What I Learned from Watching 4 Jaws Movies in a Row + A Ranking

For the Horrorathon for the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), I watched all 10 Children of the Corn movies in a row. Because we exceeded the original fundraising goal, I did a bonus franchise and watched the Jaws sequels as well. These are my stories.

What I Learned From Watching the Jaws Sequels:

There is Good Reason People Don’t Talk About These Movies…Mostly

Jaws is a classic with an incredibly satisfying ending with no need to prolong the story. So I can understand why the sequels became a joke so quickly. They are unnecessary and in some ways even betray the spirit and satisfaction of the first. The second is a carbon copy of the first without Quint and Hooper, and the fourth weakly limps along by focusing on Ellen Brody oscillating between paralyzing grief and being extremely mad at a shark. It isn’t pretty.

Jaws 3-D is a remarkable exception in being an utterly entertaining if not bloated shark attack movie. It’s only mistake is being associated with the original Jaws, and I’m convinced it would be a cult classic if it had just been released as an original film unattached to the series. The movie was originally going to be a self-parody titled Jaws 3, People 0, so it was always going to be kind of cheesy and fun.

Jaws Focuses on Leadership in Crisis

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, people drew obvious parallels between Mayor Vaughn downplaying the danger of the shark and certain leaders downplaying the danger of COVID in attempts to prize the economy over public safety. Unlike most horror movies where the characters are often partying teens or a middle-class family caught in extreme circumstances, the first two Jaws movies feature the leaders of a community reacting to a crisis. It still packs in scares, but it relies on us feeling for the well-being of a community and feeling a real sense of danger whenever anyone goes into the water. We also feel the sense of frustration Brody and Hooper feel when the local political machine keeps stalling out their efforts to alert people to the danger and take drastic but necessary measures.

Likewise, even the third and fourth films feature shark experts interacting with the animals. The third also features an entrepreneur turned SeaWorld manager Calvin Bouchard filling in the place of Mayor Vaughn albeit with a bit more depth and nuance. The fourth film cut a lot of its source material’s side plots with local politics and a supernatural witch doctor (I’m not making that up), but Mike Brody and his partner know the shark is in the island’s waters and choose to keep it a secret and study it anyway – basically combining the greedy mayor and protagonist into the same characters and giving them some depth.

Jaws Goes for a Lot of Shocking Kills

For a series of horror/adventure movies that feel so bizarrely wholesome despite their plots, these movies really don’t pull punches when it comes to the characters who get brutally killed. In the first movie, a child gets killed which is still a rare move in a horror movie. The movie doubles down on the intensity when quintessential badass shark hunter Quint is killed by the shark.

The third film also features an infamous shark hunter getting killed, and the fourth kills one of Brody’s sons right out the gate. As well as a mother in front of her child. Which leads to my final observation…

This Series is Really About the Brody Family (And Yes Also Sharks)

From the moment Mrs. Kintner slaps Chief Brody after her son was killed, these movies never lost sight of their themes of the importance of familial bonds. Yes, the movies feature communities and yes there have been tons of essays and analysis written about the trifecta of Id, Ego, and Superego that is Quint, Brody, and Hooper. But the throughline between all four movies (besides sharks obviously) is the bond between the Brody family. A Brody is always the main character, and their love and support for one another even through trials and tribulations is the connective tissue of the films. The third and fourth Jaws movies even go a step further by having families of sharks who seem to seek vengeance for each other. Even the community of Amity feels like a representation of a family, complete with bickering and disagreements while trying to keep sight of working towards the common good and safety of the group.

Ranking the Films:

Just a disclaimer that I feel is going to particularly important for these movies: I am rating things based on my personal enjoyment – NOT if I think it is a “good” movie. Interpret that as the preemptive apology it is because here we go with divisive decisions…

4. Jaws 2 (1978)

IMDb Score: 5.8

What happens in it? Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…a pretty obvious money grab of a plot leads to yet ANOTHER great white shark in the waters surrounding Amity Island. Once again facing a skeptical town council and without the support of Quint and Hooper, can Chief Martin Brody protect the town on his own while also contending with a rebellious teenage son hellbent on getting into nautical hijinks?

Why this ranking? If I were ranking these based on quality, this would easily be in a different place on this list. It is definitely more polished than the other sequels, and best captures the spirit of the original. But like I alluded to earlier, without Quint and Hooper it just doesn’t feel the same. It feels like a completely unnecessary, watered-down rethread of the first film. The mayor has learned nothing and is once again a self-serving ass. Even Martin Brody’s sons are indifferent to the danger they experienced firsthand only years ago. It feels like all the characters (maybe with the exception of Martin Brody who is better prepared to acknowledge the danger) go through the same arcs and reactions to the shark instead of showing any character growth after the first film.

I think if Jaws was one of my personal favorite movies, I would love this sequel the most. But I don’t feel that emotional attachment to the original, so this just feels like it is trying too hard to be the same exact movie even though it can’t be. There’s no sense of risk so there’s no gain other than a coda to Martin Brody’s story.

Great tagline though! There’s only one tagline in the series that’s even better…

3. Jaws 4: The Revenge (1987)

IMDb Score: 3.0

What happens in it? A widowed Ellen Brody is devastated by the shocking death of her adult son Sean Brody at the hands (fins?) of a…you guessed it…great white shark! Convinced the shark is personally after her family, her other adult son Mike convinces her to spend Christmas in the Bahamas with his wife and child where he is researching sea snails. He insists since great white sharks don’t like the warm waters of the Caribbean, there is nothing to fear. Believe it or not, the movie does not end there because this great white shark IS literally after the Brody family and DOES indeed follow them to the Bahamas. And why shouldn’t the shark follow them? Sharks need self care too! Have we stopped to consider that the shark might have just been going on vacation and upon seeing the Brodys was like “I can’t believe this murderous family that killed my parents followed ME to the Bahamas? This has to end now.”

Why this ranking? Jaws 4: The Revenge aka…

A screenshot of Michael Jordan being interviewed with the open caption "...and I took that personally"

As much as this movie is a big “meh” for me, I appreciate that it tries to do something different. It is still unusual to see a horror/adventure/action movie focused on an older woman (bless Lorraine Gary for somehow agreeing to do this movie).

This movie has a bunch of interesting little pieces that all come together poorly (psychic shark connections! Late in life romance! Banana boat rides!), but at the end of the day I give it credit for trying something different. It somehow seems to assume that the only reason the previous sequel failed is people missed Ellen and the direct ties to the first film and before someone could say “that’s NOT the reason Jaws 3-D failed pleases stop!” it was already halfway towards post-production. I also think killing Sean Brody was a really bold surprise, even if the rest of the movie is kind of melodramatic mess.

2. Jaws 3-D (1983)

Love the “All New All New” just so people don’t accidently think this is somehow the first film re-released in 3-D

IMDb Score: 3.7

What happens in it? Mike Brody, now an adult, is a supervisor at a brand new SeaWorld set to open in Florida. When a shark sneaks into SeaWorld (not making this up), they convince the SeaWorld manager to not kill the shark live on camera (somehow this is an idea he actually considers) and to instead keep the shark in SeaWorld as a one of a kind attraction. Unfortunately, the shark basically dies instantly from being severely mishandled thanks to the orders of said SeaWorld manager, and the joke is on the humans because that is the deceased baby shark of a now very pissed off momma shark who ALSO snuck into SeaWorld. They also have some coral thieves (again not making this up) in the beginning of the film, so clearly this SeaWorld needs better security.

Why this ranking? I cannot believe how much I loved this movie. It is cheesy and pales in comparison to the original, but on its own merits it is just a fun 80s shark movie. I’m sorry but how can one not love that these are the special effects that actually made it into this film?

The movie ends with dolphin twins named Cindy and Sandy triumphantly spinning in the air as one of the protagonists strikes the victory pose and the film freeze frames its way into the credits. Excuse me if this isn’t cinematic gold!

Everyone that dislikes this movie is just jealous nothing this cool will ever happen to them

As I mentioned in my longer post about this film, this is the only Jaws sequel I vaguely remembered seeing previously. The scene where the underwater kingdom is under attack and the SeaWorld guests have to flee in terror was so fascinating to me as a child. It is a cool concept that predates Jurassic World in creating a disaster movie set in a functioning amusement park. It gets bogged down by shoehorning Sean Brody and some melodrama into the mix, but it is still fun and different and for that alone tops out at number two for me.

1. Jaws (1975)

IMDB Score: 8.1

What happens in it? Come on we all know what happens in Jaws.

Why this ranking? Obviously the number one Jaws is going to be the original Jaws. I’m not a monster (despite how highly I ranked Hellraiser: Revelations in my Hellraiser series ranking which most people would consider an abomination).

There’s nothing I can really say about the original Jaws that hasn’t already been said. It is a classic and the first summer blockbuster that spawned a plethora of knockoffs and imitations. Spielberg is at some of his most Spielbergian already, softening the darker edges of Peter Benchley’s book into a suspenseful but oddly wholesome film. The loving marital bond between Ellen and Martin Brody, their love and fierce protection of their children, as well as the eventual camaraderie between the abrasive Quint, book smart Hooper, and balanced Brody are the true heart of the movie that keeps you coming back. Yes the shark is frightening and the storyline riveting, but without the relationships I doubt this movie would be the enduring classic it is to this day.

Even though the movie is chockful of exposition and dialogue, it keeps moving at a clip thanks to people talking over one another and filling each scene with different things to focus on each time you watch. It captures chaotic small town energy, and trying to think clearly through a din of conflicting perspectives. It also relies on feeding you the appropriate reaction to things by featuring closeups of characters wincing or panicking at key moments.

Although much is made of the opening scene and the iconic dolly zoom followed by a child’s blood washing up on the shore, two of the scariest moments are the head jump scare and the creepily effective moment the shark attacks the pond. We see the shark coming towards the man supervising the children in the water, and it just silently latches onto him and pulls him under the water.

Soon after, we see a single leg floating down to the the bottom of the pond.

Perhaps most of all, this movie incorrectly shaped public perception of a real creature. Psycho might have made us more leery of strangers (even unassuming ones), but we should be hesitant around strangers to a certain degree. But sharks got a bad rap because of Jaws, leading to far more humans killing sharks than the other way around. Peter Benchley regrets how much Jaws shaped public perception of sharks, and became a lifelong ocean conservationist to atone.

*

And that’s it for Jaws and for this particular fundraiser. This was a surprisingly tough series to write about considering it is way more well-known outside of the horror community than the other franchises I’ve tackled. Hopefully I can find another bizarre series to explore and rank in the future. Till then, I leave you with one of my favorite Ice Nine Kills songs focused on Jaws:

4 thoughts on “What I Learned from Watching 4 Jaws Movies in a Row + A Ranking

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