Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of 'Jaws' by Taking a Bite out of These Movie Secrets

Even after 40 years, Jaws is still full of shark-tastic surprises

Photo: Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty

Can we get an alternating, ominous E and F note, please? Because we’re about to head into open water to visit one of the ocean’s greatest stars.

Jaws and its monstrous shark turned 40 this month. Considered to be one of the first summer blockbusters and the mother of Shark Week, Steven Spielberg’s thriller has been dissected more thoroughly than Hooper’s tiger shark, but the film still manages to surprise.

To commemorate Jaws‘ four decades of fear, here are 10 movie secrets from the set that even the biggest Bruce-heads may not know.

1. The famous and frightening opening shot was the result of shark error.

“Bruce” the mechanical shark frequently broke down, making him the most dramatic star on set. Spielberg was planning to use the shark in the opening attack, but later decided to let the audience imagine the shark being there after Bruce failed to cooperate during filming.

“In the end, that worked to our advantage. We couldn’t use the shark, so we had to rely on people’s imaginations. That delivered what I think is one of the best openings ever in a movie. The thought of the shark, along with John Williams’ perfect score, created more terror in the imagination than the appearance of the shark would.” “Believe me,” producer Richard Zanuck told PEOPLE in 2000, “the shark worked very, very occasionally.”

2. The line “You’re going to need a bigger boat” was improvised by Roy Scheider.

Scheider, who died in 2008, said that fans would drive past his Sagaponack, New York, home and shout the line. The famous phrase is also one of the more misquoted lines in movie history, with many thinking it’s “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

3. Jaws author Peter Benchley appears in the film.

Benchley plays the TV interviewer Alan Kray. While Benchley had two close encounters with sharks during his life and helped create the dangerous aura surrounding these creatures, the author spent the years leading up to his 2006 death adamantly supporting shark conservation.

4. Richard Dreyfuss has never read Jaws.

In Benchley’s book, Dreyfuss’ character, ichthyologist Dr. Matt Hooper, is a known lady-killer. Spielberg wanted his Hooper to play much more nerdy, so he told 26-year-old Dreyfuss not to read the book. “I take directions so well that I still haven’t read it,” Dreyfuss later told PEOPLE.

5. Benchley had big stars in mind for the three main roles.

“When the producers first asked me who I thought should be in it, I said Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Steve McQueen,” the author told Empire. “It turned out they didn’t need any stars.”

6. The scene in which the human head pops out of the boat was filmed in a swimming pool.

Spielberg had previously shot the terrifying moment at sea, but he didn’t like how it turned out. After the film finished shooting, the director was determined to try again. He and a skeleton crew took a tarp, the prop boat and the phony human head over to an editor’s home and ended up filming the shot used in the movie in the editor’s swimming pool.

7. Bruce has a backstory.

The mechanical shark, which was actually three different props on hydraulic sleds, was named after mercenary showbiz attorney Bruce Raymer. Bruce the Jaws shark in turn went on to inspire the name of the great white in Finding Nemo.

8. Roy Scheider got slapped a lot.

The slap delivered by the grieving Mrs. Kintner to Scheider’s Brody is genuine. The actress (Lee Fierro) had trouble faking slaps, so Scheider was smacked for real during every take.

9. The hand of the first victim found on the beach is real.

Spielberg tried using a fake arm at first, but he thought it looked too fake, so a crew member was buried in the sand for the shot.

10. Getting extras to the beach was hard work.

The cast and crew of Jaws often had to deal with uncooperative filming conditions. For one beach scene, 400 extras showed up, but then they were told to go home due to bad weather. When the sun came out again, casting staff had to use two rotary phones to call all the extras back to the set – only about 150 returned.

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