History, Legacy & Showmanship
Monday, 22 June 2015 12:12

The Game Changer: Celebrating “Jaws” on its 40th Anniversary

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Jaws was something of an accidental blockbuster. It should not be blamed for being a good movie.” — Joseph McBride

The Digital Bits is pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 40th anniversary of the release of Jaws, Steven Spielberg’s legendary tale of a Great White preying on a coastal New England resort community during the lucrative summer tourism season.

Based upon Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel and starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws shattered all existing box-office records, scared the wits out of beachgoers, and became every studio’s dream model of a summer blockbuster (and, in some circles, a whipping boy for popular, successful movies). [Read on here…]

The Digital Bits celebrates the occasion with this article presenting the usual collection of features Bits readers have to come to expect from the History, Legacy & Showmanship column: a compilation of box-office data that places the performance of Jaws in context, noteworthy passages from vintage film reviews, production and exhibition information, a list of the theaters that played the movie upon its initial release, and, finally, an interview segment with a group of historians and documentary filmmakers who discuss the attributes of Jaws and examine why it and Spielberg have endured.

Roy Scheider in Jaws 


*Established new industry record

  • 1 = Rank on all-time list of top-grossing films at close of run*
  • 1 = Rank on all-time list of top rentals at close of run*
  • 1 = Rank on top-grossing films of 1975
  • 2 = Number of years holding #1 spot on list of all-time top-grossing films
  • 3 = Number of Academy Awards
  • 4 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 7 = Number of years Universal Pictures’ most-successful film
  • 7 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films (adjusted for inflation)
  • 9 = Number of consecutive weeks it was the nation’s top-grossing film
  • 14 = Number of days to turn a profit
  • 26 = Steven Spielberg’s age when he was offered the directorial assignment
  • 43 = Number of weeks longest-running engagement played
  • 48 = Rank on American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest American Films
  • 59 = Number of days it took to surpass $100 million*
  • 78 = Number of days it took to become the industry’s top-grossing movie
  • 78 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films
  • 159 = Number of days it took to shoot the movie
  • 161 = Number of days it took to surpass $150 million*
  • 464 = Number of opening-week bookings
  • 2,460 = Number of bookings during first six months of release
  • $175,000 = Amount paid to acquire motion picture rights
  • $2.5 million = Amount Universal spent on marketing in advance of its release
  • $3.0 million = Salary plus profit-participation earned by Spielberg
  • $7.1 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross*
  • $9.0 million = Production cost
  • $11.7 million = Box-office rental (1979 re-release)
  • $16.0 million = Box-office rental (1976 re-release)
  • $21.1 million = Box-office gross for first ten days of release*
  • $39.8 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $102.7 million = Box-office rental (as of January 1, 1976)*
  • $118.7 million = Box-office rental (as of January 1, 1977)*
  • $121.4 million = Box-office rental (as of January 1, 1978)
  • $133.4 million = Box-office rental (as of January 1, 1980)
  • $192.0 million = Box-office gross (original release)
  • $210.7 million = International box-office gross (original + re-releases)
  • $260.0 million = Box-office gross (original + re-releases)
  • $470.7 million = Worldwide box-office gross (original + re-releases)
  • $1.1 billion = Cumulative domestic box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
  • $2.1 billion = Cumulative worldwide box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)



Jaws is an artistic and commercial smash. Producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, and director Steven Spielberg, have the satisfaction of a production problem-plagued film turning out beautifully. Peter Benchley’s bestseller about a killer shark and a tourist beach town has become a film of consummate suspense, tension and terror. The Universal release looks like a torrid moneymaker everywhere.” — A.D. Murphy, Variety

“It is news when a 26-year-old film director goes $2 million over budget and two and a half months over schedule and manages to avoid getting fired. But then, Steven Spielberg has managed to perform the impossible for most of his brief adult life—like successfully directing Joan Crawford in her first television movie. His most recent accomplishment will be hard to beat.” — Bob Thomas, Associated Press

“Destined to become a classic.” — Arthur Cooper, Newsweek

Peter Benchley's Jaws paperback“The first and crucial thing to say about the movie Universal has made from Peter Benchley’s best-seller Jaws is that the PG rating is grievously wrong and misleading. The studio has rightly added its own cautionary notices in the ads, and the fact is that Jaws is too gruesome for children, and likely to turn stomachs of the impressionable at any age.” — Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

“It is a study in stress, and as effective a film as has ever been made.” — John Wasserman, San Francisco Chronicle

Jaws—maybe the scariest film ever.” — Jeanne Miller, San Francisco Examiner

“Brilliant young director Steven Spielberg has taken the premise of Peter Benchley’s best-selling but rather pedestrian novel Jaws—a summer resort community terrorized by the presence of a rogue Great White Shark—and streamlined it into a new classic of cinematic horror and high adventure. The movie version of Jaws is one of the most exciting and satisfying thrillers ever made.” — Gary Arnold, The Washington Post

Jaws is a thriller of surprise rather than suspense. You feel like a rat, being given shock treatment, who has not yet figured out the pattern.” — Molly Haskell, The Village Voice

“The real hero of the film is young director Steven Spielberg. No review of Jaws should tell you too much of what happens, but every review of Jaws should tell you how masterfully Spielberg manipulates the audience. Wisely he relies on our imagination. For a long time we don’t see the whole shark, just the results. Or we are the shark, hovering beneath the swimmers, watching.” — Dominique Paul Noth, The Milwaukee Journal

Jaws is not only a pre-sold smash, but a superbly crafted motion picture. Benchley’s lumbering, trashy but undeniably exciting novel has been cut to its narrative bone, leaving a tale of horror and adventure so gripping that one quickly becomes grateful to Spielberg and his cast for leavening it with regular doses of humor.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times

“Approaching the horror film genre, Jaws is essentially a suspense and adventure film that blends an attractive and competent cast with the sure-handed direction of Spielberg.” — John Anders, The Dallas Morning News

“There’s a pretty fair novel called Jaws that someone should turn into a movie some day. The current movie of the same name bears little relationship to the book, and is just another horror-action picture in which personal revelation plays no part. It is merely three madmen against a huge shark and gives no feeling that these people have any existence apart from the movie.” — Emerson Batdorff, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

“In spite of some rather gruesome scenes, Jaws is a superior piece of entertainment.” — Larry Stallings, Daytona Beach Journal

Jaws is a movie whose every shock is a devastating surprise. It is elaborate, technically intricate, and wonderfully crafted. Contains classic sequences of suspense…The final battle is literally explosive.” — Time

“[W]hat this movie is about, and where it succeeds best, is the primordial level of fear. The characters, for the most part, and the nonfish elements in the story, are comparatively weak and not believable…. The three men in the tub who go hunting the shark are played to varying levels of competence by Roy Scheider (Gene Hackman’s partner in The French Connection) as the police chief, Richard (Duddy Kravitz), Dreyfuss as the young fish expert, and Robert Shaw (the conned con man in The Sting) as the grizzled, Ahab-style shark hunter. Because these actors have delivered strong performances in many other films, I’m inclined to fault the casting and dialog for their varying degrees of believability.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“Shock piles upon shock until the viewer is half-dead from fright, and it’s all so skillfully directed by 27-year-old Steven Spielberg, edited by Verna Fields, scored by John Williams and photographed by Bill Butler, that you can’t escape its tension and power even if you want to.” — Rex Reed, New York Daily News

Jaws provides us with chills enough for the hottest of summers and hydrophobia for life.” — Judith Crist, New York Magazine

“The moment the shark appears, displaying the most destructive set of dentures ever, [the movie] has a lot of bite. From its beginning at the nightmarish beach party to the later daylight terror, Jaws is a movie that will draw oohs and aahs and perhaps retire bathing suits.” — James Meade, The San Diego Union

“If you think about Jaws for more than 45 seconds you will recognize it as nonsense, but it’s the sort of nonsense that can be a good deal of fun if you like to have the wits scared out of you at irregular intervals.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times

“Spielberg ranks with [William] Friedkin as a foremost commercial practitioner of a gritty, punchy, visual equivalent of best-seller prose.” — Tom Allen, The Village Voice

“The technical credits, from Bill Butler’s photography to John Williams’ music, with a theme that recalls Bernard Herrmann’s classic score for Psycho, all add up to movie magic of a high order.” — George Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Listed below are the theaters in the United States and Canada that opened Jaws on June 20th, 1975. These were the only theaters, with a few exceptions, that showed the movie during its first few weeks of release. (A few additional bookings and some non-traditional rotational bookings in coastal resort regions opened the movie in between the June 20th first wave and the July 25th second wave.)  Contrary to numerous historical accounts, the number of theaters in which Jaws opened was not an industry record.

The duration of the engagements, measured in weeks, has been included in parenthesis after most of the entries.

During its sixth week, the release of Jaws was expanded by about 200 bookings, with additional bookings added weekly throughout the summer and into autumn and winter. By the end of the movie’s lengthy run it had played more than 2,000 engagements (plus hundreds more internationally). The film’s subsequent-wave, international and re-release bookings have not been included in the list below.


  • Birmingham — Cobb’s Village East Twin (26 weeks)
  • Decatur — United Amusement’s Gateway Twin (14)
  • Huntsville — Martin’s Westbury Cinerama (15)
  • Mobile — Giddens & Rester’s Airport Twin (22)
  • Montgomery — Martin’s Martin Twin (15)


No theaters in Alaska played Jaws during Release Wave #1


  • Calgary — 17th Avenue Drive-In (13)
  • Calgary — Odeon’s Grand Twin (23)
  • Edmonton — Odeon’s Rialto Twin (27)
  • Edmonton — Sky-Vue Drive-In (16)
  • Lethbridge — Famous Players’ Paramount (8)
  • Red Deer — Famous Players’ Paramount Twin (8)


  • Phoenix — United Artists’ Chris-Town Mall 6 (36)
  • Scottsdale — Nace’s Round-Up Drive-In (22)
  • Tucson — Mann’s Park Mall 4 (42)


  • Fort Smith — American Multi-Cinema’s Phoenix Village Twin (15)
  • North Little Rock — General Cinema Corporation’s McCain Mall Cinema I & II (16)


  • New Westminster — Odeon’s Odeon (15)
  • Prince George — Odeon’s Princess (9)
  • Surrey — Odeon’s Surrey Drive-In (16)
  • Vancouver — Odeon’s Vogue (18)
  • Victoria — Odeon’s Odeon Twin (15)
  • West Vancouver — Odeon’s Odeon Twin (13)


  • Anaheim — Vinstrand’s Brookhurst (20)
  • Bakersfield — American Multi-Cinema’s Stockdale 6 (#1: 22)
  • Bakersfield — American Multi-Cinema’s Stockdale 6 (#2: 12)
  • Buena Park — Pacific’s Buena Park Drive-In (16)
  • Burlingame — Syufy’s Hyatt Twin (27)
  • Carlsbad — Sanborn’s Cinema Plaza 4 (18)
  • City of Industry — Pacific’s Vineland Drive-In (13)
  • Concord — Syufy’s Solano Drive-In (15)
  • Costa Mesa — Edwards’ Cinema (17)
  • Culver City — Pacific’s Studio Drive-In (10)
  • Daly City — United Artists’ Serra (26)
  • Fresno — Lippert’s Country Squire (15)
  • Gardena — Pacific’s Vermont Drive-In (10)
  • Highland — Pacific’s Baseline Drive-In (13)
  • Isla Vista — Metropolitan’s Magic Lantern Twin (#1: 17)
  • Isla Vista — Metropolitan’s Magic Lantern Twin (#2: 14)
  • La Habra — American Multi-Cinema’s Fashion Square 4 (27)
  • La Mesa — Mann’s Alvarado Drive-In (27)
  • Lakewood — Pacific’s Lakewood Center 4 (19)
  • Long Beach — Pacific’s Los Altos 3-Screen Drive-In (10)
  • Los Angeles (Canoga Park) — Century’s Holiday (19)
  • Los Angeles (Century City) — Plitt’s Century Plaza Twin (17)
  • Los Angeles (Hollywood) — Pacific’s Pix (19)
  • Los Angeles (Panorama City) — Lippert’s Americana 6 (#1: 19)
  • Los Angeles (Panorama City) — Lippert’s Americana 6 (#2: 19)
  • Los Angeles (Van Nuys) — Pacific’s Sepulveda Drive-In (13)
  • Mill Valley — Cinerama’s Sequoia Twin (19)
  • Monterey — Kindair’s Steinbeck (15)
  • Oakland — Cinerama’s Piedmont (26)
  • Oxnard — Mann’s Esplanade Triplex (19)
  • Palm Springs — Metropolitan’s Plaza (15)
  • Paramount — Pacific’s Rosecrans Drive-In (10)
  • Pasadena — Mann’s Hastings Triplex (19)
  • Pleasant Hill — Syufy’s Century 25 (27)
  • Redondo Beach — General Cinema Corporation’s South Bay Cinema I-II-III-IV (27)
  • Redwood City — Syufy’s Redwood 4-Screen Drive-In (15)
  • Riverside — United Artists’ Tyler Mall Cinema 4 (19)
  • Sacramento — Syufy’s Century 24 (27)
  • Sacramento — Syufy’s Sacramento 5-Screen Drive-In (20)
  • San Diego — American Multi-Cinema’s Fashion Valley 4 (#1: 27)
  • San Diego — American Multi-Cinema’s Fashion Valley 4 (#2: 27)
  • San Francisco — United Artists’ Coliseum (26)
  • San Jose — Syufy’s Century 24 Twin (38)
  • San Leandro — Plaza Twin (27)
  • South San Francisco — Syufy’s Spruce 2-Screen Drive-In (15)
  • Stockton — General Cinema Corporation’s Sherwood Plaza Cinema I & II (20)
  • Union City — Syufy’s Union City 3-Screen Drive-In (21)
  • Ventura — Pacific’s 101 3-Screen Drive-In (10)
  • West Covina — Sanborn’s Wescove Twin (27)


  • Boulder — United Artists’ Regency (17)
  • Colorado Springs — Commonwealth’s Rustic Hills North Twin (27)
  • Denver — Cooper-Highland’s Cooper (27)
  • Fort Collins — Commonwealth’s Campus West (16)


  • Danbury — Brandt’s Cine (9)
  • Darien — United Artists’ Darien Playhouse (14)
  • Greenwich — Trans-Lux’s Plaza (9)
  • Groton — United Artists’ Groton (14)    
  • Hamden — Whitney (13)
  • Manchester — United Artists’ Theatres East Triplex (19)
  • Milford — General Cinema Corporation’s Milford Cinema I & II (16)
  • Newington — General Cinema Corporation’s Newington Cinema I & II (16)
  • Trumbull — United Artists’ Trumbull (10)
  • Waterbury — General Cinema Corporation’s Naugatuck Valley Mall Cinema I-II-III (16)
  • West Hartford — United Artists’ The Movies at Westfarms Triplex (20)
  • Westport — Brandt’s Post (9)


  • Rehoboth Beach — Midway Enterprises’ Midway Palace Twin
  • Wilmington — Brandt’s Edgemoor (15)


  • Washington — General Cinema Corporation’s Jenifer Cinema I & II (18)


  • Altamonte Springs — General Cinema Corporation’s Altamonte Mall Cinema I & II (19)
  • Bradenton — CinemaNational’s DeSoto Square Mall 4 (14)
  • Clearwater — ABC Florida State’s Capitol (14)
  • Coral Gables — Wometco’s Miracle (21)
  • Daytona Beach — General Cinema Corporation’s Bellair Plaza Cinema I & II (20)
  • Deerfield Beach — South Florida’s Gold Coast Drive-In (15)
  • Fort Lauderdale — Gulf States’ Village Triplex
  • Fort Myers — ABC Florida State’s Arcade (13)
  • Fort Walton Beach — Gulf States’ Brooks Plaza Triplex (13)
  • Gainesville — Eastern Federal’s Royal Park 4 (15)
  • Hollywood — Wometco’s Plaza Twin (16)
  • Jacksonville — ABC Florida State’s Regency Twin (20)
  • Lakeland — General Cinema Corporation’s Imperial Mall Cinema I & II (17)
  • Lauderhill — General Cinema Corporation’s Lauderhill (15)
  • Merritt Island — General Cinema Corporation’s Merritt Cinema I & II (15)
  • North Miami Beach — General Cinema Corporation’s 170th Street (15)
  • North Palm Beach — Budco’s Twin City (13)
  • Orlando — ABC Florida State’s Plaza Twin (19)
  • Panama City — Martin’s Capri (13)
  • Pensacola — Giddens & Rester’s Cordova Twin (16)
  • St. Petersburg — ABC Florida State’s Plaza Twin (19)
  • Sarasota — ABC Florida State’s Plaza Twin (13)
  • Tallahassee — Eastern Federal’s Miracle Twin (13)
  • Tampa — ABC Florida State’s Hillsboro Twin (18)
  • Tampa — General Cinema Corporation’s University Square Mall Cinema I-II-III-IV (18)
  • West Palm Beach — General Cinema Corporation’s Cinema 70 (17)

Jaws newspaper ad

 [On to Page 2]

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