Duh-duh. Duh-duh. Duh-duh-duh-duh. One of the most well-known and terrifying musical score sequences is from one of the best thriller/horror films of the past century: Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Based on the book of the same name by author Peter Benchley, Jaws follows a small beach town that gets terrorized by a man-eating shark during the summer, when all of their hometown and tourist events are swimming in the water and playing on the beach. A smashing mix of suspense, gore, horror, and realism, Jaws bit its way into popular culture and box offices ($472 million off of a $9 million budget). It even spawned three sequels, all trying to capture the magic of the original film.

Update July 5, 2023: The 4th of July might be over, but we are still open for business! This article has been updated with even reasons why Jaws is a great summer horror.

Jaws has managed to stay relevant for parts of six decades, with its innovative and suspenseful techniques of bringing the shark to life, along with having an original and somewhat realistic story that people could most likely relate to in the real world. The film’s reputation is certainly earned and definitely cements itself as the ultimate summer horror film. But why is that?

The Science of the Shark

man being attacked by shark
Universal Pictures

As said above, Jaws has a very realistic story that it builds upon. Author Peter Benchley based the book on real-life stories he heard, along with his own personal experiences. He even did a high amount of research on sharks, reading books from legendary deep-sea explorer Jacques Cousteau called The Shark: The Splendid Savage of the Sea and Thomas Allen’s Shadows in the Sea. A lot of the information from the books made it into Spielberg’s classic movie.

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10 Jaws Facts You Never Knew

For example, how they go about capturing the shark and how sharks operate during the summer. Though one scientifically inaccurate piece was the size of the main antagonist shark, which was a few feet bigger than actual great white sharks. But, the science behind the sharks allows the film to have a deeper level of depth than just a popcorn horror flick.

The Realistic Plot

jaws
Universal Pictures

A piece of horror filmmaking advice given to young, aspiring directors is to “make the horror real, because nothing is scarier than real life.” Jaws succeeds on this philosophy. Outside the science of the plot, the story surrounds innocent, normal families at the beach, enjoying their family time over the Fourth of July holiday. Then, they have to watch in horror as that peace is disrupted when their own, or others, get attacked by a vicious sea creature. The specific scene where the young boy is mauled by the shark, the blood flowing out as he struggles for freedom from the predator, was particularly gory and terrifying to see. The plot itself is what really struck chords with audiences. It was truly captivating.

The idea that your family or yourself could be attacked by a giant white monster from the water during a peaceful beach trip is how Jaws became the ultimate horror film of the summer. Nothing is scarier than what can happen in real life. Nothing. The unexpected is what is the scariest. Even affecting people in real life.

Some studies show that beach attendance decreased quite a bit after Jaws was released back in 1975, and now still has adverse effects on people who go swimming in the ocean. It has also negatively impacted the shark population and people's views on sharks as a whole. It is very similar to the impact that Top Gun had on viewers in 1986, except it was a positive impact. It made fans want to enlist in the Navy. Both films made fans want to do things. But, in general, a movie is powerful when it provokes fans in any way.

The Masterful Horror Techniques

Jaws opening scene 1200 x 630
Universal Pictures

One thing that makes Jaws stand out from other classic horror films is its unique and effective techniques in order to create a terrifying atmosphere for the audience watching. Despite the backing of major studio Universal Pictures, the animatronic shark kept malfunctioning. It looked fake on screen when they did use it, and other times just did not work.

Speilberg instead decided to use editing to hide the shark and music to imply its presence when it was not shown. With the camera work, Steven Spielberg used a mix of long shots, close-ups, and tracking shots to show the shark making its way toward its prey and toward the boat (without showing the shark) because the unseen is just as terrifying. It is the fear of the unknown that makes it so captivating. The opening title sequence, where it seems like the audience is seeing things from the shark’s point of view, riding the waves and cutting through currents, was brilliantly done. Then, of course, the quick back-and-forth cutting during the final climax between the shark and the hunters creates one of the best man-vs-animal action sequences of all time.

Related: Best Horror Movies Involving Summer Camps, Ranked

In terms of music, it is fair to say that John Williams is the greatest cinematic composer of all time. Everyone knows his scores for some of the greatest films and movie franchises ever made. Some of the greatest films that Williams has composed music for are Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Home Alone, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and E.T. Without John Williams and his role as composer, dinosaurs don't roam the planet, an archeologist doesn't discover the Holy Grail, and a little boy doesn't deliver his alien best friend back to his family. Oh, a shark doesn't wreak havoc on a tiny beach, either. Williams won an Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work Jaws.

Summer Horror Movies

Roy Scheider fighting off a shark in Jaws
Universal Pictures

While most people associate horror movies with Halloween, Jaws popularized the idea of horror movies being summer spectacles. In fact, it is odd to think how the movie that popularized the modern blockbuster was a horror film. Jaws laid the groundwork for films like Alien, Friday the 13th, and The Thing are just a few titles that cashed in on horror movies released in the summer. In 2023, alongside summer blockbusters like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (a legacy sequel to one of Steven Spielberg's own franchises), there are also horror films like The Boogeyman, The Blackening, Insidious: The Red Door, and Talk To Me to excite audiences. These horror films owe quite a bit to the legacy of Jaws, which made summer and scares go hand and hand.

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws has managed to last and impact generations of movie-goers. With its all-time classic monster villain (the great white shark), the depth of science behind the shark itself, its realistic and believable plot and story, its music, and editing, they all combine to make Jaws a cinematic classic and cement itself as the ultimate summer horror film. That is the ultimate truth.