AFInity: Jaws

By Kim Hollis

August 21, 2009

When you're a shark, you're a shark all the way.

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We're a list society. From Casey Kasem and the American Top 40 to 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die to BOP's very own Best Horror Films (one of our most popular features ever), people love to talk about lists. They love to debate the merits of the "winners" and bemoan the exclusions, and start the whole process again when a new list captures pop culture fancy.

Perhaps one of the best-known, most widely discussed lists is the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies. A non-profit organization known for its efforts at film restoration and screen education, the AFI list of the 100 best American movies was chosen by 1,500 leaders in the movie industry and announced in its first version in 1998. Since then, the 100 Years... 100 Movies list has proven to be so popular that the AFI came forth with a 10th anniversary edition in 2007, along with other series such as 100 Heroes and Villains, 100 Musicals, 100 Laughs and 100 Thrills.

In addition to talking about which films are deserving of being on the list and bitterly shaking our fists because a beloved film was left out, we also love to brag about the number of movies we've seen. As I was looking over the 100 Years... 100 Movies list recently, I realized that I've seen 47 - less than half. As a lover of film and writer/editor for a movie site, this seemed like a wrong that needed to remedied. And so an idea was born. I would watch all 100 movies on the 2007 10th Anniversary list - some of them for the first time in as much as 20 or more years - and ponder their relevance, worthiness and influence on today's film industry. With luck, I'll even discover a few new favorites along the way.


#56: Jaws

Last week, I talked about Star Wars and its lasting and enduring impact on cinema. But there was another movie that opened the door for Star Wars to have its world-changing impact on the way studios did business, not to mention pop culture itself. That film was Jaws, from director Steven Spielberg. Its place on the AFI 100 Years... 100 Movies list could be assured simply for the sea change (heh) it created in Hollywood marketing and release patterns, but it's a fine film, to boot. It's one that many people hold in high regard as a standard-setter in the thriller/horror genre.

Back in 1975, the movie business was substantially different than what we see today. New films would be released in a few larger cities across the United States, and then they would be slowly and deliberately rolled out to other locations depending on performance and possibly reviews. Studio executives at Universal employed an entirely new strategy once results from test screenings for Jaws started coming in. They made a decision that they would not only release it in hundreds of theaters, but they would also give it a nationwide marketing push, investing an additional $400,000 to do so. This was unheard of at the time, and impossible to imagine now.

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