In the film, Chief Brody suspects another great white shark is terrorizing the fictional sea side resort of Amity Island following a series of incidents and disappearances. However, few believe him.
Prior to a new hotel opening on Amity Island, an enormous great white shark ambushes and kills two divers who are photographing the wreck of the Orca. A couple of days later, their camera is recovered, and the shark goes after a female water skier and speedboat driver, killing the skier, while the driver fends off the shark using a gas tank and flare gun, causing the boat to explode, which kills her and severely burns the shark's face.
Along with these disappearances, a killer whale carcass bearing large wounds is beached. Police Chief Martin Brody believes that these events are the work of a shark. Brody explains his concerns to Mayor Larry Vaughn, who highly doubts that the town has another shark problem. Later, Brody finds debris from the destroyed speedboat in the surf just off the beach. He wades over to retrieve it and uncovers the boat driver's burnt remains.
The following day, at the beach, Brody sees a dark shadow that approaches the swimmers. Thinking it is a shark, he frantically orders everyone out of the water, and causes a panic by firing his gun. However, the shadow is revealed to be a school of bluefish. His fears are confirmed when he acquires a close-up picture of the shark from the diver's camera. The Amity town council, including local developer Len Peterson, deny the evidence and dismiss Brody.
The next morning, Brody's teenage son Mike disobeys his father by sneaking out to go sailing with his friends after his love interest, Jackie Peters, goads him to, but his younger brother, Sean, catches him, and persuades Mike to bring him along. After an argument at the dock, Marge, one of Mike's friends, playfully lets Sean come in her boat with her, and after a couple of other grouping arrangements, they head out, going past a team of divers, led by instructor Tom Andrews. Moments after going underwater, Andrews encounters the shark. Panicking, he rushes to the surface, causing an embolism. Soon after, the shark hits teenagers Tina Wilcox and Eddie Marchand; Eddie falls into the water and is killed by the shark.
Brody and his wife Ellen follow an ambulance to the docks, where they find Tom as he is put on a stretcher; the divers suspect something scared him underwater. Deputy Len Hendricks, Brody's replacement, tells them Mike went sailing with his friends, so Brody, along with Ellen and Hendricks, takes the police boat to rescue them. They find Tina hiding in the bow of her boat, and she informs them of the shark's presence. Hendricks and Ellen take Tina to shore, where the truth is revealed, while Brody goes on to find the kids.
Meanwhile, the shark attacks the other kids, hitting one of their boats, and causing most of them to capsize and crash into each other in the ensuing panic, throwing several of them, including Mike and Sean, into the water. The other teens help them out of the water while two of them pull Mike out as the shark goes for him and head back to get help. Sean and the others remain adrift on the wreckage of tangled boats. A Coast Guard marine helicopter that Brody contacted arrives to tow them to shore. Before the pilot can tow them, the shark attacks and sinks the chopper with the pilot at the controls. It then knocks Sean into the water, but Marge sacrifices herself to save him.
Brody runs into Mike, who tells his father that Sean is with his friends, drifting towards Cable Junction, a small island housing an electrical relay station, and apologizes for disobeying him and putting Sean in danger. Brody accepts his apology while telling him to get to safety and quickly finds them, but when the shark returns, he panics and maroons the police boat on Cable Junction. He then tries to pull them in with a winch but hooks an underwater power cable. The shark's next attack sends most of the teenagers into the water, and they swim to Cable Junction while Sean and Jackie are trapped on the boats. Using an inflatable raft, Brody hits the power cable with an oar to attract the shark, and encourages it to bite the cable; the shark is fatally electrocuted, and its body sinks to the bottom of the sea. The kids rejoice as Brody picks up Sean and Jackie, and they join them on Cable Junction to await rescue.
Universal wanted a sequel to Jaws early into the success of the original film. Producers Brown and Zanuck realized that someone else would produce the film if they did not, and preferred to be in charge of the project themselves.
In October 1975, Steven Spielberg told the San Francisco Film Festival that "making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick" and that he did not even respond to the producers when they asked him to direct Jaws 2. He claimed that the planned plot was to involve the sons of Quint and Brody hunting a new shark. Brown said that Spielberg did not want to direct the sequel because he felt that he had done the "definitive shark movie". The director later added that his decision was influenced by the problems the Jaws production faced - "I would have done the sequel if I hadn’t had such a horrible time at sea on the first film."
Despite Spielberg's rejection, the studio went ahead with plans to make the sequel, leading to an arduous 18-month pre-production process. Howard Sackler, who had contributed to the first film's script but chose not to be credited, was charged with writing the first draft. He originally proposed a prequel based on the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the story relayed by Quint in the first film. Although Universal president Sidney Sheinberg thought Sackler's treatment for the film was intriguing, he rejected the idea. On Sackler's recommendation, theatre and film director John D. Hancock was chosen to helm the picture. Sackler later felt betrayed when Dorothy Tristan, Hancock's wife, was invited to rewrite his script.
The film, under Hancock's direction and Tristan's writing, had originally a different tone and premise than what would eventually be seen in the final film. The two had envisioned Amity as a sort of ghost-town when the film opened with several businesses shuttered and the island's overall economy in ruins due to the events seen in the first film. The new resort and condos built on the island by developer Len Peterson were to help celebrate its rebirth giving the island's economy a much needed boost. Tristan had borrowed a subplot from the original Jaws novel and from a discarded early draft of the first film, in which Amity officials were in debt to the Mafia. Both Mayor Vaughn and Len Peterson were anxious for the new island resort to be a success not only to revive Amity but to pay back loans from the Mob that helped build it, thus leading to Vaughn's and Peterson's ignoring of Brody's warning. Tristan and Hancock felt this treatment would lead to more character development that would make the overall story that much more believable.
Hancock began filming in June 1977. However, after nearly a month of filming, Universal and MCA executives disliked the dark, subtle tone that the film was taking and wanted a more lighthearted and action oriented story. Additionally, Hancock ran into trouble with Sheinberg, who suggested to Hancock and Tristan that his (Sheinberg's) wife, actress Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), "should go out on a boat and help to rescue the kids." When told of the idea, Zanuck replied, "Over my dead body." The next draft of the film's screenplay was turned in with Gary not going out to sea. Hancock says that this, and his later firing of another actress who turned out to be a Universal executive's girlfriend, contributed to his own dismissal from the film.
Hancock began to feel the pressure of directing his first epic adventure film "with only three film credits, and all small-scale dramas". The producers were unhappy with his material, and on a Saturday evening in June 1977, after a meeting with the producers and Universal executives, the director was fired. He and his wife left for Rome and production was shut down for a few weeks. The couple had been involved in the film for eighteen months. Hancock blamed his departure on the mechanical shark, telling a newspaper that it still couldn't swim or bite after a year and a half; "You get a couple of shots and [the shark] breaks." Echoing the first film's production, Carl Gottlieb was enlisted to further revise the script, adding humor and reducing some of the violence. Gottlieb wrote on location at Fort Walton Beach, Florida. It cost the producers more money to hire Gottlieb to do the rewrite than it would have if they had hired him in the first place.
At this point, Spielberg considered returning to direct the sequel. Over the Bicentennial weekend in 1976, Spielberg had hammered out a screenplay based on Quint's Indianapolis speech. Because of his contract for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, however, he would not be able to work on the film for a further year, a gap too long for the producers. Production designer Joe Alves (who would direct Jaws 3-D) and Verna Fields (who had been promoted to vice-president at Universal after her acclaimed editing on the first film) proposed that they co-direct it. The request was declined by the Directors Guild of America, partly because they would not allow a DGA member to be replaced by someone who was not one of its members, and partly because they, in the wake of events on the set of The Outlaw Josey Wales, had instituted a ban on any cast or crew members taking over as director during a film's production. The reins were eventually handed to Jeannot Szwarc, best known for the film Bug and whom Alves knew from working on the TV series Night Gallery. Szwarc recommenced production by filming the complicated waterskier scene, giving Gottlieb some time to complete the script. He reinstated the character of Deputy Hendricks, played by Jeffrey Kramer, who had been missing from the earlier script. Many of the teenagers were sacked, with the remaining roles developed.
Three sharks were built for the film. The first was the "platform shark", also referred to as the "luxurious shark". Special mechanical effects supervisor Robert Mattey and Roy Arbogast used the same body mould used for the shark in the first film. The sharks from the original film had rotted behind sheds on the lower lot of Universal Studios in the intervening years, and the only pieces that were salvageable were the chromoly tube frames. Mattey's design was much more complicated and ambitious than the first film. The same (male) body was used, but a brand new head was made by sculptor Chris Mueller which made use of an all-new mouth mechanism, one which incorporated jowls to disguise the pinching of the cheeks that had proven to be a problem with the shark in the original film. The sharks for Jaws 2 were known as Bruce Two (the sharks for the original film had been nicknamed "Bruce", after Steven Spielberg's lawyer), but on set they were referred to as "Fidel" and "Harold", the latter after David Brown's Beverly Hills lawyer. The other shark props used were a fin and a full shark, both of which could be pulled by boats. "Cable Junction", the island shown in the film's climax, was actually a floating barge covered with fiber-glass rocks. This was created in order to enable the shark platform to be positioned to it as close as possible (a real island would have hindered this due to the upward slope of the seabed making the shark platform visible). Like the first film, footage of real sharks filmed by Australian divers Ron & Valerie Taylor was used for movement shots that could not be convincingly achieved using the mechanical sharks.
Although the first film was commended for leaving the shark to the imagination until two thirds of the way through, Szwarc felt that they should show it as much as possible because the dramatic "first image of it coming out of the water" in the first film could never be repeated. Szwarc believed that the reduction of the first film's Hitchcockian suspense was inevitable because the audience already knew what the shark looked like from the first film. Reviewers have since commented that there was no way that they were ever going to duplicate the original's effectiveness. The filmmakers gave the new shark a more menacing look by scarring it in the early boat explosion.
Like the first film, shooting on water proved challenging. Scheider said that they were "always contending with tides, surf and winds [...] jellyfish, sharks, waterspouts and hurricane warnings." After spending hours anchoring the sailboats, the wind would change as they were ready to shoot, blowing the sails in the wrong direction. The saltwater's corrosive effect damaged some equipment, including the metal parts in the sharks.
Susan Ford, daughter of U.S. President Gerald Ford, was hired to shoot publicity photographs. Many of these appeared in Ray Loynd's Jaws 2 Log, a book documenting the film's production, similar to what Carl Gottlieb had done for the first film.
Martha's Vineyard was again used as the location for the town scenes. Although some residents guarded their privacy, many islanders welcomed the money that the company was bringing. Shortly after the production arrived in June 1977, local newspaper the Grapevine wrote:
The Jaws people are back among us, more efficient, more organized and more moneyed. Gone are the happy-go-lucky days of the first Jaws, where the big trucks roved about the Island from day to day, always highly visible with miles of cables snaking here and there over roads and lawns. Gone are the acrimonious wrangles and Select persons over noise and zoning regulations and this and that. What is still here is money—about $2 million of it.
Many residents enjoyed being cast as extras. Some people, however, were less pleased by the film crew's presence and refused to cooperate. Only one drugstore allowed its windows to be boarded up for the moody look that Hancock wanted. "Universal Go Home" T-shirts began appearing on the streets in mid-June 1977.
When Szwarc took over, the majority of the film was shot at Navarre Beach in Florida, because of the warm weather and the water's depth being appropriate for the shark platform. The company was at this location from August 1 until December 22, 1977. The production "was a boost to the local economy because local boaters, extras and stand-ins or doubles were hired. Universal brought in actors, directors, producers and their wives, camera and crew people who needed housing, food and clothing for the movie. Services were needed for laundry, dry-cleaning and recreation." Navarre's Holiday Inn "Holidome" was used as the film's headquarters, with the ground floor converted into production offices, and some of the Gulf-front suites remodelled for David Brown and Roy Scheider. Universal rented 100 of the hotel's 200 rooms, spending $1 million. The Holiday Inn was destroyed in the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season. Boats and parts for their maintenance were purchased from local businesses. One proprietor said that he sold "Universal approximately $400,000 worth of boats and equipment".
On one occasion, the Cable Junction Island set, which was built on a barge, broke loose from its anchorage and had to be rescued. Szwarc was contacted one night and told that his island was drifting towards Cuba. Real hammerhead sharks circled the teen actors during the filming of one shot. Because the characters they were playing were meant to be in distress, the crew (filming from a distance) did not realize that the actors were genuinely calling for help.
The interior shots of the teen hang-out where they play pinball were filmed in the original location of the Hog's Breath Saloon on Okaloosa Island. This restaurant later relocated to Destin, Florida as its original building was susceptible to hurricane damage. The production company had to seek dredge and fill permits from Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation to sink the revised platform that controlled the shark on the sea bottom.
Principal photography ended three days before Christmas 1977, on the Choctawhatchee Bay, near Destin, Florida. The actors had to put ice cubes in their mouths to prevent their breath showing on camera. The final sequence to be filmed was the shark being electrocuted on the cable. In mid-January, the crew reconvened in Hollywood with some of the teenage actors for five weeks of post-production photography.
Jaws 2 cost $30 million to produce, over three times more than the original. David Brown says that they did not budget the film "because Universal would never have given a green light to a $30 million budget in those days." The Marine Division Head for Universal on location, Philip Kingry, says that "It cost approximately $80,000 per day to make that movie." When Kingry asked Brown what his budget was, the producer responded, "We're not wasteful, but we're spending the profit from Jaws, and it will take what it takes."
Roy Scheider reluctantly returned to reprise his role as Martin Brody. In 1977, he had quit the role of Michael Vronsky in The Deer Hunter two weeks before the start of filming because of "creative differences". Scheider was contracted to Universal at the time for a three-picture deal, but the studio offered to forgive his failure to fulfill his contractual obligation if he agreed to appear in Jaws 2. The actor heavily resisted the film, claiming that there was nothing new to create and that people would be watching the film to see the shark, not him. According to his biographer, Scheider was so desperate to be relieved from the role that he "pleaded insanity and went crazy in The Beverly Hills Hotel". However, he was given an attractive financial package for appearing in Jaws 2; he quadrupled his base salary from the first film, and negotiated points (a percentage of the film's net profits). The Star newspaper reported that Scheider received $500,000 for 12 weeks work, plus $35,000 for each additional week that the schedule ran over.
Despite his reluctance, Scheider pledged to do the best job that he could, wanting to make Brody believable. However, the atmosphere was tense on the set, and he often argued with Szwarc. On one occasion, Scheider complained (in front of extras) that Szwarc was wasting time with technical issues and the extras while ignoring the principal actors. A meeting was called with the two, David Brown and Verna Fields, in which Scheider and Szwarc were encouraged to settle their differences. The discussion became heated and a physical fight broke out, which Brown and Fields broke up. The rift was also articulated in written correspondence. In a letter to Szwarc, Scheider wrote that "working with Jeannot Szwarc is knowing he will never say he is sorry or ever admitting he overlooked something. Well, enough of that shit for me!" He requested an apology from the director for not consulting him. Szwarc's reply focused upon completing the film to the "best possible" standard:
Time and pressure are part of my reality and priorities something I must deal with.
You have been consulted and your suggestions made part of my scenes many times, whenever they did not contradict the overall concept of the picture.
If you have to be offended, I deplore it, for no offense was meant. At this point in the game, your feelings or my feelings are immaterial and irrelevant, the picture is all that matters.
Many extras were recruited from Gulf Breeze High School. The students were paid $3 per hour, well above the minimum wage at the time ( $2.65/hr), and revelled in being able to miss classes. Casting director Shari Rhodes, requested members of the Gulf Breeze band performed as the Amity High Band, seen in an early scene in the film showing the opening of the Holiday Inn Amity Shores "Amity Scholarship Fund Benefit". "The GBHS band consisted of approximately 100 members, and band director John Henley chose 28 student musicians, including the band's section known as Henley's Honkers." Universal scheduled their involvement for mid-afternoons to prevent them missing too much time in school. Universal made a contribution of $3,500 to the school and the band for their part in the film. Several other GBHS students were hired as stand-ins or doubles for the teenage actors to appear in the water scenes and to maintain and sail the boats. Richard Dreyfuss, who played Matt Hooper in Jaws, said he chose not to return in Jaws 2 due to Spielberg not directing it.
John Williams returned to score Jaws 2 after winning an Academy Award for Original Music Score for his work on the first film. Williams says that it was assumed by everyone that "the music would come back also and be part of the cast ... it would require new music, certainly, but the signature music of Jaws should be used as well". He compares this to "the great tradition" for repeating musical themes in Hollywood serials such as Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger. In addition to the familiar themes, Szwarc says Williams also composed a "youthful counterpoint to the shark that is always around when the kids are sailing or going out to sea. It was very inventive".
Szwarc said that the sequel's music should be "more complex because it was a more complex film". Williams says that this score is broader, allowing him to make more use of the orchestra, and use longer notes, and "fill the space" created by the director. Williams used a larger ensemble than for the first film, and "the orchestral palette may have been broader or had longer notes". Delays in shooting meant that Williams was forced to start working on the score before the film was completed. Szwarc discussed the film with the composer, showing him edited sequences and storyboards. The director praises Williams in being able to work under such difficult conditions. Critic Mike Beek suggests these time constraints enabled Williams "to create themes based on ideas and suggestions, rather than a locked down print."
Critics have praised Williams' score, comparing it favorably to the original. Williams "uses a few basic elements of the original—the obligatory shark motif, for one—and takes the music off in some new and interesting directions." The score is "more disturbing in places" than the original, and "Williams fashion [sic] some new and hugely memorable out to sea adventure music." Because Jaws 2 "isn't a film that requires subtlety ... Williams pulls out all the stops to make it as exciting and hair raising as possible."
According to the liner notes on the soundtrack album, Williams' "sense of the dramatic, coupled with his exquisite musical taste and knowledge of the orchestra definitely stamp this score as truly one of his best." It is "brilliantly performed by a mini-symphony made up of the finest instrumentalists to be found anywhere." Mike Beek makes positive comments about the film, saying that "the music certainly elevates it to a level it would otherwise never have achieved."
In 2015, Intrada Records issued a two-disc edition with Williams' complete score in chronological order on disc one (listed below), and the original 1978 soundtrack album on disc two.
Jaws 2 was the most expensive film that Universal had produced up until that point, costing the studio $30 million. It opened to a $9,866,023 gross in 640 theaters across the United States and Canada, ranking first and giving it the highest grossing opening weekend of all time up to that point.; It went on to earn $77,737,272 during its initial release, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 1978. It eventually surpassed the $100 million with reissues, ultimately earning $102,922,376, and $208,900,376 worldwide. Despite grossing less than half of its predecessor, it became the highest-grossing sequel in history up to that point.
Jaws 2 inspired much more merchandising and sponsors than the first film. Products included sets of trading cards from Topps and Baker's bread, paper cups from Coca-Cola, beach towels, a souvenir program, shark tooth necklaces, coloring and activity books, and a model kit of Brody's truck. A novelization by Hank Searls, based on an earlier draft of the screenplay by Sackler and Tristan, was released, as well as Ray Loynd's The Jaws 2 Log, an account of the film's production. Marvel Comics published a comic book adaptation of the film by writer Rick Marschall and artists Gene Colan and Tom Palmer in Marvel Super Special #6 (also based on the earlier script).
The film, throughout the years, has received mixed reviews, though it is widely regarded as the best of the Jaws sequels. Critic John Kenneth Muir comments that opinions towards Jaws 2 depend upon which side of the series it is being compared. Against Spielberg's original, "it is an inferior sequel to a classic", but comparison with the subsequent films Jaws 3-D and Jaws: The Revenge shows Szwarc's film to be "a decent sequel, and one produced before the franchise hit troubled waters." Jaws 2, he says, is "at the deep end of the pool, better than its two shallow follow ups, and there is enough of Jaws' lingering greatness floating about to make it an entertaining and exciting two hours."
On the film's Rotten Tomatoes listing, 53% of critics gave the film positive reviews from a total of 22 reviews. DVD Authority says "After this one, the other Jaws movies seemed to just not be as good." One review says: "it's obviously not a patch on Spielberg's classic, but it's about as good as could be hoped for, with some excellent sequences, almost worthy of the original, several genuine shocks, a different enough story and some pretty decent characters." The performances of Scheider, Gary and Hamilton are particularly praised. George Morris for the Texas Monthly preferred Jaws 2 over the original because it is "less insidious in its methods of manipulation" and "because director Jeannot Szwarc streamlines the terror ... By crosscutting among the teenagers, Scheider, and the officials' efforts to rescue them, Szwarc works up enough suspense to keep the adrenaline going." However, Morris' review is not entirely complimentary. He would have preferred the shark to have been seen less, positing "producers and audiences alike seem to have forgotten that the greatest suspense derives from the unseen and the unknown, and that the imagination is capable of conceiving far worse than the materialization of a mere mechanical monster." Similarly, John Simon felt that the "shark's waning is caused by a decline in direction: Jeannot Szwarc has none of Steven Spielberg's manipulative cleverness. For one thing, he allows us close and disarming close-ups of the shark almost immediately..." A reviewer for the BBC complained that the additional screen time awarded to the shark makes it "seems far less terrifying than its almost mystical contemporary". The Radio Times was not pleased with Jaws 2, calling it a "pale imitation of the classic original" and stating that "the suspense comes unglued because the film floats in all-too-familiar waters. You just know how everyone is going to react — from the stars to the director, and even the mechanical shark."
Although many critics identify some flaws, often comparing Szwarc negatively to Spielberg, they say that "this sequel does have some redeeming qualities going for it that make it a good movie in its own right". Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw are missed, especially since the teenage characters are labeled "largely annoying 'Afterschool Special' archetypes" who are "irritating and incessantly screaming" and "don't make for very sympathetic victims". Because of its emphasis upon the teenage cast, some critics have compared the film to the popular slasher films that would soon follow. Also comparing the film's "interchangeable teens to slasher films, particularly the Friday the 13th franchise, Muir says that "it feels wrong for a Jaws film to dwell in that shallow domain." However, the critic also commends the teen characters' comradeship and heroism, citing the girl killed when saving Sean from the shark.
The film's tagline, "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...", has become one of the most famous in film history. Andrew J. Kuehn, who developed the first film's trailer, is credited with coining the phrase. It has been parodied in numerous films; most notably the tagline of the 1996 feature film adaptation of the television series, Flipper, "This summer it's finally safe to go back in the water."
In 1980, MCA Home Video (then known as MCA Videocassette Inc.) released Jaws 2 on VHS and Laserdisc, following its 1980 theatrical re-release. In the 1990s, MCA-Universal Home Video reissued it on both formats. The film received a DVD release on May 22, 2001. Many reviewers praised it for the quantity of special features, with DVD Authority asserting that it had "more than a lot of titles labeled as 'special edition' discs". It includes a 45-minute documentary produced by Laurent Bouzereau, who is responsible for many of the documentaries about Universal's films. Actor Keith Gordon reminisces in a short feature, and Szwarc explains the phonetic problem with its original French title, Les Dents de la mer 2, as it sounded like it ended with the expletive merde (mer deux). This was combated by using the suffix Part 2.
The disc also contains a variety of deleted scenes. These scenes show the animosity between Brody and his wife's boss, Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo), Brody explaining to Ellen that he's not about to take any chances letting Mike go sailing, saying that the "smell of death" is the same in Amity as it is in New York, and the selectmen voting to fire Brody; the Mayor (Murray Hamilton) is the only person to vote to save him. These scenes were cut because they were slowing the film's pace. Also included is footage of the shark attacking the coast guard pilot underwater after his helicopter had capsized. The scene was cut because of the struggle with the ratings board to acquire a PG certificate. In the storyboard, it is shown that the helicopter pilot would have escaped and saved Marge (Martha Swatek) from being eaten after she saves Sean, and saves himself as well.
Although the audio was presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, a reviewer for Film Freak Central comments that "Williams' score often sounds deceptively stereophonic". The BBC, though, suggest that the mix "really demands the added bass that a 5.1 effort could have lent it".
Universal Studios Home Entertainment released Jaws 2 on Blu-ray in 2016. The Blu-ray contains most of the bonus materials from the 2001 DVD release, with the exception of the text based bonus features, the galleries, and the trailers for the three other Jaws films.