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The First Hollywood Blockbuster, Jaws

Our culture has a love/hate relationship with the modern day Hollywood blockbuster. Movies like Top Gun: Maverick are making billions at the worldwide box office but there is a group of detractors who are not thrilled with the movies that are dominating theater screens. The idea of the “blockbuster” is still a relatively new one—the model was formed nearly 50 years ago with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.


The idea of Hollywood’s biggest projects opening in summer started in 1975 with Jaws. The film showed the industry that the summer, when kids were home from school, and when the air-conditioned theater was a haven from the hot weather, was the perfect time to release its biggest films. Jaws was the first film to earn 100 million at the box office. People lined up around the block to see it. Two years after Jaws, Star Wars opened in theaters. Star Wars was a massive hit. The biggest hit in the history of the business at the time. It is fair to believe that Star Wars would not be the pop culture icon it is today, without the blueprint Jaws created.



When you look at the list of highest grossing movies of all-time—Spielberg’s name is all over it. Jaws, the Indiana Jones series and the Jurassic Park franchise have proven that no filmmaker in history has a better understanding of what moviegoers want from big budgeted cinema. It would be easy to assume that Spielberg’s projects make a lot of money because he knows how to deliver visceral thrills. Nobody can stage action and suspense for the screen like Spielberg, but heart and story are an important component of his work.

Heart & Story

Heart and story are abundant in Spielberg pictures like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That heart comes from the fact that Spielberg had the chance to create original films. Despite his films being large in scale—there is a personal element to Spielberg’s filmography. Family, often viewed through the eyes of children, is a signature of the director’s work.

Soulless Filmmaking

It is not hard to understand why many view Hollywood as nothing more than a soulless factory of late. It feels like every week we have a film released that is a remake, sequel, or comic book adaptation. When you are constantly recycling ideas, it is hard to inject them with heart or a real signature. The Jurassic World franchise, where Spielberg has served as a producer, has made a fortune at the box office. However, its cultural impact is limited by the fact that the films are sequels to Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Yes, Jaws and Jurassic Park were based on novels. But Spielberg did not just remake the novels, he added his own style to both projects.


Lack Of Originality

Has Hollywood simply lost the ability to create original stories? They probably have not lost the ability—but they certainly have lost the desire. Because of movies like Jaws and E.T. audiences expect a lot from event moviemaking. To match those expectations studios have to spend ridiculously large amounts of money. Those large investments are safer to use in sequels and remakes rather than something unknown to the public. That means that instead of seeing something original like the Indiana Jones movies—we see Hollywood trying to find a way to remake the Jones series or continue it.

Big Ideas

Spielberg made his career by crafting big idea films that relied on personal storytelling as much as they did on large-scale action. His singular contributions to cinema are solely missed in this era of rehash storytelling. One can argue that Spielberg’s groundbreaking success might be partly to blame for why studios are obsessed with blockbusters. Regardless of who is to blame, we will probably never have another filmmaker like Steven Spielberg, especially considering the current state of Hollywood.


- Adam C. Better