The idea of using oversized animals as the monster in a horror movie is not new or unique. It’s been done in movies like Komodo, Mosquito and Anaconda — and you can probably guess which animals were used by the names of those movies. It has even been a literary trope, as exemplified by Stephen King’s novel Cujo. The idea of taking ordinary animals and blowing them up to great size was even employed by movies older than Jaws, such as The Food Of The Gods. It is understandable why this would be such a widely-used premise: if you take any animal and make it grow to a tremendous size, the result would probably be pretty scary. So what makes Jaws so memorable?
First of all, we can’t neglect the score. John Williams was Steven Spielberg’s constant companion throughout much of his filmography. Even outside of Spielberg’s work, John Williams has made great contributions to cinema. Williams is famous for creating the music to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, and Superman. The Jaws theme is one of the most recognizable movie themes in existence. The beginning sounds very much like the opening strains of Dvorak’s 9th symphony’s 4th movement. The similarity ends there, though, and it quickly becomes one of the scariest and most unsettling piece of movie music ever written. The music itself has become a trope in its own rite, being the subject of all kinds of remixes, parodies, and re-uses that play on its semiotic adjacence to the original film. When the Jaws music plays, we all instantly think of sharks, even if we’ve never seen Jaws!
The second big factor that makes Jaws so memorable is its special effects. Using things like undersized human models and special camera angles, the film was able to create the illusion of an enormous shark with unnerving realism. Being filmed before the age of CGI, Jaws was able to leverage the full power of practical effects to create something convincing and timeless. Even modern audiences accustomed to the use of CGI can find themselves enthralled by the effects in this movie. In this respect, Jaws stands alongside Clash of the Titans and Star Wars as one of the great movies of yesteryear to take great advantage of practical effects. Looking back on films like those, there is no question that modern movies have a lot to learn about believable effects from their practical forebears.
Jaws is a classic horror movie. People who wear Jaws t shirts are still doing so because it’s a movie we all recognize. Even decades after its creation, no cinema buff worth their salt would say that they’ve seen the best of this genre without having viewed Jaws. Head and shoulders above films like Komodo and Food Of The Gods, Jaws remains a classic to this day.