No matter how big a fan you are of watching classic movies, there’s always something that slips through — some gap in your knowledge. And for me, that gap is Jaws.
It’s not like I haven’t known Jaws is a classic. And even though I had never seen the movie, I knew its iconic score. But for one reason or another, I never got around to watching it. So when the opportunity came here at Tom’s Guide to write about a classic movie we’ve never seen before, I jumped at the chance — and knew just the movie.
Release year: 1975
Run time: 2 hrs 4 min
Box office: $260 million (unadjusted)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
MPAA Rating: PG
Where to watch: Tubi (w/ ads) or VOD
Spoiler alert: Mild spoilers for Jaws to follow
For those of you who also haven’t seen the movie, Jaws is a thriller about a man-eating great white shark plaguing the New England town of Amity Island. Of course, they don’t know it’s a great white at first — when police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) closes the beaches of Amity following the first attack, the town’s mayor, Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), begs him to reconsider.
Brody reluctantly gives in to the mayor’s demands, and it backfires almost immediately as a young boy is killed. What follows is an epic game of cat and mouse between Brody, grizzled shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) and marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) — and Jaws.
Jaws: Picture perfect casting
Jaws is incredible across the board. The direction and editing noticeably add to the viewing experience. The pacing never feels off for the entire movie and the dialogue — which had to be redone on the fly for much of the movie — never feels out of place. It’s remarkable to think that the production delays that plagued this movie, including rewriting the dialogue on the fly, are probably the reason the end result is so good.
And the casting is a big reason that the end result has stood the test of time. The big three of Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss have excellent on-screen chemistry, particularly in the latter half of the movie which puts them in close quarters for a large portion of the film.
And you wouldn't know it, but none of the three were household names at the time. A shocking revelation given that Jaws has made all three famous ever since.
Jaws is incredible — but the score really shines
While the casting is perfect, it’s honestly the John Williams score that really makes Jaws a true classic. As I watched, the Jaws theme that plays as the shark attacks got me excited every time. Even though I knew what was coming.
Jaws is very reminiscent of Hitchcock’s thrillers in that sense, and just as rewarding. And in other places, the additional pieces of the Jaws score control the mood of the movie with a masterful touch. It won’t surprise you to learn that he won an Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score.
Jaws stands up to any Hitchcock thriller
The similarities between Jaws and Hitchcock weren’t lost on director Steven Spielberg either. And they aren't just limited to the film's iconic score.
In reference to the having to ditch the prop sharks for much of the movie — the first glimpse of the shark isn't until about two-thirds of the way through — Spielberg said that “The film went from a Japanese Saturday matinee horror flick to more of a Hitchcock, the less-you-see-the-more-you-get thriller."
Yes, you read that right — you don’t see much of Jaws in Jaws, but it makes the thriller aspect of the movie all the better. Much like having to rewrite the dialogue, the absence of the shark until it's absolutely needed is another production delay that ultimately made this movie a true classic.
Verdict: Jaws is a classic for a reason, so go watch it now
While fans of short movies may balk at the two-hour and four-minute runtime, the film never feels like it's dragging even for a second. I got through the first hour without realizing it had even been that long.
And for fans of Hitchcock, Jaws is a no-brainer. Its pacing, editing and score all combine for an experience that can only be described as “Hitchcockian.” Admittedly, the PG rating for Jaws is a bit eyebrow-raising, but a PG-13 rating wouldn’t feel out of place today, so don’t be afraid to turn it into a family movie night choice.
I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil too much of the film — or take more of your time away from watching it. So queue up Tubi, one of our favorite free streaming services, to watch Jaws now for free (with occasional ads), or rent it from your favorite video on demand service.