Rarely does a day go by without several hundred social media posts about Steven Spielberg’s breakthrough seminal classic Jaws. That’s because Jaws hasn’t lost much in the way of popularity or visibility in the several decades that have passed since its release, so much so that it’s fair to assume tens of thousands of people watch the movie every year for the first or 100th time. There is something astonishingly timeless about Jaws, which we’ll try to cover as we rank every Jaws movie.
The sequels are a different matter, but they’re still worth at least a glance to anyone who wants to see the bizarre ways Universal Studios kept this story going. The three sequels can be fun, but we’re definitely talking about the law of diminishing returns on this particular franchise.
So we all know how #1 on this list is going to shake out, but what about the rest? Is The Revenge the secret best sequel? Does not being able to watch it in 3D hurt Jaws 3-D’s chances of masterpiece status? We’ll answer these questions more as we rank the Jaws franchise from the surface to the bottom of the pitiless blue seas.
Jaws Movies Ranked
4. Jaws 3-D (1983)
Director: Joe Alves
There’s an almost surreal insanity to Jaws 3-D that can make it a fun watch in brief bursts. The rest of the time, this 80s 3D (it was briefly a fad) movie is quite honestly rather boring. It might enhance your entertainment value a smidge to keep in mind that star Dennis Quaid, playing one of the sons of Roy Scheider’s police chief Brody, was coked out of his skull the entire time.
Jaws 3-D is a mess in every possible way. The story of Brody’s sons saving a marine theme park being attacked by a trapped shark is, at best, incredibly dumb. Even if you have a high tolerance for ludicrous plotting, which will be tested at every turn as we swim our way through a Jaws ranking, Jaws 3-D is going to be hard to take.
There’s a lot of potential here for a so-bad-it’s-good outcome, and Jaws 3-D genuinely benefits from Louis Gossett Jr. and Lea Thompson doing their best with this flaming sack of chum. Potential and likable performances just aren’t enough here, making the movie an exercise in tedium for more than half of its interminable running time.
Jaws 3-D does indeed feature 3D sequences. Theater audiences got to experience these, but you probably won’t. Honestly, it’s not going to make a big difference either way — Jaws 3-D is for completists only.
3. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Director: Joseph Sargent
With Jaws: The Revenge, which takes the stupefyingly daft plot of a great white shark trying to wipe out the Brody clan deadly seriously, we have a so-bad-it’s-good winner. Unlike Jaws: 3-D, The Revenge is quite entertaining from start to finish — you just have to appreciate the fact that almost everything associated with this movie is quite terrible. That, in of itself, is impressive, as Jaws: The Revenge feels like one of those movies where it’s a miracle that everything basically makes sense.
However, again, you’re going to have to watch Jaws: The Revenge as a movie with a premise that’s doomed from the start. Lance Guest as one of chief Brody’s sons is enthusiastic, but even with the middling budget of this movie firing on all technical cylinders, he comes across as just another frenetic piece in this colossally goofy film. There’s a subplot going on with his mother (Lorraine Gary, who is, if nothing else, charming), who also has her own thing going on with a pilot who helps them fight back against the shark.
It almost goes without saying that Jaws 2 isn’t as good as 1975’s groundbreaking hit Jaws. However, that doesn’t mean the movie is a waste of time. This follow-up concerning chief Brody (Roy Scheider, who seems visibly annoyed at himself for being in this) once again contending with a killer shark on his beach is actually pretty good.
The secret to liking Jaws 2 is to accept that a sequel is kind of a dumb idea to begin with. It makes even less sense than usual for a sequel that must work particularly hard to justify itself, although Jaws 2 still makes way more sense than the two which came afterwards.
Mostly, Jaws 2 is a movie that repeats most of the essential beats of its predecessor, with Scheider’s weary chief being one of the film’s main draws and how it manages to stand out a bit. Brody intones the same warning as the previous entry, as he becomes convinced a new shark has found its way to the shores of his small town.
At the same time, Scheider was a good enough actor to at least ensure his performance in Jaws 2 wasn’t the same as it was before. Jaws 2 for the most part finds enough to at least function as a sincerely interesting follow-up. Universal at least made an effort on this one, and that’s reflected on where this falls for this Jaws ranked countdown.
1. Jaws (1975)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Jaws topping this list is all but a foregone conclusion. Still, it’s interesting to compare this first entry in the series and how it literally changed the movie theater landscape, but also how its success inspired a number of completely unnecessary sequels. What’s impressive is that even with the law of diminishing returns very much in effect with this story about a shark menacing an oceanside community, the films we’ve covered so far in this ranking of every Jaws movie haven’t diminished the impact of the original.
Jaws is a complete movie experience, beginning with its unforgettable characters. Roy Scheider is of course here as the sheriff desperately trying to push the leadership of his town to do something about the shark before tragedy strikes. Jaws also offers Richard Dreyfuss as a marine biologist, as well as Robert Shaw as an aging, haunted sea captain.
The tension, music, and everything else associated with Jaws is cinematic perfection personified. But without the presence of our three main cast members, and how much we like them, Jaws may not have had quite the same depth in its staying power.
While this wasn’t director Steven Spielberg’s first full-length feature, it represented the moment in which he became one of the most famous filmmakers in the world. His style and approach to character, pacing, and how to utilize special effects would make Jaws the highest-grossing movie of all time until Star Wars two years later.
In the multiple decades that have followed this release, Spielberg has continued making movies. His hold on audiences remains as significant as ever, so it’s lucky for all of this that Jaws didn’t completely destroy him.
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