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JAWS: The Lost Universal Legend That Scared a Generation Out of the Water

The first sign of impending doom came about in January 2005, when Jaws was temporarily shuttered due to the rising cost of petroleum. The surge in fuel prices came at just the wrong time for Orlando’s theme parks, which had suffered tremendously from attendance declines following the terrorist attacks in New York City just over three years earlier. Expensive, low-capacity rides that guzzled fuel (as Jaws did in its boat fleet and special effects) were a liability.

That same December, Jaws re-opened, though Universal was careful to clarify that it was now a seasonal ride that would open only when crowd levels demanded it. The ride, then, was open and closed seasonally until February 2007, when the holiday crowds left, but Jaws didn’t. It would be open full-time again. To celebrate, comedian Ellen Degeneres served as the ride's Skipper during an on-location filming of her talk show in a must-see clip. (True to form, she asks the shark's electrocuted corpse, "Are you okay?!") 

Image: Universal

But the writing was on the wall. Industry observers know Universal’s method of operation well… Beginning in the 2000s – a decade after opening, mind you – Universal kicked off an aggressive and continuous systematic revitalization of its parks. The moment an intellectual property becomes obsolete or a better fit emerges, Universal topples rides – even classics! – and fills their Studio park with whatever’s hot.

And the truth is, they’re probably right to do so. By and large, people feel much less of a connection to Universal’s properties (E.T. or King Kong or Back to the Future) than Disney’s, so it’s probably in Universal’s popular best interest to keep their park stocked with “flavor of the week” films, nostalgia be damned. As much as fans might mourn the loss of Hanna-Barbera, wouldn’t you imagine Despicable Me pulls more visitors?

In any case, the unique strategy makes Universal Studios a veritable graveyard of Lost Legends. And Jaws would soon join them…

Magic Comes to Town

Image: Universal

Ever since Universal’s Islands of Adventure next door had opened in 1999, it had been a direct challenge to Disney’s creative dominance. Even if a failed marketing and unclear marketing campaign had sullied the park’s debut (just in time for attendance fall even farther after September 11, 2001), Islands of Adventure proved that Universal – long operators of studio-themed parks packed with soundstages and warehouses – could indeed meet and exceed Disney’s standards.

Port of Entry, Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing.

In June 2010, these detailed, themed islands gained a sister. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened ushering in a new era for Universal and for the theme park industry as a whole.

Image: Universal / Warner Bros.

Whereas most industry experts had expected Comcast to quickly sell off the Parks division they inherited in a 2011 purchase of NBCUniversal, the wild success of the Wizarding World instead compelled Comcast to not only keep the Universal Parks division in their portfolio, but to double (or maybe triple) down on investment in them, acquiring properties, building themed lands, and designing E-Tickets to make Universal Orlando Resort a destination in and of itself, no Disney trip required.

As part of that “magical” growth, the space once home to the Jaws ride would become a second half of Universal’s fabled Wizarding World of Harry Potter which had debuted in June 2011 at Universal’s Islands of Adventure next door. The radical and groundbreaking new land would continue Universal’s growth spurt post-Potter.

Image: Universal / Warner Bros.

On July 15, 2014 – one day after Universal Studios Florida’s 24th birthday – the land once occupied by the village of Amity became a London streetscape. Concealed behind it is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, which opened to industry-wide acclaim. Somehow, the glorious themed land seemed to best even the original Hogsmeade next door (a near impossibility given the scope of the snowy village and the towering Hogwarts overhead).

Though the undisputed headliner is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, the real surprise is the Hogwarts Express. To our knowledge, it’s the only ride anywhere on earth that lets guests travel between two theme parks, as riders step aboard in Kings Cross Station at Universal Studios Florida and disembark in the forested Scottish highlands just outside of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade.

A Shark in the City

While the seaside village of Amity may be a world away from Diagon Alley, designers were careful to include a few fitting tributes into the magical streetscape.

For example, the record store window in London has a number of vinyl records on display, including one particularly interesting one: “Here’s to Swimmin’ with Bow Legged Women” by the Quint Trio. Of course, that’s a line by Quint himself in Jaws.

Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

An otherworldly brass telescope lofted high in Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment is reportedly made from the large brass ship compass once housed in Jaws’ queue, and shark jawbones are on subtle display in the window of Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlor and the dark shops Knockturn Alley.

Image: Luke Tilley, Flickr (license)

And that’s where one of our favorite Easter Eggs resides. A menagerie of shrunken heads floats in the windows of Knockturn Alley’s Noggin and Bonce. With a wave of your interactive wand, they’ll sing. But not just any song – “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” sung by Brody, Hooper, and Quint in Jaws.

Living On

Even if Universal Studios Florida’s Jaws ride was a victim of progress, there’s good news, too.

First, the Jaws scene on Hollywood’s Studio Tour is still going strong. Even if, today, it’s a rare throwback amongst a tour lineup of increasingly high-tech stunts, it remains a fan favorite.

Image: Ollie Harridge, Flickr (license)

But most reassuringly, in 2001, Universal Studios Japan opened with their own Jaws ride, identical to Florida’s (but developed by MTS Systems Corporation). While the Japanese park has picked up a bit of Florida’s rapid and unapologetic growth strategy (their Back to the Future: The Ride just closed in 2016 to make way for Despicable Me), we can hope that Japanese guests’ rabid enjoyment of the Jaws ride might ensure its continued presence.

Image: Universal / Warner Bros.

That said, we can’t help but notice that the Japanese ride is located exactly adjacent to Japan’s own Wizarding World… an expansion pad that may be too convenient to pass up…

Sunk

Image: Universal

While our Lost Legend series has, until now, stuck mostly to closed Disney classics, there’s no denying that Universal’s own shuttered favorites – while decidedly different than Soarin’Horizonsthe Peoplemover, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – nonetheless earn in-depth entries to preserve their experiences for future generations. That's why we're committed to telling the full must-read stories behind Universal's closed rides, too.

Now that you've blasted through time, don't forget to relive the cinematic excitement of Universal Studios Florida's co-starring Lost Legends: Back to the Future – The Ride and KONGFRONTATION, or visit our In-Depth Collections Library for a full list of Lost Legends and more!

Now, we need your help. In the comments below, share with us your thoughts about Jaws. The film scared a generation of Americans out of the water; was this ensuing suspenseful Disney spoof attraction enough to keep you on the edge of your seat? Or was Jaws a ride whose time had come? Whether you’re a fan of the Boy Wizard or not, do you think the Wizarding World was a worthy replacement? Or would Universal be stronger if it stuck to its roots and brought classic cinema to life? We can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

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There are 2 comments.

Amazing ride. Wish it was still around so I could take my daughter on it. Note. The boats outside the ride were from Jaws 4 the Revenge not Jaws 2 as stated in article.

Jaws was one of my favorite rides or all time. I especially loved riding it at night as it felt like an entirely different ride. I hate that they got rid of it but also understand it must have been very expensive to maintain. Seems like complicated rides with show elements involving water have a target on their back due to the expense in maintaining them. It also couldn't have been cheap to have a giant fireball explode with every passing boat too. That's one thing that I like about Universal is they are not shy about using real fire effects. I think it adds another level of realism when you can feel the real intense heat from an explosion like that. It's one of those things that Disney would never do.

Another great article Brian.

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