The Unexpected Origin Behind Jaws' Most Famous Line

Remember the scene in Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" where the locals catch a shark and think it's the same one that's been terrorizing their beaches? As they proudly (and ignorantly) mill around their catch trying to figure out what kind of shark it is, Matt Hooper helps them out by telling them, "It's a tiger shark!" Then comes what is arguably one of the best moments in the entirety of the film. "A whhhaaaaaattt?" the local fisherman says, channeling his best impression of a preppy, popular, senior high school girl who wants to know why you, the lowly freshman have even deigned to speak to her in the first place. It's a perfect line in a perfect film, but it's not the most quoted piece of dialogue "Jaws" is known for.

For that, you have to fast forward to the juiciest parts of the film where Brody has just finished chumming the water, hoping to attract good ol' Bruce to Quint's beautiful boat, the Orca. He's successful in luring the shark, but when he finally catches a glimpse of that bad boy, it becomes clear to him that the three men and their tiny dinghy might just be a little in over their heads. Nervously, he approaches Quint and says, "You're gonna need a bigger boat," as he stares out to sea like a man who is pretty sure he's about to die there. 

The "bigger boat" line is, without a doubt, the most quoted line in the entire movie. After all, it's delivered with such aplomb it's hard not to love it. Many fans of "Jaws" believe that the line was ad-libbed by Roy Scheider who plays Brody, but true fans of this classic shark slasher know that there's actually a lot more to the story than just perfect timing and quick wit.    

Bigger Boats For All!

According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, this famous line was actually an inside joke that was often used on set to refer to moments when the cast of "Jaws" encountered a problem. It turns out that the origin of this "real-life problem [was] a barge [...], which carried all the lights and camera equipment and craft services, [and it] was steadied by a small support boat that was too tiny to manage the job." Frustrated by the shortcomings of this small boat, the cast and crew came up with their new catchphrase. 

Carl Gottlieb, who helped Spielberg write the screenplay for the film and who also had a bit part in the movie playing local journalist Ben Meadows, told The Hollywood Reporter that, "[Richard] Zanuck and [David] Brown were very stingy producers, so everyone kept telling them, 'You're gonna need a bigger boat.' 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.'" 

So, there really was no ad-libbing? 

Well, not quite. Even though the famous line was already a much-used catchphrase on the set of "Jaws," it still had to make its way into the movie. To do this, "Roy Scheider, who played Brody in the movie, ad-libbed the line at different points in his performance throughout filming," says The Hollywood Reporter. Not every try was a success, but eventually, Scheider hit on a moment that seemed to work: right after chumming the water and seeing the shark up close for the first time.

It's a brilliant moment of inspiration that captures the frustration of not being properly equipped to handle the difficult task at hand, and boy are we happy that Scheider recognized this and worked to slip the cast and crew's joke into the actual film. Without the reference to that "bigger boat," the movie just would not be the same. Even though the origins of the line might make some fans of the movie go "Whaaaaaattt??," it still doesn't take away from the genius.