Is Jaws a Horror Movie?

Last Updated on December 3, 2022 by Lil Ginge

Many have said that Jaws is one of the scariest films of all time. When people first saw it in the movie theaters in 1975, people screamed. They hid underneath their movie theater seats. They puked. They ran out of the theater. And they stopped going swimming in the ocean.

Has any other movie ever terrified people so profoundly? And yet – many people do not think that Jaws is even a horror film. But how could that be? And are they actually right? If Jaws isn’t a horror film, then what genre is it? It’s not a comedy (though it does have funny moments). It’s not a romance, although maybe it is something of a bromance.

a great white shark swimming under the surf
A friendly neighborhood shark.

Jaws is, to this day, one of the most successful films of all time from both a commercial and critical perspective. In this article, we will look at whether or not Jaws really deserves to be considered a horror film and if so, why it is a horror film as opposed to some other genre.

Jaws: Thriller Versus Horror?

Where does one draw the line between a movie that “thrills” and a movie that “scares”? For, these two things are not the same, and yet there seems to be so much overlap. To be sure, Jaws has elements of both classic thrillers as well as horror movies. But which one does Jaws really qualify as?

Some people have pointed to Jurassic Park and said that Jurassic Park is NOT a horror film, that it couldn’t be because the “monsters” in Jurassic Park are not actual monsters, but rather just dangerous animals. Like the shark in Jaws. But why should that actually matter? Can’t an animal cause as much fear as some deformed monster? Especially one as exaggerated as the great white shark in Jaws? (That’s a 20-footer – no 25!) Couldn’t they be even scarier?

I would argue that no matter what Jaws and Jurassic Park are – horror, thriller, or something else, they are two films of exactly the same genre. Jurassic Park is the real Jaws 2. It’s Jaws 2 the Spielberg way. It is meant to evoke many of the same feelings and emotions – horror and terror, suspense, shock, disgust, and even some levity and humor.

Moreover, nobody seems to mind that a horror film like “Cujo” features “just an animal” as the “monster.” And is anyone more of an authority on what counts as a horror film than Steven King? It would be interesting to know how he would qualify Jaws. Does King think it’s a horror film or something else?

Jaws and The Supernatural

One argument again Jaws as a horror film is that it is not a movie about the supernatural. And while it’s true that MANY horror films focus on the supernatural, some of the greatest horror films ever made come to mind that have nothing to do with it. Perhaps the two best examples are Psycho and the original Halloween, as well as The Silence of the Lambs. All three involve deranged psychopathis serial killers, but neither Norman Bates nor Michael Meyers, nor Hannibal Lecter is a ghost, at least not in the first installments of their respective franchises. Would anyone at this point deny that Psycho and Hallowwn are horror films? 

Is Jaws An Action-Adventure Movie?

Some would argue that Jaws is an adventure movie, rather than a horror film. And that makes some sense, especially when referring to the film’s main adventure in its second half, when Chief Brody, Matt Hooper, and Quint go off to sea to hunt down the shark. It’s a swashbuckling adventure that even features adventurous thematic music from composer John Williams.

Jaws, and Jurassic Park for that matter, have many moments in the film that feel closer to Indiana Jones (which features the supernatural but is not a horror film, by the way) than to The Exorcist or The Shining. But does that mean Jaws isn’t a horror film at all? I don’t think so.

The Phenomenology of Jaws and Horror

In contemporary “analytic” philosophy, phenomenology is the qualitative and subjective feel of what something is like to experience. It’s the atmosphere or mood you experience. So the phenomenology of a film would be the type of atmosphere it presents to you and the mood it evokes for the people watching the film.

Do horror films have a certain and distinct feel that makes them different from things like thrillers, suspense films, and action-adventure movies? If so, does Jaws have the phenomenology of a horror film or lack it? 

Darkness and creepiness are two important elements of a horror film’s feel, but Jaws doesn’t really feature these. Much of Jaws is shot in the daytime with bright images and it doesn’t really give you the “creeps” the way a ghost or monster movie might. But I’m not sure those are the two terms that are most applicable to Jaws. Jaws is more anxiety or dread-provoking, making you on edge, nervous about what’s around the bend, or rather, just below the surface of the ocean.

At the same time, the blood-curdling screams of Chrissy Watkins and the spurting up of a fountain of blood during the Alex Kitner attack are distinctly horror tropes. It could have just as well been any sea monster or terror of the deep attacking the two hapless victims. It just so happened that instead, it was a shark.

Jaws and Gore

Gore is another element of horror films, and there is definitely an ample amount of gore in Jaws. This is particularly true of the scenes featuring the deaths of Alex Kitner, the man on the boat in the estuary, and, of course, Quint. Blood and guts are a hallmark of horror films and Jaws – while not the goriest film ever made – definitely has enough of it to qualify as horror. Much more so than other films like The Shining or The Amityville Horror, both undoubtedly horror films.

Is Jaws Scary?

The most important aspect of a horror film is that it is supposed to scare you.  You are supposed to feel fear while you are watching it, and even after you have already watched it. When Jaws was released and became a “monster” hit, people became truly terrified of the ocean, the beach, and sharks. Isn’t that the ultimate testament that Jaws is indeed a horror film?

Jaws ranks sixth on IMDB’s list of the scariest movies of all time. Maybe that means more than anything else I have actually said in this article proving that Jaws is indeed a horror film. If Jaws isn’t horror film, then maybe no film is.

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