Forty years ago today, summer blockbusters were born. On June 20, 1975, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws arrived in theaters, rewiring Hollywood in ways that are still felt to this day. (Jurassic World, a Steven Spielberg production, owes as much to Spielberg’s Jurassic Park as it does to Jaws; it’s summer movie ouroboros.) Jaws would go on to spend 14 weeks as the No. 1 movie in America; adjusted for inflation, its box-office tally stands at over $1 billion in North American ticket sales. Jaws ate the bigger boat.
But while audiences couldn’t get enough of Spielberg’s thrill ride, some film critics were a bit more skeptical of the film’s true worth. Ahead, how five major critics reviewed Jaws after its release.
1. “Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is a sensationally effective action picture, a scary thriller that works all the better because it’s populated with characters that have been developed into human beings we get to know and care about. It’s a film that’s as frightening as The Exorcist, and yet it’s a nicer kind of fright, somehow more fun because we’re being scared by an outdoor-adventure saga instead of by a brimstone-and-vomit devil.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
2. “If you think about Jaws for more than 45 seconds you will recognize it as nonsense, but it’s the sort of nonsense that can be a good deal of fun, if you like to have the wits scared out of you at irregular intervals.” — Vincent Canby, New York Times
3. “So far I’ve managed to avoid describing the story or any of the humans involved in it. That’s because what this movie is about, and where it succeeds best, is the primordial level of fear. The characters, for the most part, and the non-fish elements in the story, are comparatively weak and not believable.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune
4. “The first and crucial thing to say about the movie Universal has made from Peter Benchley’s bestseller Jaws … is that the PG rating is grievously wrong and misleading. The studio has rightly added its own cautionary notices in the ads, and the fact is that Jaws is too gruesome for children, and likely to turn the stomach of the impressionable at any age.” — Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times
5. “It may be the most cheerfully perverse scare movie ever made. Even while you’re convulsed with laughter you’re still apprehensive, because the editing rhythms are very tricky, and the shock images loom up huge, right on top of you. The film belongs to the pulpiest sci-fi monster-movie tradition, yet it stands some of the old conventions on their head. Though Jaws has more zest than an early Woody Allen picture, and a lot more electricity, it’s funny in a Woody Allen way. — Pauline Kael, The New Yorker