Welcome to Script to Pieces, a recurring feature at Wicked Horror where we look at the best, most interesting and at times most unbelievable horror movies that never happened. Sometimes these will be productions that never came together at all, other times, they will be original incarnations that were completely different from what we wound up with. Each should be fascinating in its own way, because the stories of movies that never see the light of day can sometimes be even more interesting than the stories of those that do.
While nobody—especially Roy Schneider—really wanted to return for Jaws 2, the sequel proved to be a pretty big hit. It wasn’t the original, but it was fun and definitely proved to be an entertaining movie. In general, I think it’s an underrated feature that’s only starting to break out from under the shadow of the original and truly find its audience.
Having completed a successful sequel, Universal no doubt considered the notion of a franchise, but there were some problems with the idea. It had been hard enough coming up with one sequel to such a singular premise as Jaws, and the sequel had rehashed several elements of the original. It was going to be tough to avoid doing more of the same in a third outing, so eventually, after seeing Airplane! Universal’s David Brown and Robert Zanuck considered pushing the next Jaws in the direction of comedy.
Together, they contacted National Lampoon’s Matty Simmons. He apparently loved the concept of a Jaws parody and decided to hook them up with a hot young writer (who had just come off the success of National Lampoon’s Vacation) by the name of John Hughes.
Yes, you read that right. John Hughes, of The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and Weird Science. The man who informed most everyone’s teenage years wrote the script along with Tod Carroll. While Carroll has far less credits to his name, he wrote a few films including National Lampoon’s Movie Madness, Delta House, and Clean and Sober, starring Michael Keaton.
The story for Jaws 3, People 0—while clearly being a parody—sounds amazingly like what probably would have happened if we’d gotten a genuine Jaws sequel in the early 2000s. It was meta before meta was the norm. It would have followed the film crew of a terrible Jaws sequel (in which the shark would be an alien this time) who eventually find themselves stalked by an actual great white shark.
There are several callbacks to the first movie in the script and most of the best bits of comedy are sendups of scenes from the first. But the best parallel, the one that really makes the most sense, is that instead of the mayor insisting everything’s fine and they just need to push forward as if nothing is happening, it’s the Hollywood suits.
With a script in place, they turned their sights on finding a director. As is typically the case with these big budget studio event movies, they wanted someone young who was just coming up in the industry. They settled on Joe Dante, who had just directed the Jaws rip off Piranha.
There’s a lot of potential behind the idea and the script is… funny enough, but not really what you’d expect from a couple of people who would go on to become huge titans in the film industry. While a lot of callbacks to the first are funny, there are plenty of moments that fall flat and the parody comes across as reading less like Airplane! And more like Student Bodies.
Still, it would have been nice to see this happen. There’s no doubt in my mind it would have been better than Jaws 3. But I think the fact that there were so many careers on the line is precisely the reason it wound up never making it to the big screen. The script does not paint Hollywood in an overly positive light. According to Brown, he eventually thought moving ahead would be like “fouling your own nest” and so the producers pulled out and the movie never got made.
Instead of comedy, they needed to find a new gimmick if they were going to push forward with Jaws 3 at all. The early 1980s, luckily, was host to several gimmicks with one of the most prevalent being 3D. Friday the 13th Part 3 had done this to great box office success in 1982 and the Amityville franchise was gearing up to do the same, so Jaws jumped on that bandwagon.
By the summer of ‘83, audiences were treated to Jaws 3D, starring Dennis Quaid and Leah Thompson. The plot, which centers around a great white becoming the star attraction at SeaWorld, still sounds an awful lot like a parody.