Steven Spielberg's Jaws was released on June 20th, 1975 and made over $470 million against its $9 million budget. It ended up receiving a PG rating from the MPAA in the United States after director Steven Spielberg made a single cut before
the film's release to avoid an R rating at the insistence of Richard Heffner, the chairman of the American ratings board.
Cut Scenes: A severed leg is missing two feet
The cut involved the sight of a severed leg falling to the ocean floor, and Spielberg recalled his experience with the MPAA in the 1995 LaserDisc documentary, The Making of Jaws:
"I was happy to do it, because they didn't ask me to cut the leg out, they just asked me not to let the leg hit, bounce, gush blood, settle 'cos I was really studying it. So, I cut about a foot and half to two feet off that shot."
The BBFC tries to take a bite
In the UK, Jaws was one of the last films seen by outgoing secretary of the British Board of Film Classification, Stephen Murphy. He demanded one further cut to the film, stating that the sight of Quint coughing up blood immediately before the
shark drags him under the water should be deleted.
The film's British distributor refused to make this change and the BBFC's president eventually overruled Murphy and waived the cut. As a result, the BBFC passed the film with an 'A' rating (the 'A' denoting 'Advisory') on June 12th, 1975; a
rating broadly equivalent to today's PG rating.
Following Stephen Murphy's departure from the Board, his replacement James Ferman asked to view the film and later expressed concern about whether the 'A' category was appropriate, given the strength of the film's violence, gore and threatening
sequences. After receiving reassurance from professionals in the field of child development, Ferman was content to uphold the 'A' rating, although he decreed that it was at the very top end of what was acceptable at that category. For the film's
release, Ferman took the unusual step of issuing a press release which read, in part, as follows:
"The BBFC has passed the film JAWS with an 'A' certificate. This classification has not, in recent years, required that children under 14 be accompanied by an adult but it does warn parents that a film contains scenes they might prefer
their children not to see. In the case of JAWS, the Board wants this warning to be taken very seriously indeed."
Jaws was later submitted to the BBFC for a video classification, after it had been available on VHS without a BBFC certificate prior to the implementation of the Video Recordings Act 1984. Given that the film had been hugely popular and was an
established commodity, the Board issued it with a PG rating on April 27th, 1987. A later resubmission for VHS was also classified PG on December 3rd, 1993.
For the film's 25th anniversary re-release on home video, Jaws was classified PG again on May 12th, 2000. Two trailers for the film were later classified U and PG by the BBFC on November 1st, and each received cuts in order to remove sight of the
MPAA rating screen at the beginning of each trailer in order to avoid confusion with the BBFC's own classification system. However, when the anniversary edition of Jaws was released in the UK on DVD in the summer of 2000, the DVD sported a 12
certificate. This was due to the fact that the special features on the DVD (which had been passed 12 on August 2nd , 2000) contained usage of the word 'fuck'.
Just over a decade later, Jaws was slated to be re-released theatrically in selected British cinemas on June 15th, 2012. Under contemporary BBFC guidelines, the Board felt that a new classification of Jaws would need reconsideration and the film
was seen by senior BBFC examiners and the Board's president. Seeing the film anew on the big screen, the Board -- perhaps surprisingly -- considered that Jaws was a borderline 12A/15 film, but taking into account that the film was a) so
well-known; and b) it had been previously rated PG for so many years, the BBFC reached a compromise and raised the classification of Jaws from PG to 12A, remarking that the film:
"Contains moderate threat and occasional gory moments."
As of 2018, in the absence of a recent home video submission, Jaws remains at PG on home video, although the use of the word 'fuck' in the special features means that home video releases have been raised to 12 overall.
Jaws 2 followed in 1978 and was rated PG in the United States and 'A' in the United Kingdom on June 28th of that year. In Britain, it was later passed PG on video on June 17th, 1987 and again in widescreen on June 23rd, 2000 and August
31st, 2001. To date, it remains at PG for:
"Mild violence, threat, mild bad language."
Jaws 3 was released in 1983 (where it was marketed as Jaws 3-D for its theatrical release, since it was originally screened in 3D). The film was passed PG in the United States, but when it was submitted to the BBFC in Britain it was
decreed that some minor cuts were required in Reel 3 for a PG rating.
Cut Scenes: Show stopper
The cuts concerned the sight of Mike Brody examining Shelby Overman's body, after it is found floating in a tank at SeaWorld. The uncut version features two lingering shots of Overman, which were both shortened for the British cinema release.
For a PG, the BBFC demanded:
"Reduce to flash shots only both shots of decomposed body, the close-up of the head and the upper torso. Remove all sight of worm emerging from corpse's mouth."
After seven seconds of cuts, Jaws 3 was passed PG by the BBFC on September 14th, 1983. The film was later submitted for a VHS classification, with the distributors opting to reinstate the material cut for the UK cinema version. The film was
therefore passed 15 uncut on January 20th, 1987.
It was later resubmitted for a second VHS release some 13 years later and under contemporary BBFC guidelines it was passed 12 uncut on June 23rd, 2000, with this same version later appearing on DVD and Blu-ray. As of 2018, Jaws 3 remains at 12 on
home video for:
"Occasional gory images."
Jaws: The Revenge
Although Jaws 3 made a profit at the box office, it received poor critical reviews and was nominated for five Golden Raspberry awards in 1983. Nevertheless, the Hollywood suits deemed that a third sequel to the original classic was necessary, and
Jaws: The Revenge was released in 1987. It was the first Jaws film to be rated PG-13 by the MPAA in the United States for violence, after which it was submitted to the BBFC for a British theatrical certificate. Unsurprisingly, the Board
demanded cuts for a PG rating in the UK.
Cut Scenes: Unarmed combat
The first cuts were made to the death of Sean Brody in Reel 1, where the shark severs Brody's arm and proceeds to attack him further before dragging him underwater. For a PG rating, the BBFC stipulated:
"In scene in which young man in boat is killed by shark, remove all close-ups of him clasping his mutilated shoulder as well as his realisation that his arm has been bitten off after the first reaction to the sight of blood. Also,
shorten his screams as he is pulled under the water."
Cut Scenes: Banana split
The BBFC demanded further cuts in the film's fifth reel, which concerned the banana boat sequence involving the death of a female passenger. For a PG rating, the BBFC demanded:
"When shark attacks women and children on banana boat, remove shots of bloody body in jaws and final underwater shot of shark and body."
Cut Scenes: What's Eating Jake?
Later in Reel 5, the sequence where Jake is attacked by the shark was censored in the UK, with the BBFC cuts list stating:
"In scene in which shark pulls black man off prow of boat, remove shot in which shark with bloody body in its jaws re-enters the water."
As was the case with Jaws 3 when it was submitted for a VHS classification, Jaws: The Revenge was released uncut on video after the distributors opted to forego cuts for a higher certificate. As a result, the film was passed 15 by the BBFC
on March 17th, 1988.
It was submitted again in its uncut form for a second VHS classification 12 years later and was downgraded to a 12 on June 30th, 2000. It was later passed uncut with a 12 rating again on June 8th, 2001 and remains at 12 on home video today for:
As of 2018, British fans wishing to own any of the Jaws films uncut can safely purchase the Blu-ray releases of the films, since none of them contain any of the archaic cuts originally made by James Ferman for their UK theatrical releases.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Four, Episode 55 The Jaws Films
Cutting Edge now in High Definition
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.