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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 00:03 GMT
Rise of the blockbuster
Steven Spielberg and Roy Schneider
Jaws made a star of Steven Spielberg (l)
BBC News Online charts the success of the blockbuster movie.

It was startlingly obvious to everyone that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone would be the first true blockbuster of the millennium, and Lord of the Rings is predicted to equal - or even surpass - its popularity .

Potter books
The Harry Potter books are a global success
Online booking and advanced sales have spelled the end of the long-snaking queue out of the cinema and along the street.

But strange as it may seem, the notion of the blockbuster film - made famous by Jaws, Ghostbusters and Jurassic Park - is not that old.

The word itself dates back to World War II and to references to bombs which could level entire streets, or blocks.

Star Wars
Star Wars aped the success of Jaws
The word then was used to define hit plays and musicals on Broadway but it was not until the 1970s when a young film-maker called Stephen Spielberg came along did the word take on its true filmic sense.

In the summer of 1975 a great white shark called Jaws rose out of the water and terrified an entire nation.

In the US, beach attendances fell, cinema audiences grew and everyone was gripped by Jaws fever.


Jaws was not only popular, it was an event, and its success changed forever the way Hollywood marketed films.

Until then, summer was considered a graveyard for cinema, a time when distributors would release films they considered poor.

Jaws was backed by a clever marketing campaign
The big change for Jaws was the decision by Universal to give the film a wide release.

Most films at that time were "platformed" - opening in key cities first and then spread out across the country to what were adjudged to be secondary markets.

Jaws opened nationwide in 465 screens, small compared to today's big releases in 3,000 to 4,000 screens - backed by $700,000 worth of TV time on national networks, reaching 211m homes.

Stuffed sharks

It was the first time a film had been trailed on network television and the combination of hype and hyperbole proved irresistible.

Top 10 worldwide box office*
Titanic 1997 $1,835,300,000
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 1999 $922,300,000
Jurassic Park 1993 $919,700,000
Independence Day 1996 $811,200,000
Star Wars 1977 $797,900,000
The Lion King 1994 $767,700,000
E.T. 1982 $704,800,000
Forrest Gump 1994 $679,400,000
The Sixth Sense 1999 $661,500,000
The Lost World: Jurassic Park 1997 $614,300,000
Merchandising and the soundtrack also played a huge part in the success of the film.

John Williams' soundtrack, with the famous Jaws theme music, was for sale along with stuffed sharks, beach towels, T-shirts, caps and action figures.

Two years later and another film given little chance to succeed imitated the formula.

Star Wars made as much money from merchandising as it took in at the box office.

The key aspect to Jaws' success, and one that holds true for Harry Potter, was the fact it was based on a best-selling book.


The Potter books are not just good sellers, they are global sellers, creating a ready-made market eager to see their heroes on the screen.

Other key aspects to a successful film include trailers.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace showed people were desperate to see any kind of footage before a hyped movie was released.

When the trailer was first shown in cinemas, fans would watch it and then leave en masse, ignoring the film they had ostensibly paid to see.

The Harry Potter trailers have been equally well received. Now Lord of the Rings, another movie based on a successful book, has highly sought after trailers.

See also:

16 Nov 01 | Film
Potter hits the big screen
29 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Columbus sets sail with Potter film
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