It’s 1979. Jimmy Carter is in the oval office, Margaret Thatcher has been elected Prime Minister of England and Vietnam announces the end of the Pol Pot regime. In Hollywood, a few movies launch that will be go down in the annals of cinema as the some of the most important and iconic movies, not just of the era, but of all time. Apocalypse Now, Alien, and Kramer vs Kramer footprint themselves as legends in the world of film while The Amityville Horror, The Warriors, and All That Jazz are already creating the foundation for a fanbase that will one day launch them into cult cinema stardom. One movie, however, will never even see the light of day. It’s 1979, and Jaws 3, People 0 is written but never made.
After the wildly successful Jaws (1975) from director wunderkind Steven Spielberg and it’s less applauded but commercially successful sequel, Universal was hoping to strike while the iron was hot and push out another entry in the series. Even with pulling in less than fifty percent of the original entry, Jaws 2 (1978) managed to become the most successful sequel ever, for the time. The studio had dollar signs in their eyes but they hit a roadblock on the way to the paycheck: no one was interested in coming back for another sequel. Steven Spielberg had opted out of coming back for even the original sequel, with the job going to Jeannot Szwarc. Roy Scheider only returned so that Universal would consider his three film contract fulfilled, despite only completing two of three movies, after having dropped out of The Deer Hunter (1978) due to conflicts with the shoot. Two other major players of the original weren’t involved, with writers Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb also not returning for the third venture. With these pieces of the puzzle missing, Hollywood elite producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck started to think outside the box in the next step of the Jaws franchise. Together they decided that instead of keeping the movie in the horror and thriller vein they would forego genre and continuity altogether and really throw viewers a curveball. Brown and Zanuck come to the conclusion that Jaws 3 would be a screwball comedy.
Zanuck and Brown were at the height of their powers in Hollywood, with mega hits The Sting (1973) and Jaws under their belt, they essentially had an immeasurable reach. Using this influence, they brought in the big guns for comedy. Not only did they call on National Lampoon editor and Animal House (1978) producer Matty Simmons but they also brought aboard future screenwriting legend John Hughes, the man who would eventually craft masterpieces such as Sixteen Candles (1984) and The Breakfast Club (1985). Along with fellow National Lampoon writer Tod Carroll, Hughes was assigned by Simmons to write a script based off a pitch Simmons had ad-libbed at a dinner with David Brown. The entire film was green lit from a single improvised scene devised at the Friar’s Club in New York City, the editor pitching the idea of original Jaws novelist Peter Benchley taking a night swim in his own pool only to be eaten by a giant shark. From this snippet of conversation Hughes and Carroll crafted a script that not only parodies all the high spots from the original movie but also takes heavy digs at Hollywood and the executives of the movie industry.
Jaws 3, People 0 reads very much like a comedy of the era. Aping scenes from the original classic but also full of satire and farce, it’s obviously inspired by the wildly successful Animal House and hits the same notes as comedies of the time such as Blazing Saddles (1974), Meatballs (1979), and Airplane! (1980). The Peter Benchley scene becomes the opening set piece of the movie before moving into the meat of the film, a story of a film crew trying to create a sequel to Jaws but hitting constant production snags due to actual Great White attacks and the constant hijinks of the often drug addled and alcohol consumed suits from the studio. An obvious nod to Spielberg appears, simply named “The Director,” with plans of getting the critically acclaimed helmer to cameo in the spoof. Reports vary on the cast, including Animal House’s Stephen Furst as the leading actor on a downward spiral and Mariette Hartley as a no-nonsense studio exec. Matty Simmons has even gone on record saying that Bo Derek and Richard Dreyfuss were both once attached to the project though confirmation seems elusive. While the script has a few solid laughs embedded in it, it’s also full of off-the-wall gags such as a “lint gun” destroying an entire warehouse and a Jacques Cousteau parody named Cockatoo. Ultimately, even the shark’s motive gets satirized, being diagnosed with “licking bowl syndrome,” suggesting that having eaten one of the crew, he can not stop until he has eaten them all. And some cameras. And a generator. Or two. To make things even whackier, the shark being written about for the fake Jaws 3 within Jaws 3, People 0 is actually an alien that has taken the form of a shark to kill tourist trade. The movie ends with a massive shark attack gone awry and the film opening as a huge success.
The script was finished in the summer of 1979 and sent off to Universal where they sent it into pre-production. One day, Hughes came to work at the National Lampoon offices to an irate Matty Simmons who had just got off the phone with Universal. Already a couple million dollars deep into production, with a young Joe Dante attached to direct, the plug had been pulled. Simmons would years later say that Spielberg had complained about the project and that’s what ultimately led to its demise, though no official reasons have ever been issued. Against all odds, Zanuck and Brown pushed the movie in a direction no one saw coming. It was green lit by Universal, written by John Hughes, from the producer of Animal House, with Joe Dante set to direct. It was loaded with more talent than any spoof threequel ever should have been and still never made it past pre production. Early in the film, the head of the studio declares “This is Hollywood! We can do anything here!”