Why Spielberg’s Masterpiece, ‘Jaws’, Is More Than Cheap Thrills

Shark in water
 Stuart Westmorland / Getty Images

My mom scared the shit out of me more than the shark did. In the summer of 1975, I was too young to see Jaws in theaters, but her story about spending half the movie hiding in the lobby kept me away long after most of my friends had already seen it on VHS.

By the time I finally got around to watching it, two things were clear: Mom’s a bit of a wuss, and this film is far more than just a scary story about a big shark.

The first-ever summer blockbuster—a potent combo of hype and mass-appeal genre filmmaking—it’s a heart-pounding thriller with great performances and a few genuinely hilarious lines, like Roy Scheider’s improvised quip, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Plus, it holds up. Sure, the mechanical shark isn’t as realistic as, say, CGI dinosaurs. Even so, after seeing Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, you can’t go to a beach without momentarily scanning the horizon for a dorsal fin.