When Steven Spielberg signed a contract with Universal Pictures to film Jaws, he did not expect it to change his life – in more ways than one. The incredible movie was based on the 1974 novel of the same name and went on to win three Academy Awards – Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score and Best Sound.
Jaws had a relatively meagre budget of $9 million but went on to make more than $470 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing movie of the year. Its major success launched Spielberg’s career which has continued until this day. But shortly after Jaws was released in cinemas, the American director knew something was wrong.
Jaws’ filming was wrapped up in a staggering amount of drama.
Spielberg’s shoot was delayed constantly, pushing the film’s wrap date back by 100 days – a fact that the studio was not happy about. Before long, they were making calls to Spielberg to ask what was going on.
These issues were caused by a number of problems, including the constant malfunctioning of the giant robot shark that was being used as the titular creature.
On a more dangerous level, actors – including Richard Dreyfuss – were frequently seasick while filming on the water, and the screenwriter, Carl Gottlieb, was “nearly decapitated” by the propellors of the film shoot’s boat, the Orca. The same boat also once began to sink with all of the actors on board.
Needless to say, Spielberg was under a lot of stress during Jaws’ filming.
After dozens of 12-hour days, Jaws wrapped up, and the film’s success history. But the trauma of the movie didn’t stop there for the now legendary director.
When the studio began looking to produce a Jaws 2 in 1978, Spielberg would not sign the contract to return. Years later, he confessed: “[I didn’t come back for the Jaws sequels] because making the first movie was a nightmare. There were endless problems with the shark and it was an impossible shoot. I thought my career was over because no one had ever taken a movie 100 days over schedule.”
He added that, despite how successful the film was, he “never wanted to go near the water again”.
The star was even mentally wounded from the work.
Spielberg opened up about his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during an interview with EW in 2016. He said: “I used to come out [onto the water] for a couple of years after I made the movie to get over my PTSD. I would work through my own trauma, because it was traumatic [and] would just sit in that boat alone for hours, just working through” “I would shake,” he revealed. “My hands would shake.”
He also gave interviews saying that sequels were “just a cheap carny trick”. He added that he had already released “the definitive shark movie” – why should he release anything else?
Spielberg said years later that his fear of returning to the water was the real reason behind his reluctance to return. He said: “I would have done the sequel if I hadn’t had such a horrible time at sea on the first film.”
But, despite the horrific condition Spielberg was left in, he was ultimately grateful for Jaws. Spielberg explained: “The experience gave me complete freedom for the rest of my career … The amount of success the film enjoyed just gave me final cut, gave me the chance to tell my own stories.”
Even without Spielberg to helm Jaws 2, the sequel movie was still extremely successful.
Jaws 2 enjoyed double the budget of the original movie with $20 million. However, the box office return was not quite as staggering as Jaws. Jaws 2 earned an impressive $208 million in cinemas, but it was a big enough return to spark even more sequels.
Five years later, in 1983, Jaws 3-D was released; a film that utilised state-of-the-art (at the time) technology.
Four years after that, Jaws: The Revenge made a splash – but was considered a failure at the box office. The fourth movie in the franchise earned just $51 million over a $23 million budget.
Jaws is available to watch on Netflix.
Jaws 2 is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.