Skip to main content

Jaws remains one of the most popular movies of the 1970s and it made Steven Spielberg a household name, however, the making of the film was not easy. Oddly enough, Jaws wouldn’t be the same without an obscure television movie. Let’s take a closer look at the obstacles he faced and why Spielberg was almost fired from the job of directing this massive blockbuster.

Jaws | LMPC via Getty Images

Why ‘Jaws’ wouldn’t be the same without an obscure television movie

Jaws got released in the summer of 1975. It is a horror story of a monstrous great white shark that terrorizes a summer destination during 4th of July weekend. According to Insider, the film was Spielberg’s third and the highest earning film of all time until the original Star Wars took its spot a few years later. Together, both films came to exemplify the modern blockbuster and inspired a new generation of filmmakers to make popcorn movies. While Jaws was a massive success, its origins are in a relatively obscure television movie.

Spielberg was given the opportunity to direct Jaws because he worked on a film with a similar concept. According to Mental Floss, Dick Zanuck and David Brown wanted Spielberg because of his work on Duel – a television film wherein a crazed trucker preys on a mild driver. Based on a short story by noted science fiction author Richard Matheson, Duel is one of the rare television films to become a classic. For Zanuck and Brown, the similarity of Duel to Jaws made Spielberg a perfect fit.

A Duel trailer

What almost caused Steven Spielberg to lose his job

According to Life, Spielberg had trouble staying within the film budget. In fact, spending on the movie exceeded the budget by 300%. Production time went past projections. According to SBS, Spielberg decided to actually film on the Atlantic Ocean rather than in a studio tank to make the film authentic. This created many problems and delays. For example, the shooting schedule extended from 55 to 159 days.

Life reports Spielberg told Entertainment Weekly, “I think Sid Sheinberg (then president and chief operating officer of Universal Pictures) always blocked the intention of Ned Tanem (then head of production at Universal) to fire me. He wanted me fired. (Jaws producers) Dick Zanuck and David Brown always told me that the other shoe was about to drop. They always warned me. And they didn’t warn me to threaten me or to intimidate me, they just said ‘Is there anything you can do with the script, with the schedule, to avert a shut down? What can you do?”

Jaws trailer

How George Lucas Reacted to the ‘Star Wars’ Parody ‘Spaceballs’

Spielberg continued “And I didn’t have anything to do, because I couldn’t cut the script. I couldn’t cut the third act out of Jaws. I had to keep moving forward, and the schedule was dictated by the mechanical shark, and by the weather conditions on the ocean.That’s what dictated the overrun. And I think every time there was an intention to replace me, Sid stepped in quietly behind the scenes and stopped it from happening.” Spielberg wasn’t fired — and movie history was changed forever.