“You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” says awestruck Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), the words half-mumbled through the cigarette dangling from his mouth. Jaws (1975) is considered the film that originated the concept of the ‘summer blockbuster’ and one of the integral traits of a ‘summer blockbuster’ – along with spectacle, scale, stakes and stars – is staying power, specifically served through endlessly quotable lines. Steven Spielberg’s classic has plenty of those, from the climatic “smile you son of a – ” to Quint’s whole monologue that concludes on “for that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing”. Yet nothing has been quite as everlasting and versatile as “you’re gonna need a bigger boat”.
Ranked number 35 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest movie quotes from the past 100 years, the origin of the line links to the famously troubled production according to writer Carl Gottlieb. “[David] Zanik and [Richard] Brown were very stingy producers so everyone kept telling them 'You're gonna need a bigger boat',” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “It became a catchphrase for anytime anything went wrong—if lunch was late or the swells were rocking the camera, someone would say 'You're gonna need a bigger boat’.” For the audience, who are largely unaware of the inspiration for the dialogue, the line hits on multiple levels as Chief Brody, Quint (Robert Shaw) and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) continue their hunt for the man-eating “bad fish” that has been terrorising Amity Island. It’s a vital moment, as it’s the first time we view the shark above the surface as Chief Brody throws chum into the water. The “bigger boat” comment isn’t just testament to the fact they literally need a “bigger boat” than the Orca to combat this twenty-five-foot shark – “three tons of him” as Quint says – but it’s used to signify they’re in over their heads and trying to combat something bigger than themselves. Something that doesn’t think. Something that doesn’t feel. Something that just hunts and kills.
Of course, the line wouldn’t be so impactful if not for two-time Academy Award nominee Scheider’s potent delivery. From the ashen look on his usually bronzed face to the slow, stilted, backwards steps he takes into the boat’s cabin, he uses physicality to underline the dialogue. When John Williams’s infamous score swells just as he utters “you’re gonna need a bigger boat”, the viewers feel Chief Brody’s terror visually and experience it audibly in a one-two punch. As the cigarette smoke puffs in time with the protagonist’s panicked breaths, the line is used to flirt with the impending doom just around the corner. After all, this is a film where barely an hour ago a previously untouchable symbol – a child – was chomped in one of cinema’s most gruesome deaths. “Bigger boat,” instils a sense of dread in the pit of the audience’s something as it eludes to a previously unexplored idea: there’s no promise our three heroes will make it out of this alive. Happy endings in Jaws are not guaranteed.
– Maria Lewis