Jaws Almost Had A Very Different Cast – Here’s Why It Changed

Jaws is a cinema classic, so it is difficult to imagine anyone wanting to change it. But before it hit the silver screen, it underwent a number of casting changes that otherwise would have produced a completely different movie.

Directed by hit-maker Steven Spielberg, Jaws hit theatres the summer of 1975. An instant horror classic, it follows the story of a small New England coastal town as it comes under the attack of a enormous violent shark. Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) tries to keep the story under wraps to prevent a drop in tourism while police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and local shark-hunter Sam Quint (Robert Shaw) team up to counter the shallow-dwelling antagonist.


Jaws was wildly successful. Its legacy would go on to spawn several sequels and an attraction at Universal Studios. For fans of the creature feature, Jaws combined the best of hammy B-list movies with stunning direction and terrifying scares. Overtaking The Godfather as the highest grossing North American film at the box office, Jaws created the “summer blockbuster”.

Jaws Could Have Had More Big-Name Actors In It, But Spielberg Refused

Producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown asked Spielberg to cast known actors for the main characters of Jaws. Author of the original novel Peter Benchley agreed, recommending Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen for Brody, Hooper, and Quint, respectively. However, Spielberg refused to hire big stars, allowing the relative anonymity of his casting to make audiences align more with the characters and for the shark to be the real star of the movie.

Initially, Charlton Heston, lead of Earthquake and Airport 1975, was recommended for the role of Brody, but Spielberg turned him down because he felt Heston’s reputation as a heroic figure would cause audiences of Jaws to disregard the shark as a real threat. This infuriated Heston to the point that he refused to ever work with Spielberg again. Spielberg actually almost passed on Scheider as well after seeing his hard-hitting portrayal of Buddy Russo in The French Connection, but luckily decided to give him a chance to make the character his own. Robert Duvall of The Godfather movies was also considered for the part but turned it down because he worried it would make him too famous.

For the role of Hooper, Spielberg was most interested in Midnight Cowboy star Jon Voight, but was also willing to consider Timothy Bottoms of Johnny Got His Gun, Cabaret’s Joel Grey, and the (now) Academy Award-winning Jeff Bridges. It was actually George Lucas, a long-time friend, who recommended Dreyfuss for the role. The actor initially passed until he saw his lackluster performance in a pre-screening of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and decided he needed a chance to prove he could do better.

For Quint, Spielberg had a clear idea that he wanted to hire either Sterling Hayden of Dr. Strangelove fame or tough guy actor Lee Marvin. Marvin turned Spielberg down while Hayden was actually unable to take acting gigs at the time due to trouble with the IRS tax collectors. Ironically, Shaw, who did eventually get the role after being persuaded by his family that he should take it, also had problems with the IRS and was flown to Canada whenever he wasn’t filming for Jaws.

Steven Spielberg Almost Didn’t Direct Jaws

Jaws is one of the most famous movies in Spielberg’s repertoire, so it is difficult to picture the film without the director. However, initially, Dick Richards, director of The Culpepper Cattle Company was offered the job. It was only when Richards was fired after repeatedly referring to “Jaws” as a whale instead of a shark in an opening pitch to producers that Spielberg was given an opportunity. He almost stepped away from it too, but was forced to honor his contract and went on to create the Jaws audiences know and love.

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About The Author

Shannon Lewis (79 Articles Published)

Shannon Lewis is a features and news writer on Screen Rant. She has experience in editorial working as the deputy editor for Specialty Food, an online and print magazine, curating its news section and social media. She has worked as a freelance writer since 2017, writing articles, features, and profiles in a wide range of topics, from business and tech to pop culture and media. Previously, she has also worked as a ghost writer for a fiction manuscript, and co-founded arts-and-literature magazine, Octarine.

Hailing from Queretaro, Mexico, she is a graduate of the University of East Anglia’s English Literature with Creative Writing program. An avid reader and fan of writing, she leverages her love of literature to dissect movies in her favorite genres, including horror, rom-coms, and superhero movies. Her focus is on the cross-section between story, cultural background, and character development. When she isn’t busy reading everything ever published under the mantle of Image Comics, you might find her writing fiction, rock climbing, or putting together a horror anthology with friends.

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