Taking a Bite Out of Jaws: Differences in the Book and Movie

You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Adaptations Pop Culture

On June 20th of 1975, the classic thriller Jaws swam onto the silver screen and into the minds of generations of beachgoers. Some people might not know, though, that the blockbuster about a killer great white wreaking havoc on a small New England town was actually based on a book the same by Peter Benchley, published in 1974.  Anyone who wants to read the book after watching the movie will be surprised to learn how different the novel and movie actually are. A few are small, like Ellen Brody playing a much larger role in the book and the Brody family living on Amity Island their whole lives, but others change the story completely. Here are some of the key differences:



1. Why didn’t Mayor Vaughn Close the beach




One of the most frustrating aspects of Jaws is that, even with the mounting shark attacks occurring on Amity Island, Mayor Larry Vaughn refuses to close the beaches and demands that hero Chief Martin Brody covers one of the deaths as a boating accident. In the movie, Mayor Vaughn’s chief concern is the town’s income. After all, “Amity is a summer town. We need summer dollars.” In the novel, however, Mayor Vaughn’s motives are a bit more sinister. He actually has connections to the local mafia, who are pressuring him to keep the beaches open.


2. Hooper Dies




A nail-biting moment towards the end of Jaws is when quick-witted shark expert Matt Hooper is attacked while in the shark cage, only to emerge out of the water once the danger is over. However, in the book, Hopper doesn’t make it out alive. Instead of swimming away and hiding behind a coral reef, the shark quickly and graphically makes a meal of him. Benchley writes, “The fish bit down, and the last thing Hooper saw before he died was the eye gazing at him through a cloud of his own blood.”

Don’t feel too bad for book Hooper, though, because:

3. He and Ellen Brody have an affair




Ellen is Martin Brody’s supportive and loving wife in the movie, and they share a playful and sweet relationship. However, in the book, she is miserable, former socialite who feels she married ‘down.’ Matt Hooper, who happens to be the brother of one of Ellen’s ex-lovers, rolls into town, and she’s infatuated with him. They begin an affair after she invites him to a dinner party.


4. Quint’s famous USS Indianapolis speech is just from the movie



One of the most iconic scenes in Jaws is when our three heroes (Chief Brody, Matt Hooper, and fisherman Sam Quint) get drunk at sea and start to compare scars. Quint reveals one of the scars was from a tattoo he had removed, representing the time he served as a sailor on The USS Indianapolis in WWII. Then, he launches into a story about how Japanese torpedoes sank the Indianapolis while on its way to deliver the nuclear bomb to Hiroshima and how he had to watch the sharks pick off his comrades.

While this has become one of the film’s most famous scene, no such scene occurs in the novel. It is also unknown who wrote the monologue, but co-writer Carl Gottlieb credits Steven Speilberg’s friend, John Milius, with its authorship. Actor Robert Shaw also added a few of his own lines while shooting the scene.


5. The Death of Quint




In both the book and movie, Quint dies. However, his movie death is much more spectacular, as the grizzled shark hunter slides down his sinking ship and into the gaping maw of the shark. However, in the book, Quint’s foot gets caught in a harpoon rope attached to the dead shark, and he is pulled out to sea, and Brody is left alone at sea.


Which difference did you find the most surprising?