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Film / Orca: The Killer Whale

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Orca: The Killer Whale is a 1977 horror film produced by Dino De Laurentiis and released by Paramount Pictures during the "When Animals Attack" phase set in motion due to the release of Jaws.

A hunter squares off against a killer whale seeking vengeance for the death of its mate.

For tropes on it's Novelization, see Orca: The Killer Whale.


The film provides the following tropes:

  • An Arm and a Leg: The whale bites off Annie's (Bo Derek's) already injured leg and is shown sadistically swimming off with it like a dog with a fresh rawhide bone.
  • Animal Nemesis: The orca relentlessly pursues Nolan because the latter is responsible for the death of its family; Nolan himself eventually goes Captain Ahab on the orca due to pressure from the townspeople and the fact that it has begun maiming/killing his crew members.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
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    • While the script keeps referring to the titular orca as a male, close-ups reveal that it's clearly female.
    • While orcas and other whales are famous for nudging objects they find curious, outright ramming them (especially at the frequency seen in the film) would still give them lethal concussions. Captive orcas, for example, have killed themselves from repeatedly ramming into their tanks.
    • Bo Derek's character loses a leg, and it's several minutes later before help arrives. She should have bled out from severing the femoral artery. This may be due to a script rewrite, however, as the actual attack scene has her motionless afterward (with Nolan looking away, then leaving her side to threaten the orca). It's only later that Nolan mentions she's crippled, not killed.
  • Award-Bait Song: "We Are One" by Carol Connors hasn't held up well over the years.
    • As oversung as it was, it was by Ennio Morricone, and it still qualifies as a guilty pleasure to some.
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    • The actual song itself might leave something to be desired, but the instrumental is another story.
  • Black and Gray Morality: It's a whale hunter and a killer whale. What did you expect?
  • Crusading Widower: The Orca is a non-human example, wanting revenge for the death of his mate.
  • Downer Ending: By the film's conclusion a town is crippled from devastation, five people are dead, a woman is left maimed for life, another woman loses the man she was beginning to fall in love with, and the whale apparently commits suicide by swimming beneath the ice and drowning itself.
  • Eye Take: Several throughout the movie, mostly done by the orca, although there is one at the end when Nolan and the whale have one final staredown.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Notably averted in two scenes.
    • The first in which the unborn fetus slides out of the body of the orca's mate.
    • The second in which The orca bites off Bo Derek's character's leg.
      • Played straight in the edited televised releases.
  • It Can Think: The orca systematically demolishes the town (first by eating all the fish it can so the fishermen get a bad business, then destroying buildings situated on the waterfront, then blowing up a nearby refinery) to force Nolan out.
  • It's Personal:
    • Subverted- The whale's first victim is Gus, Nolan's best friend and first mate. Nolan's response to this is to stay away from the water and try to leave town (albeit at the advice of Rachel and Umilak). It's not until after Annie's disfigurement that he swears vengeance and decides to hunt the orca.
    • Played straight with the whale however, since Nolan's ship is responsible for the deaths of his mate and child.
  • "Jaws" Attack Parody: Played with in that the "Jaws" is actually systematically causing terror to the community for a purpose.
  • Moby Schtick: Played with in that the "Moby Dick" is the one out to get revenge first and finally does enough damage to what the whaler loves for him to hunt it down... just as planned.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Nolan suffers this and a not so Heroic BSoD when the female orca miscarries her calf.
  • Papa Wolf: Both ways actually.
  • Revenge: Multiple cases
    • The Orca wants revenge on Nolan and co for killing it's mate.
    • Nolan himself wants revenge on the Orca for disfiguring Annie.
  • Shout-Out: To Moby-Dick, obviously.
  • Spiritual Predecessor: To the much, much Lighter and Softer Free Willy 3, which also dealt with a family of orcas endangered by a profit-seeking whaler.
  • Stock Footage: Similar to the Jaws films, stock footage was used to fill in the blanks between the animatronic killer whale effects. The same people who provided the shark stock footage in Jaws also provided the shark footage in the beginning of this film.
    • The killer whale itself was a combination of stock footage of killer whales from a marine park in California as well as animatronic effects.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: Though not for prey, rather the Orca wants revenge on the people who are responsible for the death of its mate and unborn child.
  • Take That!: The scene in which the orca kills a great white shark can be seen as one against Jaws.
    • A year later, Jaws 2 took a shot at Orca in which the great white has killed an Orca. Ironically, the scene in Orca is actually more accurate to Real Life. Killer whales have been witnessed hunting and killing great whites in the wild, and more recent studies have shown that great whites actually do tend to actively avoid areas where orcas are known to be present, even withdrawing from them completely if an orca makes a great white its prey.
    • On the other hand, killer whales are known to avoid areas with large concentrations of great whites.
  • The Worf Effect: One of the first things we see the orca do is kill a great white shark. Truth in Television, Orcas are known to prey on great whites.


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