One could spend countless hours going over the aspects that made Steven Spielberg’s Jaws such a crucial, paradigmatic film for the industry in 1975, essentially inventing the very concept of the summer blockbuster. However, besides instilling a unique fear of the ocean into posterity, the film also supplied a quote that’s arguably one of cinema’s most famous. Now, the story behind that masterful one-liner has been revealed… and it’s kind of funny.
Screenwriter, Carl Gottlieb, who adapted the Jaws screenplay alongside the original novel’s author, Peter Benchley, recounts a rather humorous anecdote to The Hollywood Reporter regarding the iconic initial reaction to the titular shark by Roy Sheider’s Chief Martin Brody with a brilliantly understated line to Captain Quint, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” While some trivia-savvy fans probably already know that the line was actually adlibbed, it seems that its origins root to a rather hilarious inside joke.
The Jaws production apparently experienced some logistical difficulties that tended to mirror the dilemma of the film’s embattled shark-hunting trio. It seems that during the sea shoots, essential equipment like lighting, cameras, and even craft services were kept on a clunky barge that the cast and crew derisively named the “S.S. Garage Sale.” That vessel was necessarily attached to a boat that was clearly too small for its intended purpose of steadying the barge. Thus, the phrase, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” became a common bit of unsolicited advice to allegedly unreceptive producers, David Brown and Richard Zanuck. According to Gottlieb:
“[David] Zanik [sic] and [Richard] Brown were very stingy producers so everyone kept telling them ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat.’ It became a catchphrase for anytime anything went wrong — if lunch was late or the swells were rocking the camera, someone would say ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat.'”
Onboard, Captain Quint’s vessel, Orca along with Hooper, Sheider’s Brody smokes a cigarette while nonchalantly chumming the waters as the group prepare to spring their shark trap when the eponymous massive man-eater shows itself for the first time, inspiring a moment of pure shock. Yet, despite it being one of movies’ most famously monstrous reveals, Sheider saw an opportunity to inject the producer-ribbing inside joke into the film, itself.
Serendipitously, the sarcastic gripes of the Jaws cast and crew yielded one of the hit film’s signature moments. Such a notion seems to reinforce the idea that some of the best films in history were not born from a smooth-running shoot with an unlimited budget, but productions that had to improvise and creatively work around obstacles. With that in mind, do yourself a favor and relive the scene down below!