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Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller Jaws is widely credited as the first modern blockbuster, and it also made an entire generation pause and think, "You know what, on second thought maybe I don’t want to go swimming right now." As beloved and influential as the movie is, it’s seeped its way into a permanent position in popular culture, and one of the biggest instances of this is the phrase, "You’re gonna need a bigger boat." The line is funny enough on its own, but the way it came to be may be even more hilarious.
One of the most quotable lines in movie history, it happened by accident. Writer Carl Gottlieb recently talked with The Hollywood Reporter, and revealed how the line came to be. Filmed largely on the water, the equipment for Jaws was all housed on a barge (nicknamed the USS Garage Sale), which, thanks to stingy producers, only had a single support boat to help keep it steady, a task the small craft was not up to. The fact that they needed a bigger boat became an in-joke on the set. Gottlieb said:
[David] Zanik and [Richard] 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.'
In Jaws, Roy Scheider’s Sheriff Brody utters the line after getting his first good, up close and personal look at the shark he, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw are hunting on the high seas off of New England. It wasn’t the only time he uttered the line during filming, as the actor threw it in here and there as he ad-libbed at various stages in the production. It was this particular moment, however, that made it into the finished product, and with good reason. When the stunned Brody backs into the cabin and tells Shaw’s Quint, "You’re gonna need a bigger boat," shocked expression on his face, cigarette clamped between his lips, it’s such a droll, human, perfect reaction that it had to be that shot.
If it’s been a while since you’ve watched Jaws, you should fix that ASAP, but if you don’t have time to watch it all right now, here’s the moment in question if you care to relive it.
This is yet another instance of what could have been an almost throwaway line becoming iconic and developing a life of its own outside of the movie where it originated. The line has been spoofed and repeated in tons of different movies and TV shows including Clerks, Shanghai Knights, and on ill-advised homage in Batman & Robin. Carl Gottlieb even said a friend made reference to it while playing poker.