The last remaining replica Shark, known as Bruce, from Jaws, was recently saved from a junkyard and has been restored for its new home in the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The shark is being fixed up by special effects and makeup master, Greg Nicotero.
When Jaws opened in the summer of 1975, audiences weren’t just terrified by its star shark. They were fascinated. Because the shark was, in reality, a remarkable feat of human engineering. A mechanical, man-made man-eater.
With Bruce’s help, the movie chewed through box office records. It became the highest-grossing film of all time and created the tentpole template — releasing big, high-concept films in hundreds of theaters during the summer — that studios use to this day. Jaws was also a critical hit, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and winning Oscars for its score, editing and sound. It’s difficult to overstate the movie’s stamp on 1975 America.
Greg Nicotero, now a movie effects and make-up icon, remembers seeing Jaws as a 12-year-old, with his mother.
“My mom tried to cover my eyes,” he says of the climactic scene when the shark devours the shark-hunter Quint, played by Robert Shaw. “She didn’t want me to see it because she was afraid it would traumatize me, and it did. In a good way.”
For young Nicotero, Jaws was a revelation.
It was once thought that the fiberglass shark that appeared in Jaws was sent to a junkyard and destroyed decades ago:
As a boy, Greg Nicotero was one of many fans who clamored to see the Jaws sharks. But, even by the film’s release, the three original Bruces were beyond repair.
The studio had not, however, thrown away the mold that Alves, Mattey and their effects team had used to create the Bruces. So the studio quickly made an identical fourth shark, out of fiberglass, and hung him by his tail for visitors to see at Universal Studios. The next year, 1976, Nicotero was one of countless tourists who posed for a photo next to this last Bruce. Little did he know their paths would cross again.
Bruce hung there at Universal Studios for 15 years, until he, like the film franchise he started, had begun to show his age. Around 1990, just a few years after Universal released the fourth installment, the forgettable Jaws: The Revenge, the studio cut Bruce down, bundled him with a pile of wrecked stunt cars, and shipped him off to a nearby junkyard.
Junkyard owner, Sam Adlen, did not consider the shark junk. He knew immediately what he had, and mounted Bruce onto two tall, metal poles, in the middle of a small clutch of palm trees. And there Bruce would stay, for more than two decades, menacing a sea of scrap metal. One man’s private shark.
Learn more about Bruce the Shark’s rescue by visiting NPR’s site here.