A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Jaws is the classic Steven Spielberg-directed 1975 film about a great white shark that attacks swimmers vacationing in a New England beach town. Despite having been released over forty years ago, this movie can still give nightmares to younger kids and more impressionable viewers. While the shark itself doesn't look very realistic by today's standards, the discussions between the characters about the frequency and plausibility of shark attacks can be just as frightening as the scenes in which characters are attacked, bitten, and killed. Viewers see severed limbs, bloody entrails, and frenzied panic. There's also teenage drinking and marijuana smoking at a beach party, including a scene where a clearly drunk teen boy passes out on the beach. The three male adult lead characters get rip-roaring drunk on a sailboat. Brief nudity in the form of topless girls skinny-dipping.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
At the start of JAWS, during a late-night teen beach party, a girl disappears while swimming. When her remains come ashore, Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) believes it was a shark attack. Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), though, is worried about the effect such news might have on the tourist trade. After a few more attacks, some local fishermen catch a shark. The Mayor ignores warnings from ichthyologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) that the shark the fishermen caught was too small to have been the one in the attacks. Another fatality sends Brody, Hooper, and local fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) off to find the Great White. While an unlikely group to work together -- Quint is simply doing it for the money and clearly disrespects Chief Brody's inexperience and fear of the water as well as Hooper's pedantic college knowledge -- the three slowly begin to bond when they realize that the shark is larger and much more vicious than they could have ever anticipated.
Is it any good?
This film remains a classic horror movie that transcends the genre and the time in which it was released, and rightfully so. As one of Steven Spielberg's early films, his adept building up of the tension -- heightened that much more by the almost universally known two-note "shark attack" music provided by John Williams -- shines in both the shark attack scenes and in the spaces in which the story is given time to build and the characters have room to develop. Even with a shark that doesn't look terribly realistic by today's standards, JAWS still delivers the suspense and the terror, and is a textbook study on how to escalate tension for maximum payoff.
In terms of the acting, the chemistry between Scheider, Dreyfuss, and Shaw is still a delight to take in. At the time of its release, it was the highest-grossing box office movie of all time, and continues to remain a staple in American pop culture.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fact that Jaws is considered the first official "summer blockbuster." What other blockbusters can you think of? What do they have in common?
How is music used to build suspense in this movie? What are some other examples of well-known horror movie soundtracks?
Do you think the violence in the movie was necessary to the story, or was it simply included to provide added scares and horror for the audience?
Do you think this movie still works today, or is it too dated? Why?
- In theaters: July 1, 2000
- On DVD or streaming: July 1, 2000
- Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires, Ocean Creatures
- Run time: 125 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: violence
- Last updated: October 1, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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