For fervent nonswimmers like me, Steven Spielberg's JAWS is a cinematic manifesto. We identify with Roy Scheider's hydrophobic police chief--mocked for his fear of water until that hungry shark shows up. This summer marks Jaws' 25th anniversary, and as a tribute to the No. 1 nonswimmer's film of all time, a list follows of the other Top 24 films living up to the motto "Don't go in the water." Seeing movie stars drown is especially comforting between June and August, the season of peer pressure, when the swimming class harangues the rest of us with nonsense like "a little water never hurt anybody." Oh, yeah? we'll answer. Ever hear the saying "oceans of regret"?
2) SUNSET BOULEVARD and 3) THE GREAT GATSBY Swimming pool as watery grave. In the opening sequence of Sunset Boulevard, the police rush to a murder scene where a corpse floats. The voiceover says, "The poor dope. He always wanted a pool. Well, in the end he got himself a pool, only the price turned out to be a little high." Ditto Gatsby, which ends as Sunset Boulevard began, with police and photographers peering into the bloody water at a man, full of bullet holes, who had wanted a pool to impress the girl whose voice was full of money.
4) THE GODFATHER, PART II Hey, Fredo, ix-nay on the oat-bay.
5) SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY Nonswimming, battered wife Julia Roberts fakes her own death by drowning to escape her sadistic husband. Months later, the widower runs into a woman from Roberts' (secret) swimming lessons. He understands the ruse, tracks her down in her lovely, landlocked new life and tries to kill her. The moral? Swimming lessons = death.
6) CADDYSHACK So it was only a candy bar in the pool. This time.
7) THE RIVER'S EDGE and 8) ON THE WATERFRONT Nearby water as corrupting influence.
9) CHINATOWN Lack of water as corrupting influence. Sister! Daughter! Desert! Water! Hydrating parched Los Angeles requires incest, murder and slicing up Jack Nicholson's nose.
10) THE GRADUATE and 11) RUSHMORE Swimming pools symbolize the gaping hole of family life. In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman's Ben tries out his snorkel-gear present; underwater, he can see his parents talking but can't hear a word they say. Rushmore transfers the loneliness to the father (Bill Murray). Polishing off his whiskey on the diving board, he jumps into the pool feet first, his wife and children staring at him with confused contempt.
12) LAKE PLACID Proclaims the back of this monster movie's video box: "This year's Anaconda!"
13) BEACHES Owning a beach house gives you a fatal heart disease, thereby requiring your orphaned daughter to be raised by saucy Bette Midler.
14) SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and 15) PAULINE AT THE BEACH If there's anything worse than a beach, it's a French beach. In Ryan, Spielberg's American soldiers are slaughtered as they de-boat on D-day in a rain of enemy fire. In Pauline a la plage, Eric Rohmer's protagonist probably wishes for shrapnel to off her, if only to spare her the pointless banter of her tacky, divorce cousin.