In 1973, 26-year-old director Steven Spielberg was hired by producers at Universal Studios to make a movie out of what they described as "the most exciting thing that they had ever read," Peter Benchley's novel, Jaws. The film's production would eventually cost more than double the original budget and go 100 days over schedule, with a malfunctioning mechanical shark and a director who later admitted, "I was pretty naive about mother nature." Nevertheless, Spielberg's instincts for cinematic storytelling and shrewd editing, along with composer John Williams's haunting two-note theme (a tuba playing the notes E, F, E, F), came together to create what is considered the first summer blockbuster, breaking all domestic box-office records at the time.
Spielberg told reporters, "I shot the movie to both entertain and to be fearful," thereby both terrifying and fascinating Americans about sharks. Jaws was selected as the second-most thrilling movie of all time, behind Psycho, on the American Film Institute's "100 Years…100 Thrills" list. But not everyone has been thrilled about what Jaws spawned. As a shark biologist noted, "It perpetuated the myths about sharks as man-eaters and bloodthirsty killers." Movies such as Jaws and the annual summer sensational media coverage of sharks swimming near public beaches or snatching the catch of panicked fishermen have helped create what mental-health professionals call a "specific phobia" -- a "marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation."
Hollywood, headlines, and shaky YouTube videos aside, the truth is that less than one American (0.92 people) dies each year from a shark attack -- and worldwide it's only 5.5 fatalities annually. It's probably a good bet that fewer people have died in real life from sharks than on-screen, including in such can't-miss thrillers as Shark in Venice and Sharktopus -- "the Navy's next superweapon." Other than the very few people who suffer death-by-shark while employed on the oceans, shark deaths can be prevented entirely if you follow the instructions of the Jaws tagline: "Don't go in the water." Moreover, it's sharks that should be afraid of us -- humans kill roughly 50 million sharks each year, for an unsustainable fatality attrition ratio of 9,000,000-to-1. Yet we continue to indulge our fears of the "perfect predator," with more than 27 million Americans watching some portion of Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" programming, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Enough already, people! It's time to set the record straight. Here, then, are 10 items more likely to cause your death in the United States.