws is responsible for our current blockbuster era, where a film’s goal is to have the biggest opening weekend possible to gain momentum.
Jaws is also a perfect example of how a negative can become a positive when interpreted correctly: The movie’s three shark puppets malfunctioned in much of the production. They sunk to the bottom of the ocean, their tubing got clogged with salt water, and their mechanisms quickly corroded in the ocean. The puppets ended up delaying production and added $9 million to the budget, but Spielberg made the shark’s absence a pivotal part of the movie. By delaying the reveal and cutting around the shark, Jaws went from being just another horror movie to a suspenseful thriller.
Jaws kept a generation of movie-goers from the beach and made Steven Spielberg a household name. Though it would quickly give up it’s box office crown to Star Wars in 1977, Jaws remains entrenched in the hearts and minds of moviegoers as one of the greatest, and most terrifying, movies of all time.
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