Just when sharks might have thought it was safe to splash around in the pop-culture waters … Jaws the best-selling book and then the blockbuster 1975 movie turned the species into the symbol of all that is treacherous and terrifying. Along with launching the summer-movie releasing-season phenomenon, “Jaws” helped to trigger a backlash against sharks that persists to this day. Latest headline ripped from the news: “Diver videoed his own shark attack.” (Those denizens of the deep just can’t catch a break.)
Ahead of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s live-to-picture concerts of “Jaws” on June 28-30, we look back at what “Jaws” hath wrought, with a list of some of the most memorable selachimorpha (that’s “sharks” to you) in entertainment history:
Shark Week: Introduced in 1988 on the Discovery Channel, this annual programming block originally promoted conservation efforts and tried to counter anti-shark sentiments fostered by the massive popularity of “Jaws” and its sequels and spinoffs. Over time, it moved into the realm of exploitation with mockumentaries such as “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.” After a backlash, Shark Week returned to its original mission and is now longest-running programming event in cable-TV history. Shark Week 2017 is scheduled to begin July 23, with Olympics champ Michael Phelps reportedly appearing in some capacity.
“Sharknado”: To capitalize on the popularity of Shark Week and shark terror in general, the Syfy Channel introduced “Sharknado” (2013), a comedy-horror-disaster movie in which a giant waterspout hurls a school of Great Whites into greater Los Angeles. Mayhem ensues as a cast of B-listers (Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, John Heard, et al.) scrambles to remove themselves from harm’s way. The movie spawned a series of sequels, with “Sharknado 5: Global Swarming” swimming toward an Aug. 6 release this summer.
Bruce in “Finding Nemo” (2003): One of the supporting fish in the Pixar animated blockbuster, Bruce leads the AA-styled group called Fish-Friendly Sharks. His motto: “Fish are friends, not food.” He takes his name from the animatronic sharks used in “Jaws,” which were dubbed “Bruce” after director Steven Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Raymer. In “Finding Nemo,” Bruce and his pals send up the self-help movement with their slyly referential dialogue: “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine. If I am to change this image, I must first change myself.”
Jaguar shark from “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” (2004): Director Wes Anderson riffs on Melville’s Moby-Dick and the Jacques Cousteau documentaries as his hero, the oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), sets sail in a minesweeper to conquer the jaguar shark that devoured his sea-going partner and pal Esteban (Seymour Cassel). Fun fact: In an interview conducted years earlier with film critic Roger Ebert, Cassel admitted that he always wanted to be eaten by a shark in a movie.
Jump the shark: A concept inspired by an episode on the ’70s sitcom “Happy Days,” it eventually became a pop-culture catchphrase. When something jumps the shark, as Fonzie (Henry Winkler) did in a fifth-season show, it’s proof that its creators have run out of ideas and must resort to stunts to keep viewer interest. In other words, it’s the beginning of the end. After reaching a creative peak, jumping the shark signals a descent into oblivion.
Dr. Evil’s holy grail: In the “Austin Powers” movies, which spoof the James Bond series and the entire spy genre, the villainous Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) has one simple request: “And that is to have sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads! Now evidently my cycloptic colleague [Number 2] informs me that that can’t be done. Ah, would you remind me what I pay you people for? Honestly. Throw me a bone here!”
Land Shark: A recurring character and sketch on the early seasons of “Saturday Night Live,” the Land Shark spoofed “Jaws” and the shark frenzy in pop culture. His backstory: “The Land Shark is considered the cleverest of all sharks. Unlike the Great White shark, which tends to inhabit the waters and harbors of recreational beach areas, the Land Shark may strike at any place, any time. It is capable of disguising its voice, and generally preys on young, single women.” Adopting the guise of a repairman or a messenger (“Candygram!”), the Land Shark would knock on an unsuspecting victim’s door and then devour her. Where’s the humor in this, you might ask? You had to be there.
Years later, the “SNL” sketch even inspired a brand of beer: Margaritaville Brewing’s LandShark Lager, the house beverage for singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant chain: “Always keep your fins up! Drive responsibly.”