18 Things to Look For the Next Time You Watch Jaws

MCA/Universal Home Video
MCA/Universal Home Video

Steven Spielberg invented the modern summer blockbuster with Jaws, and his 1975 great white shark thriller is like nothing before or after it. The director was essentially an unknown at the time, his only theatrical film having been the modestly successful The Sugarland Express. With an estimated production budget of just $7 million, the then-28-year-old turned a horror movie disguised as beachy fun into a box-office sensation that grossed about half a billion dollars worldwide—which makes the recent thriller A Quiet Place look like small potatoes.

What’s most impressive about Jaws today is how gripping it still is, thanks to clever camerawork and editing, as well as Spielberg’s innate understanding that what we don’t see is always more unsettling than what we do. You’ve almost definitely seen Jaws, but if it’s been a while, grab the popcorn and blankets and watch it in a whole new way with these interesting facts and Easter eggs in mind.

1. IT’S AS MUCH JOHN WILLIAMS’S MOVIE AS IT IS STEVEN SPIELBERG’S.

A scene from 'Jaws' (1975)

Jaws is known at least as much for the singular theme music written by composer John Williams as it is for any shot or line. The surprisingly simple arrangement of notes is played during the opening credits and repeated throughout the film, particularly to heighten scenes in which the shark attacks, and it’s impossible to get it out of your head. But when Williams first played the score for Spielberg, the director laughed and said, “That’s funny, John, really. But what did you really have in mind for the theme of Jaws?”

Thankfully, Spielberg was ultimately convinced that the score would work, since Jaws wouldn’t be close to as potent without Williams’s work, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Score. Spielberg and Williams have been tight collaborators ever since.

2. THE FIRST VICTIM IS LEFT HELPLESS WHEN HER PARAMOUR FALLS ASLEEP.

A scene from 'Jaws' (1975)

This movie is not exactly an endorsement of men. Among other things, the shark's first victim—a young woman—falls prey to the giant fish after she meets a guy at a hippie-ish party on the beach. He chases her toward the ocean, where she skinny-dips. He has to ask for her name again even though they’re about to hook up (it’s Chrissie), and as he’s taking off his clothes, he falls asleep! That leaves her alone in the water, where the great white pulls her to her death.

3. THAT WOMAN IS ACTUALLY A STUNTWOMAN.

A scene from 'Jaws' (1975)

The first victim isn’t just a bikini babe in distress. Because of the requirements of the acting gig, Spielberg cast a stuntwoman, Susan Backlinie, who specialized in swimming scenes. If you look closely, it’s pretty obvious she’s being pulled by a rig rather than a sea creature, given the quick, rigid movements. Backlinie was actually fitted with a harness attached to a 300-pound weight, which crew members moved using ropes to drag her through the water.

4. WE WATCH THROUGH THE SHARK’S EYES.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

One of Spielberg’s great formal tricks in Jaws is the use of POV (or point-of-view) shots, in which the audience sees things from the shark’s perspective. An underwater camera stalks the shallow floor of the ocean near the island, approaching soon-to-be victims frolicking in the water. POV shots showing a killer’s vision became a recurring trope in horror movies, especially slashers like John Carpenter’s classic Halloween, which was released three years after Jaws.

5. THERE’S NO AMITY ISLAND.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

The setting for all the human-chomping action is Amity, an idyllic island. In Peter Benchley's original novel, on which the film is based, Amity is located in Long Island, New York. Because of particular production demands, shooting took place on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. It’s probably better for the tourism industry of Martha’s Vineyard that the fictional island remains known as Amity (though the island is clearly proud of its place in film history).

6. THAT’S A REAL WOMAN’S ARM.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

We get our first look at the shark’s damage when police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) comes upon the corpse of the woman killed in the opening. You’d be forgiven for thinking what he sees is just a prop arm dangling out of the sand. In fact, Spielberg decided the prop looked too fake, so he opted to have a female crew member buried in the sand, leaving her arm above the surface.

7. THE MAYOR IS INTOLERABLE FROM THE START.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Amity Mayor Larry Vaughn intentionally undermines Brody’s investigation into shark attacks so that the town can rake in more money from the summer beach season, leading to more casualties. But it’s his introduction, wearing an obnoxious anchor-print blazer, that signals the character as someone not to be trusted.

8. BRODY FEARS THE WATER, JUST LIKE SPIELBERG.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Brody’s discomfort with the ocean is alluded to throughout the plot, and he refuses to get into the water for most of the film. It’s hard to blame him after watching Jaws. But Spielberg commented on a similar anxiety of his own. “I’m not so much afraid of sharks,” he said of his blockbuster. “I’m afraid of the water and I’m afraid of everything that exists under the water that I can’t see.” That might be why he so often depicts the ocean at night, when it’s at its most murky and unknowable.

9. A KID AND DOG DIE, BUT SOMEHOW JAWS IS RATED PG.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

It’s worth stopping to recognize that two of the first three shark victims are the young Kintner boy and a dog, who’s not seen after fetching a stick. Dog deaths are normally traumatic events reserved for the climaxes of movies, but Spielberg pulled out the big guns early.

10. THAT WAS ONE HARD SLAP.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

One of the more quietly powerful moments involves Brody being confronted and slapped by Mrs. Kintner (Lee Fierro), the mother of the boy killed by the shark. Fierro had trouble credibly faking a slap, so she used force. Seventeen takes later, Scheider was genuinely hurting.

11. THAT GHOULISH SHOT OF A DEAD MAN WAS A LAST-MINUTE ADDITION.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

After Spielberg felt preview audiences didn’t scream loudly enough at the image of a decomposed head found by Richard Dreyfuss's Matt Hooper, the director decided to reshoot it using his own money. He summoned a crew to editor Verna Field’s swimming pool, and they dumped in a gallon of milk to give the illusion of seawater.

12. WE DON’T SEE THE SHARK UNTIL MORE THAN HALFWAY INTO THE MOVIE.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

The audience gets its first—brief—look at the shark during the Fourth of July weekend, when it kills a boater and pursues Brody’s son in an estuary. Though it looks impressively lifelike, the prop shark was a headache to operate, often failing, which helps explain why Spielberg used it so sparingly.

13. THE SHARK WAS KNOWN AS “BRUCE,” WHICH ALMOST MAKES HIM SOUND CUTE.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Three mechanical sharks subbed in for the man-eater, and were collectively known as Bruce on the set (after Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Ramer). That was apparently cuddly enough for a reference in Finding Nemo, which features a great white named Bruce.

14. THE SHARK’S CAUSE OF DEATH IS TEASED MUCH EARLIER.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Few climaxes are as visually glorious and satisfying as watching the shark blown to smithereens at the end of Jaws, thanks to Hooper’s compressed air tank. But the tanks are mentioned well before, when the sea-averse Brody accidentally knocks them over on the ship. Hooper chastises him, warning him that they could explode. What’s not clear is why they don’t use the would-be bombs on the shark much earlier.

15. THE MOST FAMOUS LINE WASN’T IN THE SCRIPT.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Brody is throwing chum into the water and smoking a cigarette when the hungry shark unexpectedly leaps in front of the camera. The startled chief withdraws and tells Robert Shaw’s Quint, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” thereby putting himself in the film history books. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb admitted that the line wasn’t scripted; Scheider improvised it. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it, however, since Scheider repeats some version of it two more times.

16. THAT’S A REAL SHOOTING STAR.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

You can’t always plan for the perfect cinematic moment. The shooting star that appears behind Brody as he loads his gun during a night scene on the boat looks magical for a reason: That was nature intervening on the set.

17. HOOPER WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

In the novel, the shark delivers a fatal blow to Hooper when he’s in his cage underwater. (He also sleeps with Brody’s wife, but that’s another matter.) A Jaws crew in Australia captured footage of a real-life great white thrashing an empty cage, however, and Spielberg wanted to use it. So the ending was rewritten.

18. BRODY AND HOOPER INAPPROPRIATELY SHARE A LAUGH AT THE END.

A screen grab from 'Jaws' (1975)
MCA/Universal Home Video

Hooper doesn’t emerge from the depths of the water until after Brody has demolished the shark, which is smart thinking on his part. He swims up to Brody and the two immediately share a laugh over their good fortune, while nearly in the same breath Hooper discovers that Quint has just died. It generally goes against decorum to express joy in the early stages of mourning.

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER