Jaws‘ place in Hollywood blockbuster history was cemented in the summer of 1975 when it was No. 1 at the box office for 14 consecutive weeks en route to making history as the first film to gross more than $100 million.
The production had been as choppy as its ocean waters. The mechanical shark (nicknamed Bruce after director Steven Spielberg‘s lawyer, Bruce Ramer) kept breaking; filming at sea near Martha’s Vineyard had been a nightmare; and the shooting schedule went from 55 days to 159. The budget doubled to $8 million.
But when Jaws was shown to an audience, they approved and “we had a reasonable comfort level,” says Sid Sheinberg, then Universal’s president. Spielberg, then 28 with one feature and three telefilms under his belt, told The Hollywood Reporter that after the test screening, Jaws got special treatment, with the studio “handling the film with kid gloves.”
Universal embarked on a pre-release campaign on which it spent more than on any other film in the studio’s history (in those days, 47 percent went to print ads). The filmmakers went on an 11-city tour, and Time put Jaws on its cover. A phenom (and three sequels Spielberg didn’t direct) was born.
Sheinberg says it’s a myth that the Jaws production was ever going to be shuttered (“There was not an instant when we thought of shutting it down”) but says he learned how difficult it is to shoot on water and wishes he applied that knowledge to Waterworld, which bombed in 1995. “That’s the picture I should have stopped,” he says.